Comment: Fear and loathing in IT

5 Oct 2005

Fear, they say, is a great motivator. But sometimes the motivation and results have to be questioned. Consumer rights pundit Eddie Hobbs created a lot of fear in Government; fear for their seats in the next election, not the response the public would have wished for.
Over the past month fears for the health of the Irish economy have been raised, for example house prices slowdown, suggestions of construction also slowing down.

In the hard graft world of the IT industry, numerous fears constantly stalk the sector. These range from future tech bubbles and downturns, the effects of hackers and viruses to impending skills shortages. Like most things, all fears must be faced head on, but because of the constant transmission of these fears on blogs, email, the internet, radio and in newspapers, they are given a moment’s attention before being filed away to fill a gap in conversation over coffee at some non-descript seminar or conference. In essence, there is not enough action in response to concerns being raised. Journalists talk, politicians talk — we Irish are a nation of talkers and by evidence, increasingly becoming a nation of procrastinators.

Just in case any more concerns or fears slip by the perpetual radar of the national conscience, let’s tackle a few pressing IT industry problems here and now.

Skills: during the summer Eoin O’Driscoll, who heads up the Government’s Enterprise Strategy Group pointed to OECD research that
indicated Ireland ranks 15th out of 30 countries for the number of 25 to 64 year olds holding degrees. “Unless we invest more heavily in education, many of the existing workforce’s skills will be obsolete by 2015.”

Broadband and infrastructure: in the Eighties, Ireland had one of the most advanced telecoms networks in the world. Some 20 years on we have slipped well behind the rest of the world with a network that is still using Nineties technology. OECD figures revealed this summer show that Korea led the OECD in broadband penetration with 24.9 subscribers per 100 inhabitants, followed by the Netherlands with 19 subscribers per 100 inhabitants, followed by Denmark (18.8), Iceland (18.3), Canada (17.8) and Switzerland (17.3).

Ireland, however, was near the bottom with only 3.4 broadband subscribers per 100 people. Hungary was ahead at 3.6 and Greece was at the very bottom with 0.4 broadband subscribers per 100 people.

Multinationals: If Ireland-based IT outsourcing companies do not move to protect and upscale their operations, the ICT industry could lose as much as €600m by 2007, claims market intelligence firm iReach. This, iReach estimates, could result in the loss of 6,000 IT jobs by 2007.

I have only scratched the surface of issues facing the IT sector. If the Government and big business could show the same energy they used to condemn Eddie Hobbs and tackle these issues as well as health, roads and childcare head-on then we would be getting somewhere.

By John Kennedy