“Ireland must act now and ensure that we have a world-class environment for investment during any future expansion.” The words of Jim O’Hara, general manager of Intel Ireland, speaking in his capacity as incoming chair of ICT Ireland, the IBEC association representing companies in the high-tech sector.
In his first major address in his new role, O’Hara outlined the key areas that ICT Ireland will need to focus on in 2003 to address the many challenges confronting the information and communications technology (ICT) sector in the period ahead.
O’Hara identified five key issues that need to be addressed in order to secure the future of the ICT sector in Ireland.
The profile of the sector needs to be raised to ensure industry receives the appropriate consideration in policy decisions. The industry itself needs to generate information on the contribution of the ICT sector to employment, tax revenues and exports etc and identify means to transmit this information.
This promotional aspect is increasingly important in the light of recent closures and job losses, O’Hara noted. Promoting the positive image of the sector through the media and other sources would also help attract students to suitable technology subjects by informing their career decisions.
Another important government initiative has been its stated position regarding the introduction of e-government. According to O’Hara the adoption of online information services and web-based application procedures by a number of departments and agencies will promote Ireland as an ICT literate location for high-tech industry.
The third essential ingredient is an educated workforce to attract investment and sustain indigenous companies.
Another important issue is the low level of PC penetration and lack of availability of high-speed internet access to the home. By the end of 2000 only 23.9pc of the Irish population was using the internet versus 46.5pc in Sweden and 42.2pc in the US.
The final part of the jigsaw is research and development. O’Hara called for the development of centres of excellence, commonly called ‘clusters’, in certain technological niches as a means of helping the sector “move up the ICT value chain” and so counteract the loss of lower skilled jobs to developing economies.
O’Hara concluded: “The success of the ICT sector has been a key factor behind our [economic success] and while foreign multinationals have played a significant role we cannot ignore the tremendous contribution of the indigenous sector. There have been worrying signals over the past two years that some of our competitive advantages are being eroded and we need to refocus our efforts to ensure that Ireland maintains its competitiveness now and in the future.”
By Brian Skelly