The year that was 2006: part 2


28 Dec 2006

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2006 was a watershed year for Ireland’s ICT sector with significant job, business, infrastructure and R&D gains.

May

Money was all around this month as three Irish companies raised funding – Cape Clear Software of Dublin, the Cork-based semiconductor maker Firecomms and Dublin-based FreeStar Technology, which closed its second round of funding in a matter of months. The apparent optimism was reflected in a survey by the Irish Venture Capital Association, which found that more than half of its member firms believe that companies into which they had sunk money would go public over the next two years.

Not spending money was the name of the game for others – the European Commission no less, which revealed an electronic procurement and invoicing plan across 25 member states with the ambitious aim of producing €300bn in savings.

In a separate development, the EU launched a grants programme to support small businesses, with more than 300 possible. Called EU Grants Advisor, the new scheme had the backing of several tech multinationals and is aimed at doing away with much of the red tape that had been associated in the past with applying for funding at EU level and had prevented SMEs from doing so.
SanDisk, the world’s largest maker and seller of flash memory cards, announced that it was moving its European headquarters to Dublin.

More figures: Microsoft made the proud declaration that its Xbox games console would have a user base of 10 million by year’s end – a figure that’s a lot rounder (and a good bit higher) than it proved to be at the tail end of the year.

And speaking of games, Marlon Brando’s much publicised resurrection as The Godfather in the computer game owed something to a little magic from an Irish software house, Havok, which supplied the software engine. Maybe now they’ll get some respect…

June

In a sure sign that the consumer electronics and home entertainment market is booming here, the DSG Group, which owns Dixons, Currys and PC World, unveiled plans to create 200 jobs in Ireland before the end of the year with new stores to be opened as part of this expansion.

Not so good news on the employment front for staff at Oracle, which announced job cuts. Sun Microsystems, another company with an Irish presence, also unveiled a restructuring plan – a polite way of saying some staff would be getting their P45s.

Meanwhile envious glances were cast northwards as it was revealed that broadband adoption rates in the province were racing ahead, putting the Republic in the ha’penny place. The news was compounded by the ongoing spat between alternative operators BT, Magnet and Smart on the one hand and Eircom on the other, with ComReg in the middle trying to broker a truce between all sides.

Better news in the mobile market where Vodafone made the welcome announcement of a flat-rate internet service, bringing to an end the guesswork involved in calculating how much consumers were spending when they go online from their mobiles.

Setting the tone for a summer of phishing scams, AIB alerted customers to a spate of fraudulent emails aimed at fooling consumers into parting with their passwords. Also on the security theme, the Irish PC manufacturer iQon Technologies announced a product for giving parental control of PCs in the home.

The end of an era: Bill Gates announced he would step down from Microsoft in 2008 to focus on philanthropy – and here was us thinking that was what he was involved in all along with his great software…

July

As summer drew in, siliconrepublic.com took a trip north to Belfast to hear how development agencies on both sides of the border are collaborating on an all-island economy, with a strong emphasis on technology in the mix.

For the second month running there was mixed news on the employment front. Good first: IBM planned to create 300 jobs at its existing technology campus in Dublin, investing €46m in the process. Bad news was, UPC and APC (no relation) announced consolidation and cost-cutting plans respectively, with up to 600 Irish workers affected between the two companies.

Meanwhile, research from CA Ireland revealed that consumer worries over identity theft and online fraud was setting back Irish companies’ internet business to the tune of €250m per year.

In a separate though hardly unconnected development, the security software company McAfee said that IT security threats have doubled in less than two years.

On to the public sector, the Commission on Electronic Voting (whose 2004 report consigned the e-voting machines to cold storage) said in July that the systems could be used again in the future, with the caveat of “new software and rigorous testing”.

A report from Capgemini found that Ireland has failed to build on its online public services and e-government initiatives, resulting in a fall in rankings.

August

With the new school year approaching, we reported on the shortfall in candidates for science, technology and engineering jobs: low numbers taking honours maths was found to be a major cause, but the longer-term implications could cause problems for Ireland’s much-trumpeted knowledge economy.

Worried parents had some more food for thought as the National Centre for Technology in Education released figures showing that a small number of children who met people via the internet were subsequently abused after a face-to-face meeting. While early media reports seized on this finding above others, in fact it proved to be a fraction of the percentage of children who met people they had first encountered online. Nonetheless it was a wake-up call to those with kids of the Bebo generation.

Next to business: it was summertime and the deal making was easy – Trintech found a buyer for its payment systems business, picking up a tidy US$12.1m in cash for its efforts. The acquisition of WBT Systems by Horizon Technology cost a more modest sum of just €1.15m in cash and shares.

Broadband was never too far from the headlines; data from ComReg showed that many Irish businesses were seeing the benefits and switching on in large numbers, but somehow in 2006, almost 20pc of SMEs are still trudging away on dial-up, a technology that dates from the Seventies. The Telecoms and Internet Federation claimed that the problem was less one of supply and more a case of demand and low PC penetration. Nice try lads.

Lastly, Ryanair awarded a €350,000 contract to Northgate HR to handle its human resources, surprising many who didn’t realise the low-cost airline knew what the phrase meant…

By Gordon Smith

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