Championing Ireland’s return to growth

13 Jul 2011

it@cork chairman Denis J Collins has a vision for the local technology industry in Cork to stand up and be counted and show the rest of the nation – and the world – how Ireland can come out of recession in fighting form.

There was a moment at the recent it@cork annual conference where recently appointed chairman Denis J Collins, a New Yorker who heads up IBM’s Business Continuity operation in Cork and whose wife and father hail from the Cork region, emphasised the strength of the network that is it@cork. It was an inspirational moment.

He told the annual conference of an organisation that has blossomed to include 300 businesses: “When I took over this year as chairman, from a vision standpoint I believed we needed to become an entity that facilitates business development, employment and networking, to facilitate ideas that could support national strategy. It’s important to always remember your roots and I believe also that it@cork can have a national impact.

“By leveraging the strength of our network we can continue to support the emergence of Ireland Inc and the entrepreneurial and innovative nation that it is.”

Weeks later, as rush-hour traffic departs the bustling South Dock area of Cork and workers head home for their evening meals, Collins is as enthusiastic and fired up as he was when he gave that speech.

“I do believe that in the economy and the IT industry in general, there’s a complementary model that could be driven. it@cork has a very dynamic and diverse aspect to it where you have a lot of groups that are doing good things in the country and we have a great complement of executives consisting of multinationals, engineers, IT developers, VC funds and academia.

“So when you bring that all together from a horizontal impact point of view, you can really make a difference. To a large degree that was untapped and we have tried to consolidate, develop focus and accountability, and the ambition is to drive this through leadership, collaboration and strategic alliances that will help foster job creation themes. This can be done through creating hubs around areas like cloud computing, as well as enhancing the national and regional reputation of the entrepreneurial and innovative nation that we know this is.

“The IT industry is poised to do that. it@cork has the right dynamic to do that and by driving forward we can make a difference for the region and the nation.”

It is Collins’ firm objective to build on it@cork’s regional strengths and alliances and develop the organisation as a national organisation with international reach. The organisation is establishing new strategic alliances at home as well as abroad, including a membership drive in the US and developing business channels in Asia with the Singapore InfoComm Technology Federation.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Collins says that it@cork, with its re-invigorated board of directors, is focused in particular on ensuring the region benefits from the multitude of jobs coming available in the sector, but also that the sector gets the skills it needs.

While other sectors of the economy are down, the IT industry increased employment 6pc this year.

“First of all, the IT industry in this country has 6pc year-to-year growth from an employment standpoint. This industry is robust and is making a difference to the bottom line and we have jobs out there that we can’t fill due to skills. There’s many components to solving that.

“One is on an educational standpoint – we need to continue to roll up our sleeves from a corporate leadership as well as an educational standpoint, and drive schools to embrace the maths and sciences, the humanities and IT skills. We have a programme called the e3 programme which we are utilising to help foster that.

“In addition, from a university standpoint, the announcement with CIT and EMC of the first master’s in cloud computing is very     important and we have seen huge demand in response to that. That is something that is driven regionally and an important caveat for Ireland Inc.

“From a short-term perspective, we need to embrace skills from outside the country and work more closely with the Government to make sure we are accelerated and providing the pieces that are needed for the skills to continue to feed the engine for the IT industry.”

How Cork will lead the way

Collins says there is a great opportunity to make Cork – with its wealth of ICT, pharmaceutical and electronics manufacturing operations – a critical technology hub for the nation, a hallmark for good policy.

“Cork is a gateway into Europe and in terms of skills and infrastructure it needs to be setting the standard. As well as supporting, cultivating and accelerating the great work IDA Ireland does, it is equally important to foster indigenous start-up companies.

“Cork has many of the attributes that are required to make it the home of cloud computing – when you think of the businesses in the area, from Apple to IBM to Trend Micro, EMC and VMware and local businesses like HR Locker and GXP, that are spearheading the cloud revolution.”

Fostering local start-up talent is critical and along with Cork County Council, Bord Gáis and Barlogue Consultancy Services, it@cork has embarked on a Global Entrepreneurship Programme that involves an opportunity for a local entrepreneur to participate in a Cork County Council IT trade mission to Chicago in early 2012 as part of its Innovation That Matters competition.

