Reflecting on 2010 – in Dublin, Ireland

Reflecting on 2101 – real challenges for Ireland, some interesting technologies, the need for creative genius

Dublin by night
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It’s been a pretty frightening year on the economic front, here in Dublin, Ireland.  Finally, despite all the protestations of the Government the EU and IMF rode into town.  A deal has been done – premised on significant growth it might be doable…if the growth does not materialise – then eventually some debt will have to be written off.

On the technology front – for me personally the smartphone wins out (currently favouring the Android platform): greater access and availability wherever you are (wherever I am).  Seems to me the Cloud has matured into something that is not going away – in fact that looks like it will win out.  I think the objections will be addressed and moved aside. On the semantic web front – lots of activity from various providers of tools/ solutions using semantic technology. Disappointing, given the presence of DERI in Ireland, that we do not see more publicity/ traction within our own smart economy.  And we trail other countries dismally on initiatives to push publication of data (using linked open data standards)  by government departments.

Snow in the suburbs
A whole new world

The last few weeks have been challenging on the weather front – in particular on the East Coast.  It would have to be said that our local government/admin/ transport has failed miserably and consistently in addressing the weather challenges.  To see major roads not being cleared each night is pretty depressing – be it shortage of money to pay the overtime, trucks to clear the snow/slush,salt to treat the roads or poor planning/management and execution.  But there is a real cost – most likely including loss of life – because of this repeated failure.

Katie Taylor, Graeme McDowell, Tipperary hurlers, U23 cross country runners and many more – great memories and inspiration in a difficult year and looking forward to challenging years.

There was my short break with my wife in Budapest – what a marvellous city and such hospitable people.  But then we had the fun courtesy of Volcanic Ash – our four day trip home was quite luxurious by comparison with the hardship experienced by others.

Best book I read was the 10th anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto.  Also often found myself returning to ideas from The Power of Pull.

And Wikileaks has caught the imagination as the year closes out.  I was not very positively disposed to Mr Assange when this began – but the overreaction from certain quarters is not doing much to reinforce my doubts.  I think we all need to reflect a little on this. Some of the ideas referenced by Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody and by Don Tapscott in Macrwikinomics are playing out in front of us.

All in all looking forward to the break – a chance to enjoy some of the best things in Ireland – company, craic, ceol, food, literature, scenery, catching up with the visiting diaspora…and time to do some dreaming.  Because we all need to use our imaginations and our creativity in order to ensure that we do beat our targets next year – be that winning a major, winning a football championship, keeping a job, hiring a new employee, starting a new business, teaching a student, helping someone.

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Paperless billing

A Post postbox taken by User:Ludraman with a S...
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This seems to have become a hot topic in Ireland – prompted by the move to electronic billing by mobile phone companies.  We have a number of objectors: the regulator because people had a right to a paper bill, some consumers who want a paper bill and, it seems, An Post who stand to lose out on lots of revenue.  Finally there is the debate about the sharing of the benefits – will all the benefits be retained by the corporations or will they be shared (in part or in whole) with the customers?

Useful catch up on the subject in yesterday’s Irish Times.

Surely this is a ‘non-brainer’ at a basic level?  We must use technology to make things more efficient.  But as in all such projects we must manage the change.   There are benefits in this for the corporations (in terms of cost savings) and there are benefits for customers who are open to receiving electronic bills (or accessing their account information on a portal).  Without doubt there are a group of people who will struggle to deal with an electronic document e.g. those with no internet access or familiarity.  This is a group which is diminishing in relative size – but nonetheless must be accommodated – and it would seem to me should not be disadvantaged over their current position.  This should be the core focus of the change agenda.

Online travel booking seems to have gained widespread acceptance – and it has resulted in major changes for those who previously facilitated the booking process.  Mr O’Leary of Ryanair pushed through the agenda but the Aer Lingus experience is the same.  And we have seen losts of benefits in online travel e.g. the various sites offering best deals across a range of providers – be it flights, cars, hotels, insurance, etc.

Over the last number of months I have availed of the new service from Irish start-up  GetItKeepIt which enables me to receive and a range of electronic bills from various suppliers.  For me this application addresses the specific point made by CAI Chairman James Doorley ‘people were “more likely to check their bills if they get them in the post”’.  I am now more inclined to review bills when gathered in one portal.

