In the globalised environment in which our businesses have to compete, the role of information and communication technologies (ICT) in economic growth is of fundamental importance.
ICT plays a key role in enabling businesses across all sectors in Northern Ireland to be more competitive and to service customers across the world by providing access to a wide range of information sources, products and services.
In 2008, the total turnover in the ICT sector was estimated to be worth £1,939 million, and there are more than 17,000 employees in this field. Of over 700 companies in the ICT sector in Northern Ireland, more than 100 are international investors, including SAP, Fujitsu, HP, Openwave, Microsoft, The Allstate Corporation, NYSE Technologies and Cybersource. These companies benefit from the opportunities the region offers for R&D, software development and business development.
It is not only software companies that compete using ICT as a key resource, but, as has been highlighted by MATRIX, financial services, health providers, creative industries, advanced engineering and retail organisations.
In addition, there are real opportunities for exploiting ICT by using our core telecommunications infrastructure and capability. By building on our existing experience of software development and web services, Northern Ireland can position itself as a global competitor for provision of such applications for the next generation of the internet.
My department has worked with the telecommunications industry to enhance our core infrastructure in support of all business sectors, including ICT.
The €30million Project Kelvin has, for the first time, given Northern Ireland a direct telecommunications link to North America and improved communication connections to Europe. Northern Ireland businesses now have access to telecoms services that were previously only available in major cities like Amsterdam and New York.
Also, last year, I announced a £48million investment in Northern Ireland’s telecommunications infrastructure. The Next Generation Broadband project involves the introduction of new technology to increase broadband speed. It is targeted at areas, both urban and rural, which will deliver the greatest economic benefit by receiving high-speed broadband.
As Enterprise Minister, I believe that by using our world-class communications infrastructure and the skills, talent and creativity of our people, Northern Ireland has the opportunity to carve a strategic niche in these important global markets.