The Next Leap



with 5 comments

Ireland is at a moment of opportunity. A digital revolution is transforming the global environment in which Ireland operates. Failure to embrace the transition to this new world will leave Ireland marooned as conventional industries migrate to cheaper locations, and traditional industries are transformed using new digital technologies with which our people are not conversant and for which we lack the infrastructure. On the other hand, the digital revolution presents huge opportunities for Ireland. If we successfully manage it, Ireland can offset its long-standing geographical disadvantage, leverage the creativity of its citizens at all levels of society, and engage with a global market of unprecedented scale.

November 2008 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the First Programme for Economic Expansion as a White Paper. Intrepid Government leadership in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s guided Ireland in its first steps from its agrarian past to embrace manufacturing and trade. T.K. Whitaker, the youngest ever Secretary General of the Department of Finance, proposed bold initiatives in his study Economic Development that met the challenge of transition. Ireland now requires a similarly bold statement of intent to transition to the digital era.

There was a sense among the stakeholders consulted during the preparation of this report that Ireland will make the necessary leap and an acknowledgement that, underwriting all else, it will be Government leadership that will guide Ireland into its digital future. The recent decision to update and reinvigorate the “information society” agenda is a positive sign of the Cabinet’s will to take action.

The Next Leap: Competitive Ireland in the Digital Era is intended to be a useful point of reference as Government considers a new national strategy to maximise Ireland’s competitive advantage in the digital era. It is an exercise in digital foresight that describes:

  1. Emerging trends that will characterise the digital environment in coming years; and
  2. Government actions that could capitalise on these trends

This report is not a performance assessment, nor is it intended to supplant studies conducted by the government bodies active in the field. It does, however, attempt to present something new: a cross-cutting draft plan of action derived from the diverging inputs of stakeholders across the digital sector. The Digital Sector, which this report defines broadly, includes communications regulators, actors in the ICT industry from multinational EMEA HQs in Ireland to indigenous start-ups, sub-sectors of the financial services, digital media content providers, game development, ICT R&D, web research, education, medical research, the media & culture sector, finance & capital providers, foreign development initiatives. This document does not represent a consensus, but rather the best and boldest concepts drawn from the input of leaders in the field of research, entrepreneurs, media producers, multinational companies and early stage startups, software vendors, educators, and public sector bodies and organisations, who were consulted for this purpose during the IIEA’s Digital Sector Stakeholders’ Competitiveness Consultation.

This consultation was the first step in the three-step process that resulted in this report. The second step was analysis and consolidation to ensure that the diverse inputs received from stakeholders were presented in a coherent and policy relevant manner. The third step was to submit the report for peer review to the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG) in Silicon Valley. The ITLG is composed of the most senior Irish business people in the global digital sector. Finally, the report was submitted by the IIEA to Government.

The primary recommendation around which this report focuses is the adoption of a strategic approach to the digital sector in which the following primary action points are nested:

1. Transformation of education
-Transform system as a national priority with the swift roll-out of a digital curriculum at primary and secondary level
-Integrate business context into secondary level curriculum to emphasise the viability of a career in the digital sector
-Introduce weighted marks at Leaving Certificate level for ICT relevant subjects

2. Kickstart of the digital economy with a “Digital IFSC”
-Re-task RTE as an incubator & developer of media content irrespective of platform
-Investigate new approaches to create a national pool of venture capital
-Use private sector leaders with proven successes to assess start-up applications for state funding

3. Brand Ireland as a Software and Services Hub
(Note that further recommendations are included at the end of this report.)


Written by johnnyryan

13/12/2008 at 01:19

5 Responses

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  1. Well said also, but I look forward to any evidence to support the assertion that “Ireland will make the necessary leap and an acknowledgement that, underwriting all else, it will be Government leadership that will guide Ireland into its digital future.” The first of these would be nice but aspiration won’t cut it in what is a critical economic battle, and there is nothing, in the past or present, to suggest that “Government” has or will have anything much to do with this. It would be a pity if we fooled ourselves into betting on the wrong drivers, in a field where private enterprise has long been the major driver.

