What is a Smart Region?

The world’s population will reach nine billion by 2045. Such growth coupled with advances in technology will enable countless people to move out of poverty. But it will also cause an increase in demand for the world’s resources.

Changing times

It is accepted that traditional approaches to economic development and job creation are no longer sustainable as technology and demand for natural resources change the model. The aim of a Smart Region, therefore, is to employ technology to collect, analyse and use data to create more and better jobs.

The concept is proven as a way to manage cities and public and private sector organisations. Benefits are evident in retail, health care and manufacturing as data is used to drive innovation, productivity and profit. As a result, the Smart Region: Omagh strategy has developed a number of projects. They include:

Smart Region Pilot

An initial Smart Region pilot ran in the Fermanagh and Omagh area for an 18-month period from 2013. The project explored the effectiveness of employing technology to examine data as a way to review the economic, social and environmental profile of the region.

Data Analyst: Data Scientist

The Smart Region pilot employed a Data Analyst to gather information to inform local economic development plans and policy. Upon completion of the pilot, a Data Scientist was employed in a mainstream post for the region.

Digital Omagh

Digital Omagh was formed as a network of entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs and acts as a connection point for those interested in the digital economy. The network meets on a regular basis and held a successful Masterclass on ‘Running Your Business from a Smartphone’.

EU Erasmus + Smart Data, Smart Regions

The Smart Region strategy underpinned a successful application to the European Union Erasmus+ programme for a ‘Smart Region: Smart Data’ project. The aim is to develop training materials for educational institutions and researchers as a way to teach students about the importance of data.

Superconnected Cities

Building on other Smart Region proposals an application was made to the ‘Superconnected Cities – Rural’ initiative led by Belfast City Council. The project connected 55 small businesses to super-fast fibre broadband with speeds of 500Mb, while also increasing infrastructure capacity to speeds of 10Gb plus.

Education to Enterprise

An ‘Education to Enterprise’ initiative was agreed with the six schools scheduled to move to the Strule Shared Education Campus and the Education Authority. The first phase attracted 130 students to a full day workshop that explored enterprise and entrepreneurship as a career option.

Smart Partnerships

In recent months, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Catalyst Inc. (formerly the NI Science Park), Letterkenny Institute of Technology and Omagh Enterprise Company. The aim is to deliver innovation support for local entrepreneurs and start-up and growth businesses. Other partnerships will be formed with funders, sponsors and private, public and third sector organisations.

So, traditional approaches to economic development may no longer work but developing as a Smart Region will attract ideas, investment and jobs.