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GM One Network - the public sector network of choice for Greater Manchester

By Jon Burt, 29th April 2021

In early 2020, we launched a Digital Blueprint for the Greater Manchester, with an ambition to ensure the region has the digital infrastructure it needs to be a world class digital city region.

For our people, world class infrastructure can remove barriers to social, economic and public sector reform objectives. Whilst already important, the pandemic has highlighted the need for high quality digital infrastructure that can enable people to work, live and study differently.

As public sector finances are continually stretched it is imperative that we continue to digitally transform our organisations including our own digital infrastructures. I have been following Simon Wardley for several years with Wardley Mapping resonating with our cloud native approach to delivering the Early Years Digitisation programme across the region.  By commoditising the infrastructure layer using cloud and development environment using low code we were able to move up the stack focussing where we add the most value to our citizens and employees.   

Enterprise networks haven’t changed very much in the last 25 years with the amount of interconnectivity between public sector organisations increasing as we work more closely together.  To be an enabler of joined up working there is a pressing need to commoditise Enterprise networks in the same way the large cloud providers have with the data centre.  By turning the network into a platform we can be more agile in our service provision and release much needed capacity to support activities where we add more value through digital transformation, data analytics and cyber security.

Greater Manchester is making significant progress in this space having secured the Government backing for full-fibre investment, with Virgin Media Business appointed to deliver up to 2,700km of new fibre optic broadband infrastructure across the region.

The £23.8M Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) Programme, plus other local investment, will connect more than 1,500 public sites across the city-region making this the biggest government full-fibre investment project in the UK.
Good progress continues in delivering the Greater Manchester Local Full Fibre Network with significant completion of the trunk network that supports the sites to be connected. As of March 2021;
  • 91% of site surveys, design and wayleave agreements had been completed.
  • Over 730km of fibre cable had been installed across the region.
  • 437 public sector sites had been connected and commissioned.
Whilst the LFFN programme is laying the foundations for a network of world class infrastructure, each of the local public services involved needs to consider how best to make use of that investment. The programme has however demonstrated the value of close collaboration and consequently several partners agreed to investigate the potential benefits of a joint approach to utilising a network without bandwidth limitations.

GM One Network is the result of that collaboration with the vision of becoming the Public Sector Network Platform of choice for the Greater Manchester city-region: A Network as a Service Platform approach that provides a converged solution across the Local Full Fibre Network, sites outside of the programme and connectivity within buildings providing network services that are more efficient, secure and flexible.

This is a foundational digital project for Greater Manchester to support our smart city region ambitions. With many sites being urban traffic control signals, we see the potential for these – and others - to act as Smart City nodes with potential to enable Next Generation Advanced Wireless solutions. 

GM One Network will enable further delivery of the priorities within the Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint and act as a platform for research and local innovation, supporting our ambition for Greater Manchester to be a world leading digital city region. 

GMCA, on behalf of the initial GM One Network partners, contracted UBDS to undertake a discovery and develop an Outline Business Case for the GM One Network. As well as the public service innovation potential, the Outline Business Case indicated significant cashable savings for the initial five organisations involved over a 10-year period compared to the projected operating costs for the current network over the same period.
In addition to the financial side, other potential benefits include:
  • Improved user experience, by providing a common and consistent platform for each organisation to use, users can seamlessly move between public spaces. 
  • The acceleration of adopting modern working practices such as remote and mobile working, something that is more important following the lessons learnt from recent Covid-19 related lockdowns.
  • The ability to shift from revenue to capital spend on wide area networks (WAN), interconnect services and core network infrastructure, including routers and firewalls – with further benefits accruing from standardisation, reducing duplication and economies of scale.
  • A “do things once” approach for Greater Manchester, freeing up resources to focus on more value adding activity in each partner organisation.
  • Moving to a software/policy defined network platform, where reduced effort will be required to deploy, configure and install network infrastructure, using automation to reduce the need for third party site visits. 
  • Accelerated adoption of modern working practices such as Wi-Fi, remote working and mobile working.
  • Wireless-first approach reducing the required density of fixed local area networks LAN connectivity, which will reduce site installation and maintenance costs.
  • Additional buying power and the ability to gain investment in social value through this procurement which we would like focussed on efforts to address digital exclusion. 
We want to bring together the best of breed in network services under a system integrator lead, experienced in partnering on large next generation metropolitan networks with high levels of orchestration enabling a City Region Network Platform. 

GMCA are currently looking for a supplier for GM One Network. More details on the the tender process and requirements available via The Chest. Applications close at 12pm on 28th May 2021.

GM One Network is an exciting programme that underpins so many other programmes and initiatives in Greater Manchester by laying the even firmer foundations for transformative work across the city-region and beyond. Read more on Greater Manchester's digital ambitions.

Greater Manchester - cyber security and global pandemic

Happy to return as keynote sponsor of the Digital City Festival once again, Greater Manchester Combined Authority brought together an expert panel to host “cyber security and a global pandemic”.

By Lauren Millward 19th April 2021

The panel discussed what the last 12 months has meant for cyber security. Of the changes we've seen, both positive and negative, what must we ensure remains? For a sector that has seen growth whilst also being hit hard, the panel considered what we can learn from a global crisis.

The panel included Moderator Victoria Knight - Strategic Campaigns Director, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence and co-chair of the Greater Manchester Cyber Advisory Group and panellists Neil Jones, Head of Cyber Security and Innovation, GM Cyber Resilience Centre, Raj Badiani, Head of Digital, Raytheon UK, Professor Richard Greene, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange, Manchester Metropolitan University and Saskia Coplans, Founder and Security Consultant, Digital Interruption.

Evolution and sector response

Greater Manchester presents a unique opportunity for cyber, as we work towards establishing the region as UK and European centre for cyber and digital ethics, trust and security. The region has a £5 billion digital economy, and its strong cyber ecosystem is at the heart of that. Greater Manchester is the fastest-growing tech city within Europe, now only second to London when it comes to investment, overtaking Cambridge for the first time.

The panel session was hosted hot on the heels of the publication of Governments “Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy” The national review highlighted how critical cyber is in defence and economic opportunity. It states a need for the UK to keep adapting, innovating and investing to maintain and extend a competitive edge as a responsible, democratic cyber power.

Last year, at the 2020 Digital City Festival a talking point was the cyber, security and intelligence industry and how the industry had significantly changed within the last few years. It’s safe to say that the expectation of further changes over the following 12 months soon became something of an understatement.

Data from the National Fraud Bureau shows 86% of incidents of fraud were ‘cyber enabled’ with around 30,000 of cyber fraud reported to law enforcement nationally a month - at a cost of £2.4bn to victims. This data also shows the volume of reporting remained relatively static at the start of the pandemic, but very quickly a shift in types of cyber-crime were seen, the ability of cyber criminals to adapt and shift very quickly is one of the biggest challenges to the sector.
Action Fraud also shared that between February 2020 and February 2021, they received 15,214 reports about email and social media account hacking. Most reports (88%) were made by individuals, with 12% of reports being made by businesses.

In Greater Manchester, we work hard to educate our communities and businesses, giving them the knowledge to protect themselves, through organisations such as the Greater Manchester Cyber Resilience Centre, a not-for-profit venture between Greater Manchester Police and Manchester Digital, with an aim to grow and strengthen the region's resilience to online crime by providing the highest standards in leadership, integration and collaboration across the cyber eco-system in Greater Manchester.

When considering professionals within our sector, should our focus be on addressing the number of professionals versus level of threat? Currently levels of industry professionals still leave us with 71% of mobile apps never being security tested and 80% of IOT apps never tested for security – this gap is only increasing.

Should we be creating environments where security isn’t a blocker? Making security as easy as possible for organisations and end users. Digital Interruption recently received Innovate UK funding for REX – which scans Android applications for vulnerabilities. REX is made for developers and software testers and sits in the centre of your pipeline. This is just one way that Digital Interruption aims to make security more commercially viable – another area of focus the sector should consider.

Workforce and skills

We know a skills gap exists within the sector. How do we address this gap and ensure our people are skilled for these roles?

Raytheon’s Cyber Academy is a retraining programme designed to create a new generation of cyber security professionals, who will develop the necessary skills and knowledge to secure cyber security related employment. The academy was created in partnership with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority as part of the Fast-Track Digital Workforce Fund.

Our workforce should not only be relevant but also prepared for upcoming and ever-changing threats. IT and OT present a whole new domain of internet enabled things and some organisations are largely operating without understanding the threats that exists.

Greater Manchester, however, can lead - a region where the education sector collides with industry, and cyber firms are often drawn here to collaborate with the city region’s five universities, where more than 100,000 people study. These students could be thinking about careers relevant to cyber security, but we must continue to work together to ensure our people have the appropriate skills to fit into the industry.

This is already happening through projects such as the Greater Manchester Cyber Foundry - a programme for small-medium sized businesses to help with business growth, stability, and security. The programme is a partnership of four universities from the North West: Lancaster University, The University of Manchester, University of Salford, and Manchester Metropolitan University, using their expertise to help defend, innovate and grow businesses in Greater Manchester.

Those same universities have teamed up to ensure 150 forward-thinking businesses are at the forefront of the evolution of Artificial Intelligence in Greater Manchester, through the Greater Manchester AI Foundry.

Ownership and responsibility

The cybercrime threat has never been greater, with cyber criminals and sometimes state sponsored actors taking advantage of the pandemic to carry out damaging attacks on people from all walks of life and businesses of all sizes, as they increasingly work online.

The threat has always been there, but the threat landscape has shifted. We often hear residents and small businesses ask why they would be targeted but it is rare that cybercrime is individually targeted, wide nets are being cast by criminals and cybercrime does not discriminate.

When we leave the house most of us would close windows, lock doors, set alarms etc. Should our approach to operating online be the same? If that is the approach we’re expected to take as part of our everyday lives, how can we support each other so that everyone has the knowledge of both the importance and how to do this?

This isn’t just the responsibility of industry but is a challenge for us all. Multi-agency education readily and freely available to our people to help understand the different types of threat is key. We assume younger people are more tech savvy and so, not at risk as much as our older generation but with younger people spending more time online is the risk to them increased?

As employers the biggest threat is our people. Last year, when predominantly office-based industries needed to work from home, we saw many employees having to handle sensitive and valuable information through at home digital infrastructure that was set up for personal, not corporate use. Should more be done by Government to standardise national policy around cyber security?

Innovation and research

Greater Manchester is taking its position as an internationally recognised centre of digital innovation, research and practice.  One way Manchester Metropolitan University is supporting this positioning is through its centres for research and knowledge exchange, focussing on 14 world-shaping disciplines. There are currently research groups looking into the use of language in online child abuse, a group looking at ethics in AI and all forms of behaviour type.

Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Manchester are also in the country’s top for the number of in Knowledge Transfer Partnership, and when combined with the contribution from University of Salford, we’re left with an interesting and unique approach, setting Greater Manchester apart from other regions.

The Greater Manchester Cyber Security Advisory Group, of which all panellists are members, reflects the cyber security capabilities of the region and is driving forward inclusive economic growth for the city-region and the North.

The cross-industry group provide strategic oversight and a force for inclusive economic growth, taking an ecosystem approach to building that capability and economic resilience. The group will help us achieve our ambition that Greater Manchester be recognised as a world class centre for cyber security and digital trust, and No. 1 in the UK with strengthened links to similar centres internationally and define routes to which we can achieve that.

Uniting Greater Manchester Around Diversity

By Victoria Knight 8th March 2021

Victoria Knight of BAE Systems Applied Intelligence & Co Chair of the Greater Manchester Cyber Advisory Group explains why greater gender diversity must be an important part of Greater Manchester’s drive to become a world leading digital city-region

Scrolling through my emails this morning, one news nugget leapt out at me. The RSA has awarded Professor Sarah Gilbert a medal for her work on the Oxford coronavirus vaccine.

Previously given to the likes of Winston Churchill for helping win the Second World War and Tim Berners-Lee for inventing the internet, the award is, I hope, the first of many accolades heading Professor Gilbert’s way in the months ahead.
Let’s face it, the pandemic has taught us the value of many things but looming large is surely the importance of research, science, technology and innovation in all our lives. From human research in the lab to the cutting-edge biotech fuelling the rapid development of vaccines and anti-viral medications, humanity will be forever grateful.

No city limits

Of course, Greater Manchester is hardly unfamiliar with the power of science and technological breakthroughs.  British computer scientist Alan Turing worked at the University of Manchester where he made key contributions in artificial intelligence. And more recently, in 2010, University of Manchester professors, Sir Andrew Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on graphene.
This rich heritage helps explain why the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has placed such emphasis on being recognised as a world leading digital city-region.  It is right to do so. Effective use of technology can help revolutionise the quality of life for citizens and help unleash new ways to deliver services.
Check out how Barcelona created digital trust networks to support at-risk elderly citizens or how Athens built an online platform – synAthina – to bring together people who wanted to find a way to help others in the community. Kansas City has even passed a law requiring its local government to use data in decision-making, irrespective of which political party is in charge.

More still to do

These are just a few examples – there are plenty of others – but they help serve as a vivid reminder of the potential which exists across digital advances and local government. But of course it’s not just about technology – it comes down to people too. And this International Women’s Day, while of course we celebrate the achievements of women across Greater Manchester and beyond, we also need to redouble our efforts to break down barriers and encourage more women into the tech and cyber industries.
A quick glance through the latest statistics shows the scale of the task still ahead. For some time now, women have been underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) university courses and occupations and that continues today, with 35% of STEM students in higher education in the UK being female. When it comes to students studying computer sciences related degrees, only 19% were female, and similarly, the percentage of female students studying engineering and technology degrees was only 19% of the total students between 2017 and 2018.

Action stations

As the mother of two daughters such statistics makes me wince, but also make me more determined. Science, technology and cyber are fast growing sectors that have a wealth of opportunity.  An estimated 3.5 million cyber jobs are expected to remain unfilled global in 2021! Women have just as much talent, foresight, skills and ability, to work in these fields and if they do, the end result is likely to be far stronger.
That’s because diversity of approaches, points of view and thinking contributes towards improved performance in both the public and private sectors. Diverse teams help encourage innovation and new ways of problem solving, and also offer a variety of skills to meet changing needs. And certainly, as Greater Manchester and indeed the world seeks to Build Back Better after the horrors of the pandemic, we need the best and brightest to be at decision-making tables and this only occurs when organisations are truly representative of the societies they represent and serve.
So what do we need to do? Here are a few suggestions:
  1. Identify strong role models. The good news is they don’t get any better than Professor Gilbert.
  2. Encourage male allies. Men need to be included in Diversity and Inclusion initiatives as this will help them understand the challenges women face and what needs to change.
  3. Leadership buy-in. While leaders need to believe in the issues, they also need to develop a diverse range of people who can step into their role.
  4. Focus on who is coming next. Girls start to lose interest in STEM aged 12 - 15 – we need to break down stereotypes and encourage more participation in STEM programmes.
  5. Update career talks. Don’t ask students “what do you want to be when you grow up?” but instead focus on “what kinds of problems would you like to solve?” This will help encourage greater consideration for technology and cyber security options.
Look, this type of change is clearly not going to happen overnight. I mean, International Women’s Day itself was launched by the United Nations back in 1975 – a testament to the deep rooted challenges we are facing here.
Nonetheless I am not disheartened. We are making progress. Greater Manchester is a dazzling beacon for so many things – science, digital ecosystem, football, academia – the list is endless. Soon, perhaps even in time for next year’s International Women’s Day, we can add gender diversity in tech to this list.
Let’s get to work.
About the author - Victoria Knight is a Strategic Business Director at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence - victoria.knight@baesystems.com

International Women's Day with Jen Mossop-Scott

By Jen Mossop-Scott 8th March 2021

As part of our IWD 2021 celebrations, Jen Mossop-Scott, Technology Director for TalkTalk wrote for us. TalkTak operate out of Greater Manchester from their office in Salford.

