Making the Midlands a Tech Powerhouse

15th June 2023
Rob Fain
Principal Consultant

Making the Midlands a Tech Powerhouse

Berwick Partners and its parent company Odgers Berndtson hosted its latest IT Leaders Dinner in central Birmingham on 7th June. We were joined by a variety of IT leaders, all with links to the Midlands, alongside guest speaker, West Midlands Technology Commissioner, Martin Ward.

Newly appointed by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and at the start of a two year tenure, Martin shared his plans to support the region by engaging with IT leaders to improve collaboration across the technology ecosystem for both suppliers and customers.

Martin summarised his plans for developing the West Midlands tech sector and making the region a tech powerhouse, with the first element being the creation of TechWM. This is an independent organisation that will spearhead a range of strategic development initiatives for the sector, focused on skills, support and funding.

Progress of the tech sector to date was highlighted in a new report created for the recent West Midlands Tech Review. This showed that the region has been able to grow in many key areas, notably in the size and value of its tech sector, even overcoming macroeconomic challenges that have held back growth elsewhere in the UK.

The report highlights the sustained growth of technology businesses in the Midlands and how it is second only to London for sector growth between 2009 and 2019. Whilst also acknowledging successes in the South East, East and South West who have led the way in improving skills, digital adoption and R&D.

It was felt by some that the Midlands has a branding issue not helped by the size and structure of the region. It is not always easy for leaders to get the technology advice they need. There was consensus that increased collaboration is needed so organisations can access the support and guidance they need to achieve technology and digital transformation.

Tech WM is playing a key role in facilitating the ongoing debate and will establish a single place through which ventures of all stages of development can gain access to support, talent, and funding.

This aims to provide both economic and social benefit to the region, by attracting talent, investment, and jobs. The question was raised as to whether more could be done, particularly within the public sector, by highlighting use cases for innovation to provide a roadmap for change. Suggestions from the room included tax relief, the creation of a ‘Digital Freeport’ to stimulate technology adoption and more clarity over how to access funding.

Leaders felt that some start-ups and scale-ups required stronger business cases to secure the support and financial investment they need from experienced technology specialists and organisations. Most delegates felt that more could be done to these businesses with technological transformation. Suggestions included vendors being more pro-active in helping organisations create solid business cases and objectives as well as accessing funding. Other suggestions included peer-to-peer mentoring, such as CIOs (and other senior execs) working to support early-stage ventures and SMEs.

Talent availability and development was also a key discussion point. There was a consensus that traditional technology career paths were centred on software and more recently the gaming sector. However, with many organisations, of all sizes, looking to digitally transform their operations, technology adoption is becoming universal across all sectors.

The Midlands is gaining a healthy reputation for its technology economy, but it was felt that more could be done to attract even more tech talent to the region – particularly apprentices and new graduates. It was also felt that the region needs to increase its senior talent pool, including senior IT professionals and CIOs, in order for organisations to successfully digitally transform.

With further innovation on the horizon regarding AI, robotics and automation, it was felt that the wider Midlands region needs to build on its successes such as the recent 5G implementation and the significant growth experienced by Midlands’’ scale-ups seeking to emulate organisations such as Gymshark to achieve Unicorn status.

In summary, the event stimulated several informative and valuable conversations regarding the current and future potential of the technology sector in the Midlands. The opening address by Technology Commissioner Martin Ward gave an enlightening insight into how far the sector has progressed and how regional CIOs and leaders can help it continue to innovate and grow. TechWM has an ambitious and exciting roadmap with big plans for tech skills development, business support and venture funding for the region.

Berwick Partners and Odgers Berndtson look forward to continuing to facilitate and provide access to leaders to network and establish relationships across the Midlands and beyond.

Rob Fain is a Principal Consultant in Berwick Partners IT & Digital Leadership Practice. Please contact Rob to learn more, or if you would like more details on this evening or to attend future events.

Categories: IT & Technology