“The thing we want to do is create an environment and a model where start-ups can come to us to receive mentoring and take advantage of the supply chain we have in terms of senior executives of local and multinational companies,” explains Collins.

“One thing we’ve been doing is holding networking events where we can bring in the venture capitalists as well as established entrepreneurs and help the start-ups to learn aspects of business that are new to them.”

Collins believes that Cork as a region is a microcosm of Ireland with all the attributes of the nation, culturally, commercially and socially, and with its powerful local technology industry it could pioneer a path back to better economic times.

“We need to leverage the strengths of the valuable network we have created and drive results for Ireland and help it to return to growth.”


Corporate Social Responsibility

You can best measure an organisation – especially a regionally-based organisation with a national agenda – by the initiatives it embarks on. As well as fostering economic development, it@cork has a strong focus on corporate social responsibility.

The group has embarked on a number of pioneering initiatives that will help people in the Cork region and the country as a whole to enjoy better economic and educational opportunities. These are:

e3 initiative

In a move aimed at helping primary and secondary schools embrace IT skills, it@cork has rolled out its e3 programme with CIT. Schools, classes and students will be encouraged to complete software development projects using the cloud-based MIT Scratch programming language, an online resource available free of charge.

The e3 initiative is based on a three-pronged approach.

  • The excite aspect will focus on providing students with insights that will help them take their first steps in developing new IT applications based on their own creativity.
  • it@cork will engage with students and schools by providing guest speakers from industry at career guidance events and by hosting company visits from schools.
  • As part of the educate option, third-level students from participating colleges will be available to show classes and student groups what is involved in their studies.

The e3 initiative will take full advantage of the increasingly popular cloud computing options now available. Schools, classes and individual students will also receive support from local it@cork members.

Smarter Senses

it@cork also developed a Smarter Senses Project with Shine Ireland, aimed at helping pre-school autistic children make their way eventually through the mainstream education process via the clever use of software, in association with IBM, David Reilly Solicitors and Quinn Healthcare.

Shine Ireland is a voluntary organisation and registered charity established in 2001 by the parents of children with autism to offer support and provide services for their children.

Shine has grown year-on-year since then and now offers services and support to 80 children through the Shine Centre based in Carrigaline, Cork, and more than 250 families across the south Munster region.

“The mission of Shine is to provide support and services to children with autism in our local community in Cork. In the current economic climate, funding sources are limited and it’s our volunteers who make such a valuable contribution to our work here at the centre,” said Kieran McAuliffe of the Shine Centre for Autism, Cork.

The Shine Centre is also successful in being awarded an IBM Reading Companion grant, valued at €7,500. Reading Companion is IBM’s web-based literacy program that uses novel speech-recognition technology to help children and adults gain and increase literacy skills.

Reading Companion’s innovative software ‘listens’ and provides feedback, enabling emerging readers to practise reading and pronunciation as they learn science.

IBM’s KidSmart programme includes the Young Explorer unit – a computer housed in brightly coloured, child-friendly Little Tikes furniture and equipped with award-winning educational software designed to help children learn and explore concepts in maths, science and language.

The units stimulate natural curiosity, encouraging children to experiment with technology in a ‘play centred’ learning environment.

“If we can make an impact socially, educationally and commercially, it is best to do something that is right for families that need it in these current economic times,” said Collins. “Smarter Senses is a programme we are proud of and will continue to foster.”

Innovation That Matters

A Global Entrepreneurship Programme with IBM was launched in recent months and in recent weeks it@cork spearheaded a new initiative called Innovation That Matters to identify, recognise and promote technology concepts, products and services within Cork companies.

It is being run in association with Cork County Council and Barlogue Consultancy Services. Cork County Council is offering a €1,000 cash prize as well as a further subvention (up to €1,000) to participate in a Cork County Council IT trade mission to Chicago in early 2012 for the winner of Innovation That Matters.

The Chicago trade mission is a unique opportunity to meet with decision makers, potential partners and future customers in the US and ideally will present the successful company with an opportunity to further develop its innovative idea. The successful company will be announced in November.

Photo: it@cork chairman Denis J Collins

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