Urban Foresight was commissioned to review the links between regional capabilities in the digital sector and the future needs of three key industrial sectors.

In a study for the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Innovation Board, Urban Foresight profiled the digital strengths in North East England alongside the needs and opportunities that exist in three key industries that are central to the region’s strategic economic strategy: Offshore, subsea and marine technologies; Life sciences and health; and Low carbon passenger vehicles.

Urban Foresight was tasked to review the interdependencies and shared opportunities that exist between these sectors. This involved a comprehensive literature review, interviews with over 30 experts from 21 different organisations, and a series of four workshops in each of the smart specialisation areas.

This informed a profiling and mapping of the digital capabilities in North East England, considering strengths, opportunity areas and the roles and capabilities of key support facilities including networks, hubs, skills providers and finance.

A key outcome was to develop a framework to structure the range of business support services available to digital companies, which the interviews for this study revealed was somewhat confusing.

The study also identified potential areas of opportunity for the North East digital sector, including: data analytics; cyber security; Fintech; Building Information Modelling; emerging technologies (including virtual reality); and digital transformation of the public sector.

Due to the pervasive nature of digital in almost every aspect of physical services, a more general consideration of the economic opportunities and challenges was also presented. This identified that the direct and indirect benefits of increased digitalisation can lead to improvements in healthcare, education, security, employment, as well as positive social and environmental impacts.

It also identified several key trends that are likely to have both positive and negative impacts on the North East economy, namely: augmentation of human intelligence, automation, sharing economy, agility, servitization, openness, transparency, co-creation, cyber security and digital value propositions to differentiate products and services.

The final deliverable of the study was to develop an outline plan for how Data for Growth could be developed and delivered as a regional project. This culminated in the outline of possible structure, roles and responsibilities, as well as recommendations on the scope and focus for different activities that could be undertaken.