Embrace digital technologies now to start your innovation journey

Dr Justin Quinn, Director for the Centre for Engineering and Renewable Energy (CERE) and a Senior Lecturer at the School of Computing, Engineering, and Intelligent Systems at Ulster University Magee, explains why the Derry Strabane City Deal has the potential to transform and energise the region.
Dr. Justin Quinn.Dr. Justin Quinn.
Dr. Justin Quinn.

The innovation agenda is very much a priority for the North West currently.

The Department for the Economy has set forth a vision for a Decade of Innovation in its 10X Economy paper.

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Through the Derry & Strabane City Deal, Derry will become home to new centres of excellence in robotics, artificial intelligence, and personalised medicine in the years to come.

Soon, the first School of Medicine in the area will educate the future of doctors of Northern Ireland.

And Derry City and Strabane District Council, which is leading the City Deal agenda, will pioneer new projects to make Derry a Smart City.

So, the future looks bright. But recent times have felt grey amidst the challenges of Covid-19. How can business in the North West equip themselves for the opportunities that lie ahead?

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Start small by pin-pointing the parts of your business that are suited to digitisation and get skilled team members around you is our advice at the School of Computing, Engineering, and Intelligent Systems at Magee. At the Intelligent Systems Research Centre (ISRC), our research and technology are a catalyst for innovation. The expertise exists here on your doorstep. There is exciting work happening and it is through a partnership approach that we will achieve change, growth and transform the region.

At an upcoming webinar, entitled Innovation for Growth, in partnership between Ulster University, Derry City and Strabane District Council and Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, Timothy Patterson, of Heysense Ltd, and I will share the story of a new internet of things product which we developed for CDE Global which operates a thriving global business out of Cookstown. This digital management tool gave CDE a global competitive advantage as none of their competitors have this internet linked technology to offer.

Industry 4.0 is the coming together of robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI). It is the dawn of a new kind of manufacturing embracing 3D printing and digital technologies in all aspects of production.

As was the case with the industrial revolution, the Industry 4.0, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, cannot be ignored. This collision of the internet of things, 3D manufacturing and AI will bring about opportunities for the companies in the North West that embrace it and challenges for those which do not manage to.

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In the North West, 20% of all jobs are in the manufacturing industry. In the UK, up to 30% of jobs could be impacted by automation by the 2030s.

Therefore, it is critical that we leverage our research insights at Ulster University to support businesses to digitize and to innovate currently. That change, that embracing of technology, comes about through a partnership over the long-term.

The City Deal Growth Plan brings a bold vision and a supportive infrastructure to the region to enable growth, change and prosperity. By leveraging our research insights, Ulster University wishes to support businesses in the recovery period. Post COVID-19, this is an important time for business leaders to take stock.

There are tools and support systems out there to help business but to break it down into first steps, consider embracing digital technologies as a necessity. View your first step or project as tidying the business up for the years ahead.

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○ Prepare today to innovate tomorrow: At Magee, through our partnerships with industry to tackle various challenges, we are helping business to embrace new technologies as that really is the first step. If businesses are not agile, and do not use digital technologies, then the Internet of Things, will not solve any problems for the business as it will be ‘too far behind’ in the race.

○ Up-skill your workforce: support your staff or recruit staff with skills for the long-term. In time, our Centre for Industrial Digitalisation, Robotics and Automation (CIDRA) will be an innovation space for employees to come in and test new technologies out. Until then, consider some of Ulster University’s new industry relevant courses such as a Master of Science in Smart Manufacturing Systems, now in its second year which is led by Dr Emmett Kerr.

○ Embrace data to measure your business in terms of productivity levels: five core technologies are essential in the next 10 to 50 years: artificial intelligence, robotics, automation, internet of things, and industrial digital technologies. The reality is most businesses in the North West and beyond are under-prepared for these technologies and require support to compete internationally.

Finally, seek out advice and avenues for collaboration. We can support you in your innovation journey. Now is the time.

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I hope you will join us to hear more advice, on June 3, 2021 at 11am-11:45am for the first in an Innovation Stories webinar series led by Ulster University with City Deal partners, to showcase innovation in the North West. The event is open to Members and non-Members of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce who will host the webinar. We will be joined by Rosalind Young, Investment Manager at Derry City and Strabane District Council, and colleagues from the School of Business at Magee who will demonstrate avenues for collaboration with Ulster University.

The event will feature a Q&A session with time for discussion.

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