“Growth in Northern Ireland’s economy depends on our ability to make the best use of e-business technologies to tackle global markets,” Ian Pearson, MP, Northern Ireland Office Minister for the economy said today, at the opening of a major international conference on e-business.

The BT e-business conference, taking place in W5, the Odyssey, is targeted at the top 200 small and medium sized businesses in Northern Ireland and aims to raise awareness of the benefits of e-business and broadband technologies.

“Technological change, in particular the internet, has provided us with the capability to transform business practice, our economy, public services and society as a whole.

“By harnessing the latest information and communications technologies, business is able to respond even more quickly and effectively to the needs of existing and potential customers,” Mr Pearson said as he underlined the importance of embracing e-business technologies in order to tackle global markets.

He said: “It is no longer just enough to be connected. Companies know that they need to prepare e-business strategies if they are to improve their competitiveness and profitability.” The Minister said that DETI and Invest Northern Ireland are playing a key role in helping business in Northern Ireland make the step into e-business.

He said: “This includes encouraging the rollout of affordable broadband services across Northern Ireland and providing technical and business expertise.

“Invest NI’s e-business team and ICT advisors are working with businesses to help them increase their competitiveness and achieve sustainable long-term growth. They can help on the selection of computer systems, website design, and on setting up full e-commerce and electronic business to business systems.

“My Department has secured nearly £1.5 million from the UK Broadband Fund for a number of initiatives to develop innovative schemes to extend broadband networks. Suggestions have also been sought from broadband providers with ideas for applications that directly impact on the effectiveness of the Northern Ireland economy.”

The Minister said that DETI was also working in partnership with InterTradeIreland, and the Republic’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment on a policy aimed at seeking the fullest exploitation of digital technologies by businesses across the island of Ireland.

Mr Pearson continued: “An effective communications and e-commerce infrastructure is vital to Northern Ireland’s economic success and today’s event will contribute to the campaign to heighten awareness of the real benefits which e-business offers.”

The conference also features an advice clinic featuring representatives of Invest NI’s e-business team and BT Business.