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Time for Ashbourne to embrace digital age

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: May 09, 2014

Time for Ashbourne to embrace digital age

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Paul Miller wonders if Ashbourne could become the UK's first cyber-town.

THE QR codes launched as part of the OurAshbourne project allow smartphone users to scan a code and connect to a web page describing the location.

It got me thinking about using technology to better effect in the town.

Innovation isn't usually free... we need to change or face decline but there's no money to pay for it.

With small budgets, you can make progress and lots of little changes but this only has a major impact if all the little actions are co-ordinated.

Alternatively, you can take a revolutionary approach. What if Ashbourne embraced low-cost internet technology and exploited social media to the full? What could the Ashbourne Partnership project be part of rather than being a great end in itself?

We already have a number of smaller "private" schemes which operate in isolation, such as free wi-fi in cafes, some excellent eCommerce businesses and use of Google Streetmap. This tells me there is money around, but it is spent by individuals rather then being consolidated. Potentially, there's thousands of pounds only giving the town a fragmented benefit.

Imagine if Ashbourne joined it all together and became the UK's model "cyber-town". It could bring huge PR and boost the high street and tourism.

Imagine that the town centre offered free wi-fi. Smartphones have data limits and some of the telephone signals are shocking. Imagine the footfall in the cafes as businesses and tourists enjoy a leisurely coffee, breakfast and business meetings while still being connected.

I envisage something akin to airports where you enter your details once in a portal and then have the access you need. Of course, in doing so, you have provided superb marketing information which can then be used for advertising and communication.

This could be linked to a portal which embraced the Visit Ashbourne site so that all visitors could easily access information. It could also provide the interface to the town's social media brand – a single Facebook and Twitter presence with community managers gathering as many followers and friends as possible.

It would need businesses to pool their resources. The term being used increasingly in business is "co-opetition".

Instead of squabbling over a shrinking customer base, focus on creating a bigger set of customers before fighting for market share.

Of course, you still need to ensure people use the wi-fi. By having a united approach, you have a platform which can be used for so much more.

What about real-time information on parking spaces, retail deals and a connection to someone who can answer questions via chat?

And the web is worldwide. Imagine a GPS transmitter in the Shrovetide footballs and you've got live coverage around the globe!

Unfortunately, we don't have a very good track record of "co-opetition" involving retailers, market traders, online businesses and the public bodies – but wouldn't it be exciting?

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