Posted on Tuesday 10 July 2018 by Ulster Business

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Emma Deighan takes a look at the burgeoning cloud computing sector and why Northern Ireland is at the centre of it

A surge in cloud computing integration in the world of Northern Ireland business has benefited the way many of the top companies now work.

In this feature we look at the NI firms providing cloud services and why NI is fast becoming a hub for the sector.

According to Invest NI, Northern Ireland has around 1,200 IT firms here. It’s a rapidly growing market and among these names are “big data/internet of things” and cyber security specialists.

Cloud computing has revolutionised the way we work. It’s cut out the physical technical bulk of servers, increases accessibility to IT applications, offers cheaper backup and recovery solutions, allows for collaboration and remote access and lessens your corporate carbon footprint so its easy to see why demand and supply is accelerating at a rapid speed.

And here, in NI, we are at the heart of that development.

Some of our cloud providers are native companies and some are international brands that are setting up shop in a region that has quickly become recognised as an attractive destination in which to invest, not just for its IT talent pool but cost competitiveness in terms of property and wages and access to financial support.

Labour and property costs for a 200-person software development centre in Belfast are 36% less than Dublin, 44% less than London and 58% less than New York according to the Financial Times, fDi Benchmark 2017.

And that same research states that Belfast is now the number one international investment location for US cyber-security development projects with investors such as Proofpoint, Rapid7, WhiteHat, Black Duck and Anomali endorsing the latter status.

In the last few months, cloud and automation service provider Ammeon announced that it would establish a 60-person service delivery centre in Belfast.

Alastair Hamilton, chief executive of Invest NI said the move reflects the resources here and would contribute some £3.5m to the economy.

Ammeon services financial, telecoms, automotive and public sectors.

Fred Jones, the firm’s chief executive said: “Our new office in Northern Ireland is a pivotal point in our strategic growth.

“The availability of software engineering talent combined with a cost competitive environment and Invest NI support encouraged us to establish our service delivery centre in Northern Ireland.”
Ammeon benefited from Government funding, an important resource that is enticing many others to take note of NI’s credentials. It received £600,000 from Invest NI.

Applied Systems Inc, a global provider of cloud-based software from Chicago, is expanding into Belfast with plans to recruit 50 staff by 2021.

The company acquired Belfast-based Relay Software in 2016 and is set to establish a new R&D centre at its Gasworks offices to support its growth

Its product, Applied Epic, is the fastest growing cloud-based broker management system for the insurance market.

Jeremy Fitch managing director of Invest NI, which supported the move, said:

“Cloud computing is a rapidly emerging industry with significant export potential and we have a growing cluster of software investors choosing to grow their business in Northern Ireland.

“This investment by Applied Systems demonstrates the company’s confidence in our local skills base and further emphasises the region’s reputation for excellence in this sector.”

Invest NI has offered Applied Systems more than £325,000 to support its employment and training activities.

Applied Systems boss, Reid French added: “The availability of talented, young engineers along with the supportive, established relationships with local universities and Invest NI made Northern Ireland a natural fit for us to grow our business.”

External advocacy from top IT brands isn’t the only indication that NI is well-tuned into a sector that is adding growth to the economy and bringing jobs to the market.

An influx of news concerning expansion plans among those already born and bred here speaks volumes.

One such firm is WANdisco Fusion. Invest NI has pumped £248,000 into supporting its research and development plan.

The money will be used to enhance and progress the firm’s Live Data platform which enables its customers to “leverage” the cloud for their data computing needs while ensuring their data is always available, accurate and protected.

Dr Vicky Kell, Invest NI’s director of innovation, research and development said: “As the world continues to become increasingly technology-driven, businesses are generating unprecedented levels of data. Our R&D support is helping WANdisco to develop the next generation of its WANdisco Fusion, allowing its customers to move large volumes of data.”
And in the North West MetaCompliance announced plans to recruit 69 new workers over the next three years to help develop its worldwide sales and market presence.

It develops software and creative content for the cyber security sector and is aiming to triple its turnover by capitalising on the demand for cloud based cyber security products.

Jeremy Fitch said the expansion will inject £1.7m into the salary economy here.

Reaching out to customers well beyond the region is also a hot topic in the homegrown cloud sector.

Anaeko, a “hybrid cloud Integrator specialising in the development and test of hybrid cloud products and solutions” has celebrated a multi-million pound contract to develop and integrate cloud services for a major cloud provider in the US.

Chairman of Anaeko, Denis Murphy, said: “When we made the jobs announcement late last year, our strategy was to focus on the fastest growing cloud technologies.

“This strategy has enabled us to fight off stiff competition and secure this three year contract which is helping us to grow a truly world class team in the hybrid cloud integration space."

Further driving the growth in this sector is the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which came into force last month.

The law applies to all companies selling to and storing personal information about citizens in Europe, including companies on other continents. It provides citizens of the EU and EEA with greater control over their personal data and assurances that their information is being securely protected across Europe.

It will have a major impact on cloud service providers and how they manage personal data. Services will need to be amended, contracts, background processes and other areas will have to be assessed under new requirements or consequences could cost firms fines up to €20m (£18m) (or 4% of global turnover, whichever is higher).

The regulations apply regardless of where the personal data is kept - whether on paper or on servers in the cloud. However some experts do believe that using cloud services, could, in some instances, ease compliance.

Being able to audit, query and resolve through virtual means is a powerful tool, and a cost-saving one at that.

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