An Event In Review: SMART Government 2019

Accessibility, Data and Citizen Focus are key to the future of Government here in Northern Ireland.


These are the key messages from our SMART Government conference held on Thursday 17th January in Titanic Hotel Belfast.

The event was opened by Caron Alexander, Director Of Digital Shared Services who spoke of digital transformation and how her department are focused on working collaboratively to allow citizens in all communities to engage with government in a digital way. The message that it should be digital first not digital only was clear. The focus must be on how digital can help address the needs of the people.



Our next speaker Deirdre Ferguson, SMART Cities Consultant for Belfast City Council, discussed what does it take to make Belfast a SMART city? In many ways, it is already extremely smart but with economic and technology growth it has the potential to boom and Deirdre stated that we must harness the opportunities that are presented. Such as the £40 million smart district that is planned for Belfast which will offer low cost digital services and innovation but must be utilised by the wider city so that the full benefit can be realised.


Deirdre then joined our first panel of the day, on Infrastructure, Connectivity and Utilities with Brendan Mulgrew of MW Advocate, Iain Bailie of NIE and Ciaran Duffy of Neueda. The panel discussed the pressures that the utility sectors in Northern Ireland will come under in the face of digital innovation, how Belfast as a city must always be connected but as much with people as with technology and how the previously mentioned SMART district is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Belfast and all the industries across Northern Ireland.



David Anderson, Director of Technology at Liberty IT then gave a presention on what is democratisation of data? He included a quote in his presentation which summed up the question succinctly;


“The goal of data democratization is to allow non-specialists to be able to gather and analyze data without requiring outside help.”


Dave then went on to state that data is how you improve the user experience. It is that simple a concept. By giving more access to data and having more citizens who can gather and understand that data it will be a key move towards the fourth industrial revolution. Which sectors need to be prepared and updated for.


David was then joined onstage by his colleague Stuart Greenless for an open mic q&a. They discussed how to make democratising data palatable by making sure open sets of data already exist, the challenges that exist when it comes to democratising data, how inclusion for people who might not be as tech savvy is key for technology and data to march on and how data & digitisation must help all five generations of business in a skills focused way. An interesting point was also made that while a lot has been done in this field of democratising data, there is still a lot of work to be done and more must be done.


Our next panel was by far the most energetic and the most timely of the day. The resident Brexit experts here in Northern Ireland; Professor Deirdre Heenan, Conall McDevitt of Hume Brophy and Roger Pollen of FSB NI took to the stage to give an update on what is going on with Brexit.

Deirdre began the discussion by outlining what has gone on so far, that everyone is confused and frustrated, that the whole process is stress testing the government and that a no deal would be catastrophic for Northern Ireland.


Roger brought a small business perspective to the discussion stating that in the midst of chaos and the political vacuum here in Northern Ireland that the small business community has found its voice and is fighting for the future. He also stated that he believes there will be a way out of it.


Conall brought the perspective of how Brussels views Brexit from their point of view and how he believes that an extension of the Brexit period now is inevitable. The referendum was a moment in time but it can be revisited.


This panel was extremely insightful and it was refreshing to hear such informed thoughts on the Brexit situation.



Conor Lambe, Chief Economist for Danske Bank then joined us to give a report on the economy in Northern Ireland; the performance in the last year and the forecast for the future. Calling back to our previous panel, it was shown that Brexit was having a negative impact on local growth as expected. However, the Northern Ireland labour market has shown resilience in uncertain times with the number of jobs continuing to rise. Conor then went on to say he forecasted economic growth of 1.2% in 2019 but that Brexit remains the biggest uncertainty to weigh on the economy in the coming year.



Next on stage, we invited Claire Cromie of Tourism NI, Ciaran Doherty of Tourism Ireland, Jonah McLachlan of Fathom and Søren Rode Andreasen of Danske Bank to give insights on their journeys of digital transformation and how digital has helped revolutionise their companies.



Our next panel comprised of Eoin McFadden of Department For The Economy, Lorraine Acheson of Innovate UK and Bob McClean of Civica Digital discussing govtech. One of the points of discussion was that the government doesn’t take risk. Tech space is entrepreneurial and we have to take risks to succeed in that space. Their view is that government must take smart risks, without those risks it will become obsolete.


Our final solo discussion of the day was presented by Patricia O’Hagan of Core Systems who spoke of the technology that her company created to improve the lives of prisoners. In a truly fascinating presentation Patricia stated that she recognised a problem within the prison system and she created her technology; Direct2inmate to give them opportunities to learn through e-learning to give them more options after they are released, to make them more able to readapt to a digital society and to help break the cycle of reoffending.  



To finish off the day Gary Robinson of Uleska and Simon Whittaker of Vertical Structure came onstage to discuss cyber security; how companies can prevent data breaches taking place and what basic steps can smaller organisations take to improve their security. Gary provided an insight that to prevent breaches, companies should resist using administrator accounts on their computers because these are the easiest hacked and that if you managed your computers from a secondary account it would prevent more breaches. Simon advised small businesses to visit the NCSC tips page on basic steps they can take to ensure they are protecting their customers as well as their company.


Naomh McElhatton, CEO, SMART Global thanked everyone involved in the conference: “It is with thanks to all our speakers and SMART Gov 2019 partners including Civica Digital, FSB NI, DXC Technology, MATRIX NI, Scaffold Digital, Veriteer and Catalyst” she said.


By Sarah-Louise McGrath, Social Media and Content Executive.



January 22, 2019 10:47 am