Northern Ireland’s economy has remained dependent on traditional industries but in the last 10-15 years, new sectors such as software, business services and financial services have begun to play a significant role. However, when it comes to innovation resources and research policies, the main focus of the region has been on technological R&D.
The region needs to recognise that traditional concepts such as differentiating between manufacturing and services have been superseded by ‘joined-up’ strategies. The benefits achieved from both combining technical and non-technical innovations and from spill-overs from emerging industries must be exploited.
Success is increasingly dependent on the ability to adopt additional recognised innovation matrices, for example human capital, design, logistics and new business models which will support wider innovation opportunities. Thus, the innovation debate in the region should be transferred from a ‘technology push’ approach towards a ‘user-centred pull’ approach. The challenge is to shift the evolving industrial landscape into a policy environment at a macro level that will position effective economic policies through consistent approaches.
The region should strengthen incentives to build on links between traditional sectors and emerging sectors to support the removal of barriers to user-centred innovation. This new pathway can support the modernisation of Northern Ireland’s traditional sectors and facilitate structural change from manufacturing-based industry to a modern economy.
A revised policy approach is needed that harnesses the transformative power of service innovation to facilitate increased competitiveness, structural change and an alteration in the current cultural perception. Such a new policy approach will help to close the gap between technical innovation and market requirements in the region.
The demonstrator approach will facilitate a shift from analysing service innovation at company level to a more macro-economic approach. This will analyse, for instance, how favourable the business environment and framework conditions must be to support the strengthening and transformation of industrial structures through service innovation. An holistic and joined up approach that will address the considerable disconnection between innovation initiatives and government, business and academia should be developed.
The voice of the region
“The city of Belfast has used innovation as a driver for change following the decline of its traditional industries. The city has applied old skill sets to new sectors and developed global partnerships in order to exploit emerging economic opportunities. A number of Northern Irish businesses are working with global partners on projects across a range of diverse sectors such as broadcasting, advanced materials and energy thereby ensuring a competitive economic landscape for Belfast in the 21st century.”
Minister Arlene Foster
Northern Ireland Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment
Facts and figures
The total area of the region: 13 843 km²
The size of the population: 1 810 000
Regional GDP: € 34 593 000
Per Capita GDP: € 19.15
The share of services in GDP: 74%
Dominant industries: agriculture, agri-food, construction and engineering
Emerging industries: software, business services and financial services
Unemployment Rate: 7.8%
Share of Knowledge Workers in the Economically Active Population: 43.3%
Gross Expenditure on R&D per GDP: 1.9%