A new strategy has been unveiled which positions digital technology as a major driver of economic growth for the West Midlands over the next five years.

Digital West Midlands is the work of the Regional Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Steering Group, which has been supported by regional development agency Advantage West Midlands.

The initiative is the West Midlands' response to the Government's Digital Strategy, which was launched last year.

And it is being shaped in a climate where 42 per cent of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in the West Midlands still do not use a computer and where only 40 per cent of the 20 million UK workers who use ICT in their daily work do not have any formal training.

The strategy has four key themes: enabling broadband and digital inclusion, championing technology for learning, exploiting e-services and procurement excellence, and unlocking ICT for Industry.

The regional ICT steering group comprises representatives from across the public and private sector and the strategy

has set key strategic challenges for a range of organis ations including the Regional Skills Partnership, the Innovation and Technology Council and the Regional Enterprise Board.

John Edwards, chief executive at Advantage West Midlands said: "Our ICT strategies cannot sit in isolation. The West Midlands has extremely poor e-business adoption; if we can crack this, other barriers to economic growth will be indirectly addressed."

Prof Michael Sterling, vice-chancellor and principal at the University of Birmingham and chair of the regional ICT steering group, also said: "Digital West Midlands can transform the region by increasing the accessibility and take-up of ICT among its citizens and businesses; by stimulating step-change in the use of ICT within the regional economy; and by establishing a common framework for the development, appraisal and delivery of the projects and programmes which use ICT to deliver transformational services of their own."

Some of the specific challenges that have been signed up to by regional stakeholders by 2010 include:

* The West Midlands must have comparable levels of ICT-focused investment to the City of London.

* The number of ICT qualifications offered by the region's Higher Education Institutes must increase.

* The number of high-growth ICT and New Media start ups in the region must increase.

* A number of innovative technology trials must be undertaken to extend the reach of digital technologies.

Mr Edwards added: "This year the West Midlands will become the first UK region to become 100 per cent broad-band enabled.

"However, we cannot end our investment in broadband there - with partners we must work to ensure that businesses make the very most of this new technology to further their businesses and ultimately the e conomy of the West Midlands."

"The potential for ICT in the West Midlands is huge and we must embrace and encourage it.

"It took nearly forty years for the first 50 million people to own a radio, 16 years for the first 50 million people to own a PC, but just five years for the first 50 million to be on the internet."

* To request a copy of Digital West Midlands email ictstrategy@advantagewm.co.uk.