The North East digital scene

By Danielle Stone

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User Experience Opinion

The North East's digital and tech sector is currently the fastest growing in the country, great news not just for those of us who work in the digital realm but also for all businesses across the North East who can benefit from being part of a fantastic culture of digital innovation.

The North East is already home to some big players in the digital sector, including Sage Software and UK Government offices for DWP and HMRC. Technology teams from some of the UK's largest organisations have also been attracted to the region, such as British Airways, Nissan, Virgin Money, Sky and nPower to name just a few, a good indication of the health of the digital scene in our region.

The measure of a region's digital prowess comes not just from attracting the big players, but also how proactive they are at supporting start-ups and grassroots innovation. Regional initiatives are playing a big part in the growth of the technology sector in our region. Tech North is part of the Government-led Tech City project, with the aim of making the UK a world-leading digital economy. Covering the whole of the North of the UK, its remit is to encourage growth in the North's digital economy by promoting digital entrepreneurship. Also pushing for growth in this sector, specifically in the North East, is Dynamo, an industry-led initiative with various streams of activity focused on excellence in delivering IT software and services.

This energy surrounding the digital sector is evidenced by the growing popularity of Digital and Tech conferences in the North East. In Newcastle alone, there are many high profile conferences such as Thinking Digital, industryconf, Venturefest and DIBI (Design It Build It) attracting both speakers and delegates from around the world, including representatives from Google, Etsy, Tomorrow's World, Kickstarter, HMRC, The Guardian, IBM and Microsoft leading talks on a diverse range of topics. A growing interest in the approach to digital work has also kick-started regular User Experience meet-ups (NUX) as well as workshops exploring working methods such as Scrum.

A photo of someone speaking at the Thinking Digital conference

As a brand agency we are very closely involved with the digital growth of our region, not just because we deliver digital services to our clients, but also because of the clients themselves. We watch our long-standing customers grow, meet companies who want help moving to the next level, and also get involved with exciting start-ups taking their first steps. Some are tech companies and some are just using tech to their advantage.

We see innovation emerging in interesting and unusual places. Who could be better placed therefore to see whether the North East really is becoming a tech region worthy of recognition?

Case studies

We have worked with two forward-thinking companies recently who exemplify the digital entrepreneurship coming out of the North East: Realsafe Technologies has used smartphone technology to create a life-saving app that links directly to the emergency services; UltraMAP tapped into an existing global tracking system to create a unique product to save their customers millions of pounds. Both clients are using emerging technologies including Satellite navigation to create their innovative, award-winning products.

Realsafe Technologies

A screenshot of the Realsafe Technologies website

Zoe Farrington and Andrew Richardson, based in Durham, launched REALRIDER® in 2013 and their brilliant product has been gaining in popularity at an increasing speed, winning both awards and investment across the UK.

Their app brings together motion sensor smartphone technology, the BT 999 call telematics system and the NHS ambulance response service to create a powerful and potentially life-saving app.

Realsafe Technologies' flagship product is REALRIDER®, designed for motorcycle riders. Smartphone sensors detect rapid deceleration, tumbling motions and periods of non-movement. If the app detects a crash using this evidence, an alert is triggered. The user can deactivate the alert if they are ok, otherwise the phone will send their location, medical details and mobile phone number to the nearest Ambulance Control Room.

The REALRIDER® app is recognised by the Emergency Services and Government departments. Recent investment has enabled them to integrate into the BT telematics system to ensure alerts are treated as any other 999 emergency call following the same system and protocols. It is also an industry first; there is no other app available on the market that links directly to the UK Emergency Services.

It is also an industry first; there is no other app available on the market that links directly to the UK Emergency Services.

Screenshot of the Ultramap website

Martin Connelly and Andrew Desforges of UltraMAP saw an opportunity to exploit an existing web-based service to create a unique product for their customers to alert them of potential danger to their ocean-based property.

Organisations in the oil and gas, telecomms or electricity sectors are all likely to have deep sea cables, pipelines or oil rigs that are frequently at risk of damage from large trawlers or ships dropping anchor, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage.

UltraMAP was aware that all vessels over a particular size were tracked using Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders. They identified that they could make use of this online system which tracks vessels all over the world.

UltraMAP built their own software around this existing service to create their flagship product: AssetMonitor, which allows their customers to track their own marine assets, such as pipelines, oil rigs or power or telecoms cables. If ships come into a pre-determined protected zone and exhibit potentially damaging behavior, the client is notified immediately so they can take appropriate action.

The AssetMonitor app and UltraMAP's services now protect billions of pounds worth of ocean based assets around the world.

A bright digital future

These are just two examples of digital success stories coming out of the North East, but there are many more, and tech start up companies are just the beginning of the story. Many other organisations are using technology to their advantage, whether that means offering an app that complements your services or embracing technology to enhance or personalise your customer service. Companies have recognized that using emerging technologies in the right way can set them apart, if not put them way ahead of their competitors.

Image credits:

Thinking digital at the Sage Gateshead 2015

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