I’m Jen! I lead the end-to-end architecture and delivery of software and data solutions at TalkTalk, one of one of the UK’s biggest ISPs. Now, more than ever, it’s so important that people have access to fast, reliable connectivity – and providing the software and data to power this service is a hugely rewarding and challenging role within the business.
For me, every day is different in my role: one of the biggest reasons that I love my work in technology is the variety which provides the chance to continuously learn. 

A little sample of a day in my working life (based on yesterday!) involves things as varied as digging into detailed questions on our infrastructure architecture strategy; negotiating with 3rd party partners about commercial models; ‘Teams-ing’ with core software engineering teams as we work through in-moment problem solving for customers; storytelling to colleagues about our continued technology and agile transformation journey; and listening hard to our business insight on what matters most to our customers. 

I entered the tech industry as a management consultant in my mid-20s after a varied and rich childhood in Canada. I started out studying the history of western philosophy through ‘great books’ at university before settling on Neuroscience as my major – which ultimately brought me to the UK. I did a Doctorate in neurophysiology – particularly specialising in brain plasticity and reorganisation following injury… so you might say I didn’t take the ‘usual’ path into technology leadership in the North of England.

My meandering experience may sound atypical but, in reality, the route into a career in tech for many people is often multi-faceted.  There is no single ‘right’ or even ‘typical’ path to a fulfilling career in technology, and the industry increasingly welcomes people from very diverse backgrounds. 

Many of my most inspiring role models are individuals within my teams who have found their way into their current roles not necessarily because they have always tinkered with computers and coded – but have come into technology from other walks of life (teachers, fashion merchandisers, mums, physicists) because they have found that the logic, variety and ability to make a difference with technology is compelling.

Our purpose as technologists is to create things that impact people: striving to make their lives better, easier and more fantastic – and that is something that people can connect with as a reason to come to work. I like to think of our work in technology as fundamentally creative: generating great code is creative; problem solving demands innovation; devising great customer experiences is an art; finding and visualising patterns in data to help make great decisions can sometimes feel magical.

With International Women’s Day in mind this week, I find myself reflecting on times when I’ve noticed that I’m the only woman at the table – which thankfully happens less and less. Being a woman in tech can still make you slightly different, even in these times of progress. 

But flip that on its head, and you realise that being slightly different is also interesting. It can carry weight.  It can certainly add perspective and sometimes orthogonal thinking, and it can get stuff done in different ways. 

A diverse conversation works particularly well if you’re in an environment that appreciates and looks/listens to all voices in the room. I’m particularly proud of one of our core values that truly gets lived at TalkTalk: ‘We can be ourselves here’. I’m just going to say that again: we can be ourselves here. That’s awesome. Feeling that true permission to ‘be yourself’ matters to me and to my teams and colleagues. It helps to have honest and safe conversations that make for better teams and better results.

One piece of advice I would offer based on my reflections above is that if you’re interested in tech – remember: there is no ‘one size fits all’. Don’t be put off by a perception that tech is for geeks, or gamers, or computer scientists (as much as we love that too of course!). There is a huge diversity of backgrounds and experience in this industry. If you’re willing to listen and learn, give it a go!

Follow TalkTalk on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Digital Her: A year in review

By Beccy Irving, Manchester Digital

At the start of 2020 we had a full events calendar planned out for Digital Her, with venues, colleges, schools all signed up and employers confirmed to deliver live interactive workshops for young women across the region. Not long after completing our first live event at Trafford College, we were forced to cancel all plans and make Digital Her an online programme.

There were numerous challenges to overcome with schools and colleges closed, from the practicalities of safe guarding to ensuring students had the right equipment to access the online events. I’m please to say that thanks to an amazing team behind the scenes and some committed employers we made it work - although we have learnt a lot along the way.

As we aim to launch the 2021 calendar of (online) events, a couple of the challenges we faced and things we’ve learnt.

Online has definitely made it easier for us to reach a much wider audience, in fact we’ve over delivered on the target we set for ourselves and were able to reach women outside of Greater Manchester by teaming up with partners such as Tech Spark and IOC to deliver some of the events nationally. However not everyone has access to a laptop or computer, and accessing events via mobile phones doesn’t always deliver the greatest experience.

The choice of platform is key. We’ve trialled using different platforms through the events we have ran, keeping safeguarding and reach front of mind, our options are somewhat restricted. Hopin allowed us to create a safe space where we could limited the access between students,

Online delivery does impact the interactive element. Whether its restrictions on the platforms, cameras being turned off for safeguarding, or lacking the confidence to speak up on screen, we’ve noticed a reduction in the number of conversations and questions from people in the room. We’re missing the conversations amongst friendship groups during the sessions, and being able to walk up to groups and get involved in debates, and it’s much harder to build that rapport with the students when you’re on the other side of a screen. However building more time for introductions, adding elements such as polls, shaping the workshops to be add more defined interactive elements and where possible delivery of smaller group sessions has definitely overcome this.

Most importantly, you can still make an impact. Whilst the delivery may be different, the feedback, uptake competitions, and messages we’ve received following events has proved the importance of keeping the momentum of programmes such as this, even in the face of adversity.

So what does Digital Her look like in 2021? Whilst there is still so much uncertainty we’re planning to stay with online deliver for at least the first half of the year. We’ll continue to run larger online roadshows for young adults aged 16+ and will be opening these up to as wide an audience as possible.  For the younger ages we’re going to take a slightly different approach, we’ll continue to deliver online but working direct with the individual schools to deliver sessions direct into the classrooms. Our podcast will be out early April, and we’re also developing some additional partnerships, and programmes to support all women of all ages and backgrounds with their journey in digital and tech - watch this space.

If you’re a college or community group working with young people aged 16+ and would like to register for one of the online digital roadshows you can do so here.

If you’re a secondary school and would like to arrange for an in school roadshow to be delivered, register your interest here and we’ll be in touch with more details.

A city region that #choosetochallenge in 2021

By Beena Puri

Beena Puri is Innovation and Partnerships Lead in the Digital Policy team at Greater Manchester Combined Authority. Beena leads the Greater Manchester Cyber Advisory Group with over 41 global, national and regional organisations from industry, local and national UK government, academia and community convened with a vision to uplift and strengthen Greater Manchester’s world-class cyber cluster and the UK's digital security sector.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is poignant and significant, given the point at which the world sits. Whilst the day itself is a chance to celebrate female role models, examine representation and track progress, it is also a time to look inward and ask ourselves, as organisations and individuals, how are we doing on the journey towards gender parity.

2020 saw a record-breaking high of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, yet only 7.4% of companies on the list are run by women. 17% of the technology industry are made up of women and minority ethnic representation is even more disproportionate.

This year’s theme speaks beyond diversity to intersectionality and inclusion. It is an invitation for everyone to get involved in the challenge. It gives people the license and permission to challenge the status quo, structures and the part we play as individuals - which includes checking your own cognitive bias. The stats of female representation in technology are stark and as for female representation in senior leadership, conscious efforts are needed to address a balance in the boardroom. A lot of the time we’re told the gender issue is fixed – it’s far from fixed. Research shows that bias contributes to women being passed over for jobs and promotions. So why are we still here? And who is accountable for what ‘good’ looks like?

My career in the tech sector began at a videogames publishing house at a time when digital innovation was disrupting the industry and the UK videogames sector was thriving. I was one of two females in a company of 200 men. Whilst the world of videogames and expansion to global markets was exciting I realised the impact of the gender gap and inequalities which have long permeated the tech industry. At times it had me question whether the industry was right for me, it also made me driven to do well. I recognised the need to find my tribe and seek out strong role models so I could continue to be the change.

As an aunty of a 5-year-old girl and 16-year-old boy growing up in a digital age with incredible possibilities yet concerning stats, it is crucial to choose to challenge. When things that happened 10 years ago are still happening now, it is not good enough. Whilst we say we are a civilised society, our girls and our women are subjected to daily abuse and trolling for speaking up, bias in the workplace, harassment. Whilst this culture shouldn’t exist or be accepted, the future of our society and industry depends on us speaking out and about everybody being empathetic to the cause. It is key to the advancement of our society. To be ‘world-class’ to the communities we serve, to attract world-class talent, we have to reflect the world.

Making change possible

Supporting organisations like InnovateHer fill me with hope. InnovateHer exists to equip girls in school with the self-belief, confidence and skills to pursue a career in technology.  As part of the Go Digital schools programme in Greater Manchester, InnovateHer has inspired over 2000 young people across 50 schools to ignite a passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and introduce them to industries that need their brilliant minds. Co-founders Jo Morphee and Chelsea Slater recognise that empowering the next generation of innovators to claim their space goes hand in hand with ensuring businesses are examining their culture ready for girls.
Inspiring women and girls into technology roles is futile without focusing on retention, leading to a ‘leaky bucket effect’. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) the gender wage gap grows year on year after mothers returned to work after a break. On average women receive up to 33% less pay per hour than men. A study by McKinsey found that in the UK, for every 10% increase in the diversity of a company's senior executive team, profitability rose by 3.5%.

Beckie Taylor started Manchester-based organisation Tech Returners to address the frustration of companies citing access to skilled domestic talent as an issue in filling roles. And yet there was an absence of a plan to attract returner talent. By re-training women who have left the industry for a career break, Tech Returners seek to improve diversity and enable women with diverse career paths to positively contribute to the economy without diminishing their experience. With the rapid acceleration of digital transformation, the pandemic has forced organisations to rethink their recruitment and retention strategy, including flexible working conditions.

Choosing to challenge requires every individual to be involved and accountable, from senior leadership to HR and communication teams to challenge underrepresentation, inequity and bias in workplace practice and rethink how we are focussing efforts to access a diverse talent pool to fill a thriving industry. Diversity drives debate and more perspectives leading to better decisions, better business practices, better innovation, and improved risk taking. Annette Joseph, agile coach and founder of Manchester-based Diverse and Equal is challenging the technology industry to address underrepresentation in the tech sector by running courses to empower people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds into the tech industry, into employment and leadership. Annette also works with organisations to be world class by challenging bias in their own internal practices.
As we move into building back fairer and economic recovery, it has never been a more significant time to be an intersectional woman at the table in the team leading the Digital Strategy for Greater Manchester bringing added meaning to Greater Manchester’s ambition as a world-leading digital city-region. We have a massive opportunity now to build a society in the way we want it to look. 2020 brought to the fore heightened inequalities as well as systemic and socio-economic bias. We are on the cusp of a world we can’t afford to go back to and choosing to challenge is our call to action.

So the question is ‘what do you choose to challenge?’ Three things you can do:

  1. We are all influencers. We are all teachers, parents, colleagues, friends, members of communities. The advancement of society and industry and achieving gender equality is dependent on our ecosystem’s ability to challenge what is unfair and biased. Use your voice
  2. Actively seek better representation and pay it forward. Make space for others at the table, open doors and pass on the baton. Representation matters.
  3. Look internally and choose to challenge. For companies, International Women’s Day can be externally facing, but importantly it is a time for reflection. Are you examining what is happening to women within the organisation to give them a platform so other women can see them? What does representation look like at the leadership level, on your boards, what does your gender pay gap look like? Where are decisions being made and who has not got a seat at the table?

Pioneering social change

Greater Manchester is known for its pioneering spirit and radical social change. Thinking about the generations of strong pioneering women that came before us, and those that are paving the way for others and future leaders, what is clear is that we stand on the shoulders of giants. My niece believes she can change the world and proudly announces she wants to be an engineer like Kathryn Johnson when she grows up. I hope she will never lose that dream or self-belief though I know there is work to be done to ensure the industry attracts her talent and her dream. As I write this in the city where the Suffragettes movement was born, the real power behind ‘choosing to challenge’ is reinforced.
For many of us, there is no alternative.

In March 2021, we spoke to Joseph Woolrych, Project Management Officer on DWP Place - a project at the heart of of DWP’s digital transformation. Post COVID, Joseph worked out of DWP Digital's central Manchester hub.

By Joseph Woolrych

What a challenging year it has been for us all in many different ways. It’s now almost a year on from the start of this pandemic, but a life back to some form of normality is near. I find it’s important to look back and learn from what we have overcome in these past 11 months. Throughout all of this uncertainty and melancholy, there have been many moments of brightness and achievements we’ve encountered.

I wanted to share with you an achievement I’ve experienced, a journey I embarked on whilst working from my bedroom, to the living room dining table, to eventually building a home office – working environments I’m sure you can all relate.

This journey entails significant digital transformation across one the UK’s largest government departments, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which holds a growing 84,000 strong team serving 20 million citizens. The ongoing digital transformations here being some of the biggest in Europe.

Back in August 2019, our User Support Services team set out onto a journey to transform our employee experience across our existing tech support channels. The vision was to provide colleagues with the digital tools they need to help them self-serve and get back to work quicker. It became a bit of a design principle – always asking the question “does this get the user back to the citizen faster?”.

The result became DWP Place, an enterprise which has been at the forefront of DWP’s digital transformation and recently achieved a significant milestone - go live!
On 15 February 2021 our vision came true. On the go-live week, we had over 35,000 users log into access DWP Place, their new home for IT support services and knowledge all achieved by our team colleagues all working from home – an incredible accomplishment.
As the lead Project Management Officer, my duties were complex and at senior board level. I was responsible for maintaining a repository for project plans, budgets, commercial contracts, change requests and installing practices, operations and procedures - by ensuring quality is delivered at pace and supporting robust adaptive planning across stakeholders. Amongst other duties, regular lunchtime walks with Cindie the dog is needed too.

The goal was clear - to embrace technology and drive self-service across IT to unlock operational efficiencies, promote a cultural shift and flexible working. It’s been a challenging time for many of us, but we’ve listened to feedback and improved our tools and users’ access to IT support – the changes have been phenomenal.

Created a self-service model

A key priority for us was to transform the way the department manages and resolves internal IT issues. DWP Place offers this by moving to an omni-channel service model, providing choice and consistent quality of support, revamping our knowledge base and enabling IT users across the department to find the information they need and resolve issues themselves. DWP Place not only improves the user expereince but offers cost savings, operational efficiencies and improvement to productivity. 
Infographic of transformations. Refreshing our knowledge base. Introducting single user profile. In housing voice service. Self Service Portal. Improving Virtual Learning.

