The Next Economy: John Herlihy, Google

28 Dec 2007

Key business leaders in Ireland’s technology and science industries look back on 2007 and highlight what’s needed for Ireland’s emerging knowledge economy in 2008. John Herlihy (pictured) is vice-president of online sales and operations at Google.

What in your opinion have been the key developments of 2007 in terms of industrial and infrastructural progress in Ireland?

I think we’re seeing greater reach of broadband, particularly with more mobile operator offerings, and key now is to see how Ireland can drive demand. Competition is increasing, and you’re seeing a slew of offerings through different channels. One of the big challenges going forward for Ireland is maintaining a first-rate economy yet keeping our costs under control, particularly energy costs.

We also need to ensure our education system is generating highly qualified people, yet more importantly, highly relevant degrees to meet the demands of complex, global businesses.

What issues have not been addressed and you believe should be a priority if we are to create genuine knowledge-based industries as we go into 2008?

The phrase ‘knowledge economy’ can mean different things to different people. We may need to focus on two or three areas of the knowledge economy.

For me, a more accurate description may be the ‘internet economy’ and where Ireland can add value or have a unique proposition. If you can solve global and complex problems in one location, like what Google is doing in Dublin, you are creating value. I see a big opportunity for Ireland as a global services location for internet-related companies.

Ireland needs to look at the two or three big opportunities that are a tangible part of the knowledge economy rather than trying to be all things to all people.

In its endeavour to create a knowledge-based economy, where do you think Ireland stands in relation to other nations with a similar agenda?

Again, measuring the term knowledge economy is difficult, as it manifests itself in different ways in different countries. Ireland is making progress, but internet-related businesses are making decisions in real-time so we need to ensure we can continue to quickly make decisions as a country and engage with global companies on many different levels.

It has been suggested that as we march towards 2020, Ireland will need to field another one million workers. How urgent is this and can this be achieved?

Certainly, I am for a very flexible visa system – it will ensure the most talented people have an opportunity to come and work in Ireland. If you have a melting pot of cultures, languages and know-how, you have a competitive advantage and that is a huge opportunity for Ireland.

Communications and PC penetration are central to Ireland’s industrial development. Yet league tables suggest we are not at the races. How can these deficits be best addressed?

Of course there are many stats and studies – when I look around, I see mobile as the big thing everywhere. We have one of the highest penetration rates in the world. So, the focus shouldn’t just be on which particular device people are using, as they are using several, but on how we can use the internet as platform to improve access to information and commerce.

It’s no longer about putting a computer in the classroom, but more about what can be done with it – so, how can we best introduce ICT at an early stage in the education system and follow it through in second- and third-level education? They are some of the questions we face.

By John Kennedy