Focus Digital provides a structured pathway to improving skills and utilisation of Digital technology in SMEs from simple to advanced applications.
The ESIF strategy for Coventry and Warwickshire identifies digital competencies as one of the most important challenges the region faces. Action was needed to improve the IT engagement of businesses in the region.
Focus Digital is designed tackle this issue, to raise awareness and to provide a structured route from basic competencies through three levels of support.
At stage One free workshops were offered to raise awareness and draw businesses into appropriate levels.
Stage Two was set up to provide tailored advice and respond to any query on improving IT infrastructure and competencies utilising a Graphic Designer, IT developer and IT technician.
Stage three was designed to provide grants to companies seeking to innovate. This has included Augmented Reality design walk throughs, 3D modelling for architecture and apps for a number of practical business applications.
In implementation there has been a strong take up of the workshops. In particular workshops around engagement with the market have been built up based on client feedback and workshop uptake. These developed over time to include Web optimisation, image capture and usage, and Social media. Approximately 460 companies have been involved in these light touch interventions.
The second stage has provided direct one to one support to around 120 companies.
The third stage has helped around 130 companies and provided grants totalling £1.17m
The project was funded with £1.1million (€1.3m) ERDF funding with £1.1M match funding.
The project has been extended until the end of the current funding period with an additional £1.2m of ERDF committed.
It has employed the equivalent of 8 full time employees. These include specialist advisors.
Evidence of success
The numbers of companies helped have exceeded expectation and those who have engaged with the project are reporting increased capacity to innovate. The extension of the project with an additional £1.2m of ERDF funding (£2.4m with match funding) is testament to the impact demonstrated.
It proved difficult to recruit skilled IT technical staff to run the second stage of the project which reduced the impact of this stage. This has now been resourced better.
It was necessary to filter out businesses who wanted to upgrade IT hardware and not innovate.
Potential for learning or transfer
ery region in the EU is challenged by the coming transition in business as AI, the Internet of things and the connected world have the potential to change business significantly.
The approach of businesses is almost as diverse as the nature of the businesses themselves. In this diversity there are many who are still using IT for basic business functions and others who are leading the way in changing or developing their business models. The support offered by Focus Digital works across all these stages and provides a pathway to addressing the issues for all. It can be used to feed businesses in to other support projects as capacity improves.
A policy which includes a support project like Focus Digital offers support in a way that any region can benefit from, whatever the stage of development in the region.
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