Ultimately we will complete a period of transformation – and the electronic bill will be the only option.  And this will be the de facto situation across the board.  And this will be a good thing.  We do not want to continue to have people doing things which have no value add – cutting down trees to create unnecessary paper, printing bills and putting them in envelopes, criss-crossing the country to deliver paper bills which can be sent electronically (or, more correctly, accessed electronically).  As for the benefits – they will be absorbed into the operating budgets of the service providers.

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Where now for newspapers?

Challenges are just becoming more serious for the traditional newspaper industry

Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive O...
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Mr Murdoch has succeeded in getting me to buy his newspaper on a number of occasions since he made it unavailable online.  The downside is that this is really causing me to compare the quality and relevance of his Sunday newspaper with the vast amount of data available to me online.  And I do not enjoy having to deal with the piles of paper.

On the other hand the Irish Times provides an excellent online service – which inclines me to cross reference articles from the newspaper in my various blogging/ tweeting activities.

On Sundays I now find myself checking out the Independent online early in the day – potentially overlooking The Business Post and the Sunday Times.

One other key development – I am now an avid user of a smartphone – seems easier than ever to keep up to date e.g. using various news services which are constantly being updated.

Was interested in this piece by Ross Dawson.  I think he may be right -give or take a couple of years.  When you combine all of this with a youth growing up using social networks and smart phones – not looking great on the newspaper front.  And that’s not something that pleases me – as someone who has enjoyed reading newspapers for over 30 years.

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semantic web and the subprime crisis

There are challenges in deployment of the semantic web – including provision of data marked up using RDF.

Nice piece by Michael Cataldo outlining potential benefits of semantic web – in terms of making it easier to access data on the web and cross reference/ correlate the data.  Michael makes the point that fuller adoption of semantic web principles at an earlier date may have assisted in preventing some of the elements of the subprime crisis.

I am very much a fan of the semantic web and indeed of the movement towards linked open data.  However it is interesting to read reports of Tim Berners Lee’s own frustrations wrt advances in linked open data e.g. the fact that data is being published on data.gov in non RDF formats (thereby limiting the ability of people to browse from this data to other RDF marked up data).

I think Michael Cataldo, in looking to demonstrate potential benefits of semantic web, may be stretching things a little far wrt the subprime crisis – were people motivated to make the data easily understood or was obfuscation not part of the intent?

Ireland – continuing to play our part on the world stage

In my working life (25 years since graduating from engineering school in Trinity College) I have never before experienced the challenges now seen in Ireland. At the time I commenced my training contract in KPMG (then SKC) in 1984 I recall many recently qualified accountants being very concerned for their future. In 2000/2001 – three years into running our own consulting company (www.ciall.com) we faced real challenges in the post ‘.com’ dip. Today’s challenges are on a different scale.

During those 25 years Irish people have been to the fore in international affairs – be it commerce, arts, politics, education, charity. And by Irish people I refer to the 70 million or so who make up the global Irish population – including the 5 million or so on this island.

There must be a temptation within the international community to look at us – on the island of Ireland – as having had the benefit of major inward investment and squandered it. Part of facing our challenge now is to continue to take our place on the world stage. Those of us living and operating within the island of Ireland need to continue to play our part. There is a quid pro quo for looking to the greater diaspora and to Europe for further assistance and investment – we must play our part. We cannot simply get out the begging bowl. We are an established country and we’ve made some major mistakes, much of them rooted in greed. The most recent budget was the first step in convincing the international community that we are going to address our issues. The next budget must show real conviction about getting our cost base sorted.

Dan O’Brien’s article in the Irish Times is pretty hard hitting. He questions the calibre of the people representing Ireland in international affairs. He questions the effort made by the main political parties in the run up to the first referendum and their current effort in the runup to the second referendum. It does not make for pretty reading – but is deserving of reflection.