Rolled out Virtual Agent, Digi

As COVID-19 hit, we introduced our new chat bot, Digi. When offices closed back in March 2020 and DWP employees started working from home, Digi provided support when colleagues needed solutions resolving, without the need to speak to IT support. At the time of writing, more than 50,000 employees have used Digi so far, with a week on week increase of 5%. Digi has been an extra support line for when colleagues needed it most and frees up our busy phone support colleagues to work on more complex issues helping to bring down waiting times.

Transformed our employee experience

Our mission is to make our colleagues’ lives easier through providing the most efficient tools by:
The journey has been a rollercoaster full of excitement and gratification, all which has provided me with a sense of fulfilment knowing that what I’m doing and what the team are achieving, is making a difference to our colleagues and the citizens they are serving.
It’s unfortunate we’re not able to celebrate together in person but that time will come! I’m just proud to be a part of such a high-performing team here at DWP Digital.
If you’re interested in joining us on our digital transformation journey, why not take a look at some of the roles we currently have available in DWP Digital

Introducing the Greater Manchester AI Foundry: Business Acumen That Meets Technological Prowess.

The Greater Manchester AI Foundry are members of the Greater Manchester Cyber Advisory Group. The group brings together representatives of the city-region’s cyber ecosystem in Greater Manchester to guide and inform the GM Cyber strategy and work streams.
In February, Sean Brophy, Enterprise Fellow, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) wrote the below for MMU, in line with the foundry opening for applications for fully funded, two-phased programme available to 150 small-medium sized businesses.

Few recent technological developments have garnered as much fear and optimism as artificial intelligence (AI). Perhaps AI has captured the popular imagination because it requires us to reflect on what makes us fundamentally human, both in terms of our experiences and our capabilities.

By Sean Brophy, Enterprise Fellow, Manchester Metropolitan University, February 2021

AI presents stark visions of the future, visions which can be grouped into two now-familiar over-simplifications: a utopian version where the mundane tasks of work and life are delegated to machines and a dystopian version where automation heralds a new age of mass unemployment and human misery.  

These tropes are caricatures, of course, but the promise and the perils of AI are very real. It was the late Stephen Hawking who famously said that “…AI will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity.” And as fascinating as these ruminations may be, The Greater Manchester AI Foundry is focused on much more practical goals: supporting the development of commercially viable products, services, and systems using AI.

Essentially, this is what Brynjolfsson and Mcafee (2017) call ‘the business of artificial intelligence’. In this blog post, I will sketch out a few simple propositions on the business of AI that have informed the design of a series of workshops at Manchester Metropolitan University to train local entrepreneurs and business leaders on the business fundamentals of technology, innovation, and AI.

  1. Greater Manchester has a unique place in the history of AI, and the Greater Manchester AI Foundry is part of its future. Alan Turing was an academic at the Victoria University of Manchester from 1948 until his tragic suicide in 1954. Turing’s short but brilliant career is credited with starting the field of AI, particularly his 1950 article on “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”. Although much of the investment and institutions supporting in AI are concentrated in the fabled “Golden Triangle” in the South of England, Greater Manchester is punching well above its weight on a number of important metrics (The Data City, 2020).
  2. The business of AI is growing rapidly, but this growth is unevenly spread across certain sectors, locations, and types of firms. Although large corporates are using AI, SMEs and B2B firms are less likely to use it because they lack the expertise and data to use the technology effectively (Davenport, 2018). In the U.K., PwC (2017) estimates that AI will lead to a 10.3% increase in GDP by 2030, but this growth will not be shared equally across the nations of the UK. One can only speculate as to whether the AI-derived gains will be shared equally across the regions of England or if AI will add to growing calls for ‘levelling up’ the investment and take-up of technologies across the regions.
  3. There are different types of AI that can be used to develop new products and services but identifying the most suitable form of AI is often the key to success. Part of the mission of the AI Foundry is developing ‘AI literacy’ amongst the participants by making them conversant in terms like machine learning, neural networks, robotics, expert systems, fuzzy logic, natural language processing, and computer vision. At the AI Foundry, we are interested in developing commercially viable AI products, services and systems that are responsive to the needs of customers and the market.
  4. A customer-centric approach should be the starting point for those who are interested in developing AI-enabled products and services. Take the B2B market as an example, a Deloitte study in 2017 found that only 32% of executives were looking to use AI to create new products, but they see more potential for the technology in enhancing the performance of existing products, optimising operations, automating tasks, and making better decisions. (Davenport & Ronanki, 2018) It is incumbent on anyone who seeks to design solutions for the B2B market to understand how AI is being used by the very businesses who will be their future customers. For B2C firms, a customer-centric approach to innovation can take any number of forms, but human-centred design approach as advocated by firms like IDEO and Google offers a promising way forward.
  5. Many large companies are investing in infrastructure and processes to manage AI, but the same cannot be said of SMEs. There is an open question as to whether SMEs are developing the effective processes, governance structures, and operating procedures to successfully onboard the technology effectively. At the AI Foundry, we will be discussing a number of these processes and procedures, but we will pay particular attention to the ethics of AI.
  6. The transformational potential of AI has yet to be realised. It is still early days in the development of AI for commercial uses, and not all companies, particularly SMEs, have the data that is suited to using AI. Despite this, I am convinced that AI is the most important general-purpose technology since electricity and the internal combustion engine, and the potential of AI to transform everyday life is substantial. Although the speed and direction of this transformation is uncertain, the Greater Manchester AI Foundry will accelerate this transformation among local businesses.
  7. The impact of AI on jobs and employment is uncertain, but the nature of work will be fundamentally changed. Writers and researchers on AI speak about the ‘augmentation’ of work by smart machines and people working together, and this is a far more likely scenario than large scale automation where machines replace human workers. Employers, including the beneficiaries of the AI Foundry, ought to be preparing employees to work side work alongside smart machines that add value to the human efforts, whilst also minimising harm to workers, the community, and society.
  8. AI raises profound ethical questions, but ethics is the domain of human beings. Ethics is the examination of how human beings ought to behave to other human beings, and in many ways, technology is incidental to ethics. AI does, however, present some unique ethical challenges. Ethical issues arise upstream at the point of data collection; they arise when AI is used for analysis, and ethical issues are present downstream in the application of AI to products, services, and systems. The AI Foundry will be uncompromising in embedding ethical practices at every stage of the project.
  9. We need entrepreneurs, innovators, and scientists to ask the right questions and to tackle the right business opportunities. Pablo Picasso once provocatively said that “Computers are useless. They give you only answers”. What is meant by this statement is that correct answers – and the algorithms that arrive at those answers – are only as good as the questions they’re meant to answer. The task of those engaged in the work of innovation is to ask the right questions and solve the right problems for the betterment of all.

The goal of the Greater Manchester AI Foundry is to drive growth and productivity not only for the businesses involved, but to pass this growth onto Greater Manchester, the North West of England, and the UK economy. Find out more on the author Sean Brophy, and the AI Foundry here.

Brynjolfsson, E., & Mcafee, A. (2017). The business of artificial intelligence. Harvard Business Review, 7, 3–11.Davenport, T. H. (2018). From analytics to artificial intelligence. Journal of Business Analytics, 1(2), 73–80. https://doi.org/10.1080/2573234X.2018.1543535Davenport, T. H., & Ronanki, R. (2018). Artificial intelligence for the real world. Harvard Business Review, 96(1), 108–116.PwC. (2017). The economic impact of artificial intelligence on the UK economy. https://www.pwc.co.uk/economic-services/assets/ai-uk-report-v2.pdfThe Data City. (2020). UK’s Top Digital Tech Cities. https://www.thedatacity.com/uks-digital-tech-cities-report-2020/Turing, A. (1950). Computing machinery and intelligence. Mind, 59(236), 433.

Diane Modahl MBE - supporting Young People in Greater Manchester

Diane Modahl MBE is a four-time Olympian and a Commonwealth Games gold medalist. In 1990 Diane became the Commonwealth Games Champion, breaking the Commonwealth Games record in the process. She competed in four successive Olympic Games, four World Championships, four European Championships and four Commonwealth Games.  Diane was unbeaten by any British athlete over her specialist 800m distance for six consecutive seasons, winning gold, silver and bronze medals at the Commonwealth and a European Cup title.

Since retiring from being a competitive athlete Diane has dedicated her time to supporting young people, co-Founding the Diane Modahl Sports Foundation with her Olympic coach husband, Vicente Modahl, in 2010. The Foundation specialises in elevating sport as a catalyst for change, working with young people from the top 20% areas of deprivation across the North West.  Their mission is simple.  DMSF engage, educate and empower young people, particularly those at risk of not achieving their full potential due to circumstances which are out of their control, they do this by using sport as a catalyst for change and using the power of sport to develop character and positive behaviours to help them succeed in life.
In June 2020 the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, announced his appointment of Diane Modahl MBE as Chair of the new Youth Task Force for Greater Manchester. More recently, Diane was asked by the Mayor to take a lead on the Greater Manchester Tech Fund.

We spoke to Diane about this work and the importance of supporting our young people during these difficult times.
By Diane Modahl MBE

In Greater Manchester, we believe that our young people deserve every chance to fulfil their potential. In 2020, I was honoured to accept the opportunity to Chair the Youth Task Force for Greater Manchester to drive forward the Young Persons Guarantee and make sure we did our utmost to put young people at the centre of the solutions to protect their futures.

The Young Person’s Guarantee was established by the Mayor in response to the ongoing struggles the coronavirus pandemic was having on young people across Greater Manchester. To gain an understanding of the issues that mattered most to local young people, a consultation was carried out . During the consultation young people told us they needed better internet access and more support for those who are digitally excluded to prevent them becoming disconnected and falling behind in their education.

The Greater Manchester Technology Fund

When the Mayor launched phase two of the Greater Manchester Tech Fund last month, an emergency response to the schools and colleges once again being closed and having been asked by Andy to lead the YPG for another 12 months, it made perfect sense for me and my team to lead on this latest drive to businesses to support our most disadvantaged young people. The Fund supports digitally-excluded young people with the technology and connectivity needed to continue their learning at home while schools and colleges remain closed.

Despite the National Government Programme of support, GMCA estimates that 15,000-20,000 young people will still be left behind, unable to continue their learning remotely. Young people themselves have told us that having the tools to continue their education and positively engage in their communities is integral to them during these challenging times.

M.E.N Digital Donation Day

One of my highlights so far has definitely been the M.E.N Digital Donation Day. It was a pleasure to be part of the day and seeing Greater Manchester’s spirit sparked once again, as we came together to support our most vulnerable residents.

On Friday 22nd January, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) teamed up with the Manchester Evening News and Business in the Community (BITC) to hold a Digital Donation Day to encourage businesses and individuals to support the Greater Manchester Technology Fund.

During the day I got the opportunity to meet and interview brilliantly passionate Head Teacher at Newman College in Oldham Glyn Potts as part of a Facebook Live session. Glyn shared his and his students experiences during this pandemic and highlighted the huge impact digital exclusion can have on not only our young people but their whole family. You can watch the video back here.

We received donations from a wide variety of organisations including Boohoo, Ao, Beechfield Brands, Irwell Insurance Company to name just a few! We we’re delighted to announce that the Digital Donation Day raised a total of £188,600 through the donations of funds, new tech and data packages and used device donations to help digitally excluded young people across Greater Manchester. I’d like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to all the organisations and individuals who have come forward to support the Greater Manchester Tech Fund so far.

Your help has already enabled us to help our young people, In Phase one of the fund we were able to distribute 567 kit bundles to young learners and need and we have already begun getting kit out as part of Phase two of the fund. With each donation we are getting closer to closing the gap and preventing our young learners from becoming increasingly marginalised and at a disadvantage to their peers.

We still have a way to go, which is why we are asking anyone who can support our digitally excluded young people, to do so in any way they can.

Get involved and support the GM Tech Fund

We are appealing to businesses help us support young people to thrive by pledging to:

  • Make a financial donation to enable us to purchase devices and data connectivity packages 
  • Donate new devices particularly laptops, Chromebooks and iPads  
  • Donate data packages, portable hotspots, dongles and other connectivity devices
  • Donate pre-loved working devices under 8 years old which will be repurposed by Business in the Community to support a young person in schools or colleges in GM.

Find out more about the GM Tech Fund 

Tackling digital exclusion integral to grow a £5bn digital eco-system

Councillor Sean Fielding has taken a leading role in ensuring that Greater Manchester’s £5bn digital ecosystem reaches its potential, including an ambition that the city-region will become a global digital influencer. 

A local lad, having grown up in Failsworth, Sean served his home ward of Failsworth West since 2012 and in 2013 was jointly named the LGiU Young Councillor of the Year. Now 30, Sean became the youngest-ever leader of Oldham Council on appointment in May 2018.

Already public sector lead for Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Employment and Skills portfolios, Sean added digital to his belt earlier this year and is clear in his intentions that Greater Manchester is ‘doing digital differently’ putting people at the heart of our plans and ensuring that the benefits of a digital region reach all of our communities. 

What does Greater Manchester mean when it says it wants to do digital differently? 

The Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint sets out the vision for Greater Manchester to be a world-class leading digital city-region, centred around empowering businesses and people in the region. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the UK’s digital divide - it has amplified social isolation and loneliness, particularly for the most at risk groups such as older people and those with serious health conditions who continue to isolate themselves.  

Inequality has been a problem in Greater Manchester for a long time, says Sean, but a recent report from The Good Things Foundation and Liverpool University suggested that levels of digital exclusion are much worse than previously thought. As many as 1.2m residents in Greater Manchester could be excluded in some way to access the benefits digital brings, with over 700,000 people in Greater Manchester only using the internet in a narrow or limited way and a further 450,000 classified as 'non-users.’ 

The GM Technology Fund graphic

Starting with our young people 

We’re already taking action in this space, investing heavily and partnering with the private sector for high impact, collaboration that we think is vital to tackling digital inequity across the region. We worked with Vodafone to maximise the uptake in Greater Manchester of their schools.connected initiative  support in the form of data SIMs for pupils who find it difficult to access education from home because they don’t have the right connectivity. 

And in early 2020, when schools first closed, we partnered with Virgin Media Business to co-fund Phase 1 of the Greater Manchester Technology Fund and Phase 2 of that fund has just launched. The fund provides learners at risk of digital isolation with the technology and connectivity needed to continue their learning at home while schools and colleges remain closed.  

It is estimated that levels of digital exclusion are up to four times higher amongst those schools with the highest level of pupils eligible for a free school meal, with 19% of pupils in Greater Manchester claiming free school meals and Phase 1 of the fund initially focussed on recipients of free school meals, we know this was a small drop in the ocean and so we hope Phase 2, which is currently actively seeking donations, will reach further.

