Logging on will be key to growth for Irish firms
IRELAND is ranked as the third most globalised country in the world by Ernst and Young, but despite being a hub for some of the biggest names in digital commerce, we came only 22nd in relation to actually using technology.
Top-ranked Hong Kong's leadership in terms of technology has been attributed to access to broadband and the resulting high level of internet subscriptions.
There are plans to get Ireland up to speed, and even though we lag behind global leaders in terms of technological infrastructure, Irish people's internet usage is creating real business opportunities.
Maximising the commercial potential of the change is crucial for businesses.
Growth in the use of smartphones is the key trend to watch. A 2012 Google study found that 43pc of the Irish population own or use a smartphone. Two-thirds of these use their smartphones to access the internet every day.
The research found that 89pc of these smartphone users look for local information on their phone, and nine out of 10 took action as a result – making a purchase or contacting a business.
Last year, more than one in every three smartphone owners made a purchase using their phone, the research found.
Yet lots of Irish companies are still failing to keep up with the new opportunities for reaching and retaining customers.
Google, An Post and internet hosting company Blacknight ran a joint project called Getting Business Online in 2011 aimed at creating an online presence for Irish small and medium enterprises and sole traders.
They estimated that 40pc of all Irish SMEs don't have a website; even fewer have an entry in an online directory.
Getting Business Online says it helped 10,000 businesses get online in its first year, but 30,000 Irish businesses still don't have a website. Businesses may not be online, but customers are.
The Central Statistics Office (CSO) reckons that eight out of 10 households had a computer last year, an increase of 18pc since 2008.
Online purchasing habits vary from county to county. Consumers in Dublin and in the West of Ireland are more likely to shop online than in other parts of the country, according to online consultancy AMAS.
Dubliners buy 20pc more online that people living in the mid-west region, and 40pc more than people living in the Border counties, according to the latest data.
IAB Ireland, a trade association for digital advertising, says the average amount spent online by an Irish person over a six-month period in 2012 was €685, compared with an EU average of €544.
Among our top-visited websites are business network site LinkedIn, AIB online banking, as well as Google and social media products Facebook and Twitter.
The Government has tried to address Ireland's internet infrastructure with the National Broadband Plan, launched by Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte in August of last year.
It's targeting broadband download speeds of 70Mbps to 100Mbps (excellent speeds by international standards) for 50pc of the population by 2015, and a minimum of 30Mbps for people in harder-to-reach, rural areas.
The plan would mean exceeding EU targets for download speeds of 30Mbps to be available to all citizens by 2020.
Funding the plan will require an investment of €350m, to come from a mix of state and private investment that the Government has said may include proceeds from the sale of state assets and the pensions reserve fund.