The next few years are going to witness more largescale emigration of talent from Ireland – without a doubt. Just for now the emigration options look limited – but given the changes we are beginning to see in overseas locations those opportunities will arise again. Many young talented Irish will choose to work and live overseas – not interested in staying to pay high taxes to pay off the sins of the past. A political system which is unwilling to cut overhead to match income will not provide the economic and social opportunites for many of our young talented people. Depressing though this may be, it will happen.

So let us at least recognise that this will happen – and that we need to play our part. Let’s make an effort to make it easier for international companies and individuals to interact with us. I had recent experience of an overseas student (seond generation Irish – US based) relocating here for 1 term of his undergraduate degree. He contacted the university – they advised him to come 4 weeks early and sort out his own accomodation. Given the level of fees we charge overseas students for this privilege I think this is a simple example of what’s wrong with this country at present.

Let’s make sure that the talent that goes abroad wants to continue to be part of Ireland – although they may never actually relocate to live here again. Let’s figure out a way to have them continue to be involved in the development of this country. Some of them may never contribute to our income tax revenues – but some of them may, down the line, bring the next Dell, Intel or Boston Scientific to Ireland. I, for one, would like to have them continue to have a direct role in electing our government.

I would not underestimate the challenges faced by our political leaders at present. (Nor should they underestimate the challenges faced by those of us trying to drive the economy forward). It’s not an easy time to be striding the world stage and advising the rest of the world how to do it. Nevertheless we must have a voice, have a view and play ourt part. The future for Irish business is the world stage – building international and global businesses out of Ireland, building products and delivering services to the global business community. Our innovators and our future business leaders need Irish political leadership which participates and contributes on an international level.

The first step – ensure Lisbon success.

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Irish government to appoint a CTO?

So the government published its paper: Knowledge Society Strategy: Technology Actions to Support the Smart Economy.

There is already plenty of comment – on twitter, in the blogs, on the news and there will be more over the next few days.  Comments ranging from ‘a lot of waffle’, ‘telling us what we already know’, ‘where’s the meat?’, etc.  But buried in the report are enough reference points to show where we’ve been making progress and where we’ve been falling behind.

When I read Friedman’s ‘The world is flat’, listing his concerns about the state of education, engineering in the US, I felt he could have been writing about Ireland.  Ironically he references Ireland as a country pulling itself up and leveraging the flatness of the world.  However the shortage of maths proficient secondary school leavers is a major concern and cannot be fixed over night.

The topics discussed in the paper are very worthy of attention – and do represent opportunities for Ireland Inc e.g. cloud, green data centres, networking.  Delighted to see reference to semantic web – not really that surprising after €25m of government investment.

I just picked out one small detail from the report (p45):

The Government should appoint a high level CTO with the authority to drive cultural change across the many departments and agencies.

I have commented previously on such appointments in the US – within the Obama administration.  I would strongly support such an initiative – though she/he will need plenty of support from Mssrs. Ryan and Lenihan.

Irish firm delivering cloud based accounting solutions

Great report in the Irish Times today of Tony Connolly’s success in Australia in conjunction with Deloittes.  This is the type of entrepreneur activity which can get this country back on its feet.  Well done Tony!

Great news on Technology readiness/ adoption in Ireland

ICT improves in Ireland

Last Friday’s Irish Times reports that Ireland has climbed from 26th to 18th place in the ICT league (compiled by the Information Telecommuniction Union). 

This measures progress over the period 2002-2007.  It is good news – in amongst the boring bad news.  To get ourselves back on our feet we need to stimulate business – what this survey is telling us is that some of the building blocks which were not there previously are now in place.

Our broadband rollout may not be perfect.  It may also seem expensive in many cases.  But the real failing is that we as a country are not maximising the opportunities quicky enough around the infrastructure we already have.

Rather than thinking of the web as a way to source cheaper resources overseas we need to see the web as a way to internationalise all our businesses (and a reason to build out a range of new businesses).

Europe’s energy exposure to Russia

Project Nabucco aims to provide Europe with access to gas independently of Russia.  However the project is not without its problems – in fact it is not entirely clear where the gas can be originated without having an ong oingdependence on Russia anyway.  Clemons in his Washington Note posting provides an update on the project’s progress – and outlines the open issues.  Interesting to see how aggressively Russia is investing to ensure that Nabucco does not succeed as intended.