The fund is a great example of the social value
 commitments we want our partners to make – Phase 1 Tech Fund investment came via our appointment of Virgin Media Business to deliver up to 2,700km of new fibre optic broadband infrastructure across the region, the Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) Programme will connect thousands of public sites across the city-region. When this contract was being developed, there was huge emphasis on collaboration and services designed to serve the majority as well as our future generations – a refreshingly new approach to investing in infrastructureHaving the right infrastructure that considers where we are now, but also where we will be in 30 years’ time is vital, especially when we consider the unprecedented rates of digital transformation we have seen this year. This future-proofed connectivity supports the work we are doing in Greater Manchester to make public sector services more efficient and sets a standard to better ways of doing.  

The deal also includes a number of other social value initiativessuch as a commitment from Virgin Media Business to directly create 20 apprenticeships based in Greater Manchester, as well as investing in digital and STEM skills for young people as apprenticeship opportunities enable people to find full time work, while also giving them the necessary skills to develop their careers. 

And that isn’t just a one-off says Sean, additional investment for the Tech Fund has come from ANS Group, suppliers the GMCA are already working with through early years work across the region – another exemplar of public and private sector collaboration.  

Along with developers Objectivity, ANS Group, and Shaping Cloudthe latter two being Greater Manchester basedwe worked with various public sector organisations across local government and health and social care to launch a new, first of its kind application, allowing parents and carers to access information and support for their child whenever they need it.  The app means that paper-based assessments used to review a child’s development up to the age of 2.5 years are now digitised. During the COVID-19 pandemic the app has reduced the need for physical appointments, meaning these children and their parents have remained supported.  

The app is transforming the way health information is delivered and shared in Greater Manchester. It's also a great example of digital can address a real user need. School readiness figures in Greater Manchester are lower than the national average, with almost two in every five children not reaching a ‘good’ level of development by the age of 5. This increases to one in every two children for recipients of free school meals.  

The new system is helping health visitors to identify developmental issues earlier and provide support for the child and their families quicker than current methods. It will also free-up valuable clinical time for health visiting teams - thought to be worth around £10m per year in productivity once rolled out to the rest of Greater Manchester but most importantly we’re allowing parents to login and see their child’s development records at any time – we believe we need to give people much more control over their own data, who’s seeing their data and for what purpose. 

Vikki McClung, Health Visitor for the Radcliffe Team, in the Bury and Rochdale Care Organisation said: “The Early Years App will empower parents to access everything they need to support their child’s development in one place. 

“This is especially important during the current COVID-19 pandemic as it reduces the need for physical contact. It also provides a seamless and really integrated process which will bring all partners together including health, education and most importantly the families to make sure every child is ready for school”. 

Strengthening our digital talent pipeline

The Fast Track Digital Workforce Fund is a joint venture between the GMCA, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Lancashire Digital Skills Partnership , developed to address locally identified digital skills gaps and support Greater Manchester and Lancashire residents with accessible routes into digital employment.

Over the last 18 months the Fast Track Fund has helped unemployed and underemployed residents find meaningful employment locally with accessible opportunities for groups like women and ethnic minorities that tend to be underrepresented in the digital industry.
One of those success stories was AWS re/start, who received Fast Track Funding in April 2019. The training scheme was established to prepare individuals for entry-level cloud positions. Victoria Lucaci, who is originally from Russia, was doing some casual work in a call centre and studying web design in the evenings before she started AWS re/start.  

Following her graduation Victoria successfully gained employment as a Trainee AWS Engineer at Oxbury Bank. On landing her dream job, Victoria said: “It’s a dream come true! Having secured a job so soon after graduation, especially in these difficult times, is a miracle. I’m so thankful. All the support from AWS re/Start made it happen!”

The impact this could have on the future of our young and isolated is enormous. There is a hunger to upskill and learn across the country, as more than half a million people in the UK learned a new digital skill in the last three months by taking free online learning courses. This is no different in the Greater Manchester region. But if these people do not have access to the IT equipment, high-quality connectivity, and software they need to improve their digital skills, they will struggle to improve their tech literacy, further education and employability prospects. 

Where our opportunities for digital growth in Greater Manchester lie 

We’re in a really good place for digital right now, we’ve seen rapid growth since March and transformations that usually would have taken years, happening in months. The real challenge is how we ensure our digital ecosystem works together and is for our people, I believe Greater Manchester is really well placed to achieve that. 

Some of that rapid growth we have seen recently has truly been built to meet individual needs and we must continue on that path. I’m proud to lead a region with an intention that Greater Manchester be a 100% digitally enabled city-region, through the Digital Inclusion Agenda for Change. Through that agenda, we recently launched a Digital Inclusion Taskforce, with over 150 attendees at our first meeting in October the group aims to address the barriers of digital exclusion and the digital divide, in a co-ordinated and focussed way, informed by local needs and sharing learning, resource and expertise.

Access to the digital world should be a basic human right, everyone in Greater Manchester whatever their age, location, or situation, should be able to benefit from the opportunities digital brings. Digital marginalisation faces the poorest, most vulnerable communities, we must do all we can to support our people. 

Find out more on how Greater Manchester is doing digital differently.

A year in review: GM Digital 2020

The Greater Manchester Digital team and wider sector had an incredible start to the year in terms of our digital and tech ambitions, when we launched our Digital Blueprint, outlining our ambition to be a world class digital city region.

By Lauren Millward

2020 has been a strange year, it has brought with it a lot of highs and a lot of lows for our digital sector but despite all the challenges it has driven digital transformation at a scale and pace we’ve not seen before - in areas like healthcare, supporting vulnerable people and new ways of working. One thing is for sure, 2020 has been a busy year for the Greater Manchester digital sector. It has been a year of rapid transformation, development and innovation and you can read more about this year’s milestones and achievements in the year review story below.

Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint

In February 2020, we launched the new Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint, which sets out a three-year approach to meeting our ambitions for our city-region, and will be reviewed regularly in line with the pace of digital change.  

The Blueprint identifies five digital priorities, the priorities have been co-designed and developed with the input of key stakeholders and are supported by pan-Greater Manchester public sector projects.

A new lead

In April it was announced that Councillor Sean Fielding would become the new lead for the GMCA Digital Portfolio, adding this to his existing portfolio to become the GMCA Employment, Skills and Digital Lead. We spoke to Councillor Fielding at the time, to find out more about his new role. You can read our full interview with Councillor Fielding here.

Digital City Festival 2020

We joined forces with MIDAS to participate in the inaugural Digital City Festival 2020.  Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester opened the Digital City Festival at the start of the week, we hosted two panel sessions – 1) Greater Manchester: becoming and cyber superhub and 2) AI and Data: the driver of zero carbon and our then GMCA Lead for Digital, Cllr Elise Wilson spoke at a reception for Digital Leaders and we were involved in shortlisting and attended the Digital City Awards.

It was a fantastic week of events to be a part of, showcasing the amazing work of the Greater Manchester digital sector and beyond and we are looking forward to being a part of next year's Digital City Festival.
The Greater Manchester Digital Platform has been developed to help everyone in Greater Manchester, making sure that professionals supporting our people have the right information, at the right time and in the right way. The platform will be integral in driving improvements for our citizens, whether this is in health, care or the wider public sector.” Cllr Sean Fielding

Greater Manchester Digital Platform

The Greater Manchester Digital Platform is an advanced tool itself that can be communicated as an exemplar of good practice in Greater Manchester. The Platform was created to ensure that professionals supporting residents have the right information, at the right time and in the right way.

The Digital Platform provides the infrastructure that can be rapidly adopted in other priority areas to drive improvements in the health and wealth of Greater Manchester’s 2.8m citizens, whether this is in health, care or the wider public sector. We’re already looking at how it can be applied in victim support, homelessness and other important areas of health.

More below on the digital platform in action!

Secured world class digital infrastructure

In March, we announced we had secured world-class digital infrastructure through the biggest government full-fibre investment in the UK. The Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) Programme will connect more than 1,500 public sites across the city-region and will be the UK’s largest LFFN  Programme.

Full fibre enables much faster download and upload speeds and will underpin a wide range of digital transformation and smart city projects. For example, for a community centre, it would enable them to offer digital skills courses, for schools full fibre will provide faster and more reliable online access and connecitivty for digital learning.

Greater Cyber ambitions progressed

The Greater Manchester Cyber Security Advisory Group reflects the cyber security capabilities of Greater Manchester and drives forward inclusive economic growth for the city-region and the North. The group supports our ambition to establish Greater Manchester as UK and European centre for cyber and digital ethics, trust and security.

The group will provide strategic oversight and a force for inclusive economic growth, taking an ecosystem approach to building that capability and economic resilience. 2020 saw the third anniversay of the group, with some highlights from the network being over 75 SME's supported with their cyber security ambitions via the Greater Manchester Cyber Foundry, the group supported the development of a cyber talent programme and the launch of the Greater Manchester AI Foundry.

New Digital Inclusion Taskforce launched to tackle digital divide across Greater Manchester

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority is gathering senior leaders, industry, community groups and local government to drive ambitions to be 100% digitally-enabled city-region with the formation of a new Digital Inclusion Taskforce.

Recent analysis from the University of Liverpool and the Good Things Foundation, suggests as many as 1.2 million people across Greater Manchester could be excluded in some way from the opportunities that digital brings. Over 700,000 people in Greater Manchester are only using the internet in a narrow or limited way and a further 450,000 classified as 'non-users.'

The Greater Manchester Digital Inclusion Taskforce, which is due to meet for the first-time next week, aims to address the barriers of digital exclusion and the digital divide, in a co-ordinated and focussed way, informed by local needs and sharing learning, resource and expertise. The taskforce is part of our Digital Inclusion Agenda for Change – launched at our Digital Leaders Event in October 2020. Digital inclusion is an agenda we have been prioritising for some time, with the COVID-19 pandemic only widening the challenge.

Underrepresented groups set to benefit from digital workforce funding

During 2020 we delivered two rounds of the Fast Track Digital Workforce Fund, with 23 projects from across Greater Manchester and Lancashire receiving funding to deliver digital skills training for residents. The fund, which was developed to address locally identified digital skills gaps, is a joint venture between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and Lancashire Digital Skills Partnership (LDSP). The Fund also received an exciting extension through the Department for Education Digital Bootcamps to maximise on this work, giving residents the opportunity to build up their digital skills and fast-track to an interview with a local employer.

The £3 million fund, which is the first of its kind in the UK, was set up to support residents with accessible routes into digital employment, specifically targeting disadvantaged groups and those underrepresented to help them get into digital roles.

The successful projects included a Data Engineering Bootcamp, delivered by Generation to help support underrepresented groups facing barriers to employment secure a dream role in data, one of the fastest growing areas of tech. Tech Manchester’s Tech Equity programme also received funding to upskill unemployed women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds and provide a pathway for them to move into junior network engineer roles.

A response to COVID-19

Giving children the best start in life through digital

During 2020 we were pleased to launch the new Early Years Application across Bury and Rochdale.  

The Early Years digitisation project is a huge step forward for our city-region and will hugely boost our aim of giving children in Greater Manchester the best possible start in life. We started by developing an ‘Early Years’ app that digitises the paper-based assessments currently used to review a child’s development up to the age of 2.5 years.
The Early Years App provides parents and carers of children across Greater Manchester with a digital application to complete assessments that are currently paper-based and ensures that parents and carers have access to both completed assessments and other supporting information completed by the professional and gives the user much more control over their own data.

Developed by GMCA, Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership, frontline NHS colleagues and developers Objectivity, ANS Group, and Shaping Cloud (the latter two being Greater Manchester based) the app provides support digitally and during the COVID-19 pandemic, reduced the need for physical appointments. The Early Years Application is hosted on Greater Manchester’s Digital Platform.

Digital kit 'bundles' reach digitally excluded across the region

Earlier this year, in response to the closure of schools across the country, Greater Manchester Combined Authority invested in over 500 kit bundles to be made available to disadvantaged and digitally excluded pupils, working closely with schools and colleges to identify those in most need.

The investment, which also saw further funding received from Virgin Media Business and ANS Group, was part of a new Greater Manchester Technology Fund aiming to provide learners at risk of digital isolation with the technology and connectivity needed to continue their learning at home while schools and colleges remain closed.
A ‘digital kit bundle’ included a laptop and the required tools to get online and after rapidly launching the fund, the combined authority were able to work closely with schools and procurement partners to get around 600 kit bundles delivered to schools within weeks of launch.

New app launched to coordinate support for most vulnerable in Greater Manchester

Communities in Greater Manchester are now benefitting from a new app set up to help match volunteers with vulnerable people in need of support during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Community Hub Application which is now being used in Bury and Rochdale, provides a platform that all parties involved in logging, assigning and volunteering can access, helping to coordinate contact between centres, Hub Managers and volunteers. The application also helps to collect the required information to match appropriate support to citizens and their needs.

The app was developed in response to the ongoing need for volunteers to support our most vulnerable citizens in essential tasks including food shopping and collecting medicines. The app is also another example of how the Greater Manchester Digital Platform can be utilised to make the most of the infrastructure that can be rapidly adopted in other priority areas to drive improvements in the health and wealth of Greater Manchester’s 2.8m citizens.

Rapid ICT response

MS Teams rollout 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and ahead of any anticipated work from home instructions, our ICT team took the decision to undertake a tactical rollout of MS Teams to enable all GMCA staff to have the option and capability to work from home without disruption. This proved a timely decision as shortly after deployment, we were indeed instructed to work from home and the deployment of MS Teams meant that our staff were able to continue their work effectively while working from home. While working from home may have been a step change in the way most of us worked previously, the take-up and usage of MS Teams has been phenomenal and usage continues to grow as MS Teams becomes the ‘go to’ tool for day to day activities across the GMCA.
Image of remote working setup - laptop, screen, mouse and keyboard

Hardware issue for homeworking

As the instruction to work from home was issued, ICT immediately initiated a project to issue ICT hardware such as monitors, keyboards, mice and laptop risers to staff to provide a more effective, safe and comfortable home work environment that supported daily use on a longer term basis and therefore removed the need for staff to struggle using just a laptop device. This proved hugely successful and has enabled staff to work safely and effectively from home where required.  

Enhanced connectivity for homeworking

As part of the home working solutions deployed in response to the COVD-19 pandemic, ICT rolled out software solutions which provided effective and resilient connectivity for all users which enabled all GMCA home workers to be able log into their corporate devices from home, be on the network as though in the office and for those users to have continued connectivity should there be a failure of one of the solutions. This provided the capability for users to access all their network files and applications whilst at home and with the assurance that there would be no loss in that service.  


Throughout October, organisations were invited to take part in Digitober, a month focused on bringing together businesses and people from across Greater Manchester to combat digital exclusion and close the digital divide. This campaign month came in response to the widened levels of digital exclusion the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted.

