Ireland’s IT industry needs to think local but act globally

5 May 2011

The chairman of it@cork Denis Collins is a straight-talking New Yorker who has little time or patience with the ‘I will, yeah’ lack of accountability and parish pump relations that pervades Irish business life.

Collins, who also heads up global technology giant IBM’s Business Continuity operation from Cork and whose wife and father hail from the county, got his schooling in the North American IT market, where they take no prisoners and eat the wounded.

“Accountability is everything,” says Collins, whose ambitions for a regional IT community now extend to national levels.

Since taking on the chairman role of it@cork, which is having its annual conference in Cork City today, Collins has moved fast to emphasise to the Government the importance of entrepreneurship, cloud computing, green technology and computers in schools.

Overall though, he believes the IT industry in Ireland – consisting of hundreds of the world’s top companies and many high-flying indigenous
firms – plays a more central role in economic issues, especially since its exports are vital to keeping the economy alive.

“While other sectors of the economy are down, IT industry hiring is up 6pc. More and more people are working in the IT industry than ever before and to keep this up we need to promote skills at a national level.

“Ireland needs to move beyond being a nation of parishes. It was clear to me from the start that Ireland has a high propensity of innovative
thought and has a lot of entrepreneurs and multinationals in a very small place. But that advantage is not being seized. Take start-ups and entrepreneurs for example, they get to a certain point on the runway but can’t take off to become pan-European and global players.

“There’s a requirement for strong leadership to unite us socially, educationally, financially and politically. Once you start to align that along with the broader business community, there’s a lot of potential. So yes, it’s time the IT industry started playing a leadership role in the economy.”

it@cork initiatives

Collins has been true to his word and it@cork, a non-profit industry group whose members include multinational bosses, entrepreneurs, software programmers and academics, has got the ball rolling on initiatives that have eluded planners and civil servants so far.

For example, 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 group has also developed a Smarter Senses Project with SHINE Ireland, aimed at helping preschool autistic children make their ways eventually through the mainstream education process via the clever use of software.

Another initiative involves a smart water metering project that could save Cork City a fortune in water and traffic management.

A Global Entrepreneurship programme with IBM was launched last month, and last week it@cork spearheaded a new initiative called ‘Innovation that Matters’ to identify, recognise and promote technology concepts, products and services within Cork companies. It’s 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’.

Collins and his colleagues are ambitious enough to see it@cork transform into a national body with a different identity but which will represent the broader cross section of the IT industry in Ireland.

“Ireland needs to continue to aggressively leverage the diaspora, for example, an area with huge potential but which is still untapped. My view is Irish businesses can continue to think local but need to act and execute globally.

“We need to take this force called the IT industry in Ireland and turn it into a force that will have a uniting impact and drive results for Ireland Inc,” Collins affirms.

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