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Regeneration and ICT - 3

Reaching the parts other policies and activities fail to reach

Developing businesses

Innovative use of ICT is being used to help businesses grow and to help new business start-ups.

With the development of new regional development bodies in the UK it seems, in fact, that there is no region in the country that does not aspire to become a world leader in the new economy. In practice, however, practice lags far behind aspiration in most areas.

The key themes in using ICT for developing businesses are:

  • Awareness raising

  • ICT skills development

  • Workplace learning 

  • Information sharing/Networking

  • Collective marketing 

  • Ecommerce 

  • Specialised facilities 

Boosting awareness

For SMEs getting to grips with ICT can present many problems. Not all big organisations do it particularly well, but at least in principle they have the resources to do so. For smaller businesses, the investment and the time necessary may seem too great, and in-house skills may be lacking.

This is an area where economic development partners can make a big difference. One such example is the "Wired Working" project in S&E Cheshire. This is an area with a strong manufacturing base, but badly hit by the decline of the defence industries. The local Training & Enterprise Council ran a project to spread awareness of how ICT can be used to improve business competitiveness. outreach activities and publications targeted at the intelligent and very busy manager were the order of the day.

Skills development and workplace learning

ICT can be both the subject of new learning and also the delivery mechanism.

In growing businesses getting to grips with any IT may be the necessary first step. It may be that a company has a PC or two, but use only a fraction of their potential. Taking the PC from a being in effect a glorified (and expensive!) typewriter to being a tool for streamlining processes such as accounts and marketing can be the first step in making a company more competitive, and enabling the workforce to acquire new skills. Networking, remote working, getting to grips with the Internet and e-business may follow in due course.

A key barrier may be in local companies thinking that it is relevant only to high-tech businesses. But sharing best practice about traditional industries using ICT can overcome this.

Collective marketing

Local businesses and inward investment opportunities can be marketed via the Internet and other online networks.

At relatively low cost, compared to other forms of marketing, regeneration areas can market with global reach

Local or national?

There are numerous government supported websites which aim to boost economic development and the SME sector in particular.

Good sites like E-Commerce Scotland or (to a lesser extent) UK Online for Business provide many useful resources and links for activities relevant to growing businesses in regeneration areas. The University for Industry will (in due course) provide online learning opportunities

It is important not simply to duplicate national activities, but to seek to add value at the local level. ICT can be used to

  • promote access to local business support services

  • build local public/private partnerships for economic development

  • provide tailored services (e.g. joint marketing opportunities, tendering information, export support etc)

Specialised facilities

Just as specialised ICT facilities are popping up around the country to promote public access to ICT, specialised facilities catering to the business community can be developed as part of regeneration projects.

Those that currently exist often pay their way by offering training - e.g in word-processing, databases, Internet awareness etc. Some of the bolder ones offer a "showcase" for new technologies. This is an expensive route to take when technologies change so fast. 

But there is clear merit in having a venue where the business community can seek specialised advice and get their hands on new or unfamiliar technology.

The comment we have heard most about such facilities is that it is much easier to get funding for initial capital spending than it is for continued revenue support. Projects have to continually reinvent themselves to qualify for new funding streams.

Continue

Intro | Employment | Business | Learning | Community-building | Conclusions

Creating wealth is key to successful regeneration. Yet it often has to play second fiddle to activities providing training for work and jobseeking.

Part 3 of our guide summarises the ways ICT can contribute to business development.

 


Seminars, booklet, website and expert help promoted the business benefits of "wired working" in an area suffering from the decline of manufacturing

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