Led by Donegal County Council, Donegal Digital has proven to be an invaluable resource and asset to businesses and organisations across the county. It is a unique and innovative inter-agency project with partners from both the private and the public sector. Today, we speak to Margaret Quinn, Donegal Digital Project Manager and ERNACT Programme Manager to learn more about the role Donegal Digital plays in the adoption of digitalisation across the county, the challenges of Covid-19, and plans for the future.
Established in 2014 and chaired by Brian Boyle, Head of Information Systems with Donegal County Council, Donegal Digital was developed to address the increasing need for digitalisation across the county.
Margaret tells us that “the ambitions of the project have always been to ensure that the county can thrive and grasp the opportunities that come from driving innovation, economic development and job creation.”
She adds “a key factor in the digital strategy for regional development is the availability of high bandwidth broadband, which Donegal County Council and Donegal Digital has been instrumental in achieving by encouraging broadband providers to invest in Donegal and early identification of Broadband Connection Points (BCP’s). The BCPS will become remote working or smaller digital hubs as time goes on. In addition to this, a total of 75 outdoor public WiFi access points are being installed throughout the county and this work is over 50% complete”.
Donegal Digital Hub Network was developed by Donegal Digital to identify and promote funding sources to facilitate the development of existing and new hubs and Margaret believes that “hubs have a key role in connecting communities and businesses to each other and there is no doubt that the importance of digital technology will grow across all sectors so the hubs role as a local touchpoint keeping people and businesses current can also be expected to grow”.
Margaret explains that “the objectives of Donegal Digital 2021 are to increase research capacity levels through the development of a robust action plan and there is growing recognition of the importance of university-industry-community collaboration as a vehicle for regional growth.
“We are working on initiatives such as Digital Foundations which is focused on the continued rollout of the National Broadband Plan, completion of the public WiFi program and supporting enhanced digital skills.”
Covid-19 has had many negative impacts on the community of Donegal, however, one area which has seen a positive impact is the increase in remote working and how businesses across the county are adapting to these changes.
Margaret suggests that this will likely remain to a large degree because it works well for many employees who find a better work life balance and can be just as productive saying “this new trend will change the dynamics of traditional working. We are only at the start of what is often termed the fourth industrial revolution with far-reaching impacts on society and business and the need to adopt digital technology in a transformative way”.
The future for Donegal Digital looks bright as the partnership continues to work towards its goals for 2021 and collaborating with key stakeholders throughout the county to ensure that Donegal is to the fore in the new era of digitalisation.
“We have many plans for 2021 including working towards achieving a ‘Smart Region’ that will see us supporting the transition to a low carbon economy through the adoption of green technologies and smart energy management. We will also continue to advocate for bolstering investment in digital research in Donegal and building on the strong industry/academia collaboration that is already happening” concludes Margaret.