CITIES that have succeeded over the centuries are those that have changed and adapted as their economies have evolved. According to the European Commission, the digital economy is the single most important driver of innovation, competitiveness and growth. Attracting the digital economy to cities is therefore becoming a major policy endeavour.
Many cities around the world have recognised that high-growth digital companies are increasingly important drivers of economic growth via creation of high productivity businesses. Conversely, it is becoming evident that economies that are not on the front of the innovation wave will be overtaken by more progressive, technology-enabled economies.
What does this mean for Cork? With major new developments planned across the city, Cork’s physical landscape is set to change dramatically. But what about its digital landscape? What type of vision and planning is needed to secure Cork’s share of the global digital economy? For a start, it is essential that Cork knows what its digital economy is worth, how fast it is growing and how many jobs it will create.
It is predicted that the global digital economy will be worth a staggering $100 trillion by 2025. Ireland’s digital economy is currently a more modest €12 billion, but with Cork’s large population and high contribution to GDP, the region’s digital economy may already be worth €1 billion. Put in perspective, this would be more than tourism.
Set to grow organically by €150 million a year, and up to twice that level if a Regional Digital Economy Plan is put in place, the digital economy in Cork can create up to 15,000 digital jobs by 2025. The digital economy therefore represents a significant opportunity for Cork city and county, one that needs targeted actions to ensure that it is fulfilled.
Ireland’s digital landscape is challenging. According to Amarach Consulting, companies are suffering badly from ‘Transformation Anxiety’; with fewer than half having a digital strategy in place. 80% of businesses currently overestimate their level of digital readiness. Fewer than 20% are trading online, while consumers are adopting digital technology at three times the rate that businesses are.
According to IBEC, the digital economy is an enabler of growth in the broader economy. Support is needed which is adequately resourced, focussed and implemented in a timely and coherent manner.
Its vision is for a globally competitive digital economy that delivers jobs, growth and prosperity in Ireland. Investment attraction is also intrinsically linked to the digital economy.
To be successful in the Digital Economy, there is an urgency to increase the level of digital maturity across the business ecosystem. In Nice, an advisory board consisting of representatives from local businesses was created by the economic development agency to keep pace with the latest technological advances likely to have an impact on the region’s digital economy.
Concerted action is needed therefore to identify and tackle the issues affecting the growth potential of Cork’s digital economy, which range from low adoption by businesses to the impact of broadband rollout. We must create the conditions that enable a vibrant online market to develop, supported by a critical mass of digitally transformed organisations that can fulfil customer expectations, drive economic growth and raise the collective digital capability of the city.
Digital Cork is unique to the Cork region and probably beyond. Most countries monitor their digital economy, but not many cities do. Those that do gain valuable insights that inform their digital policies.
Digital Cork aims to cultivate a digital state of mind in Cork by raising the profile of the region’s digital ecosystem and helping its digital economy to grow. It provides a voice for the digital community in Cork and a forum for those with an interest in the digital economy. It also provides insights for the general business community who want to understand the role that the digital economy will play in Cork’s future competitiveness.
Digital Cork is a voluntary initiative that is in the process of raising funds for its first project. This will be a Cork Digital Audit that will measure digital capability across a wide cross section of local businesses, identify digital champions and award Cork a digital maturity score. Each subsequent increase in this digital maturity score will create economic value. The output of the Digital Audit could be used to inform the development of a Cork Digital Economy Plan, as well as existing strategies such as Cork’s Economic Development Plan and the Cork Smart Gateway.
Kieran O’Hea is the former Chief Digital Officer of Brisbane, a Cork native and the founder of Digital Cork. See http://digitalcork.ie