Sunday 18 March 2018

Irish firms risk lagging behind in digital age says tech guru

First Direct founder Mike Harris
First Direct founder Mike Harris

Paul O'Donoghue

Irish companies need to look at investing more in the digital side of their business to avoid being overtaken by competitors, according to serial entrepreneur Mike Harris.

Mr Harris set up the first major telephone bank in the world, First Direct, in 1989.

The bank now has 1.25 million customers. He also co-founded the UK's first internet bank, Egg, before selling it to US financial services firm Citigroup for $1.2bn in 2007.

Mr Harris said Irish companies do not tend to perceive a threat from newly-established potential competitors and said executives should invest in digital to safeguard against "constructive attacks" on their business.

"There is less of a perceived threat here, companies don't foresee startups cracking the market as much here as they do elsewhere," he said. "If I was working here I would be worried about it, under-investment in digital is not a good idea," he said, speaking at the recent PwC Business Forum in Dublin.

Figures released from PwC's Digital IQ survey showed Irish companies are "more cautious" than global companies when it comes to investing in digital.

According to the research, just one in ten firms are spending more than 15pc of revenue on digital, well below a global average of about one in three.

Mr Harris warned that companies should take digital investment seriously, saying: "We have seen many companies who did not invest in digital properly, like Blockbuster, and look what happened to them.

"I am not an expert on the Irish market [but] if I was an Irish CEO I would think it is somewhere I should be investing in."

He also urged companies not to resist digital innovations, saying: "Over the last 25 years there has been an unprecedented wave of change with the internet changing commerce, healthcare, government, everything.

"Big companies who win are ones who embrace the change."

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