Greater Manchester has seen rapid digital transformation across all business sectors, as organisations have been forced to innovate and adapt their businesses to switch to online. This digital transformation has left some residents and businesses at a disadvantage, such as older people, people living with a disability and people from low-income households. It is this inequity that Digitober focused on, reaffirming GMCA’s commitment to a digital city region where no one is left behind.
Greater Manchester Digital Drive graphic

Greater Manchester businesses offered free support to build online presence as part of a new scheme

We partnered with GC Business Growth Hub and THG Ingenuity, the Technology Services division of Manchester-based THG, a global technology platform specialising in taking brands direct-to-consumers, to launch Greater Manchester Digital Drive, an initiative which provides businesses with free access to “off the shelf” tools to help them get online or improve their existing digital offer.

Lou Cordwell, Co-chair of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, said “Now more than ever, Greater Manchester’s small and independent businesses need a strong online presence to reach their markets. Restrictions have been necessary to slow the pandemic, but the resulting decline in footfall has seen many businesses with physical locations lose out on customers. Many don’t have the skills or budget to adapt quickly.
Digital enablement is a key pillar of both our Local Industrial Strategy and our campaign to Build Back Better. This latest initiative is therefore a welcome one and serves as another great example of how public and private sectors collaborate in Greater Manchester.”

Our Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint sets out our digital priorities, which are now clearly focused on delivering benefits that help our city-regions people lead healthier and happier lives. Each of our priorities – co-designed and developed with the input of key stakeholders - are supported by pan - Greater Manchester public sector projects.

Tackling digital exclusion

How new TechMates scheme is tackling digital exclusion across Wigan

The Digital Wigan team is part of Wigan Council, the team works closely with Wigan Borough’s community to support residents to develop essential digital skills. The support provided by Digital Wigan includes helping people to get online, keeping in touch with family and friends using video calls and signing up to council services online.

COVID-19 has certainly further highlighted the importance which needs to be placed on bridging the digital divide.  It has positively raised the profile of how important it is for our residents and businesses to have the confidence and the tools to engage with online resources.
A yellow image with graphics of a briefcase, laptop and wifi around the edges of the image. In the middle it says: Tech Mates with a graphic of two people speaking

Introducing TechMates

TechMates is a digital mentor service run by our volunteers and council staff.  It was introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to prevent isolation for our most vulnerable residents. TechMates provides one-to-one basic digital support over the telephone to those residents who are unable to leave their homes. We help residents use digital technologies such as smartphones, tablets, computers or laptops to help them build their digital confidence.

We have been astonished by the number of Wigan residents wanting to help their community by training to become a TechMate. Since June, we have recruited 51 TechMates offering approximately 320 hours of support.

One of our TechMates success stories, includes Colin, who has been accessing support from TechMates since July. Hear Colin’s story below.
Partnership working and volunteers have been essential to the success of TechMates, grassroots organisations, such as Wigan Borough’s Age UK, Pensioners Link based in Leigh, Wigan and Leigh Carers Centre in Hindley and our neighbourhood teams across the borough have been instrumental in identifying residents who need our support. Pensioners Link have led the way by supporting their cohort of volunteers to become TechMates.
“I enjoy hearing the joy in their voices, of the initial scepticism at first, of 'I'll never learn this' to the ‘wow, this is really great' moment, when they get it and when they actually think, this is actually very useful and I like what I'm doing.”  - Paul Roughley, Manager at Pensioners Link in Leigh. See the full interview.
In terms of the future of TechMates, we are continuing to offer that support and increase our volunteer network. We are expanding on our digital support offer by including local college students and additional strands such as coding support. We also plan to train all members of staff to be TechMates, so that they can offer not only support to those residents who they come into contact within their day to day roles but family, friends and neighbours.

Wigan Digital Communities Partnership

During Digital Leaders Week in October, we were excited to launch our Digital Communities Partnership, which is a group of local community organisations offering a variety of courses and learning opportunities for all age ranges across Wigan borough.  We have connected with new partners during this time and built on existing relationships, Wigan is extremely lucky to have some great community organisations who recognise the importance of breaking down digital barriers for our residents and digitally upskilling.
We are continuing to build on the Digital Communities Partnership with local community volunteers and organisations. Together we have the unified goal to enable all residents to achieve the 5 essential digital skills. We would like everyone to experience the power of digital to improve the potential and growth of the borough and transform the way we deliver services and in turn preventing social isolation.
An image of a mans hand touching an ipad screen

Donating Devices

When the Covid-19 Pandemic hit, our libraries and community centres were suddenly required to close due to the national lockdown. They are usually thriving hubs of digital engagement within our communities, where residents seek digital support and gain access to devices and free Wi-Fi.  
With businesses closing and more essential services needed, we needed to act quickly and ensure that our most vulnerable residents were supported.  Many of those vulnerable residents were shielding and didn’t have access to essential services.

To help support residents without access to a digital device or the connectivity needed to access these essential services, we donated a number of devices:
  • Between April and July of this year, we delivered 1000 devices to children who could not attend school in the borough through the Department of Education digital device scheme.
  • We provided a further 100 tablet devices to individuals isolated in hospital to ensure they could connect with friends and family.
  • As also provided 100 tablets to care homes across the borough to support family connections and also virtual health clinics.
 We are currently in the process of sourcing devices and connectivity to form a community-led infrastructure to roll out a tablet loaning scheme across the borough

How do we bridge the digital divide?

COVID-19 has had a massive impact on the economic prospects and wellbeing of our residents. Some of these societal challenges may have digital solutions. Digital connectivity needs to be recognised as an essential utility. We know Digital Exclusion is Social Exclusion.
Without question if we are to meet the challenges of bridging the digital divide there needs to be a coming together of local authorities, businesses and community groups to make the case for investment to work together and make the commitment to bridge the digital divide so that people can live happier, healthier lives.
An image of two women working on a laptop together with the words written over the top: Digital Inclusion Agenda for Change
Thankfully, The Greater Manchester Combined Authority has developed a fantastic digital investment strategy through its Digital Inclusion Agenda for Change - a bold ambition to make Greater Manchester a 100% digitally-enabled city region.

Linked to this agenda has been Wigan’s participation in regular GM Digital Inclusion Locality Leads meetings.  These meetings have brought together local authority officers, businesses, community partners, The Good Things Foundation and experts from the education sector. For Wigan, this has given us access to a vibrant and innovative forum to share thoughts and ideas – and a lifeline to essential funding to enable us to invest in digital projects designed to digitally support our most vulnerable residents.
I believe we need to focus efforts on providing access to devices, connectivity, and digital skills for those in greatest need. The digital investment narrative has become even more pertinent considering the exacerbation of digital inequalities brought about by the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic. No one person should be left behind because they do not have the means or resources to be able to connect digitally.

Visit the newly refreshed Digital Wigan webpages to access a hub of resources for residents

Find out more about the Digital Inclusion Agenda for Change

Innovation to transform lives

How an innovative new initiative could transform the lives of SEND students and has started to close the digital skills gap.

Digital Advantage is an innovative digital training company based at Federation House in Manchester. For the past 5 years we have been taking our experiential learning model to hard to reach groups across the North West. For the past 3 years we have been working with students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), with some remarkable results.

Skin in the game

As a parent of an 12 year-old child with Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) I remain appalled at the criminally high unemployment rate for autistic young people, currently running at 86%. But also, as someone who has worked in the creative and digital sector for 25 years, I recognise that many of the strengths and capabilities of people with ASC often align with the increasing skills gaps in the digital economy. We’ve worked with around 300 students and have uncovered an incredible pool of talented young people. Brilliant, professional quality designers, coders, illustrators, animators, marketeers and analysts who just need the right support to be able to get some of the great jobs available in the sector.

Bridging the gap

Our experience and others’ research has shown that there is a direct correlation between many of the skills and talent of SEND young people (especially those with ASC) with the skills required by an expanding digital economy. An economy that that is demonstrating huge skills shortages and that expects to recruit over 30,000 people for new jobs in the sector during the next 5 years.
Until now there has been a lack of appropriate support available to SEND young people to enable them to fulfil their potential and secure some of the higher-level jobs available. This lack of support is contributing to unreasonably high unemployment rates for SEND students, and a tragic waste of a valuable pool of talent.

Greater Manchester’s untapped talent pipeline

As part of the development of a talent pipeline from the SEND community into higher level jobs in the digital economy, we have created Digital Inc., an innovative and effective programme of digital skills and employability development in schools.

The project has developed close links with GM Autism Employment Group, BASE, PURE Innovations, Coop Foundation, BBC, Prince’s Trust and GCHQ - all organisations working to improve neurodiversity in Manchester’s digital workplace. Digital Inc. has been independently evaluated; it works really well, and has had a profound effect on the schools, young people and parents of SEND students.

COVID 19 and the shift online

Since Covid we have worked hard to take our core learning on-line realising that SEND are once again going to suffer more than other students and that there schools, parents and carers need extra support to maintain the level of support they need to succeed.
We’ve worked hard with our industry experts and sector specialist to produce a range of engaging, video-led, task-based training workshops that can be delivered either by their teacher in the classroom or remotely at home by their parent or carer. We’ve also produced two CPD workshops to support carers and teachers and give them the skills and confidence they need to either support building a basic website or indeed manage a digital project. Take a look at the kind of stuff we’ve developed HERE. We’d by more than happy to get feedback to see if and where we could improve this. The on-line delivery is fully funded in Greater Manchester by GMCA, in Lancashire by the LEP, and in Birmingham by the Birmingham Education Partnership (BEP).  Students and Schools that participate in this programme can nominate students to progress onto our Digital Supported Internship.

The Digital Supported Internship model

This programme has been designed for and by young people working with industry professionals. It is targeted at students who find mainstream FE provision a challenge and who will respond better to experiential, strengths-based learning. It will be based at the Digital Inc. agency located in the city centre. It will refine interventions that have worked well in the development stage but with more focus on employer engagement, as it is targeted at achieving positive outcomes into apprenticeships, work or Higher Education.
In addition they will also develop their own business proposition or freelance operation: this may be a website, an app, e-commerce venture or e-portfolio for their freelance work. Students will work in small teams to respond to employer briefs from our partners and receive customised technical skills development depending on their requirements.
We’re also working with employers (of which we need more) to develop capacity and relationships, including paid work placements and internships, apprenticeships and eventual employment.

Going Forward

Having launched the recruitment during lockdown we have recruited steadily over the summer months and still have a few places to fill. Employers are offering their support in a number of ways including live briefs, mentoring, extended work experiences and interviews to become apprentices. They include GCHQ, CISCO, Manchester City Council, Autotrader, Push Doctor, Numbers and Lines, The Manchester College, Princes Trust, BBC and ITV.

Greater Manchester is leading the way in innovation for young people with SEND, yet, as a society, we need to do more to bridge the gap between education and employment to make sure that the skills and talents of SEND young people are being fully realised.  With Digital Inc. we’re doing things differently; we’re trying new ways of working and taking some measured risks. We think what we’ve developed will work really well for anyone wanting to get a great job in the digital economy, but as ever, we need more support from employers and anyone else who thinks that an 86% unemployment rate is not OK.

Throughout October the GMCA are running Digitober, a campaign celebrating the Greater Manchester digital sector. Digitober is focused on bringing together businesses from across Greater Manchester to combat digital exclusion and close the digital divide. Find out more about Digitober and how your organisation can get involved
To support our month of Digitober, a month focused on bringing together businesses from across Greater Manchester to combat digital exclusion and close the digital divide, we joined forces with DWP Digital to bring a series of blogs. Take a look...

Finding my calling

I’ve worked in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for over 30 years in a wide range of roles, latterly as a change manager. Two years ago, the opportunity came up to work as an associate Business Analyst with DWP Digital.

I found it really exciting moving to a digital team, getting to grips with agile working and learning the new language that goes with it. While there I supported a user researcher and really felt I had had ‘my calling’ to use my skills to improve services for DWP’s customers and employees.

So when an opportunity arose to work as a user researcher in the Manchester hub, I had to go for it. I knew the commute would be painful but it was a role I really wanted to pursue, and help make a difference to real people’s lives.

The interview was hard - a task and success profile questions - but I got the job. The team are so welcoming and respect your insight and knowledge, and I’m so glad I made the move. My advice to anyone looking to forward their career in the way I’ve done is to be prepared to do research; learn as you go and absorb all you can from those around you.

Don’t be afraid of your digital capability, you learn every day!

Susan's story...

My name’s Susan and I work as a user research in DWP Digital’s Manchester hub.

Moving to a digital role

I’d spent 16 years in mainly customer-facing roles in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). When I first saw the opportunity for a training scheme to become a User Researcher within DWP Digital, I dismissed it as I didn’t feel I fitted the model of someone who works in a digital role. I also didn’t think I had the technical knowledge or skills.
But then I reflected on what a user researcher does and having spent a large part of my 16 years in DWP talking to people, which is what I really enjoy, I thought I would apply.

A good fit for the role

I completed a short application outlining the skills I’d gained over the last 16 years, and the experiences I had, and was selected for interview. At the interview stage I prepared and delivered a short presentation, and spoke about why I thought I would be a good fit for the role.
I was successful in getting the job and haven’t looked back! Since joining DWP Digital I’ve enjoyed the variety of role, getting to talking to a wide range of colleagues with differing backgrounds and skills every day.

My new colleagues are open to each other’s thoughts and ideas, and different ways of doing things. Our satisfaction comes from knowing we’re working to improve people’s experiences of the digital systems we use every day, and the positive impact that has on colleagues and citizens.

My advice

My advice to anyone who is currently considering making the switch into a digital role is to speak to someone from the team about the role and how the team works. It will ease any concerns you might have about changing areas of work.

And when you arrive, don’t be shy to ask people about explaining any technical terminology or jargon they are using, usually you won’t be the only one who is new!

The art of the possible

My name’s Claire and I work as a Service Transition Manager in DWP Digital’s Manchester hub. I started in my role little over a year ago and I’ve already learned so much. I don’t have a digital background; I don’t have qualifications in Engineering or Project Management or anything like that. But since moving to DWP Digital I literally feel like anything is possible.

I joined the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) when I was just 18. Over the next 16 years, I moved around the department doing various operational roles before getting a job dealing with Service Delivery in the jobcentre.

No job goes without pressure but I find that it’s under pressure you figure out if you’re passionate about what you do or not and moving onto Service Delivery gave me the chance to find that out for myself.

Moving services online

Everyone has heard of Universal Credit. We all knew it was coming before it was rolled out but The impact of an almost fully digital benefit on our customers and staff was massive. And this is what ultimately made me realise that DWP Digital is where I wanted to be.

We had customers unable to read and write who had to suddenly set up their own claims online. We had colleagues having to learn new skills so they could coach these same customers to find work online when they’d actually made their claim.

In order to do all of this the offices needed the right kit and they needed it quick, which is where I got my first taste of what DWP Digital does.

I got to be part of the whole process from getting the right kit and software for the customers to IT training for colleagues - as well as organising testing sessions and delivery and installation of kit. Seeing the impact of a more digital way of working on everyone convinced me I wanted to be part of the team that made that happen.

Making the move

I currently work on Integration Testing which is already different to what I applied for when I started. Initially I was helping deploy applications across the department but with such a long background in Operations when an opportunity came up in Testing it made sense.

