Ireland must boost tech skills to stay in the game

27 Nov 2008

In May, Texan billionaire Ross Perot’s IT services firm, Perot Systems Consulting, acquired Irish software company Original Solutions for an undisclosed sum. Jim Champy is chairman of Perot Systems

Could global outsourcing of IT be a threat to an economy like Ireland?

Businesses and economies can look at outsourcing as either a threat or an opportunity.

The reality is offshoring is becoming a normal global operating model. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a US or a German company. You’ll be looking at where you’ll get the best performance in terms of price and quality. If you don’t do that, you’ll be out of business.

The ideal situation for a business in Ireland is to be good enough at what you do, and grow your business by growing expertise that will be needed in the future.

So what should Irish businesses be doing now to counter the shift of business to lower-cost economies?

If I were an Irish company right now, I would look at where I could be a provider of talent. Ireland has a unique reputation of being a tech-savvy and English-speaking country. Its reputation is intact.

I have to admit, I’m a bit shocked at the ‘woe is me’ mentality in Ireland. The reality is that everybody is going to be hit equally – it’s a global recession.

What is truly frightening about this recession is nobody knows exactly how bad it is going to be.

The general attitude is it has to get worse before it gets better. Do you agree?

For sure. So-called alternative investments like pension funds and endowments for universities are all being hit. Nobody knows how to value these things, and that’s scary.

I sit in meetings now, and people will say it will be months before they know how things will turn out. The good news about this recession is that everybody is going to be affected.

As a stakeholder in the tech industry here, what should Ireland be doing?

There are things the Government can do, but it’s really what your business sector and industry does that will get Ireland out of the condition it’s in and fundamentally develop competitiveness.

Ireland should be focusing a lot of its efforts on science and engineering. But what you really need are smart companies that know how to commercialise ideas.

Stop doing things that are dumb and don’t make money. Focus on the country’s strengths and build business opportunities. In my eye, Ireland is no longer about Aran sweaters and souvenirs, it has a technical image and it should be leveraging that.

Ireland would make a wonderful near-shore location for Europe. It’s English-speaking, there’s a sense of security and stability here, and it is a better base than London.

The environment is more responsive to what we need. The opportunity for Ireland isn’t commodity skills – that’s all gone to India. The opportunity is technical skills. You need to ratchet those skills up.

By John Kennedy

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