Does Digital Circle need to do more?
Simple enough question.
Between August 2008 and September 2011, Digital Circle was funded to create presence, to motivate and accelerate, to help provide a communications stream between government and the digital media industry.
The funding was to hire one person, provide some admin support and a little travel and a marketing and events budget. We managed the budget to deliver on time (though we moved a chunk of cash from salary to the travel budget).
- We have organised dozens of events over the years and sponsored dozens more.
- We have organised special interest groups for mobile devs, for games development, for open data and more.
- We’ve pushed the envelope in innovation across our industry. Encouraging and promoting, funding and managing.
- We’ve over delivered on every metric we were given and created new metrics where there were none.
- We’ve pushed digital content to the front of the minds in government and we have weathered every knock back and every threat with renewed vigour.
- We’ve secured millions of pounds in public funding and procurement for the local industry.
- We’ve engaged the industry at every point, challenged them and we have never considered this to be a 9-5 job.
- We’ve worked with colleges and universities to deliver hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of value into the skills chain with helping advise on new courses, getting free training for local businesses to help them compete.
- We have sent hundreds of people to international events over the years for business, training and awareness. These include Apple’s WWDC, SxSWi, Games Developers Conference, IBC, Mobile World Congress, Microsoft Partner Conference, Learning Without Frontiers, Paris Regional IT Conference and EU events in Brussels.
- We have helped companies with over £4M of additional revenue
- We have provided administration support for the Creative Industries Innovation Fund (CIIF) in previous years and we will continue to do so. This means attending hundreds of individual workshops, assessing hundreds of project plans and being an advocate for the dozens of projects which have a chance of getting funded.
- We provided responses to the Consultations on the Independent Review of Economic Policy, the new Economic Strategy and the Inquiry into the Creative Industries. We have met regularly with InvestNI, DETI, DCAL, DRD, DEL, DFP, The Arts Council, NI Screen, eSynergy, Clarendon Capital, L&PS, Translink, NISP, QUB, UU, BMET, SERC, SRC, NRC, SWC, NWRC and a dozen other acronyms.
We didn’t do everything perfectly, not by a long shot. The App Economy resulted in half a million jobs in the US and by that scale we should have managed a thousand. We managed probably less than 20% of that. We simply didn’t campaign hard enough for the additional training that would be required to deliver that scale. The local software industry is currently facing two challenges:
Companies cannot grow without new staff and the rate we are training software engineers is significantly lower than the rate they are leaving the industry (through career change, emigration, retirement and death). We currently have over 650 vacancies in ICT-related jobs and this number will be a lot higher next year.
Software engineers are the skeleton of the industry and this discipline is becoming more and more important as our media services move ever more digitally focused and delivered. Upon this skeleton, we estimate four times as many jobs can be created in other disciplines. Artists and designers to add form to function, managers to ensure delivery, marketing and sales to generate cash and then the ripple effects of the spread of wealth.
From October 2011 until March 2012, Digital Circle was funded by the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure and though the future is uncertain, the future is always uncertain and it needs to be uncertain in recessionary times. The challenge is to constantly provide value for money.
I wasn’t concerned when a local tech magazine started even though someone suggested we should do that. Or when a series of big ticket event started and people said we should do that. Or when a venture fund appeared and, yes, people said we should do that. Or a dozen other things – all of which would be fun and worthwhile but it would require a much larger team. Because while we might have been able to do one of those things, we couldn’t do them all and nor should we try.
Digital Circle was not meant to do everything. It’s really just one person, restricted by delivery requirements and job roles and a network of volunteers each of which have their own careers and businesses to manage.
Towards the end of March we will be asking everyone in our industry to comment on what we plan to do in the future. Not so much on Strategy but on Implementation, Roadmap and Milestones.
We have no idea what happens after March with Digital Circle. We have no promises from government, no idea what the size of the ask should be (and in recession we don’t know what’s available). We know what we can expect and what we would hope for (and yes, they are vastly different).
We want to do more.