Now I get to be part of something that helps DWP Digital and Operations, using all the experience I’ve picked up over the years. Before I’d even moved over to DWP Digital I could see the opportunities that were there for someone who wanted to join those 2 parts of the business up and get the best results for our customers and colleagues.

A wealth of opportunities

I suppose if I had to sum up why I love working in Digital it would be because of the feeling of opportunity. There are so many different avenues to go down in the tech industry, but it was my passion about modernising operational teams that led me to this role. I don’t have a qualification in Engineering or Software Design but I know there are opportunities for me to get one if that’s a path I want to take.

Be yourself

When I applied for my job I allowed myself to let my personality and genuine interests come across for the first time, and it just so happens I got the best feedback for my application and interview I’d ever had.

My confidence went up tenfold because I cared about what I was saying and what I wanted to achieve for the department. Of course, experience counts for a lot and I was fortunate enough to have been able to get what I needed to move forward into DWP Digital but I think experience alone wouldn’t have got me the job.

Doing it for the right reasons is equally important. And I’m so happy I’m being able to work in a role that I’m passionate about; even more so since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit, as there are people around the country who would have struggled massively to claim any kind of benefit if it wasn’t for our online services.
Throughout October the GMCA are running Digitober, a campaign celebrating the Greater Manchester digital sector. Digitober is focused on bringing together businesses from across Greater Manchester to combat digital exclusion and close the digital divide. Find out more about Digitober and how your organisation can get involved

To celebrate Digitober, we spoke to David Marriott, UK Business Operations Manager at Raytheon Professional Services about how recent events have exposed the digital divide and highlighted the importance of training people for the jobs of the future.  

By David Marriott

Despite the challenges currently facing businesses up and down the country, Greater Manchester’s tech sector continues to adapt and grow, bringing opportunities to other businesses and residents in the region. 

There are almost 8,000 digital and creative businesses in Greater Manchester employing more than 82,300 people. Greater Manchester is already home to the largest digital cluster outside London and has a digital ecosystem worth £5bn.   

These businesses could be the rocket fuel for a digitally inspired economic recovery, but in order to bring the people of the North West along for the ride, there must be a step change. Because too many people are not able to access the rewarding opportunities available in this sector because they don’t have the skills.  

Nationally, there are 11 million people (22% of the population) who lack the basic skills to use the internet effectively, according to the Office for National Statistics. And the opportunities of the next decade of employment are only likely to require more of this simple digital know-how. 

The seeds of progress are already in place. The Fast Track Digital Workforce Fund, which was developed to address locally identified digital skills gaps, is a joint venture between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and Lancashire Digital Skills Partnership (LDSP). 

This initiative aims to help tackle the digital skills gap across Greater Manchester and Lancashire, supporting the local economy by building on the key digital skills requirements that employers have identified. There is a real benefit for employees too; academic research shows that people in work who acquire digital skills achieve a rise in earnings of between 3% and 10%. That is equivalent to a £376 increase in net earnings per trained individual per year. 

Raytheon Professional Services, were one of the successful training providers to receive funding to train Greater Manchester residents for the jobs of tomorrow through the Cyber Academy. The Cyber Academy is creating inclusive opportunities for groups of people with limited access to digital opportunities including BAME, neuro-diverse candidates and ex-armed forces personnel, whilst also upskilling employees in existing IT roles. 

With only 15% of roles in the cyber industry held by women in the UK, organisers are especially keen to encourage female applicants onto the course.  It is well known that diverse workplaces have proven to be more successful as they foster diverse opinions and ideas – providing different, but valuable perspectives on problems.  

Janet from Oldham is one of several female participants on this year’s course. She decided to enrol on the programme after being made redundant due to the pandemic. “I lost (my) job, and all of the processes of getting into employment [are] delayed,” she said. She is taking advantage of the down time to upskill in digital. “It will be nice to learn how to secure systems and help the community. In cybersecurity the activities involved are varied so I feel working as a cyber security professional every day will be different.” 

Stu from Failsworth is leaving the army in a few weeks time. He’s hoping that through his training at the Cyber Academy he will be able to find employment in Manchester’s booming digital industry. “I am hoping to gain the foundational skills and certification required of a cyber security engineer. I am enjoying building on my varied knowledge of each of the subjects touched on so far,” he said. 

Georgia, who worked in the tourism industry in Greece, saw the current situation as the catalyst for a career change. “Computer Science was always a hobby,” she said, “the situation with COVID-19 was an opportunity for me to improve my skills in something that I love”.  

Greater Manchester’s stellar growth into one of Europe’s largest digital hubs has created a growing demand for digital roles that will help support a thriving local economy. 

It is our ambition that the Cyber Academy will support accessible routes into rewarding, long term careers in cybersecurity and software development for Greater Manchester residents like Georgia, Stu and Janet, helping them to future-proof their careers in digital.  

In doing so, we can help propel Greater Manchester’s economy to new heights. 

Digitober is a month focused on bringing together businesses from across Greater Manchester to combat digital exclusion and close the digital divide. Find out more about Digitober and how your organisation can get involved

Switching to digital careers

Last week, we spoke to Andy Golpys, Co-Founder of MadeByShape, a Digital Agency in Manchester. Andy has worked in the digital sector for 15 years and says he still absolutely loves ‘going to work’ every day. Here’s what Andy had to say about digital careers.

By Andy Golpys

Why would I recommend making the switch to digital?

In my opinion, this industry is all-inclusive now. It’s changed a lot from the time when I started at 18 years old. There’s a lot of cultural benefits to admire, even before COVID happened

Students, graduates - individuals aren’t just looking for a wage in the modern day. They are looking to work for a company that cares about them, allows them to push boundaries in terms of their skillset and grow as a person. This is a given for any industry, but in terms of the creative industry - it’s very relaxed in it’s day to day life. If you like listening to music, eating whenever you want, wearing whatever you want - there’s not many office jobs that allow these 3 elements to work living.

I can’t speak for every agency but in terms of us at MadeByShape, we’ve put in place some lifestyle perks to demonstrate that, things like early Friday finishes, 2 weeks off at Christmas, Spotify subscription – you can even bring your pet to work as long as it’s not cray cray! This approach isn’t unusual and it’s just one of many unique characteristics of the digital sector.

I hear so many people say that they hate going to work, they have Monday morning blues. But I honestly have never had this, ever. And I genuinely feel like it’s the environment that we’ve created as an agency, but it’s also a progression the industry has made in understanding that employees need to feel comfortable, because at the end of the day - employees are our most valuable asset and that’s evident in other parts of the sector too


So, apart from the day to day relaxed nature of the studio environment, and the lifestyle benefits I’d say the other key aspect to working in the digital industry is the variety. The variety of working with different people, different clientele - regularly. It means you don’t get bored. And the variety of working on different projects. You don’t get bored. Even if you’re working on a long term contract for the same brand, it’s your job to keep it fresh and bring fresh ideas to a campaign. Being bored in what you do, will ultimately not end well. The variety of working with different age groups in teams is also common, so do not worry if you're a recent graduate or changing your career path later in life. Do what you love and what you enjoy. I work with some amazing talents that are fresh out of uni, but I also work with some insanely talented individuals that are older than me.


If you're considering making the switch to digital, make sure you do your research on where you want to work. Sending out your generic CV to 40+ agencies will be spotted a mile off. Make it personal, make it unique and only send those emails to places you really want to work for. Make sure they are the right fit for you. Getting a job is not just about getting wages and paying bills, it’s your life. You actually spend more time at work than you do with your family, so picking an organisation that has a portfolio or service that fits well with you, and a cultural/personality fit with you is also important. 


Applying for jobs is half personality and half portfolio. Yes, make sure your portfolio is outstanding, but also present your personality because I know that is a big part of the hiring process.


Another reason to enter the digital world is the fact that COVID happened. It made brands realise just how important digital, such as websites and online strategy, really is. In my experience, companies that didn’t have their website as top priority before COVID, it certainly is now. So that means the industry is very strong and there are many jobs out there.


I understand some brands have found it difficult and some have gone under, and it won’t be a quick fix or easy turnaround. But that doesn’t mean there’s no work out there to be won. For example, we hired and grew the team during lockdown - and it was a competitive pitch to get her to join our team. Not the other way round, we actually pitched to her to join us - rather than her sending a CV in.


Whatever path you take, just understand that it’s your choice. The digital industry is buzzing right now and especially in Greater Manchester, there’s some amazing brands to work with. We've seen an increase in enquiries over the past 12 months from brands in London specifically wanting to work with a Greater Manchester based creative studio.


There’s a lot that you can benefit from, but don’t just take the wage as the ‘only’ factor in your decision to work for a company, consider their cultural, lifestyle benefits, and the personalities of the group. The location is also a factor, especially because COVID happened - many people are understanding that the travel journey to and from work is stressful and a waste of time.


If you’d like to read more on the hire Andy mentioned above, you can read Why Ella joined MadeByShape. You can also read an article Andy wrote back in 2018 about what we look for in individuals when recruiting


If you are interested in changing careers you can find out more about Switch to Digital Week (5th - 9th October 2020), a week of events to help you find out more about what its like working in the industry and to get answers to any questions you may have to help you make the switch. 

Starting a new role in a pandemic 

Over the last few months, we've seen many employers in Greater Manchester offer fantastic support for their existing employees. We've seen a much welcomed focus on health and wellbeing of staff and we've heard some great stories of peer support but what about those employees that were due to start in new roles when the pandemic hit and how have they been affected? We spoke to Joy Hooper, Digital Project Manager who joined the GM Digital team at GMCA in May.

By Joy Hooper

I first came across the GMCA on LinkedIn, I read about projects and stories that focussed on social responsibility and was really intrigued by the work the authority does. I knew I wanted to be part of a team that made a positive difference to vulnerable young people and adults.  

Working remotely wasn't new to me so wasn't a big issue but having an online interview was definitely new! We actually had to reschedule my first interview due to some technical issues but I was put at ease about this and the rest is history!

I learnt so much about working remotely during my first week, just through using MS Teams! It was great to have support from my colleagues, this really helped and if you're employing staff under current circumstances this is definitely something I would recommend. The team had a mentor/buddy system it place and this made all the difference. 

Since starting with the GM Digital team I've already worked on a range of projects. For example, the Greater Manchester Technology Fund, providing close to 600 kit bundles to young people across the region to continue their learning. That was a great piece of work to start on and I feel I've been able to support our ambitions around digital inclusion and digital skills. The fund was a rapid innovation project – with setup to delivery of kit to schools happening within weeks. 

I’ve also just started working on the a couple of digitisation pieces, as part the Greater Manchester Digital Platform. The platform was built to ensure that professionals supporting residents have the right information, at the right time and in the right way. It provides the infrastructure that can be rapidly adopted in other priority areas to drive improvements in the health and wealth of Greater Manchester’s 2.8m citizens, whether this is in health, care or the wider public sector.  We’re already looking at how it can be applied in Victim Support, Homelessness and other important areas of health – it's a really exciting space to be in!  

For one of these projects were just moving into the discovery phase and we'll need to engage a wide range of stakeholders. This will be more challenging as all the workshops we need to deliver will have to be done remotely. However, on the positive side we are exploring different technologies as a team that we can use to better engage stakeholders and put the user at the heart of what we're doing.  

That's an approach I've been pleased to see within GM's digital blueprint -  putting people at the heart of our plans for a more inclusive approach that builds on our greatest asset. 

If you're due to start a new job in the pandemic, my advice would be: 

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whilst remote working may not be new – working remotely during a pandemic definitely is! 
  • Be curious and proactive 

  • Spend time getting to know your colleagues, this is something really important in the first few months of a new job and so I've tried to ensure I do it virtually instead 

  • Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and use new technologies and tools

Joy is part of the GM digital team at the GMCA, delivering Greater Manchester's ambitions as identified in the Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint.  

Businesses within Greater Manchester may benefit from advice and guidance on The Growth Co. website

Fast Track Digital Workforce Fund- meet the recipients 

This week we were delighted to announce the successful grant recipients for round two of the Fast Track Digital Workforce Fund. The fund is all about developing accessible routes into digital employment, specifically targeting disadvantaged groups and those underrepresented in the industry to help them get into digital roles.

By Suziee Cassels

The Fast Track Digital Workforce Fund, which was developed to address locally identified digital skills gaps, is a joint venture between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and Lancashire Digital Skills Partnership (LDSP). 

This latest round of funding will enable the successful projects to deliver a range of digital skills training programmes, creating inclusive opportunities for groups of people that don’t currently have access to these digital opportunities including BAME communities, under-employed individuals, women and ex-armed forces. 

We spoke to some of the successful grant recipients from round one and two of the fund to find out more about their projects and their impact. 

Tech Returners- round one 

Tech Returners was co-founded by Beckie Taylor and James Heggs in 2017 after the birth of Beckies son, Beckie wanted to help others return to the tech industry after a career break. Fast forward to 2020 and Tech Returners are not only working with our region’s top employers to provide support, resources, & upskilling programmes, they have also expanded their reach, launching a new programme in London. 

Tech Returners received funding in round one of the Fast Track Digital Workforce Fund for their ‘Your Journey into Tech’ programme, an accessible learning platform for people wanting to return or enter the technology industry after a career break.  

The 15 week programme was delivered to fit in with the lives and responsibilities of the 40 trainees on the programme. Following completion of the programme returners were given support to apply for jobs with tech companies in Greater Manchester. 

Employer partner, Infinity Works said: “Here at Infinity Works, we already have a continuing commitment to increasing diversity among our employees in every way. Working with Tech Returners gave us a great opportunity to be introduced to a number of candidates who had already been through a rigorous training programme and really understood the tech industry. We have now appointed our first two full stack engineers from the Tech Returners programme and have already committed to further job vacancies from their new intake.”  

Programme participant, Genevieve said: “I had been working in healthcare since I had my daughter but knew I needed a change of direction and started looking for a new job.  

“I do have a background in technology and had previously worked in website and graphic design, but I knew that technology had rapidly changed since then. When I found out that I’d got a place on the programme I was leaping around the living room with happiness! 

 “Well, I can honestly say that I get up in the morning and can’t wait to get to work! When I come home I feel more satisfied and fulfilled. I get a buzz out of the continuous learning curve which is quite steep currently, so it’s hard work but that’s OK – it’s what I signed up for!” 

Tech Returners were one of six projects which successfully received funding in round one of the fund to support over 200 Greater Manchester residents. In round two of the fund, 14 projects were receiving funding to support over 600 residents from across Greater Manchester and Lancashire. Reform Radio are one of the projects which received round two funding. 

Reform Radio- Round two 

Reform Radio started life in a basement in South Manchester in 2013, just two years later they moved to the old Granada Studios. They now broadcast 24/7 music, arts and culture to international audiences, whilst also using their online station framework to support young adults into employment.

 The not-for-profit company have been working to support young people into employment for the last seven years through creative workshops, traineeships as well as opportunities to develop and practice new skills in their industry standard radio station.  

