Posted on Monday 17 December 2012 by Ulster Business

Digital Stockman

David Kane, Andrew Bolster and Eoghan Murray founded Farset Labs as a focal point for technological experimentation, exploitation and education

Across the UK, 65 per cent of premises have access to superfast broadband services. In Northern Ireland 95 per cent of premises have access and currently we have the highest availability and take-up of superfast broadband services in the UK.

The Next Generation Broadband Project is clearly bearing fruit and with the expansion of the fibre optic network across the region, we now boast a telecommunications infrastructure that is the envy of many.

All this sounds very good, but when it boils down to it – what does it mean for businesses?

Digital Northern Ireland 2020 was formed with the primary goal of assisting industry, business, communities and the public sector to make the most of the digital platform we have built.

Increasingly, countries across the developed world are working to harness technology to create knowledge-based economies.

These knowledge industries represent the most productive and profitable sectors of the economies and if NI plc is not to going to be left behind, we must ensure that more individuals, communities and businesses connect to the digital platform.

For the Knowledge Economy to work, high quality reliable high speed access to the global digital platform is a fundamental requirement.

In Northern Ireland, we already have a world class digital platform, which offers us the opportunity of getting into the fast lane with other leading economies, to grow knowledge based business activity and improve the quality of life for our communities.

Through the digital platform communities, individuals and businesses can participate actively and profitably in the growing Knowledge Economy. Without it, one will be left stranded.

Our aim is not just to maximise economic rewards but also the social benefits that can be reaped for example in fields such as health, education and even leisure.

DNI2020 has been working with industry and government to extend the reach of our ultrafast broadband platform, making direct fibre available in key business areas, champion the creation of key value adding Digital Hubs and engaging with local authority and trade bodies across all of the region, to support them in building proactive plans to exploit the potential of the platform to the benefit of their citizens and members.

So what is a Digital Hub??

In this context, it is a physical entity, which has direct access to high speed digital communication capability and which exploits digital technology in the value adding activity it is engaged in.

This is deliberately a broad definition, but in essence it is about building value adding units on top of our digital platform, which secures economic advantage into the future.

Examples include fully fibered business parks, for example Weavers Court, Omagh Enterprise Park and the Northern Ireland Science Park. It also includes educational units, such as E3 centre, the Titanic Quarter Film Studios, and fully fibered business hubs such as those in the finance sector or the new creative hub at Ebrington and the Fablabs in Belfast and Londonderry.

In addition work is well underway to create scaled data centre facilities in Northern Ireland, which again will anchor significant knowledge economy investment in the region.

Sometimes the view is expressed to me that this is only really relevant to larger businesses and those engaged in the digital sector.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Digital platform opens up the global marketplace to a significant proportion of our small and medium enterprises across a wide range of business areas.

We have some fantastic examples already in areas such as retail, insurance, leisure, training, agriculture, design and a favourite of mine, as it comes from the part of the world I was brought up in, Cunningham Covers, who now supply high quality bespoke industrial covers to more than 50 countries across the planet.

In all of the cases where businesses have embraced the digital technology to support their business, this has resulted in significant growth.

One of our challenges, working with the trade and local representatives, is to ensure that many, many more Northern Irish businesses do the same.

This knowledge-based approach will help them achieve significant increased growth and create new employment opportunities across the region.

A great recent addition to the digital alumni in Northern Ireland, are the two Fab Labs set up in Belfast and Derry. These are designed to allow young people and their wider community to experience first-hand the excitement of design and to be able to use seriously advanced cutting edge technology to create new objects and equipment.

By sharing with similar facilities across the globe they are not only learning how to collaborate, but also gaining access to global know-how and expertise, from right here in Northern Ireland.

In effect, the teams working in these two facilities are unlocking the creative potential that so many of our children have, but are never given the opportunity to realise. In doing this, they are using technology to help build a better future for all in Northern Ireland.

Farset Labs is providing a hub of creativity, technological innovation and entrepreneurship in the heart of Belfast. Based in Weaver's Court, it's advanced computing, electronics, and fabrication equipment allows students, professionals, and amateurs to gain experience with up-to-the-minute technologies and systems, within a community that fosters knowledge exchange and personal growth. To the layman, Farset Labs is a world of 'geeks' and 'nerds' where sparks of innovation and creativity from the very best and brightest of young minds have the potential to form the next globally competitive big idea.

Here people come together and share ideas but more importantly gain experience of up to the minute technologies and systems, within a community that fosters knowledge exchange and personal growth. Created by three young minds, Andrew Bolster, David Kane and Eoghan Murray, Farset Labs is a focal point for technological experimentation, exploitation and education in Northern Ireland. A hub like this could produce the next generation of technology leaders.

Out of facilities such as this, the online schools platform C2K, the Farset Labs facility and CodoDojos across Northern Ireland, we are creating a can do generation in all sections of our society, who will make the vision of lighting up Northern Ireland's creative network a reality.
We are really in a period where what we can achieve is hindered only by our imagination and ambition.

The challenge now is for businesses, both large and small, to harness the digital platform we have in place and move from imagination to reality.

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