Business leaders have been briefed on the pivotal role of digitalisation in shaping the North East’s economic landscape.

Digitalising the North East: Where Next? run by the North East Chamber of Commerce and backed by Sage uncovered the challenges and opportunities arising from the digital evolution. 

Tim Marsden, knowledge manager at the Chamber, said: “Businesses know that digital technology can drive inclusive and sustainable growth, unlock innovation, and help them reach their sustainability goals.

“Harnessing and realising the benefits of AI will require a solid digital foundation with a digital-ready workforce. Events such as these are key to encouraging collaborative working amongst the region’s businesses and building a stronger, fairer North East.”

Patrick Melia, CEO of Sunderland City Council, spoke about the council’s role in developing Sunderland’s advanced digital eco-system to support connected communities.

Patrick said: “Sunderland is a forward-thinking city, renowned for its smart city initiatives and for creating a blueprint to underpin smart city ambitions across the UK. Recognising the pivotal role that digital connectivity plays in enabling positive change, we are opening up future opportunities for residents, businesses and visitors.

 “By understanding the needs of individuals and the factors that may affect their digital access, we’re opening doors to connect with everyone, ensuring that no one is left behind.”

Sunderland’s digital inclusion plan outlines six shared priorities: better connectivity and access to equipment; improve digital confidence and skills; create motivation; build trust; design services for all and co-ordinate interventions.

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Patrick said: “We’ve established the Digital Inclusion Network because we recognise that achieving digital inclusion is a collaborative effort. It’s not just up to one organisation – it’s about all of us coming together to make a difference.”

Cadence Willis, vice president at Sage Foundation, said: “The North East is rich in talent; however, not everyone sees a career in STEM as accessible to them. We aim to confront this issue directly by making STEM education both inspiring and accessible to underrepresented groups.”

A panel discussion was hosted by Alison Dunn, CEO of Citizens Advice Gateshead, as part of the event.

Panel members included: Hilary Duffy, director of product marketing at Sage; Patrick Melia, CEO at Sunderland City Council; Gill Hunter, managing partner at Square One Law; and Katharina Roettger, principal scientist at CPI.

Gill said: “The digital sector is fragmented which makes it even harder for businesses to navigate and get the right advice and solutions that align with their overall strategy. We need more inclusivity by design with service providers and manufacturers considering how they can make their products and services accessible for all from the start.”

Katharina added: “Access to funding, knowledge and skills is a real challenge, but the network we have is really strong. The new combined authority can lobby much further.”

Hilary said: “It’s important young people understand the career options out there – the job opportunities for computer sciences are phenomenal. We just need that pipeline of talent and the whole region will benefit.”