Cisco growth plan: 'Innovation can spring from anywhere in the Irish economy'
Ireland is a really good place for ideas; people just need to believe this, urges Cisco's Kim Majerus
AS I write, I've just finished reading Fine Gael's plan to create a €900m-a-year education economy and I'm convinced they could have expanded on an obvious opportunity: selling Irish education via the web.
Here's the rub: out of 430,000 unemployed people in this country, there are a lot of out-of-work primary and secondary school teachers who, with broadband, video conferencing, e-learning and a bit of enterprising spirit, could help export our education system to the four corners of the earth.
This isn't my idea; it's just one of many ideas from Cisco Ireland managing director Kim Majerus, which she believes could transform Ireland into the true smart economy we keep hearing about.
"Innovation comes from several different sources," she says. "It's not just the business brought in from multinationals but also the local economy that can drive innovation."
Majerus' words remind me of a similar meeting I had a decade ago in Silicon Valley with Cisco's CEO, John Chambers, who described the internet as being one of the world's biggest equalisers from an education perspective.
Along with Hewlett-Packard, Cisco is a backer of the Your Country, Your Call initiative to award €200,000 to two ideas that will help secure prosperity and jobs for Ireland.
"The idea is to drive innovation from an Ireland perspective - that great idea. Innovation can come from anywhere, anyone and at any time," explains Majerus. "It is just capturing it and, more importantly, enabling people to take that innovative idea they've got and giving them a platform to drive it."
Cisco is a case in point. The $36bn-a-year company was the brainchild of a married couple, Len Bosack and Sandy Troiano, who worked in the computer department at Stanford University. Cisco created the world's first commercially successful routers that were integral to the growth and success of the internet.
Just a fortnight ago Cisco unveiled the world's first 322-terabyte router, which is tipped to revolutionise the internet and make instantaneous videoconferencing and movies on demand a reality for billions of people around the world.
I put it to Chicago-native Majerus that Ireland needs more universities acting as wealth generators, as well as structures to allow people to create intellectual property and swiftly turn that into real products and, ultimately, real profits.
She points to the work Cisco is doing in the west of Ireland where it has a leading-edge R&D lab that employs 200 people focused on the communications technologies of tomorrow. Cisco has invested €400,000 to back Irish PhD researchers who will strive to create the internet-centric workplace where social media, unified communications and the semantic web will make the office tools of today seem prehistoric.
"That's what Cisco is putting back into the universities because we see the value of what can be created out of Ireland. It's always good to have an aspiration, but also recognising what's available to you.
"I think Ireland is missing the point: there are ideas right here, right now, but how do we embrace them, how does the Government get involved and how do multinationals get involved to support and invest and bring that to the next level? We could be our own Silicon Valley per se if we just look right here at what's available."
Majerus is bemused at how the green economy has taken off all of a sudden as a basis for business, yet argues that few businesses have yet embraced teleworking to be more productive, efficient and reduce their workers' impact on the environment.
"People think green is the new thing. Green is not the new thing, at least for Cisco it's not. We've been a part of it; we've been enabling it within our own infrastructure and then obviously driving that out to our own customer base.
"Ninety six percent of people feel that technology can improve the green carbon footprint impact. The question is how do we take technology to enable remote working? [The answer is] if we can have people working from their home office. It's an adaptation of workforce practices, trust, enablement in the employees you are hiring and modifying the way we think successful workers work."
It's this enablement that drives us to the infrastructure issue: Ireland's enduring broadband problems.
"Where I'm at in my local geography I'm happy with what I've got, but others are challenged. Whether you're on the outskirts of Limerick or in Dublin's city centre, it should be consistent - people are struggling with connectivity.
"It's investment in the national infrastructure and the support of the private sector and service providers currently in Ireland that can help enable that access to everyone, everywhere on the island of Ireland," adds Majerus.
According to Cisco's own figures, in about a year's time more than half of the traffic on the internet will be video-based. For a country like Ireland with the concentration of high-tech multinationals but an aging telecoms infrastructure and broadband connectivity three years behind the rest of the world, it is a problem that requires leadership.
"It goes back to the infrastructure itself - and you are right with the statistics on where video is going, I use video in my everyday life. If I'm at the office, going to an event, I'm taking my Flip camera with me to record the event so I can communicate back to my team at Cisco and my reporting structure back to the US and UK to let them know what's happening here.
"If I take a look at what Ireland can do as a country I think about fantastic initiatives that are going on and discussions being had not just in Republic of Ireland but in Northern Ireland. We're looking at TelePresence as the methodology for small business SMEs to be able to communicate with a large organisation in the US or India, or Australia."
She reiterates the export potential of the Irish education system as an internet product.
"The quality of the education that someone could gain from the Irish institutions is transferable. It is an opportunity.
"Ireland is a hotbed for educational excellence that could be exported via technology, via TelePresence, via Webex to countries that can't seem to get the right level of quality that Ireland obviously has in abundance."
To watch a video interview with Kim Majerus, go to www.digital21.ie .
© Silicon Republic Ltd