Interview: KPMG’s northern head of technology on Yorkshire’s burgeoning tech sector
Posted by Nick Hill on 27 Jan 2016
Traditionally, there are several key sectors, such as industrial, hospitality and retail, that have constantly found success in Yorkshire, especially in the region’s major cities. But as these industries continue to prosper year-on-year, Yorkshire has also seen its technology industry significantly grow from strength-to-strength.
Like many of the other UK regions, the digital age has engulfed Yorkshire’s business environment and, therefore, there has been a sharp rise in the number of tech firms. The most significant development of this was the opening of Hull’s Centre for Digital Innovation (C4DI) back in December.
However, despite this continued growth, it could be argued that there is an unfamiliarity with the region’s tech sector because of its lack of promotion, which has ultimately delayed its progression in becoming an established industry within Yorkshire.
Bdaily recently sought to discover the current state of Yorkshire’s tech industry by speaking with Graham Pearce, KPMG’s head of technology in the north.
“Given how critical technology can be to virtually the full spectrum of businesses, this is a tougher question than you might expect!“ Graham said when I asked him what crucial elements a business must have to be put in the tech sector.
“Is an online retailer a tech business? Is Uber a tech business? Are many manufacturers tech businesses? I’d say yes, while acknowledging they also align to different sectors. So, to me the tech sector is far broader than just companies that provide technology platforms and software.“
“However if I were to try to define what characterises a tech business, I’d suggest it’s a matter of whether their tech platform determines their success."
Graham then went on to discuss the areas in Yorkshire that he feels are really embracing the tech industry.
He said: “There are a series of broad tech ecosystems across the region, from the Electric Works in Sheffield, York’s Science Park, the Centre for Digital Innovation in Hull and The Innovation Centre at Leeds University.
“These clusters are an ingredient for success; generating access to talent, networks, connectivity and cumulative profile. They will doubtless grow and strengthen, and it’s important that they do.
“Of course, given the scale of the region’s geographic footprint and its economic diversity, teamed with the tech sector’s breadth and portability, there are creative people doing interesting things all over the patch. This has a fine tradition - Google, after all, was started in a garage.“
But to develop our region into a recognised hub for the tech industry, Graham believes it is “important for the cities and sub-regions to build on the specialist strengths and high-profile businesses that are based here.
“For example, Leeds is rich in health tech and data organisations and software businesses, from Emis, TPP, BJSS and Answer Digital to the Health & Social Care Information Centre. And the city is home to high-profile companies such as Sky Bet, and others that are making it their mission to promote the region’s offering, such as AQL. Support for these sectors and businesses, and profile for them in a Yorkshire context, can only help the region to better compete for the talent needed to enable the tech sector to thrive here.
“Boosting profile is of course a contribution that can be made by many of us working in the region who are excited by the potential that tech businesses offer to our economy. By talking about, and participating in, the tech ecosystems across the region, we can play a role in highlighting and strengthening the region’s tech credentials.“
For any budding entrepreneur wanting to launch their own tech startup in Yorkshire, Graham said the most important thing to be is “open.“
“I’m convinced that successful businesses share, collaborate, consult and build market profile."
This could well include seeking a mentor. And challenge yourself as to how your product or service will improve lives and therefore why customers will adopt it. Having the best tech platform is only part of the challenge – your business must also provide something compellingly useful in order to be commercial.“
Finally, I asked Graham if he could name a couple of the most exciting and innovative tech business’ that he has come across in the region?
“There are so many that fit that bill and make my career working with them incredibly interesting, so I’m going to name two organisations for what they are doing to put Yorkshire’s tech offering on the global map – the ODI node in Leeds and AQL,“ he told me.
“Those behind the Leeds Open Data Institute are so open, active and collaborative in encouraging the full spectrum of the community to explore the value of data. And what a mission statement: ‘To take the promise of open data, the world leading work of Leeds Data Mill and be the catalyst for action with Open Data, for good across Leeds & the City Region’.
“Adam Beaumont at AQL, meanwhile, has an energetic, campaigning style of communicating, on a national stage, what Yorkshire offers in terms of big data centres and resilience. He’s convincing in his assertions that the region should provide the national economy’s online and data resilience, which could prove extraordinarily valuable in the face of any exposure by London to a shock event.“