The Next Leap



with 5 comments

Ireland has travelled a successful journey since the foundation of the State. I believe that the defining moment in our development as a knowledge economy occurred under the stewardship of Sean Lemass, who was a pivotal figure in the transition of Ireland to a more open and progressive society. The decision on 10 December 1966 by his Minister for Education, Donogh O’Malley, to increase access to education by introducing free secondary education, set in motion the creation of an economy and society based on knowledge. His vision was of a confident Irish people doing jobs that had yet to be invented, using technologies that had yet to be developed. This decision and others by Lemass and Whitaker eventually led to enmeshing Ireland in the fabric of the global economy. Forty-two years later, in 2008, this message resonates once more with the Irish public.

However, the pace of change is dramatically more rapid today than at any other time in our history. The speed of innovation and the ubiquity of competition suggests that Ireland’s sources of competitive advantage need to be continually re-defined. Although it seems as if we have a choice to make as to whether or not we embrace the knowledge economy and exploit the advantages it presents, I do not believe that we have a choice.

Ireland already has the cost-base, living standards and expectations of a leading knowledge economy. We now have the opportunity to engage everyone in our community, in adapting our education system to the digital age, starting at primary and secondary levels, to transform our public services, by mobilising our business sector and by creating the technical infrastructure to support the knowledge economy. To date, the approach has been piecemeal and tentative and this has made Ireland a follower not a leader. While we contemplate this new and uncertain future, other countries are moving rapidly and comprehensively to seize the opportunities that are presenting.

Ireland already enjoys many of the ingredients required to become a leading knowledge economy: it has the technical know-how, the literary, artistic and musical skill, and the cultural agility to successfully interact with people across the globe. While these ingredients are necessary, they are not sufficient to guarantee future success.

Now is the time to create the vision of a new economic reality where the digital world can connect Irish people in a society where access is open to all, regardless of health, wealth or geographical location. If Ireland fosters innovation and enterprise in the digital space, it can create social and economic benefits. However, to do so requires bold and brave investment. In forty years’ time, historians will look back at the actions we took in 2008 to address the challenges and opportunities presented to us. I believe they will commend our foresight on the basis of the actions we take now.

Paul Rellis
Managing Director, Microsoft Ireland

[see video of Paul’s introductory speech at the launch event on 16 December 2008]


Written by johnnyryan

13/12/2008 at 01:14

5 Responses

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  1. Well said. But “tentative” is too kind on the point about weaknesses. What happened with eircom, and Broadband, a combination of ignorance and greed, is hard to forgive. While cities which were much poorer have proper broadband and even cable internet, and villages in Normandy run at 8MB to every door for 30 euro a month, Ireland remains at Second World levels.

    What this highlights is that neither politicians nor civil and public servants understood (Whitaker and Lemass were standouts, not normal examples) little of what made the economy boom, and as we now see, can do little to keep it doing so.

    And this points to perhaps the worst tragedy. Because more than infrastructure, what O’Malley’s act highlighted, and what drove the boom, was education. But Ireland’s educational system, at the height of the boom, was underfunded (parish draws and gate collections are not proper funding), weak on IT, and the basics of language, maths and science, and fooling itself by inflating exam results (kids now are not 50% smarter than 20 years ago, evolution does not work like that). Now, as the multimationals often note, standards of graduate are down, and as Unis comment, numbers in IT and engineering are collapsing (we don’t need more lawyers and wannabe bankers).

    I hope this report can help in the call to arms to fix our approach, or we can hand on the baton to India, Estonia, Brazil and so many others. Good luck!

    T Wilson

    18/12/2008 at 04:12

  2. This is certainly a timely, or even late, report. And a worthy aim. I have skimmed thru the whole thing, and will now go back in more detail and comment.

