2011: The year in tech business

26 Dec 2011

The passing of Apple's visionary CEO Steve Jobs cast a shadow over the entire technology industry

For all intents and purposes, 2011 was a vibrant year for the global technology business. However, it was one tinged with sadness at the passing of the visionary Apple leader Steve Jobs. It was also the year that saw Twitter decide it was coming to Dublin.

The death of Steve Jobs

While 2011 was a year of unprecedented growth for the global technology sector around the world, one event towered over everything, the passing of Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs in October.

While Jobs’ battle with pancreatic cancer was common knowledge for many years, no one seemed ready for his passing. The year 2011 began with the news that Jobs was taking a leave of absence and then-COO Tim Cook will take responsibility for Apple’s day-to-day operations.

Jobs gradually resumed the CEO role over the course of the year to oversee the launch of products like the iPad 2 and OS X Lion but by August Jobs made the decision to step down as CEO for health reasons and would instead take up the mantle of chairman with a view to remaining involved in product development.

Still, at that stage, no one countenanced the idea that one of the most visionary leaders the tech industry has ever had would soon be bowing out for good.

And then in October the world learned that Jobs passed away after his long but dignified battle with cancer. Very few leaders of the technology industry can claim to have made the same impact that Jobs has made – it is a legacy few, if any, could ever repeat.

Spate of tech IPOs begin

While many of us are still waiting for the granddaddy of IPOs – that of Facebook early in the new year – 2011 was the year that many of the fast-growing web businesses began to go public.

LinkedIn got the ball rolling in May with an IPO that gave it a valuation of US$4.5bn and it raised close to US$400m on its first day.

The next big tech IPO came in November when daily deals site Groupon floated with a valuation of US$13bn, raising the company close to US$700m on its first day’s trading.

The tech IPO year ended in December, with the flotation of social and web gaming site Zynga, which raised US$1bn on its first day’s trading with a valuation of US$7bn. This made it the largest internet IPO since Google’s IPO in 2004, which raised US$1.9bn.

Tough at the top at HP

Following the departure of Mark Hurd last year, former SAP CEO Leo Apotheker’s reign as HP’s new CEO ended badly. While Apotheker had tried to reinvigorate HP by shuffling management, his decision to can the webOS operating system as well attempting to offload HP’s Personal Systems Group did not go down well with HP rank and filers and certainly not its illustrious board of directors. As the world wondered “will they, won’t they” get rid of its PC manufacturing division, Apotheker was dismissed with a handsome payday and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman assumed the helm. It has transpired that webOS will remain with HP but will be open sourced to the tech industry and the Personal Systems Group’s future within HP remains safe.

Apotheker’s brief reign at HP wasn’t all in vain, he did oversee the acquisition of Irishman Mike Lynch’s Autonomy Corporation for stg£7.8bn, which concluded in October and which will give the tech giant an infinite advantage in the world of big data and analytics.

1,000 jobs at Intel

Intel Corporation had a lovely post-Christmas surprise for Ireland early in 2011 when it stunned the country with the news that 1,000 new jobs were to be generated in Leixlip, where it already employs around 4,000 people. The project will create 200 high-level technology jobs, as well as 850 construction jobs.

“The fact that a global leader such as Intel, which has already invested close to US$7bn in Ireland, has chosen to invest a further $500m here is an enormous vote of confidence and endorsement of Ireland as a competitive location for global investment,” said a jubilant IDA Ireland CEO Barry O’Leary.

Twitter comes to Dublin

In fact, the Intel news was to set the tone for what was going to be an extraordinary year for Ireland on the tech jobs front. The icing on the cake came in September, when in the form of a single tweet IDA Ireland revealed that Ireland had fought off the UK in winning Twitter’s EMEA HQ for Dublin.

While the exact number of jobs has yet to be confirmed, Twitter joins an impressive coterie of Silicon Valley’s who’s who, from Google and Facebook to Zynga, LinkedIn, Amazon and many others who are giving Dublin the reputation of ‘Internet Capital of Europe.’

IBM acquires Cúram

On the indigenous software front, it emerged in December that Irish software company Cúram was to be acquired by one of the world’s biggest technology companies, IBM, for an undisclosed sum, an event which underscores the high quality of Irish software and Irish technology management teams.

Cúram, which means “care and protection” as Gaeilge, was founded in 1990. One of the company’s investors is State agency Enterprise Ireland.

After the acquisition is completed, Cúram will be integrated into IBM’s Software Group, which is a key driver of growth and profitability for the company. 

Venture capital outlook for 2012

If the global downturn taught us anything as a nation, it is that Ireland needs a healthy and vibrant indigenous technology scene. However, as we enter into 2012, the key will be ensuring there is a healthy supply of venture capital funding.

In October, the Irish Venture Capital Association revealed that Irish tech firms raised €161.9m from investors in the six months to June 2011. However, the chairman of the Irish Venture Capital Association warns there could be a shortfall of €1.5bn from 2012 over the next five years, which will affect follow-on investments.

IVCA chairman Maurice Roche, a partner with Delta Partners, said the €161.9m represented a 58pc increase on investments that were made during the same period last year.

“The figures reflect a welcome increase in funds raised despite the global credit crisis,” said Roche.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years