Wednesday 22 November 2017

Business is going digital, so where’s the master plan for Ireland’s industrial future?

A common vision is needed to lay the foundations of an exciting digital-media industry for Ireland

Promethean's (Left - right ) Graham Byrne, the Audio Visual Federation's Tommy McCabe, Intel's Jim O'Hara and the NDRC's Ben Hurley
Promethean's (Left - right ) Graham Byrne, the Audio Visual Federation's Tommy McCabe, Intel's Jim O'Hara and the NDRC's Ben Hurley

John Kennedy

YOU only have to look at the fact that Facebook has now reached its 500 millionth subscriber, that a graduate of Ballyfermot Senior College can win an Oscar and that a two-year-old US games company called Zynga is looking at US$1bn in revenues to realise that the long-awaited digital-media revolution is in full swing.

Neil Leyden is a media consultant, screenwriter and entrepreneur and the prime mover behind the International Content Services Centre, an initiative which aims to make Ireland a global content management destination. This would involve streamlining the storage, localisation, delivery and distribution of content, as well as the associated rights management, clearance and collection to provide a global service for national and international clients.

“The most important thing is to pull our resources together and I’m seeing this happen, the recession is bringing a lot of people together. Probably the biggest digital-media opportunity at the moment is games, particularly online casual games. Just look at the location of Electronic Arts, Zynga, Activision, Gala and Blizzard here. We need to put together a strategy that capitalises on Ireland as the place for online games,” says Leyden.

“Government has been amenable, but the country doesn’t have the money. The things it can do is legislate for change and create the right regulatory environment. Ireland beats the band in terms of quality people, taxation and skilled workforce. It’s up to enterprises to get together and strategise how to get to the next level.”

Intel general manager Jim O’Hara believes there are hurdles that must be removed if we are to capitalise on the success of companies such as Havok and animators such as Richie Baneham who won the Oscar for his work on Avatar.

“If you look at the companies involved in digital media and the really, really exciting things they are doing, it’s amazing. I would ask those folks what it is about Ireland that helped them do more of that stuff, what got in their way, then fix that stuff.

“My guess is broadband will come back to be one of those hurdles. Another hurdle will be how the Government incentivises those kinds of people and industries, for example the tax incentives it can offer, and how the Government can make it easier for start-up companies.

“Again if you think about the characteristics of that industry it’s taken geography out of the equation because if you can imagine where you are in the world you can get involved in that business – all you need are smart people.”

With the onset of devices such as the iPad and the iPhone 4 as well as the arrival of 3D TV, the ability to consume high-quality content is greater than ever. But before we can consume that content or build the companies that can generate and create content, infrastructure is vital.

“I think we’ve got some critical decisions to make as a country over the next short while,” said Gerry Fahy, director of strategy, Vodafone Ireland. “A lot of them are around the regulatory field, because if the regulatory field enables innovation investment rather than disables or hampers it we would have a very different outcome.

“I am concerned that not everything is in place for sure today, there are important decisions in the coming months and years on a number of aspects that I think will determine exactly how Ireland takes its position and role in the digital economy.”

“It’s a very important point to make,” agrees Ben Hurley, CEO of the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC). “It is down to how we unite behind the opportunity that is there. The key is joined-up thinking, the key is a uniting vision.”

The NDRC has led to a sustained throughput of indigenous digital-media firms with successful programmes such as Y Combinator.

“We need to get joined-up thinking on an aspect of global trade that is changing at a rapid pace. The challenge is that the pace of change is happening faster than determining policy of strategy, introducing risks that policymakers and strategists wouldn’t be familiar with.”

Baneham’s success with Avatar is a great example of how Irish talent can be exported globally, says Graham Byrne, head of Ireland and Scotland business, Promethean. “One of the issues is how we can harness these opportunities for Ireland. The top 10 roles that exist now didn’t exist 10 years ago. We have to accept that the world has changed at a pace previously unseen. Our education system and everything associated has to change at a rapid pace accordingly if we wish to keep up.

“We have to be really mindful that these kids have to be able to change, innovate and be creative if they’re going to be prepared for the opportunities. They don’t have the same luxury you and I had going to school where we had a clear view of the career opportunities.

“Those opportunities are changing at such a rapid pace now that young people have to change equally fast to be competitive,” Byrne said.

However, right now there seems to be a lack of focus at government level, says Mark Kellett, CEO of broadband firm Magnet.

“We need to be strong in software, potentially financial

transactions and gaming development and we need to recognise that Ireland isn’t on the periphery of Europe. The fact is we are at the centre of the transatlantic trading hub.

But it is the content producers – the animators, filmmakers, musicians and production houses – that Tommy McCabe of the Audiovisual Federation (AVF) at IBEC believes stand the most immediate opportunity to gain. The AVF will be holding a conference at Enterprise Ireland in Dublin on 18 November.

“The new opportunities of the digital-content business are immense. A revolution is taking place, being driven by market demand, online video, wireless and mobile content and computer games.

“In each of these areas there’s a blossoming market, particularly driven by young people who consume most of their content on laptops and mobile devices. This means a lot of new opportunities for content producers, not just for the large cinema or TV screen but for smart devices.

“There are two roads converging – the content producers and telecoms providers – and there’s evidence that Irish companies are key to the infrastructure. Havok, for example, contributed to games such as Modern Warfare 2, which sold 4.7 million copies on day one. The skillsbase here is also set to benefit – Electronic Arts is bringing 200 jobs to Galway.”

Now, more than ever, McCabe believes, there’s an opportunity to facilitate greater links between multinational and indigenous businesses. “But not only that, there’s an opportunity to facilitate links between sectors that hitherto wouldn’t have worked together.”

To see a video of Ireland’s ICT leaders discussing

digital media, go to www.digital21.ie.

© Silicon Republic Ltd 2010

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