Nissan’s UK commitment to transform the North East tech sector

Dean Brown, Information Systems Section Manager at Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK

Dean Brown, Information Systems Section Manager at Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK, reveals how Nissan has been working with Digital Catapult North East & Tees Valley to stimulate jobs and economical growth in North East England.

To say Nissan and the city of Sunderland have been under a media spotlight for the last eight months is somewhat of an understatement. The focus on the city’s residents following the EU referendum result and the more recent announcement that Nissan has committed to invest in the production of two new models at the Sunderland plant has attracted attention from around the world.

To date Nissan has invested more than £3.7bn in Sunderland, and we are a major stakeholder in the proposed International Automotive Manufacturing Park (IAMP), a project of ‘national significance’ predicted to deliver over £300m of private sector investment. This will attract new businesses, including European-scale ‘super suppliers’ linked to the automotive, energy, low carbon, logistics and offshore manufacturing industries, and create an additional 5,200 jobs in the city.

IAMP has the potential to become an ecosystem supporting the automotive sector for decades to come and the associated benefits of investment in R&D, innovation and people will be felt throughout the North East and beyond; a catalyst for major growth.

While the benefits of these developments on employees, supply chains and residents have been widely discussed, including a House of Commons event in November hosted by the North East Automotive Alliance, little has been said about the impact of Nissan’s renewed commitment on another of the North East’s economic jewels; the technology sector.

The North East’s tech sector is growing in terms of size, reputation and competitiveness. The region is home to over 1,600 digital and technology businesses, ranging in size from the multi-national enterprises Sage, to independent development studios at the forefront of innovation.

A recent report by Nixon Williams has shown the North East is second only to London for growth in the number of tech companies, with a 9.2% increase in the last year.

Nissan itself is a large employer of technical roles; however as new and emerging technologies advance, we are increasingly looking to local technology companies to help us innovate, remain internationally competitive and become more agile.

For over 18 months now, we have been working with Digital Catapult Centre North East & Tees Valley to help us identify and map the challenges and opportunities that can be supported through the application of emerging and data-driven technology solutions; resulting in commercial relationships with an ever-increasing supply base of local technology SMEs.

A series of business challenges facilitated by Digital Catapult Centre North East & Tees Valley have resulted in new solutions developed by local technology SMEs around virtual reality, IoT and data analytics technologies, with more challenges and projects planned over the next two years.

Working with startups and SMEs in the technology space allows us access to new, agile solutions that can be developed and delivered quickly, whilst the companies we work with benefit from access to highly profitable vertical and new customer markets; whether that be a direct supplier to Nissan, or one of the many tier 1 suppliers based within the surrounding areas. This work was also driven by our passion to spread the message that we are one of the region’s largest IT employers, something we would like more skilled people to be aware of.

In addition, the UK Government’s pledge in October’s Autumn Statement to invest £390m in the UK’s transport technology means the need for a larger, robust supply chain of technology specialists who can support and underpin developments will become ever more critical to the ongoing competitiveness of Nissan’s Sunderland plant and its suppliers.

What’s more, IAMP and the collaboration of partners involved from multiple sectors and agencies provides an unrivalled opportunity and proximity for technology companies operating in or wanting to enter the automotive supply chain, low carbon advanced manufacturing, renewable offshore technologies and other high-tech manufacturing. This will forge relationships and highlight the needs and technological requirements of these companies, opening up a massive potential market opportunity to safeguard and stimulate further jobs and economic growth.

This ongoing investment from Nissan, Local Authorities, sector agencies, the UK Government and the further development of high value manufacturing in Sunderland has the potential to not only strengthen the competitiveness of automotive supply chain companies, but also attract ambitious technology companies to the region. These companies are keen to innovate and sell solutions to the cluster, leading to the stimulation of jobs and growth in the local and national economy; a cause I am personally passionate about.

In conjunction with Digital Catapult North East & Tees Valley and Invest South Tyneside, Nissan are taking part in Tech Challenge 2017, an exciting competition to discover innovative digital solutions for the manufacturing industry. For more information on how to apply, check out our Open Call

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