Greater than the sum of their parts


In November 2010, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster launched a collaborative network aiming to support local companies get a share of £1billion of export opportunities across Europe.

Recognising the benefits of collaboration, Invest Northern Ireland is supporting a number of innovative networks that have already achieved tangible results for the companies involved.

Invest NI’s Collaborative Network Programme supports companies working together for a common business benefit. These networks are pushing the boundaries of technology and processes by combining expertise, funding and contacts to develop new products and services and open up new business opportunities worldwide.

Among the most recent to be established is the Whisple network, a Northern Ireland-based cloud computing brokerage network which will target new business in the multi-billion pound global cloud services market. Organisations involved in Whisple include Equiniti ICS, Anaeko, SQS UK, Goldblatt McGuigan, Replify, Novosco, EMC, Momentum and Swarmteams.

Dermot Walsh of Whisple says: “We recognised the potential to lead Northern Ireland industry into the growing cloud services marketplace and formed our network with Invest NI’s support to take maximum advantage of these global opportunities. Whisple’s vision is to become a leading player in the global business to business market for buying and selling internet-based services.”

Cloud computing is a rapidly emerging industry with significant export potential. By working collectively, the companies involved are in a more competitive position to win business in the cloud services market and are helping to position Northern Ireland as a worldwide centre of excellence in cloud computing.

Tracy Meharg, Invest NI’s Managing Director of Innovation and Capability, says: “Supporting collaborative networks, such as Whisple, stimulates innovation, deepens the skills base and helps develop connections between our companies and the wider global economy. All of that helps to drive economic growth.

“We are supporting networks in the areas of renewable energy, digital content and technology, cloud computing, energy management, connected health, and plastics and polymers. Collaboration is vital to achieving critical mass and economies of scale and we have seen excellent results so far.”

Several of the collaborative networks supported by Invest NI have already secured orders including around £2m or domestic sales and over a quarter of a million of increased export sales, as well as increased investment of between £2.1 million and £2.8 million and which has led to the creation of additional jobs.

In addition three quarters of the companies involved report benefits from information sharing, increasing business contacts, and being able to use the complementary skills available in other companies. They are also finding that they are developing skills within their own workforce and are enjoying increased business profile.

However, it is not just the individual members of each network that benefit from the collaboration, but also the industries they represent. Clifford McSpadden, Global Maritime Alliance Chairman and CEO of CMS Global Ltd says: “The shared knowledge and the breadth of capabilities in the Global Maritime Alliance will be the driving force behind the growth of the industry. Acting together as a virtual corporation creates a significant competitive advantage and an ability to offer a complete range of services to clients.”

Tracy Meharg says: “Northern Ireland has a predominantly small business economy. It therefore makes sense for businesses to come together to share expertise and combine their strengths to give them the best chance of success in a fast-moving and highly competitive global market place.

“The businesses involved in these collaborative networks have already seen tangible benefits and there is huge potential for further development. Each of these networks is a kind of innovation community involving private sector companies and investors alongside researchers and academia. By pooling ideas and resources they are developing not just new products but also new business models.”

The networks supported by Invest NI are:

Digital Circle: a network of over 350 practitioners working in the area of games design, websites, apps, e-learning, movies, animation, television and music.

Global Wind Alliance: a network of companies providing post warranty product support to utility companies. The Alliance currently works with Europe’s top utility companies (DONG, EON, Vattenfall, RWE) and has achieved orders of more than £2 million.

Plastics & Polymers Network: a collaboration focused on research and development opportunities mainly through knowledge transfer partnerships. This approach has encouraged the sharing of information between companies and academia to build on the strengths of the industry.

Glantek: four companies that work together to develop and market holistic cleantech products and processes to lower carbon footprint, save costs and recover energy from waste. It has recently been awarded a £1 million contract.

European Connected Health: the ECH Campus is leading the implementation of connected health technologies in Europe and worldwide. It engages in collaborative research and development and develops educational opportunities to support deployment of remote monitoring technologies.

Smart Grid: an 85-member network from across the island of Ireland seeking to exploit opportunities in the smart grid which integrates electrical and information infrastructures.

Global Maritime Alliance: the objective of the GMA is to become the supplier of choice to global marine energy technology developers who are seeking support services, including technical research, design and development, testing, engineering, logistics, manufacturing and operation and maintenance.

Digital NI 2020: this network was set up to exploit the potential of Northern Ireland’s world-class telecommunications infrastructure. The network partners include ICT companies, local councils, academia, development agencies and industry experts.

Whisple Cloud Computing: a Northern Ireland-based cloud computing brokerage network which will target new business in the multi-billion pound global cloud services market.

This article appeared in Business First magazine, September 2011 edition.