The global search for tech talent shows no sign of abating, with companies competing for qualified people in every region. Consequently, costs are spiralling. This competitive recruitment market has driven firms to look outside their home regions to expand operations. Many have found Northern Ireland offers a welcoming prospect.
Northern Ireland provides a successful solution for those international companies looking at alternative locations for expansion. Despite being a small region of only 1.8 million people, over the past decade, it has become a desirable location for a wide variety of tech businesses including software and FinTech.
They are undoubtedly attracted by the availability of talented and skilled people, but it has much more to offer. The region provides specialized talent, cost competitiveness, solid infrastructure and superb quality of life. Northern Ireland office rents, quality housing costs and salaries are all considerably lower than in London or Dublin.
Among the companies that have established operations in Northern Ireland is global bank Citi. It has grown from its original investment in a technology centre in 2004 to employing around 2,000 people. It carries out a range of functions including operations & technology, legal, compliance and human resources in Belfast, the region's capital. A more recent tech investor is Rakuten, the Japanese electronic commerce and internet giant, which announced it is developing a FinTech software development lab in Belfast focusing on the blockchain.
The first generation of the digital revolution brought us the internet of information. Blockchain, heralded as the next paradigm shift in digital networks promises to bring us the internet of value. Through its revolutionary protocol that transparently digitizes, decentralizes secures and incentivizes the validity of transactions, blockchain, like the internet before it, has the potential to radically transform business operating models across a broad spectrum of industries. Belfast has a big stake in this emerging specialist tech sector. It is home to PwC's largest group of blockchain specialists and the firm's financial crime centre of expertise. Deloitte in Belfast also has a team of blockchain experts and they are developing blockchain-related prototypes in digital identity, digital banking, loyalty & rewards, and cross-border payments.
Cybersecurity is more important than ever. Protecting data from cyberattack has always been important and the advent of the internet of things means that physical assets are now also at risk. Northern Ireland is at the forefront of research into improving the world's defences. The region's role in cybersecurity was born over a decade ago when Queen's University created the UK's Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) in Belfast, with a mission to help companies commercialize emerging cybersecurity technologies. CSIT is now home to an impressive hub of security verification and authentication technology businesses. It hosts top-level academic researchers and start-upg with some of the largest U.S. firms in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland's investment in CSIT, and in developing a robust cybersecurity talent pool, has been instrumental in reaping significant dividends for the region. U.S. cyber companies such as Rapid 7, Proofpoint, Alert Logic, Whitehat and Black Duck (which was acquired by Synopsys at the end of last year in a half-billion-dollar cash deal) are some recent investors. Talent availability was the key reason for their location decision. Gary Steele, CEO of Proofpoint Inc, explains that the technology ecosystem in Northern Ireland "shares many of the characteristics of Silicon Valley," including access to world-class research at Queen's University.
Northern Ireland's two world-class universities produce a steady stream of work-ready graduates for the talent-hungry tech sector, but the region does not depend solely on this source. It also has a well-established skills development program, thanks to a close working relationship between government, academia and business. This ensures that new and existing investors can access the exact skills they need for their start-up and ongoing needs. These academies have delivered qualified and skilled people in a variety of tech-related areas including cybersecurity, software testing, cloud computing and data analytics as well as sales, human capital, financial and legal services.
The need for quality cybersecurity tech skills will continue to increase with predictions of a shortfall of 1.8 million cybersecurity jobs globally by 2022 (2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study). Northern Ireland is well placed to play a critical role in providing the industry with the talent it needs to perform these critical functions.