Focus on COVID-19 recovery: Supporting SMEs to leverage digital technologies
Supporting small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) to invest in digital technologies and advance their digital skills is a core priority of Sunderland’s digital transformation plans.
SMEs across the city represent a hotbed of economic activity, and better equipping them with the digital means to compete and thrive is critical now more than ever as we progress through 2021 and into a period of COVID-19 recovery.
As the impact of COVID-19 increases the urgency of digital technology investment, it has been widely reported that a focus on enhanced digital infrastructure and the means with which to mobilise the many advantages of digital technology are both essential to surviving current market conditions.
Investment in digital technology and skills has never been more crucial, and the recent difficult operating period has proven that those taking advantage of digital technologies tend to be the most competitive and the most resilient. Conversely, a lack of digital infrastructure and investment can place companies at a much higher risk of being left behind, failing to compete in a global, digitally fluent landscape.
As a local authority, we understand the importance of collaboration with a wide range of partners to enable agile, specialist support to local SMEs. This article seeks to explore and illustrate the support services available to enable SMEs to harness the power of digitisation, maximising their growth potential and sustainability through digital technology.
Our own Business Investment Team provides guidance and support to small and medium sized businesses across a wide range of sectors – from businesses that specialise in developing digital and technology products and services to businesses of all sizes who might benefit from some of those very products and services, as well as non-digital businesses who have identified a gap in the market and want to design and develop a digital product themselves.
As a local authority we were a founding partner in Sunderland Software City – which brings together the NE Business Innovation Centre, University of Sunderland, Sunderland College and the City Council. Innovation Grants are available to support eligible small and medium sized businesses as part of the Digital Innovation Partnership project, which is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and staff in the Business Investment Team work closely with colleagues in each of the partner organisation to maximise the support available to small and medium sized businesses.
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Sunderland Software City
Sunderland Software City has been addressing the changing needs of the tech sector for over a decade through a range of innovation, digital skills and business support programmes.
Business support for SMEs
Sunderland Software City provides fully funded business support to help local SMEs to grow, adapt and recover. The service includes help in the following areas:
- Functional specification: helping SMEs understand the functionality required to build a new technological platform
- Market intelligence: helping SMEs explore new markets, platforms, or customer behaviours through market research
- Innovation road mapping: helping SMEs explore their growth trajectories and ways to bring new products or services to market
- Strategic networking: helping SMEs improve lead generation through strategic networking support
For more information, contact Sunderland Software City’s Business Support Manager, Sophie Peel.
Live targeted programmes for Sunderland-based businesses are broken down by organisation type to ensure the support available is tailored to the needs of each business and drives both short and long-term benefits.
Digital adoption support for creatives
As part of Sunderland Culture’s ‘Unlock the City Programme’, Sunderland Software City is supporting individuals in the creative, cultural and heritage sectors with the adoption of digital technologies. The fully funded support includes events (e.g. immersive tech deep dives), workshops and one-to-ones to help organisations and individuals explore how technology can address their most pressing challenges.
For more information, contact Sunderland Software City’s Innovation Specialist, Penny Day.
Neighbourhood Digital Programmes
Supporting local citizens across communities to improve their digital skills is crucial in the upskilling of our local area to not just survive, but thrive in the future.
The contribution of digital skills to the performance of the economy is substantial. Technology plays an increasingly important part in everyday lives and in the business world, correlating to ever-increasing opportunities for individuals and businesses to digitally upskill for future success.
Supporting residents to increase their digital skills is a core part of the Council’s agenda and the ‘Get Online’ programme from the East Sunderland Area Committee demonstrates a significant £200k investment into three digital programmes:
- Phase 1 of Get Online saw the roll out of equipment to a number of community buildings across the area, with each organisations offered tailored technical support to the value of £60k, equipping and enabling members of the community to connect and deepen understanding and digital proficiency.
- Phase 2 of Get Online involved £105k of face-to-face community development with people who have zero or basic IT knowledge. The support is tailored to people’s needs, ranging from an introduction to online shopping to carrying out job searches or maintaining Universal Credit. Ensuring digital literacy levels improve with a particular focus on individuals furthest removed from the digital world.
- Phase 3 of Get Online comprises of a further £35k investment to deliver a series of marketing workshops for specific East VCS Groups to produce their own Social Media Marketing Campaign and promote their Services through the Sunderland Information Point by nominating a digital champion who would act as the key contact for their organisation and encourage VCS Groups to ‘connect’ to each other.
Connectivity, accessibility and digital skills combine to enhance the talents of local people, boost confidence and enable individuals to explore the benefits of being more digitally capable.
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Gaining a competitive edge
There is a clear link between the digital fluency of individuals, the uptake and application of digital technology in the workplace and market competitiveness. Organisations who have embraced and developed an enhanced ICT infrastructure to allow them to take advantage of digital technologies, gain kudos from a competitive standpoint as well as creating a strong reputation as a more forward-thinking and desirable employer to work with and for.
Significant value can be added to the UK economy through better investment in digital skills to bolster the capabilities of SMEs and other organisations. An augmented digital capacity drives productivity and efficiencies, as well as future job creation and equips businesses to grow.
Our Smart City vision is one of an engaged collective of people, places and opportunities. Opportunities to live, learn and earn – to grow as individuals and as successful businesses. Sunderland City Council and partners, including Sunderland Software City, will continue to engage, drive and support the mechanisms highlighted above alongside a range of new digitally charged projects into 2021 and beyond. This will ensure that the rollout of an enhanced digital infrastructure benefits existing and new businesses across the city, technically mobilising our people and businesses to withstand and emerge from the current global health pandemic in as strong a position as possible.
Sunderland City Council is committed to supporting local businesses and has numerous support schemes available from financial support to technical advice.