    T Wilson

    18/12/2008 at 04:18

  2. Great to see some clear ideas up-front.

    On the third, I do not think that “branding” will be easily done, but if all the pieces are in place, maybe. However, these things are not done quickly, and the digital world moves fast.

    I think (see my earlier comment) that the first set of actions are the real key. But I suggest that when there is a problem with basic funding for schools, and basic competence for a significant percentage of pupils in, for example, maths, a “digital curriculum” could be a bit of a challenge. Especially as there has been no visible move to prepare new or existing teachers for this.

    I disagree with the idea of weighted marks, but agree with the concept of trying to inspire interest. Given what the digital world is doing, and that the next generation are in many ways “digital natives”, this should not be so hard.
    The “digital IFSC” sounds good, but the actions suggested, no offence, are a mixed bag. Putting forward RTE as a potential incubator sounds like an idea from people who do not know that organisation. This task might be better suited to one of the more innovative universities, such as UL, DCU or Carlow or Dundalk IT’s. A “national pool” of VC is a good sound bite, but this is not how the VC world works. What could be done is to make available a State “matching pool” to support projects which succeed in, say, two rounds of private sector funding. And this could take in the last idea. Certainly, those who know what to do in the private sector should be used, but they are not going to sit around on a panel. But if their day to day work could be levered, there could be something.

    -Use private sector leaders with proven successes to assess start-up applications for state funding

    T Wilson

    18/12/2008 at 04:27

  3. Thanks for the input – have you seen the full list of conclusions that resulted from the stakeholder inputs?

    It’s at or in “Key Action Points”.


    18/12/2008 at 21:23

  4. Fair enough on acknowledging the old Information Society Commission. A genuinely well-intentioned, and perhaps even initially successful crowd, even if their second phase was sort of quietly squashed.

    Also good to see a – no ageism, either way, intended – young person lead this work. Even more reassuring that there seem to be others out there who can recognise the value of such a person, at both Irish and UK universities, and Tony O’Reilly’s outfit. I assume all of these places have also been good sources of ideas and inputs – tho perhaps I am an optimist as most Irish colleges are dire at keeping in touch with, or drawing value from, grads, unless it involves amateur fund-raising.

    I like both the list of stakeholder areas – but see my comment on another page on how many were actually in the process – and the headline suggestions, even if I do not agree with all entirely. But I would add one other top priority, speaking as an employer – talent recruitment and retention, as national policy. We are seeing a new brain drain, both of the best of our new arrivals – many of whom were in the wrong jobs – and of our own – and our rather negative visa policy is *not* bringing us the best of the rest. We need to get working on this, and join Schengen as a matter of urgency, to improve access. Perhaps we could start with a mission to somewhere like Italy, or rural china, to “hoover up” top talent.

    R Almatev

    18/12/2008 at 22:18

  5. A proper opening: we need to be quite clear what is at risk if Ireland does not improve its game. In particular, so much of our economy depends on the multinational sector that we simply must remain competitive, “saleable” by the heads of local units of large corporations, and by our development agencies (which could themselves use a lot more of “Web 2.0”). We have already lost most of our limited traditional manufacturing industries, and so we must adapt to the world of new media and new ways of working, where I think we can do well.

    I do think that the middle section above defers too much to government initiatives, surprisingly, as in one of the same paragraphs, there is a good outline of a rich “digital sector,” while government and related sectors have rather weak track record in Ireland (broadband being only one example of failure over a long period, but one which exemplifies what can go wrong with even well-intentioned moves, with publicly-funded initiatives actually weakening the market).

    I agree with the broad thrust of the highlighted action points, but will comment more on the specifics on the relevant detail pages, as I do have some concerns, largely around the speed factor in education, and the RTE and Digital Hub aspects of the “IFSC” group.

    And I like the idea in the comment just before me, of going out and bringing back “top talents” from other markets. We must be open in today’s world, and we must equip ourselves to sell to big markets such as China and India, and perhaps even Indonesia, Brazil and Russia and the former USSR.

    J Doyle

    20/12/2008 at 11:28

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