Siemens calls on Ireland to begin its movement towards digitalisation

6 Dec 2017

Engineers Ireland director general Caroline Spillane at the Siemens digitalisation event in Dublin with Domhnall Carroll of Siemens Ireland and Michael Lohan of IDA Ireland in the background. Image: Luke Maxwell

From bricks to billions, the promise of the digital age is already evident. And Ireland holds more cards than it knows.

Siemens Ireland CEO Gary O’Callaghan has called on Ireland to begin a movement towards the full digitalisation of its economy.

There are many terms to describe the shake-up of IT platforms and the new digital services that are emerging. Some call it digital transformation, some call it disruption but, for Siemens’ O’Callaghan, it is simply a matter of Ireland using its resources and skills more effectively.

‘We are here to start a movement, which will ultimately end up with Ireland being the best place on the planet to do digital business’

You could say that over the past 150 years or more, Siemens has been witness to seminal moments in Irish economic development that have transformed its place on the world stage.

In 1884, Siemens Brothers manufactured and laid the first two transatlantic cables that connected Waterville in Kerry with Nova Scotia in Canada.

In the 1920s, the fledgling Irish Government commissioned Siemens to begin the ‘Electrification of the Irish Free State’ by building the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric dam, which was colourfully described at the time as “the eighth wonder of the world”.

And now, according to O’Callaghan, Ireland stands at the dawn of another new seminal age in its economic and social development, an age characterised by digital in the national DNA.

Do not manage … lead!

At a Siemens digitalisation event in Dublin yesterday (5 December), O’Callaghan said it was time to start a movement to capture this opportunity at all levels.

“Back in the 1980s as a young engineer, I got my first mobile phone, which was known as ‘the brick’. In the mid-90s, the first GSM phone came on the market and it was 1995 when the first text message was sent from phone to phone. We didn’t realise it then, but that was the genesis of what today is a multibillion-dollar social media business. It has been an amazing journey.

“In a few short decades, we have gone from ‘the brick’ to billions.”

Reminding the audience of the first transatlantic cable and the Ardnacrusha moment, O’Callaghan said that Siemens has been building the future in Ireland for a long time, and this continues today with Ireland’s largest wind farm on Mount Lucas.

“It’s time to start generating ideas. We are here to start a movement, which will ultimately end up with Ireland being the best place on the planet to do digital business.”

Ireland already holds incredible cards from having the top 10 born-on-the-internet companies and the top 10 global pharma players already here, not to mention the 30 odd data centres that traverse Dublin.

But that digital revolution needs to filter to all organisations and businesses.

In a report by Buchele GmbH revealed at the digitalisation event, Siemens found that 29pc of businesses in Ireland have no defined strategy. While 43pc of firms have a defined strategy for portions of their business, less than one-third have a strategy for the whole of their organisation.

Shockingly, almost half of executives surveyed cannot identify a digitalisation project in their company’s medium-term plans. And, when it comes to implementing technologies, more than half are still in the initial planning phase.

Absorbing the findings, chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment Hildegarde Naughton, TD, agreed that more needs to be done if Ireland remains an open economy post-Brexit and helps to implement the European Digital Single Market.

“Irish businesses are no longer competing against each other, but against the best in Europe and the world. We need to create an environment where digitalisation is embraced.”

The findings provokes a number of serious discussions. According to Caroline Spillane, director general of Engineers Ireland, the linchpin of any digitalisation plan or strategy will ultimately be Ireland’s people.

“Skills shortages and STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) are an issue, full stop. We need to have as many young people [as possible] studying STEM, and start from a base where we are competing internationally for talent. We need to ensure we have the kind of skills that people will need for the demands of the future.”

Digital thought leader Stefan Lindegaard from Transform XO advised that organisations embarking on a digitalisation strategy need to start by assembling a core team that represents all levels of the organisation, but that is led by the CEO.

“That team needs to get itself to at least a seven-out-of-10 level of proficiency in digital knowledge and then it needs to focus on getting all executives and rank and file to at least a five-out-of-10 level of proficiency. Currently, most executives are between two and three on the scale of proficiency.”

He said that being proficient doesn’t require executives having to learn how to code necessarily, but re-education and upskilling using online learning platforms such as Udacity or the Universal Robots Academy.

“By 2025, computers will have the same power as the human brain. This is not a sprint but will be a never-ending marathon.”

He said that with resources and skills in short supply, organisations need to start rebuilding their organisation. This starts by setting up a core team and letting them work, educating executives, and ensuring CEOs stop micro-managing.

“Don’t manage. Lead! Who will be your partners in the digital ecosystem? It will be your people first, next processes and then ideas. Talent is in short supply. Take the people you have and upgrade them to become talent. As an ecosystem, as a movement, make it happen.”

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