Ireland has more work to do on its e-readiness

29 Jun 2010

While a new global report has placed Ireland 17th of 70 countries in the digital economy rankings, it is clear there is a lot more work the country has to do to in order to excel beyond nations we compete with for investment and trade.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Ireland has moved up one place since last year, swapping positions with Germany.

However, of the Top 20 countries in the overall rankings, all but three – Taiwan, Austria and Ireland – had broadband penetration of more than 25pc at the end of 2009.

“Broadband is just one criteria,” explained IBM’s Susanne Dirks. “Ireland gets five out of 10, which is low enough, and behind the scenes it has made progress, but not enough to move up a rank. But as we review e-readiness, the criteria has heightened worldwide.”

“The headline figure is Ireland has moved up a place from 18 to 17, swapping places with Germany. But there is a downward trend as Ireland has gone down from 14 in 2001 to 17 today. That would worry me,” Dirks warned.

“When I look at other small open economies – like New Zealand and Hong Kong, Ireland was in eighth place among those small open economies in 2001 and was 12th last year. It is 13th this year,” Dirks said.

“New Zealand in 2001 was 12th and is now seventh, so there has been a role reversal. Hong Kong was seventh in 2001 and is in fifth place now.”

What is the 2010 Digital Economy Ranking?

Previously entitled the ‘e-readiness rankings’, the 2010 Digital Economy Ranking from the Economist Intelligence Unit examines the ability of the world’s largest economies to use information and communications technology (ICT) for economic and social benefit.

Based on the developments of the year to date, Ireland has scored 7.82 out of a possible 10 marks.

Communications Minister Eamon Ryan TD said Ireland’s ranking was “welcome progress” that reflects “the high level of funding invested in broadband – €1.5bn so far”.

“To be ranked 17th of 70 of the world’s largest economies is encouraging, but it does not demonstrate the full potential of Ireland’s digital economy. Very recent and forthcoming policy developments, if taken into account, would tell a different story. The Government has set out an ambitious communications policy that invests in new, disruptive technologies and widespread, high-speed broadband,” he said.

“Our first-in-the-world Exemplar Network begins testing later this month, and we are in discussions with the European Commission on a further rural broadband scheme. Project Kelvin, a new high-speed international connectivity project, is nearing completion, as is the National Broadband Scheme, two years ahead of the EU target.

“On broadband, subscription numbers are well over 1.5 million. The cable operator UPC and Eircom are delivering speeds of 150 and 100 megabits per second respectively and their competitors are offering similar.

“The past three years have been about doing the hard work, delivering on the policy so that after a decade of under investment, Ireland could catch up. We have moved beyond catch up – a number of our projects are nearing completion, the effects of which are beginning to emerge.

“These will be supplanted with newer policy developments, which taken with private sector investment, will set Ireland on a path of continued progress. Our digital sector is on an upward trajectory, and I am confident future rankings will be, too,” Ryan said.

Dirks acknowledged improvements at the policy level but at a strategy level she felt there needed to be greater progress made. “It’s about putting your money where your mouth is. It’s not there in terms of the action. Government policy is an interesting one. The data says Ireland has made loads of progress, but in terms of Government vision, Ireland ranked 21st, the second-weakest category for Ireland.

“There has been good progress but more needs to be made,” Dirks warned.

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