Our Technological Resource Can Lead the Way in a Global Market; Damian Sanders, Audit and Assurance Partner with Deloitte & Touche, Explains Why There Is No Excuse for Merseyside to Be Left Behind in Hi-Tech World

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Byline: Damian Sanders

THE Merseyside business community has no excuse for being left behind in the relentless march of technology as the region is well stocked with hi-tech businesses already, and has a massive pool of resource locally, be it finance, research, consultancy or logistics.

Established technology-based businesses are prospering, although many of those most directly connected to internet activities suffered last year from the worldwide disillusion over dotcom and telecom stocks.

Liverpool's platform of web designers and consultancies continues to thrive - firms like Web Shed, Enzyme, Nonconform, New Mind and others with good track records and exciting client lists, while young pretenders bite at their market share.

Amaze was one of those hit by the dotcom downturn. The internet services company - which had grown to a team of 120-plus - is back down to 80 employees but, says chief executive Stuart Melhuish, is strong and growing again.

One of Deloitte & Touche's Fast 50 technology firms, and on the Sunday Times' TechTrack 100 list, Amaze was originally a spin-off from John Moores University.

With clients including United Utilities, DFES and NWDA, Amaze is partnering Cambridge-based artificial intelligence firm Autonomy on some sparky deals with 'a Government institution', as Melhuish puts it, discreetly.

"We're all about the interface between human beings and information, and the automation of delivery, " says Melhuish.

As for start-up businesses in the IT technology sector, Merseyside is no further forward than anywhere else.

Market sentiment is still unenthusiastic about anything that could be tarred with the dotcom brush, unless the business model is as strong or stronger than for a more conventional sector.

At Merseyside Special Investment Fund, where the new pounds 80m venture fund is in place, managers are seeing good quality proposals coming through.

"We are actively looking at a number of technology-related opportunities based on technologies that enhance the business rather than drive it, " says Gerry Mobbs, in charge of the venture fund.

"The key is a good team and strong intellectual property with a commercial application."

Support for technology-based firms apart, there is plenty of resource for businesses wanting to exploit technology to improve processes, product development, operations and general management.

MERIT, for instance, is working with Liverpool Chamber of Commerce to give advice and act as honest broker to any business needing help with information and communications technology.

Chief executive Steve Connolly says, although it takes 20 minutes to explain what ICT means to some business owners, take-up of MERIT's membership services is encouraging.

Founded as a forum for large local firms to discuss ICT and support each other, MERIT has outgrown its voluntary group and opened membership to any organisation wanting help.

"Our monthly meetings are open to members to discuss all aspects of ICT, from strategy to specific technical issues - a sizeable benefit of the events is sharing problems and solutions, " says Connolly.

MERIT has a free problem-solving service where one firm's problem is offered to the rest of the membership on the basis that someone will know the answer.

It has now set up a degree course in Business Information Systems with John Moores University to integrate ICT and business.

It's a good start - Merseyside, like everywhere else, still needs a big PR job doing to sell the importance of ICT to business at all levels. …