    First, nice to see a mix of sources in the acknowledgments. However, there are some curious, and rather huge omissions, which, given some apparent inclusion biases, raises some questions about how the “stakeholders” were selected. Late in the report, it is noted that the future is about a convergence of telephony and IT, and implicitly, media and the arts. But where is the range of Arts bodies inputting? And for that matter media?, with the Irish Times an early standard-bearer, and the Independent Group having some interest too. And the report mentions wireless R&D but where are the two main players of that game, Nokia and Ericsson. The latter has a massive operation in Ireland, over 1600 people including, yes, a wireless R&D centre… Likewise the major consultancies. Deloitte and PwC both publish relevant reports from Ireland, not to mention IBM and HP. These gaps are the more worrying given the apparent bias towards public sector bodies, and the excessive deference in the report to the idea of leadership from Government, the same people now doing a great imitation of headless chickens. Of the two public sector groups who might have a clue – which clearly and disgracefully does not include the communications regulators – only one, the IDA family, seems to have been deeply involved. The other area, public third level, seems largely missing – where are the leading “IT Universities” – DCU, UL and Maynooth – which also happen to actually engage with industry? I won’t even start on what employers of my acquaintance have to say about TCD and UCD on IT.

    Let me stress that this is not to be negative but to enquire genuinely how in a study apparently lasting many months so many obvious major stakeholders could have been missed?

    R Almatev

    18/12/2008 at 22:04

    • Understandable points to make – and thank you for making them.

      Let me explain how the stakeholders were approached. The IIEA attempted to contact well over 600 parties across the digital sector in Ireland, including major media, industry research and technology bodies and ITs. There may have been omissions, but not for reasons of bias. Of those who were contacted with an invitation to participate, the stakeholders listed in the acknowledgements responded.

      This blog enables individuals from any organisation to comment and can allow any stakeholders who did not participate initially to do so now.


      18/12/2008 at 22:18

  3. It is good to see Lemass, O’Malley and Whitaker acknowledged, and hard, and unpleasant, to imagine where we might be had they not been. But Mr. Rellis notes pointedly that the pace of the world is increasing, and he is correct that there is actually no choice but to “play” on the new field, aggressively. A small, somewhat geographically marginal country really needs to get its strategy right. And what looks like “it just works” or “wow, that’s clever” may, to put it kindly, not be. Ask Iceland. Ireland did, and I think will do, well, but we need to be a little more self-analytical.

    Of the critique points, I would highlight “piecemeal.” “Tentative” and “follower” are also on the mark: we have lacked the courage to do something really bold (such as, whatever the technological merits, going nationally Wimax five years ago); we have not even get to digital TV yet. But the biggest issue I see is that we did a little of this, and a little of that, and there was little (and after the Information Society Commission’s effective cessation, practically no) joined-up policy thinking. I hope policy makers and business leaders both answer the call to arms above.

    On an overall point, having scanned the whole report, I would have been more comfortable if it had been a little meatier, with more of the detail, backing facts, referencing, and so forth, given. I see this as more of a briefing paper, a media-friendly summary of what was obviously a lot of work, but it would be nice to see more than one comment page and one action page per topic. On the other hand, this may make it more accessible for mass reading and comment, if there is sufficient interest.

    The chance to comment and interact is very welcome, and is an example that should be followed in just about all public policy work. It is easy, inexpensive (this site, I think, uses free tools, and looks very well), and appropriate in a democracy, the more so when many leading political and public service figures may not yet have had the chance to fully explore the latest tools and thinking.

    J Doyle

    20/12/2008 at 11:21

  4. R Almatev asked if we had consulted a number of people including HP and IBM, and digging in the archives of this project,
    Martin Murphy, MD of HP Ireland, presented to the IIEA Digital Future Group earlier in 2008 – interesting podcast of our event here

    Susanne Dirks of IBM presented to the Group, but also participated in a youtube interview with me here

    We want to have input from anyone who was not involved in this report as we take this work forward. Please linkin to us, attend the events, and comment on this initial blog… also, Happy Christmas everybody!


    29/12/2008 at 03:01

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