Sheffield Hallam University business students have completed a ‘real world’ assignment to investigate how digital technology could boost Barnsley town centre.
Young people studying a degree in Business Analytics were invited to Barnsley by the local authority’s Economic Regeneration Team and the Digital Media Centre (DMC) – Barnsley’s hub for digital business development.
The group of students conducted a detailed business analysis of the town centre and explored the scope for digital innovation to improve the visitor experience. They identified the business requirements of a possible app for the town’s new Market Kitchen eating place.
Students used various complex tools to assess the environment, customer need and the potential of big data and open source opportunities. They presented their findings via video conference to council officers and commercial software developers at the DMC. It is now hoped a commercial developer may use the students’ research and analysis to take forward development of a town centre app.
Roy Woodhead, head of the Business Analytics degree at Sheffield Hallam’s Business School the said: “This was a wonderful real-world opportunity for the students to get involved in. They visited Barnsley, met frontline council officers and business owners and studied the town centre’s dynamics. Working with Barnsley Council has just been phenomenal. Everyone we dealt with was welcoming, open to ideas and easy to work with.
“The students have basically done a great deal of leg work and rigorous data analysis which we really hope a local software developer will take forward to inform the creation of a new digital app for Barnsley town centre. The app could be developed first in Barnsley and deployed in many places. Who knows what could happen.”
Maria Cotton of Barnsley Council’s Economic Regeneration Team said: “Incorporating digital innovation into the development of Barnsley is core to our vision and we were delighted to involve the students at Sheffield Hallam in this project. Their report has given us plenty of detailed analysis and a food for thought which the town centre team and commercial developers will now consider.”
This is the first collaboration of its kind between the university and council and the project was facilitated by the university’s Venture Matrix programme, which facilitates work experiences for students.
Tracey Johnson, manager of the DMC, said: “This the first time we’ve collaborated with Sheffield Hallam in this way and the students have done a great job and given us some fantastic analysis and plenty of ideas about how we can use data to encourage visitors and support growth in our town centre economy.”
Roy said: “I hope this exercise could be a blueprint for new and different kinds of relationship between our university and organisations across South Yorkshire. It’s what applied learning is all about, enabling the students to engage with real life businesses in a task which benefits both them and the business communities they interact with.”
Both the University and Barnsley Council hope to repeat the exercise with different projects and a different group of students next year.
Sheffield Hallam University is also a higher education partner of Barnsley’s DMC, which supports a growing community of innovative digital enterprises in the town.
Tracey said: “The DMC is not just a Barnsley-based business centre providing a stimulating environment for small businesses – it’s an outward-looking digital ecosystem committed to developing relationships with key partners like the University. Working with students who are at the very start of their careers in IT innovation is a great way to encourage and support new creative talent and make connections for the future.”