Citing Cisco research which predicts that by 2015 there will be 15bn devices connected to the internet, Vodafone Ireland CEO Jeroen Hoencamp urges firms to take the promise of online commerce very seriously as consumers today rapidly become connected consumers.
Hoencamp says that in a country hit by recession firms can be forgiven for thinking things like e-commerce, mobile working and social media are a distraction as they race to deliver the payroll, but says there is ample evidence to suggest a viable future online.
Recent research suggests that every year Irish consumers spend €3bn online, yet 70pc leaves the country as the money is spent on e-commerce sites belonging to overseas retailers, mostly in the UK or US.
In the UK, the internet economy is responsible for 7pc of GDP, yet in the Republic of Ireland less than 4pc of GDP comes from the internet economy.
“In case anybody has any doubt about online, in 2015 we’ll have 15bn devices connected to the internet. If you talk about change, that is very significant. If you see how consumers behave, they will have 24×7 access to the internet, fixed and mobile.
“They will expect enterprises to do similar things,” Hoencamp points out, adding that consumers engaged through social media are better educated about products than ever before. He has a point – just fewer than half of the population of Ireland is now on Facebook.
“You can build and destroy a great brand in a very short space of time by not paying attention to social media. The power is now with the consumer,” he adds, pointing to more than 800m posts on Facebook every day and 250m posts on Twitter.
“We as businesses need to be better prepared to deal with this. Firms need an online strategy and a social media strategy that integrate well together. It’s not an add-on. It should be core and front and centre in your plans.”
How to be a cut above the rest
To illustrate how digital business technology is changing how ordinary businesses function, Hoencamp points to the example of James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, which has put digital at the heart of its business.
Instead of grimly facing down the recession and hoping for walk-in trade as many practitioners in their trade have so far, James Whelan Butchers under the leadership of Pat Whelan has built up a thriving online business that delivers meat products to customers across Ireland and into the UK.
Whelan blogs and tweets out new offers, such as back-to-school hampers, meat for a month deals and BBQ packs and sauces. It’s a proactive approach that’s paying dividends and instead of sitting still and hoping for the best, James Whelan Butchers represent the prime example of a firm taking charge of its destiny through a digital prism.
“Pat at some point decided to use online and to use Twitter to contact customers. While that doesn’t sound like it’s really revolutionary, in a very small traditional SME in Tipperary in the butcher trade it is quite unique.
“Now this company sells the bulk of its business across the country and even overseas.
“This is just a small example that when someone says, ‘but all this new technology stuff is not for me because it doesn’t work for my business’, I like to use this as an example.
“It’s a great example of someone who realises the world has changed and that the business needs to change with that.
“His customers have changed the way they buy things, even the way they buy meat. And for him to be able to go out on Twitter and tweet there’s a great weekend coming and therefore the hamburgers and barbecue sauces are on sale on the Friday. And he sells more that way than he had ever done before, so that’s a great example of how businesses embrace the new technologies and developments.”
Change starts from within
Inside Vodafone, an integral approach to employing social media, e-commerce and more efficient ways of working has also been taken.
As Hoencamp points out, this is vital from the perspective of a changing economy, a changing business landscape, a changing technological landscape and a changing regulatory landscape.
“Competition is very intense and (if you’re not careful) you could go from being in a thriving business to a declining business.
“We decided to look at ourselves and say what we needed to do differently and this is why we embraced new ways of working where we change leadership, culture and the office environment and the way we work.
“As a result we can be much more flexible, bring the customer into (the core of) our business to respond much more quickly to the environment,” Hoencamp says.
Ireland’s digital leaders will be joined by international speakers to discuss Ireland’s opportunities and challenges in the age of the connected consumer, at a forum hosted by Silicon Republic on 21 September in Dublin. Digital communications expert Neville Hobson and Wired‘s editor-at-large Ben Hammersley have been confirmed as keynote speakers.
Confirmed panelists include:
- Jeroen Hoencamp, CEO, Vodafone Ireland
- Tanya Duncan, CEO, Interxion Ireland
- Múirne Laffan, managing director, RTÉ Digital
- Maurice Mortell, MD Ireland, TelecityGroup
- Colm O’Neill, CEO, BT Ireland
- Andrew Maybin, network services director, Tibus
Highlights from the last Digital Ireland Forum in March can be viewed here.