Rachel, Reform Radio Director said: We have a range of different training courses that we deliver and we identified a gap for specific skills in creating short-form media. Discussing this with our partners Shorta TV and Allied London, we identified a clear set of skills we could deliver and a pathway for many different careers within Creative Digital. The Fast Track Fund was a perfect fit for what we had identified and we're really excited to launch the project later this summer.”  
With the Fast Track funding, Reform Radio will deliver a 10 week intensive programme to enable unemployed young adults to get into careers in content creation & digital marketing.Their programme has been developed to support young people aged 18-30 with a specific focus on women, people from lower socio-economic backgrounds & black & ethnic minorities. 
Rachel told us they chose these target groups because they are massively underrepresented in the digital, film, TV, radio and creative industries. She
referred to a Panic! report which found that just 28% of people working in creative industries are female and those women face a £15,000 salary gap. It also found that 12.4% of the film, TV & Radio workforce come from ‘working class’ backgrounds and only 4.3% of those working in the arts industries are BAME. 

Find out more about the fund and the full list of the projects that have received funding  

We will be speaking to more fund recipients in the coming weeks and months to find out how they getting on, so stay tuned. 

Blog published 29/06/2020

Celebrating Volunteers Week

To celebrate Volunteers Week and all the incredible people across Greater Manchester who spend their valuable time volunteering to support their communities, we wanted to share some of the amazing volunteer led working going on across Greater Manchester.

By Suziee Cassels
In our current climate volunteers and community organisations are more integral than ever, we have been extremely proud and humbled by the digital sector response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) volunteer led organisations and groups have been vital in our response to this pandemic and how they have worked with us to support the most vulnerable in our communities.
As the increase in humanitarian need across our communities continues, there has been an incredible number of people volunteering their time to support their local community. Which is why the GMCA have been working with Bury Council and ANS to deliver a new application set up to help match volunteers with vulnerable people in need of support during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Community Hub Volunteer application helps councils manage volunteers and requests from citizens in need of support with essential tasks including food shopping and collecting medicines.  The application helps understand need and demand more clearly and appropriately and helps effectively match volunteers with requests received.

We spoke to a variety of organisations and social enterprises in Greater Manchester working in the digital sphere to find out how volunteers have helped them deliver projects to support their local communities.

Helping people get online

Stockport’sDigiKnow’ Alliance. Over at Stockport Council they have been working hard to transform their digital services and ensuring they don’t leave anyone behind in the process.
To do this they established ‘DigiKnow’ alliance to deliver digital support and skills through established community groups and organisations who are already providing social support and have existing relationships with residents. Over the past few years the project has enabled 8,000 residents to gain digital skills and confidence through regular face to face sessions with digital champion volunteers.

When lockdown began however DigiKnow needed to quickly adapt their ways of working, within one week their Digital Champion volunteers were re-trained and ready to start delivering sessions via phone or zoom through their new digital helpline.
One resident, 91 year old Mable has not been able to leave her house since lockdown started and had been struggling to cope, she had been feeling really lonely and isolated by this significant change in her routine.  ​

Volunteer Michelle,​had been helping Mable with her shopping since lockdown and could see how lonely she was.  She signed up to become a digital champion to get Mable online for the first time, using the ​tablet which was donated to her through the DevicesDotNow campaign. She is now able to speak to family members all over the world and is much happier.

  • Salford Foundation Digital Buddies scheme
We also spoke to Good Things Foundation who are working with Salford City Council on their Digital You programme, they told us about a number of community organisations across Salford who have been working hard to adapt their ways of working during the Coronavirus pandemic. These organisations include housing associations, training providers, faith based organisations and everything in between.

One of these organisations is Salford Foundation, who have been delivering virtual "digital assistance" over the phone for local residents across Salford struggling to get online during this pandemic, through their ‘Digital Buddies’ scheme.This is delivered by 20 young people who have volunteered their time to provide digital assistance over the phone to those who need it most. The scheme has been set up so that community organisations including Salford City Council can refer people to the new service.

Through the amazing support of corporate volunteers, Salford Foundation are also delivering virtual mentoring sessions. These range from over the phone support to learners, providing capacity building support to help support their Good Things Foundation online centres in Salford to grow and develop.
  • Manchester City Council- Digital Volunteers
 Manchester City Council have also responded to the increase in digital exclusion COVID-19 has brought for the more vulnerable and isolated people in Manchester. As part of the DevicesDotNow scheme the Council donated 20 free tablets to vulnerable residents without internet access. They have also implemented a telephone service, where digital volunteers provide digitally excluded people with the skills and confidence to stay informed and connected and ensure they are able to access any services they may need during lockdown.

Key partners for this initiative include Libraries, Manchester Adult Education Service, Citizens Advice Manchester and 10 of the city's UK Online Centres. Multilingual volunteers organised by Wai Yin, Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association Ethnic Help Forum and Somali Advice Link have also been ensuring that support can be delivered to those that need it in 12 languages.

So far the dedicated digital volunteers have done their bit to supported 178 vulnerable people living in Manchester.

Health and Wellbeing

The Energise Centre, Salford. The Energise Centre is a community centre in Salford where community and voluntary organisations deliver health and wellbeing services for local residents.
The Good Things Foundation told us about how the centre have changed the services they provide to continue to support residents.

As part of their Wellness Wednesday’s initiative they have been delivering online chair based exercise sessions to ensure participants aren’t missing out on their regular exercise.

John, Digital Volunteer and Walks Leader at the centre said: “I wanted to offer something back to the local community when I retired. I help deliver sessions for the centre on how to: set up an email account, search for jobs, get access to complete online Universal Credit applications and also provide guides to get online through Learn My Way.

“Often I am stumped by some of the questions, so I use a distraction techniques and quickly google the solution which I then take as my own. The reward in this volunteering role is the satisfaction in seeing someone write their first email or find out the capital of Outer Mongolia (Ulaanbaatar – just googled that one) and gain confidence in using a medium that most of us take for granted." 
Chayn, Global. Chayn is an open-source project run by 400 volunteers across the world, it is the birth child of Hera Hussain. After helping two of her friends out of abusive marriages, Hera promised to do everything she could to help other people around the world.
Seven years ago Hera, who has lived in Greater Manchester at various points throughout her life, decided to use her tech experience to launch award-winning Chayn. Chayn’s volunteer army help women experiencing abuse find the right information and support they need to take control of their lives.
Chayn is an amazing example of how accessible technology can be used to make a real difference within our communities. Chayn uses the internet to reach and empower vulnerable women who may not leave the house very often, but will likely have a basic smartphone with internet access. All the resources Chayn produce are driven by the needs of victims and survivors from diverse backgrounds and are openly licensed so that they can be used by charities, organisations and individuals across the world.

Thank You

The amazing work of volunteers across Greater Manchester most certainly does not stop here, there are countless projects which are making a real difference and deserve recognition.

We would just like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to each and everyone one of the volunteers that have helped make these and many other projects happen. Your work is invaluable and we cannot thank you enough!

Blog Published 05/06/2020

Greater Manchester digital - the highlights so far

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all areas of life in many and substantial ways and unsurprisingly we’ve seen the digital sector across Greater Manchester come together to identify ways digital technologies can be used to improve people’s lives across the region. 

By Lauren Millward
Our Communication & Engagement Lead, Lauren summarises just some of the great work from a few Greater Manchester businesses and organisations that are shifting priorities, changing business models and supporting others through these challenging times.


Phil Swan, Digital Lead for Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) told us the GMCA are not only looking at new innovations but bringing forward priorities already identified in their GM Digital Blueprint.  

He gave us one example, saying “To help reach those in need, a Community Hub Volunteer application was recently developed by Bury Council, ANS and Microsoft with support from the GMCA. The app helps coordinate contact between centres, Hub Managers and volunteers. Everyone involved can use the app and manage tasks from start to finish.”

The GM Digital team are in discussions with other Greater Manchester local authorities, to rapidly deploy the app in other areas. The app sits on the Greater Manchester digital platform, which has been playing an important role in the sectors COVID-19 response. 

More diversification over at InnovateHer. To continue their mission to ‘get girls ready for the tech sector and the tech sector ready for girls’, the team created a portal to house resources for girls to access online. Their six week educational programmes are piloting in May, with cohorts being guided by industry mentors to learn tech skills and meet like-minded girls in a virtual classroom. 

The team also launched a new online corporate membership programme, with the emphasis on webinars, online events and a slack community for their network. The offer includes pay monthly options and a new portal to give members access to resources. A partnership with local charity Chayn will see a percentage of every membership fee donated to this vital organisation which provides support for women experiencing domestic abuse.

Peak AI are ensuring their priority is supporting their customers as much as possible during these difficult times. Peak work with many different retail and consumer goods businesses, and recently there’s been widespread disruption in these sectors. They said “Being more dynamic and using artificial intelligence (AI) to spot new areas of opportunity, helps our customers retain their competitive advantage and focus on navigating the ever-changing market. Global disruptions, like the coronavirus pandemic, tend to act as accelerators of change. As more businesses switch to ‘e-commerce-only mode’ for the forseeable future, this means there’s an even greater proliferation of business data. When this data is leveraged with the power of AI, it can be used by businesses to make intelligence-driven decisions which will help them prepare for life in the ‘new normal.’”

Keeping Greater Manchester thriving 

The Business Growth Hub (part of The Growth Company) via their digital, creative and tech specialist business support team, has already reached out to over 200 digital and tech sector businesses not only giving immediate bespoke business advice but is also gathering and subsequently finding solutions to Manchester’s tech sector specific pinch points. Areas such as sector cash-flow strategies or new product and service iterations have been the focal points. Sector businesses can tap into the fully funded, business advisor support via the BGH enquiry line.  

Greater Connected, the Business Growth Hub (BGH) sector support programme, has pivoted to guide businesses through the stages of survive, stabilise, adapt and grow again. The fully funded programme is already running in its new digital, COVID-19 adapted format and currently open to applications for the next cohort. 

The Digital Innovation team at BGH has also been helping businesses to adapt their internal processes and sales mechanisms. A quick “remote working” guide video has been produced and the team is forming a vital part of the #HereForBusiness initiative, helping businesses navigate the latest government information, signposting to funding, providing specialist advice and linking in with the “Employ GM” work. The team also co-delivers a series of virtual workshops called “Strive and Thrive” including areas such strategy, finance and cash-flow and leadership to name a few. 

Manchester Digital are offering three month's free membership in a bid to support the sector during the current crisis. I spoke to the team there and they told me COVID-19 has impacted all businesses in a way no one could ever have imagined, and whilst the pandemic isn’t yet over they are already thinking ahead to once lockdown is lifted, and the workforce is able to return to the office. Their COVID-19 Business Resumption Guide provides several considerations around the practicalities of reopening buildings and returning employees and has been created by members of the Manchester Digital Employers’ Forum.

I also really enjoyed this piece from Katie Gallagher,
Future Fund Reaction: what does GM's startup community think about the plans?

Staying safe and secure online 

The Cyber Resilience Centre, a not-for-profit venture between Manchester Digital and Greater Manchester Police are offering micro to medium businesses a three-month free membership which includes tailored advice, a toolkit and the latest security news and more. The centre is also hosting virtual events for businesses to learn more about the current cybercrime trends and how to stay safe online. 

Detective Superintendent Neil Jones said: “Cybercriminals are continually evolving their strategies to target businesses, often with devastating effects. The Cyber Resilience Centre is here to support Greater Manchester's businesses with the latest advice and services to ensure they are resilient to online attacks and breeches.” 

Supporting and caring for our people 

GMCA and the Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership have worked together to launch a new, first of its kind, situation reporting system now live in Care Homes and GP practices across Greater Manchester. The system monitors: PPE levels, death figures, infection rates and outbreaks to identify early signs of instability so swift action can be taken. Another tool hosted on the Greater Manchester Digital Platform.

Over at Health Innovation Manchester, Director Guy Lucchi, described how the organisation is currently supporting Greater Manchester’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak “We’ve reviewed our plans and priorities to focus on those projects that provide the best care and support to our citizens and frontline health and care workforce during the pandemic.” 

Working closely with health, care, academic and industry partners, Health Innovation Manchester has identified several high priority programmes for the region including the acceleration of patient data-sharing across health and care and the rollout of the GM Care Record, digitising primary care and switching to digital-first services, providing patients with digital access, triage and consultation with their GP, digital care homes and providing greater access to technology, tools & patient information so they are better equipped to protect and care for vulnerable residents and adult and child mental health services being provided online to residents affected by COVID-19 and the new social restrictions.

GMCA also recently launched the Greater Manchester Technology Fund, providing schools and colleges with the technology needed in ‘at-home’ settings to continue their learning. Phase One was funded via the GMCA and Virgin Media Business and kit has already started to be distributed across some Greater Manchester schools. There’s been some great tweets from schools in receipt of this kit.

Innovate Her are also doing similar work to support the previously mentioned shift to online. The team have launched a partnership with the Princes Trust to provide devices and dongles to girls who need them in Greater Manchester, in the interests of removing all barriers and there's some fantastic work happening in this apce too
through DevicesDotNow

Health and wellbeing continues to be an important topic for the region and beyond, with out own short blog on “Working from home, it's ok to...” and more great content has come from Manchester Digital with this wellbeing piece.  

Sticking with health and wellbeing, Tech Returners have been hosting some fascinating conversations via their virtual event series on wellbeing and I've really enjoyed following #TheCWord threads over on Twitter.  

Of course, there is so much happening in the digital sector across the region in response to COVID-19. We’ll continue to share more great work from Greater Manchester’s digital sector. If you have a story to tell, get in touch with the team.

Blog Published: 21/05/2020

Introducing Our GMCA Employment, Skills and Digital Lead

On the 29th April it was announced that Councillor Sean Fielding would become the new lead for the GMCA Digital Portfolio, adding this to his existing portfolio to become the GMCA Employment, Skills and Digital Lead. 

By Suziee Cassels

What are you looking forward to about taking on the Digital Portfolio?

I’m delighted to add digital to my existing portfolio of education, skills, employment and apprenticeships. Elise was a formidable champion of the digital agenda in Greater Manchester and I hope I will be able to maintain the pace that she set.
Digital and skills policy will be an enormous part of how we rebuild our economy after the coronavirus crisis is over. There is so much potential to ‘build back better’ through the choices we make in these areas. We really can set an example for the rest of the country to follow by ensuring that we consider people, and not just the economy, when making decisions moving forward.

This is an exciting time to be involved in digital across the region. We have set out a clear ambition for Greater Manchester to be a top five European digital city-region and to be recognised globally for its digital innovation.

We want our citizens’ lives to be bettered, and for them to be empowered by the opportunities a digitally fuelled city-region provides. We have seen how, despite the challenges of coronavirus, many of those who have worked from home have seen an improved work life balance and our ambitions around gigabit broadband will enable people to continue realising these post-crisis.

Here in Greater Manchester we are investing heavily in digital infrastructure, connectivity and transport and as a region we offer a breadth and depth of expertise across digital and creative services, ecommerce, technology hardware and software. This investment is creating a truly digital place that innovators from across the globe want to tap into and a place where businesses already here can thrive. 

