Economic regeneration – the future is now

4 Feb 2010

If there’s one reason why Ireland must pursue a National Digital Development Plan that must be enshrined in future versions of the National Development Plan, it is jobs.

Job creation: the country will need IT-literate knowledge workers connected with the latest technology.

Economic competitiveness: the country needs a clear vision and investment plan for the central digital nervous system that will drive the economy forward and that can compete with the rest of the world.

Attract foreign investment and jobs: Ireland can only sustain inward investment by multinationals if we have the people and the digital infrastructure they will require.

Enable competitive workers: this will require high-speed communications to enable instant collaboration and video conversations with colleagues in every time zone.

Fighting fit small business: Irish firms will need to compete on an equal footing with rivals across the world – to support entrepreneurs to create jobs, trade and export they will need the high-speed networks of their rivals overseas.

Future educators: need to be empowered to teach to multiple classrooms simultaneously and contribute to a rich cloud of knowledge.

Future innovators: in collaboration with universities, SMEs and large corporate will need to bring products and services to the global stage to compete and win against the best in the world. Ireland has every reason to believe it could claim the technology crown of Europe. The country has amassed a collection of the who’s who of Silicon Valley who have chosen to locate here because the people are good. More than 100,000 people are currently employed in the multinational tech sector.

Ireland has attracted more inward investment than the entire BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries combined.

But that won’t be enough.

Unless we have the broadband infrastructure, a strong supply of skilled graduates and a thriving community of scalable indigenous export firms, Ireland will be left behind competing economies.

As we learned in the 20th century, catch-up is a difficult, almost impossible task. The country needs a clear, definitive plan to exploit the opportunities of the digital age.

The future is now, the future is digital, but we need to act now to secure it.

– Robert Atkinson, America’s top digital futurist

We must not stop until we have the infrastructure to create the jobs a digital economy will require

Since we launched the Digital 21 campaign last year with the support of leading ICT companies the Government has proven it is aware of the digital imperative that awaits this nation.

In July, theGovernment unveiled its ‘Technology Actions to Support the Smart Economy’,which focused on the components vital to the digital economy – infrastructure, innovation and green technology.

The wide-ranging plan included the creation of an Exemplar fibre network and the creation of an International Content Services Centre, similar to the IFSC,with the potential to create 25,000 new jobs.

In October, the Green Party voted to back universal broadband for all and 100Mbps broadband for every school among its key conditions for remaining in Government.

In the same month the Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD said the Government planned to appoint a State chief information officer to manage IT inside and outside government.

This appointment hasn’t yet been made.

In November it emerged that every classroom in the country is to get a teaching laptop, software and digital projector over the next three years as part of a €150m plan for smart schools launched by the Taoiseach.

These are clearly the actions of a Government that recognises the economic imperative the digital economy implies.

However, Ireland is still behind EU competitor countries in both its NGN rollout and the number of broadband subscribers. A recent Forfás report stated: “Ireland is lagging at least three to five years behind competitor countries in terms of rolling out infrastructure capable of high-speed next-generation broadband”,with only 0.6pc of total broadband connections in the form of fibre connections.

A recent global survey conducted on behalf of Cisco by a team of MBA students from the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford and the University of Oviedo’s Economics Department has found that Ireland ranked near the bottom of a list of 40 countries worldwide in terms of broadband quality.

“For any economy, failure to work out the security and supply of fit-for purpose communications means you are failing your public services duty if you are the government of the day,” the architect of the UK’s ‘Digital Britain’ strategy Lord Stephen Carter told the Irish telecoms industry in September.

Carter’s ‘Digital Britain’ plan has already been transposed into a Digital Britain Bill.Other countries are spearheading digital strategies to regenerate their economies and make their societiesmore equitable and fair.

This month, US President Barack Obama will unveil the United States’ vision for its digital economy.

Australia has already developed a AUS$5bn plan to fibre up the entire nation.

“Continued innovation and investment in information technology will help jump-start recovery from the current recession,” one of America’s leading technology futurists and US government advisers, Robert Atkinson, said during a visit to Ireland last year.

“If you don’t get these things right the whole country could lag behind. And in this space that’s very difficult and problematic. Once you lag behind, it’s very hard to catch up,” Atkinson said.

Why digital matters

– Digital infrastructure and skills will be the deciding factor in future job creation

– This infrastructure will be critical if Ireland is to attract future inward investment

– Digital literacy will be the key to getting a job in the future. Our schools at present don’t have decent computer infrastructure or connectivity. Where Irish schools have digital whiteboards, in 90pc of cases these were paid for by parents

– The Government is investing €150m to bring technology to the classroom. Momentum must be kept up to ensure Irish kids have learning resources equal to, if not better than, anywhere else in the world

– A recent Microsoft report revealed that €3bn will be spent on IT this year in Ireland and that up to 8,000 new technology services jobs could be created in this country over the next four years

– Digital platforms will be crucial to future sales and services – Ireland is the 10th highest exporter of services in the world (financial services, technology services, engineering, etc)

– Ireland has a target of 70pc of exports being services-based by 2020 – the majority of these will be via digital networks

– Yet, Ireland has some of the world’s biggest technology giants: Google,Microsoft, Intel, Apple, HP, etc. The tech sector alone employs 100,000 people directly and another 300,000 indirectly.

The future is now

We invite you – the public – to participate alongside Ireland’s ICT leaders and industry groups such as the Irish Internet Association, the Irish Computer Society and the Institute of European and International Affairs in a debate that will mould the country’s economic future.

We must all work together to regenerate the Irish economy and pave the way for a fairer,more inclusive and equal society.