“Everyone in the public and private sector needs to prepare for a new normal”.
The First Minister, Arlene Foster, couldn’t be clearer. With working patterns transformed, consumer behaviour reshaped, and everyday norms disrupted by social distancing, leaders need to look at technologies enabling them to adjust and thrive in a changed society.
Connectivity is already playing a pivotal role in helping Northern Ireland’s enterprises and public sector organisations bounce back from the social and economic upheaval brought by Covid-19 – and its importance will only grow in the months and years ahead.
Foundations for success
Ultrafast digital infrastructure has already played a vital role in providing Northern Ireland with the foundations for success. Connectivity has allowed organisations to respond to the pandemic and shift operations online quickly and securely, getting people connected and ready to work from home.
One example of this is Virgin Media’s £100 million investment in the region since 2015, bringing ultrafast broadband to 375,000 premises across Northern Ireland, unlocking new possibilities for businesses and public sector organisations alike.
Our Project Lightning programme has connected more than 150,000 homes and businesses across the country, bringing life-changing connectivity to towns and villages across the province. This has been so important during the current pandemic – not just in terms of supporting businesses and public sector organisations, but in helping create a sense of togetherness during uncertainty.
Elsewhere, in Belfast, a project is underway to expand the city’s local full fibre network, which will see local businesses, public services and residents benefit. As the capital reaps the rewards of superfast connectivity, there is no doubt that other cities, towns and villages across Northern Ireland will follow.
These investments have contributed to the region being able to rapidly adjust to remote working – in many cases doing so with great success. PWC research found that over half of employees in Northern Ireland have felt more productive when working from home, with one in five stating they’re able to work fewer hours to get the same amount done.
This is welcome news because remote working is here to stay well beyond the loosening of lockdown. As we move into the new normal, business and public sector leaders will need to remember that networks are the fundamental ingredient, allowing businesses to adapt and giving staff what they need to excel. Without them, staff simply wouldn’t be able to hold video calls, screen-sharing sessions and the conference calls that have replaced office interactions so successfully.
Clearly, connectivity infrastructure has already helped prepare enterprise and public sector organisations for the disruption of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland. If the region is to recover socially and economically, though, and support ‘new normal’ practices such as universal remote working over the long term, further investment in infrastructure will be crucial.
Promisingly, Northern Irish decision-makers are stepping up their investment in infrastructure. Fibre NI, an exciting initiative designed to transform regional connectivity, is just one example of this growing ambition and optimism.
It will be vital in giving organisations the infrastructure they need to continue with their digital transformations – supporting remote working for employees and delivering innovative public services for local people.
Crucially, as we’ve seen with other projects so far, there will be a knock-on effect for Northern Irish businesses. Private industry will ultimately reap the rewards from the ultrafast connectivity provided by new fibre optic lines. Ultrafast networks will support remote working for employees, powering seamless online services for customers and unlock new possibilities across Northern Ireland.
Ultimately, what Northern Irish decision-makers are recognising is that everyone benefits from upgraded connectivity – residents, public services and businesses alike. The opportunities are endless. Ultrafast digital infrastructure won’t just fuel the comeback from Covid-19, but will establish Northern Ireland as an innovation hub, with world-class public services and transformative businesses.
There is no end to connectivity’s potential to transform working life and create opportunities – for Northern Ireland’s public sector and business community alike.
The pandemic has reaffirmed the role of technology in transforming working patterns, empowering public sector employees and bringing communities closer together. In a post-Covid-19 landscape, it’s clear we need to harness the power of connectivity more than ever before.