What is the Greater Manchester Technology Fund?

The Greater Manchester Technology Fund will soon make ‘kit bundles’ available to disadvantaged and digitally excluded pupils, working closely with schools and colleges to identify those in most need. A ‘digital kit bundle’ will include a laptop and the required tools to get online.

The fund aims to provide learners at risk of digital isolation with the technology and connectivity needed to continue their learning at home while schools and colleges remain closed.
It is estimated that levels of digital exclusion are up to four times higher amongst those schools with the highest level of pupils eligible for a free school meal, with 19% of pupils in Greater Manchester claiming free school meals. Provision of this kit will initially focus on recipients of free school meals, allowing these young people to continue their education from home, stay in touch with friends and family and provides teachers and tutors with a mechanism for support.

Our young people, their parents and guardians need to feel assured their education will not suffer during this period of lockdown. We also hope these young learners will benefit through reconnecting with their peers and school network.

What has the Greater Manchester Digital response to Covid-19 been like?

The Covid-19 pandemic is affecting all areas of life in many and substantial ways, the portfolio have been working hard to identifying ways digital technologies can be used to improve people’s lives across Greater Manchester. This has not only included new innovations but assessing the possibility of bringing forward priorities identified in the Digital Blueprint.
Along with the Technology Fund, we’ve been involved in developing a new Community Hub Application, already launched in Bury. The application provides a platform that all parties involved in logging, assigning and volunteering can access, helping to coordinate contact between centres, Hub Managers and volunteers. It’s been built on our Greater Manchester Digital Platform, which means it’s scalable and we’re working with other localities to rapidly deploy the app.

What is next for the Digital Portfolio?

Our Digital Blueprint has set the next chapter in our ambition to be recognised as a world-leading digital city region, with an ongoing commitment to taking an open, innovative and connective approach to delivering that ambition.

We remain committed to being a digital city-region with a difference. By putting people at the heart of our plans we aim for a more inclusive approach that builds on our greatest asset. As a region we’re focussing on digital becoming the way we empower our people and enable innovative public services. We need to create, scale and digitally enable our businesses and we know we have what is needed to become a global, digital influencer.
For Greater Manchester to achieve its ambitions we need the whole digital ecosystem to pull together. This concept of collaboration is at the heart of the blueprint. With a joined-up approach we want to ensure the digital portfolio’s role across wider linked GMCA work is connected for bigger impact. Particularly with our Work & Skills, Green City-Region, Reform, Growth and Infrastructure programmes across all districts to emphasise that we are more than just the sum of our parts.

Do you have prior experience of the digital sector?

My experience of digital is having seen how technology is an enabler right across the economy. Whether it was the way that digital stock records revolutionised the way I worked during my first Saturday job in a supermarket as a student, to the digital record keeping that has improved the effectiveness of the political campaigning I undertake in my current role, or the way that videoconferencing has driven major efficiencies for staff and elected officials at the Council and the GMCA. I think it would be doing the benefits that digital can drive a huge injustice by thinking of digital as a discreet sector.

Digital will ripple right through all sectors of the economy and drive benefits and efficiencies across the board. It is a truly exciting time to be leading on this important brief.

Blog Published 06/05/2020

Working from home, it's ok to...

It’s a challenging time as everyone adapts to the developing situation and new ways of working relating to COVID-19.

By Lauren Millward

If you’ve ever read the Government Digital Service blog “It's ok to say what's ok” you may well already be applying some of the listed principles in these unprecedented times.

It’s important we all feel empowered to do whatever we need to make our lives as easy as possible right now, and to work how it works for you. We wanted to remind you that it is OK to:  

  • Ask people how they are and if they need anything
  • Ask for help. In fact it’s really important we speak out when we need help and support
  • Change your usual routine – take longer breaks, start or finish earlier or later
  • Take the time you need to help others in your house – kids, parents, partners
  • Get dressed as normal for a day in the office, or just wear your comfiest clothes!
  • Turn your camera off on video calls
  • Say "I don't know” or ask for more clarity – we are all experiencing this together, for the first time
  • Have a messy or a tidy workspace
  • Have days off or just have an off day
  • Have loud days, to talk, joke and laugh and quiet days as well
  • If you don’t understand the news, or just don’t want to read the news!
  • If you feel less confident than your colleagues using these new tools and tech
  • Make mistakes
  • Not check your email and notifications constantly out of hours (or during hours!)
  • Put yourself first – including your mental health and the mental and physical health of those around you
  • Take a bit more time than usual, to consider questions, queries and asks
  • Take a break
  • Take some time to chat “non-work” with your colleagues – think biscuits, wallpaper choices and pets etc
  • To take a break from social media, turn off notifications etc
Everyone is experiencing working from home in very different ways, so it is important to be kind to yourself!

Blog Published: 01/05/2020

Putting people at the heart of plans to grow a £5bn
digital eco-system

Councillor Elise Wilson is the self-confessed non-techie taking a leading role in ensuring that Greater Manchester’s £5bn digital ecosystem reaches its potential, including an ambition that the city-region will become a global digital influencer.

By Simon Donohue

If that seems somehow incongruous, then it isn’t surprising when you dive into the detail of Greater Manchester’s promise of “doing digital differently”. Alongside building on Greater Manchester’s credentials as the UK’s second biggest tech cluster outside London, the clear intention is that generating benefits for ordinary citizens will be paramount.

Having first entered local politics in order to campaign on an issue facing people in the community ward of Davenport and Cale Green, Stockport, Elise was elevated in May 2019 to the position of leader of Stockport Council.

In turn she accepted Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s invitation to become the public sector lead for Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Digital City Portfolio.

Elise is rightly proud of Greater Manchester’s rich history of digital innovation and position as the leading digital centre outside of London, she insists that the digital revolution underway in the region is about serving ordinary people as much as it is attracting inward investment. No-one will be left behind by the digital revolution here, she insists.

Working alongside combined authority officers and other stakeholders, Elise’s vision was recently brought to life with the publication of the Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint, which set out the city-region’s strengths as the biggest UK tech hub outside London and its ambitions for the digital sector.

Here, Elise answers questions about Greater Manchester’s digital sector:

What is the Digital City Portfolio?

The Digital City Portfolio has a huge scope and scale. It is one of our key priorities in Greater Manchester as we’re looking to grow our economy and deliver for the people of Greater Manchester. We see digital as a key area of growth, not just in terms of attracting new businesses here, but also having the right skills and talent pipeline, and digital infrastructure. We want to deliver a place where people will want to live, a place that will be the best possible place in the world to grow up, to get on and grow old.

What does Greater Manchester mean when it says it wants to do digital differently?

The key message for everything we do Greater Manchester is that we do things differently and we’re going to do digital differently as well. It’s about how we place people at the heart of what we do in achieving our digital ambitions. As we move forward, our goal is to create a digital city-region shaped by the people who live here, taking everybody with us.

How will doing digital differently support inward investment to the digital and tech sector?

We’ve got a huge economic ambition for Greater Manchester and there’s a real opportunity for businesses to capitalise on that.

We want to continue to create a place where people know they can work and collaborate openly, co-designing and co-creating with others, where they know you’re going to be able to attract people to come and work, because Greater Manchester is a great place to live. Investment in business and infrastructure is important so is the culture of Greater Manchester. The staff of the companies and start-ups that invest in Greater Manchester are going to want to come here and eat in our restaurants, send their children to our schools.

 How does doing digital differently help individuals?

People want a place where they can really live their lives to the full. People want to live happy, healthy lives and it will be about how we make that happen. We have huge interconnected communities that stand together. In Manchester, standing together is a hugely emotional thing because we’ve been through so much. And it doesn’t matter which community you go to, it resonates because we do stand together, we do things together.

How has digital affected you personally?

When I was a child, the internet didn’t exist. To be here now and see all of the amazing stuff we’re working on now, it blows your mind. It’s very hard then to visualise what it’s going to be like in the future. Nobody knows what it’s going to be like in another 20 years’ time. And that’s what I think Manchester can offer: an opportunity to be somewhere that is ambitious and innovative, and really challenge that creativity. To say, ‘Well, what is the possibility?’ The possibilities are huge.

What difference has digital made in helping Greater Manchester respond to the coronavirus pandemic?

The current climate brings a whole new meaning to ‘Doing Digital Differently’ and from the work being done with the Digital Platform to enhance public service,  to fast-track on digital skills and addressing inequalities and digital inclusion, it has forced us to think about how digital can enhance our way of being and working as communities, people and businesses to address inequalities and uplift each other. We have seen the public sector working with the private sector and VSO sector in ways that we’ve never seen and digital has been a catalyst to that. It is now more than ever that ‘Doing Digital Differently’ shows how we can work together to inform better practices, skills and knowledge sharing, how we can connect communities and those that live and work in Greater Manchester as well as nationally and internationally.

These extraordinary times have demonstrated the positive impact that digital technology can have in connecting people and businesses during a time of crisis, introducing methods of communication on our lives, enabling many people to work remotely; stay in touch with family and friends; seek entertainment, continue their education, and access essential services.

The Zoom web meeting platform has added 2.2m monthly active users so far in 2020, while webinars and social media channels have proven invaluable for people want to keep in touch, stay informed, and find distraction. I’m particularly excited about the www.unitedwestream.co.uk platform launched by night time economy advisor for Greater Manchester, Sacha Lord, which promised to stream Manchester’s culture around the world; and proud of the support being offered via The Growth Company and GMCA through the Employ GM, which connects employers* who have urgent temporary vacancies with individuals across Greater Manchester, who are available to start working straight away during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It is likely that many of these new means of digital communication will become part of our lives beyond this crisis.

What is the role for Greater Manchester Combined Authority in developing the digital economy?

I see Greater Manchester Combined Authority as a key enabler of how we actually connect people together. We have the new shoots of a digital ecosystem that is going to be really exciting, with lots of different innovators doing exciting things. It’s about being able to join all of that up, so that we have all these innovators sparking off one another.

Examples include ensuring that our universities and academic visionaries and working alongside to businesses that are trying to deliver innovation, and are making sure that they’re connected together so that we can be sure that those outcomes are applicable to the challenges facing people here and across world. The other thing the combined authority is a really in great place to deliver on is infrastructure. Some of the things we are going to need, and I do think digital businesses do need, include full fibre connectivity, physical transport infrastructure, 5G, and the talent pipeline necessary to be able to do create the future and continue to be relevant at a time when digital makes things so fast.

Public services are there to deliver stuff, and not necessarily directly deliver, but enable and cultivate the delivery of certain services.

Why is it important for Greater Manchester to become a global digital influencer?

We put people at the heart of everything we are doing. That’s how we do things differently here. It’s about the opportunity here in Greater Manchester to do something for human good, to do things that make a social difference, to look at how people are living their lives today, and how that we can make that better people in the future. Those are ideas that we can share with the world.

When we consider how public services could interact with each other, there’s an awful lot that can be done. We need to consider that we’re an ageing population that we need to find ways to be sustainable going forward and reduce our carbon footprint.

I think Greater Manchester is an exciting place for innovation and it always has been. We have an emblem in Greater Manchester of a bee. It’s sometimes thought that the emblem of the bee is because we’re all busy bees, working away. But it’s not. The bee goes off from the hive, finds those ideas, brings those ideas back that are new and exciting, and that’s what Greater Manchester does best. It’s how we do something with those ideas which is really exciting and challenging.

How excited are you about the opportunities for digital growth in Greater Manchester?

We’re in a really good place for digital, whether that’s on our cultural side; at centres like MediaCityUK, or the things our smaller organisations and universities are working on. We also have large multinational organisations working here, or considering setting up shop. The vision for the future is how we make sure our digital ecosystem is tied together and co-designed, where creative meets science and maths.  I do think that Greater Manchester is really well placed for that.

What digital has done is deliver solutions that are specific to individual needs. When we get to public services, we need to have that same response. The things that I need from public services are not necessarily the same things that my mother needs or my daughter needs. As we change and go through different stages in life, it’s got to be bespoke to what those different stages are.

Read more on Greater Manchester digital ambitions, through the Digital Blueprint.

Blog Published: 27/04/2020

Elise Wilson: Greater Manchester's Digital Platform

Greater Manchester’s councils, NHS organisations and other public bodies are working together to invest in new technologies and to explore better ways of working to join up data from the many systems across the public sector. This will allow us to use data more effectively to enhance care, improve services and save lives.

By Peter Richards, Health Innovation Manchester

Where are we starting from? There are many fantastic examples of digital across public services, but the reality is that in Greater Manchester, and across the UK, the complexity of our systems and lack of sharing information means we’re doing a disservice to our residents.

You may have experienced this yourself when trying to book a doctor’s appointment, trying to get social care support for an elderly relative, or accessing educational support for young children. Our systems and therefore our services do not easily talk to each other.

To do this, we’re creating the Digital Platform, to help everyone in Greater Manchester by making sure that professionals supporting you have the right information, at the right time and in the right way.

We’re first going live with this in Bury, by digitising Early Year services, and it will be rolled out to other areas in the city-region later this year. This is vital in our efforts to help more children be school ready.

Parents will be able to log in and see their child’s development records, referrals will be speeded up and paperwork will be hugely reduced. We have 200,000 0-5 year olds in Greater Manchester and we will be the first area in the country to do this.

We’re also working to improve support for people with dementia and severe frailty through further projects in Tameside and Salford, also using the GM Digital Platform. The platform will help ensure critical information is shared between patients, carers and professionals – when and where it is needed most.

Around 30,000 people are estimated to live with dementia in Greater Manchester, with £270m spent on care and treatment each year. Also, around 5% of people aged 60-69 are moderately or severely clinical frail, rising to over a third of those aged over 85 - Not only do these figures represent a large burden on the health and care system, the personal and societal costs to people living with dementia and frailty, and their carers, is huge.

The problem is that:

  • when someone calls 999, the ambulance service doesn’t have access to a patient’s health record - identifying and knowing the history of a person living with dementia and/or frailty would enable the ambulance service to better manage the person’s care and their wishes for how and where they would like to be treated.
  • If they’re admitted to hospital, the hospital often doesn’t know what medication the person is on and risks giving them something that could worsen their condition.
  • When they’re discharged, often the GP, or indeed social services, typically don’t find out what happened until much later. Too much of this is paper-based or even relying on faxes.

Greater Manchester's Digital Platform will help fix this… at the same time, we will give people much more control over their own data, who’s seeing their data and for what purpose.

The Digital Platform provides the infrastructure that can be rapidly adopted in other priority areas to drive improvements in the health and wealth of Greater Manchester’s 2.8m citizens, whether this is in health, care or the wider public sector.  We’re already looking at how it can applied in Victim Support, Homelessness and other important areas of health.

The work is being led by a team sitting across Salford Royal Foundation Trust and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, linking in with individual local organisations, the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership and Health Innovation Manchester.

Blog Published 18/02/2020


For further information on anything you have read here please get in touch with the Digital Team by emailing gmcadigital@greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk 

Find out more

To find out more please visit: https://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/digital/