2004: Review of the Year – Part I (Jan-Mar)

28 Dec 2004

How was it for you? Did the green shoots of recovery spring up within your business? Did new technology deliver its promise? Take a roller-coaster ride through the year that was: the highs, the lows and the never-ending e-voting debacle.

The cash tills were still ringing from Christmas when Ireland’s online shopping site, Buy4now.ie, claimed it had passed the half-million order mark in the seasonal spending spree. Seasonal goodwill had gone AWOL, however, when the Irish Recording Music Association threatened to prosecute companies that allowed staff to use work computers to download music illegally. After three years of delays Reach awarded the €15m contract to build and deploy the Public Services Broker to BearingPoint.

Payment technology company Trintech signed a major cash and credit card transaction infrastructure deal with UCI. Evidence of the post September 11 climate came home to roost at the start of 2004 as the US launched one of the world’s biggest biometric technology projects. Foreign visitors travelling to the US on a visa must now have their fingerprints and photos taken.

The O2 Wi-Fi hotspot launched in Aer Lingus lounges was an altogether less ambitious airline innovation. Vodafone followed O2’s lead and introduced all-Ireland roaming while Apple launched the iPod Mini, a scaled down version of its best-selling personal music system.

A Digital Ireland cover story revealed the Department of Education’s plans for technology in schools, including details of the €18m broadband project. Enterprise Ireland also set about reinventing itself, shifting its focus to help start-ups with sales, management and research and development (R&D).

Business intelligence software specialist SAS report its 27th year of profitable growth, a trend that seemed likely to continue as the New Year brought much talk of Basel II and the need for increased compliance. Early signs suggested good times had returned for telcos. Eircom embarked on a nationwide Wi-Fi offensive and Minister for Communications Dermot Ahern TD officially opened ESB‘s €50m fibre network as the semi-state body entered the wholesale broadband market.

The minister was back in the news when he switched on the first of the 19 metropolitan area networks (MANs) in Cork. Hewlett-Packard (HP) won a €1.5m contract to implement a server-hosting and disaster-recovery programme from Eastern Health Shared Services. MyDoom virus dominated the security news for the second month running until PaddyPower stole the headlines when it was hit by a distributed denial-of-service attack that left the site offline for several hours. Uh oh, the Government unveiled its plans for e-voting.

The Irish Citizens for Trustworthy E-voting Group called for a paper trail to be added to the e-voting system and the Irish Computer Society said it thought the launch should be postponed until all concerns around the system had been addressed. Government plans were immediately scaled back, but it was just the start of a story that would run and run.

An upbeat mood dominated the annual Goodbody Technology Summit where it was predicted that investment by Irish venture capitalists would increase by 40pc. Home-grown talent crossed the Atlantic when Tralee-based PulseLearning won a contract with NASA to supply 1,700 staff with its e-learning system while Setanta got the deal to supply AT&T with mobile European sports content.

The Commission for Communications Regulation awarded five wireless local area licences and the Department of Communications set about a bit of revisionism. Not so long ago its ambitions were “to be at or better than the EU average for end user access to and usage of broadband by 2005”.

Now it was simply hoping to be “within the top decile of OECD countries”. Siemens Business Services won a deal with the Oireachtas to manage IT support for staff and parliamentary members. Convergence fever and 3G were the talking points at the annual 3GSM congress in Cannes, but the story of local interest was Valista winning the Best Mobile Application Developer gong at the GSM Association Awards.

Meanwhile, North Sydney Council decided to buy Its Mobile’s m-parking platform. Sage stepped in to the mid-market with its latest accounting software package while Microsoft unveiled a new version of Office for the Mac. Fake emails from credit-card providers were the latest phishing scam while the US came out as the top global spammer, the country responsible for sending off more unsolicited emails than any other country.

Michael Dell stepped down as CEO but stayed on as chairman. StorageTek succumbed to the charms of the IDA and decided to locate its European R&D centre in Dublin. Motor Tax Online became the latest high-profile e-government initiative to go live.

Pictured was the then Information Society Minister Mary Hanafin TD

By Ian Campbell