Investing in digital needn’t be something to be scared of, says technology lawyer Caroline Churchill of Womble Bond Dickinson

Retaining tech talent and overcoming fear around investing in new technology is key to making businesses across Teesside more efficient and better employers – as well as improving their green credentials.

The latest episode of Future Tees, sponsored by Womble Bond Dickinson, shone the spotlight on issues around businesses investing in technology, including the legal and contractual support available and their obligations around regulatory issues such as data protection/GDPR.

Caroline Churchill, an experienced digital lawyer at Womble Bond Dickinson, explained the question of how to retain tech talent was a very topical one, not just on Teesside but nationally – and across all sectors. She believes that in addition to good pay, personnel want technology that works as it should, a good working environment and a positive culture.

She adds that businesses should make sure they invest in the “individual career paths” of their personnel by ensuring there is development for them, with regular performance reviews and opportunities for promotion. She believes this will help “make them feel that they are embedded within the business” – and less likely to leave for the “heady heights of London”.

In addition, Caroline believes it’s also important to protect employees in tech from stress and burnout. She says:

“Individuals working in technology can be working extremely long hours on high-profile projects and if things go wrong, it can be extremely stressful for them.”

Alistair McLeod, founder and CEO of Gray Fox Consulting, offered a graduate programme to try to keep people who had completed their university studies in the region – and he strongly believes in “growing your own tech talent”.

He adds that retention can be achieved through good leadership, which is “not just about putting values like trusting and empowering people up on a wall”, but actually living those values and giving people the tools to do the job, the right environment and flexibility. He adds that “succession planning is absolutely critical” to identify potential future leaders who can move into those roles very quickly as a business scales up.

Ryan Siddall, innovation manager for the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), says the manufacturing sector needs to invest in tech-savvy staff more than it does in facilities, as it is “falling over itself to digitise and streamline processes”.

“It’s not just about getting equipment and expertise in,” he says. “It’s about being able to trust the staff and empower them to embrace it.”

Ryan talks about how introducing new technology into manufacturing processes – particularly when things have been done a certain way for so many years – can feel daunting to businesses, and many fear the changes and new ways of working new technology affords.

However, tech lawyers, like Caroline, help to ensure that when it comes to investing in new technological processes, there is “clarity around the scope of the project” and how that is defined in terms of customer requirements or functional specifications.

Ensuring that the customer’s objectives are clear and that there is strong project management and contract management will help to mitigate any potential issues that may cause tension on both the supplier’s and the client’s side.

“Knowing that you’ve got support around the legal side is key to help break those barriers around implementing technology projects down,” she says.

“Making sure that your technology provider supports you through all those stages of the project, from discovery, proof of concept phase and all the way through is important.

“Making sure the objectives are properly understood between the parties and also properly documented as well is key.

“Having an experienced team around you will mean that investing in technology needn’t be something to be scared of.”

Go to the video section of the Tees Business Facebook to see the feature in full.