Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Northern Ireland can be global tech hub, says founder of lastminute.com

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton, Baroness Martha Lane-Fox, chair of Go ON and Jim Moore, from Bangor, who has benefited from the programme designed to boost basic online skills

Martha Lane Fox has said Northern Ireland is a "step ahead" of other UK regions in building a reputation as a tech hub – but more work still has to be done.

Baroness Lane Fox, who famously launched website lastminute.com, was speaking ahead of the launch of a new programme aimed at more than 345,000 Northern Ireland adults who lack basic online skills.

She is the founder and chairwoman of Go ON UK, an organisation which aims to help millions of people and organisations get online.

Northern Ireland is among the worst regions for online skills, with over a third of businesses and charities here lacking internet savvy – despite a relatively high number of tech start-ups and foreign direct investment from IT companies.

The baroness said: "Northern Ireland has fantastic ambitions in becoming a tech hub with superfast broadband provision and there are lots of good digital start-ups and big companies choosing to base themselves here.

"Both Northern Ireland and the Republic are seen as really exciting places to do business.

"However, there are still gaps and there are still people from vulnerable sections of the community, at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder, who do not have even the most basic skills and that is a gap we need to close.

"There are also too many small to medium businesses who are not using the internet to their best advantage and it isn't just about advertising your services. If you are a painter and decorator, you might think, why would I need a website?

"You might not need a website, but you might be able to buy your paint cheaper, you might be able to compare prices with your competitors, you might be able to attract more business."

Lastminute.com became the poster child of the UK internet boom of the last 1990s. And Baroness Lane Fox said that the next big "tech bubble" could come from a number of sources.

"I think health is going to be a really big sector, especially with the rise in wearable technology, where you can have an item of clothing which tells you about your heart rate or your breathing," she said.

"The 'internet of things' where everyday objects become interactive and online, is also taking off in a big way, I think the days of being online and offline are soon to be a thing of the past and that is why it is so important that everybody is equipped with the skills to use these tools."

Go ON UK will be launching the 'I Made a Difference Awards' to celebrate the work of individuals and organisations in Northern Ireland who are helping to boost basic online skills. The awards, which will take place in October, will also crown the 'NI Martha', who will be the face of the Go ON NI campaign in the future.

BACKGROUND

Go ON is an initiative to encourage people to gain basic online skills. Northern Ireland is the second Go ON region or nation, following on from the launch of Go ON North East in October 2013, and was launched at

Stormont yesterday.

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