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Drive to help everyone catch the digital wave

Janet Burns, Senior Deal Architect at BT Business in Northern Ireland

The ability to navigate the internet is second nature to most of us. We take it for granted that we can pay our bills, book a restaurant or download a song with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a smartphone.

Digitalisation has improved our lives over the last few years immeasurably and without it, we would be lost.

But, as with every technological revolution, not everybody is able to ride the wave and some get left behind in its wake.

Some older people, those who live in rural farming communities, small and medium-sized business and people with lower skill levels are all-too-often falling into the digitally excluded category, one which leaves them unable to take advantage of the technological advances in modern living the rest of us take for granted.

We at BT, along with our partners, are changing that and levelling the playing field for all.

It’s not something which is new to us. Our digital inclusion programmes have been at the forefront of the effort to encourage more people to take their first steps online for years.

Now we’re taking that work to the next level by partnering with NI Direct’s (NID) Digital Inclusion Unit and digital inclusion experts Citizens Online.

The latter’s award-winning Digital Resilience model - an effective strategic partnership and delivery network and an evidence-based approach to problem solving and resource allocation - is at the heart of this work. 

The project will enhance online skills that are available through the existing digital champion initiative provided by NID in partnership with Supporting Communities and Libraries NI.

Such a collaborative approach across a number of organisations is key, according to John Fisher, chief executive of Citizens Online.

“Traditionally, there have been lots of excellent initiatives popping up in different areas but unless you can scale them it’s hard to make significant progress,” he said. “The concept is to bring all those together in a manner which makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.”

The intention is to identify a resilient digital inclusion ecosystem across Northern Ireland that truly benefits residents and increases basic digital skills and brings together the wider support network which currently provide access to digital upskilling.

We will recruit digital champions, train them further and give them all the support they need to train those in their community or sector to become digitally savvy.

It will be a self-sustaining model and ties in neatly with the other work BT is doing through the NI Direct Strategic Partnership with the Digital Transformation Service to transform government services here in Northern Ireland.

The Digital First model which is central to the programme means more and more government services can be accessed online, a factor which means it is more important than ever to ensure every citizen is digitally aware, as Mark Bennett, the Digital Inclusion Manager at the Digital Transformation Service, explained.

“As more government services become ‘digital first’ in nature, digital inclusion is critical in supporting those people who cannot use them independently,” he said.

Fibre broadband now reaches an impressive 97.5% of homes in Northern Ireland* and plans are afoot for deeper broadband penetration in rural areas, so a key remaining part of the puzzle is to get more people using online services more effectively.

The drive to increase digital inclusion by BT is crucial for society, for the economy and for the future of Northern Ireland.

We see it as a small step on the way to making this region the most digitally aware in the world, not just in pockets of the community but in every corner, every valley and every hilltop. By doing that, we really can transform society.

*www.thinkbroadband.com “January 2017 update on UK superfast and ultrafast broadband coverage levels”

For further information and to contact BT Business in Northern Ireland please email enterprise.accounts@bt.com.

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