With one of Europe’s youngest populations, Ireland’s digital natives could have the most to gain.
AS France and Germany are already emergeing from recession, nations the world over agree that a new economic order is becoming visible, the cornerstones of which will be digital communications and content AS France and Germany are already emergeing from recession, nations the world over agree that a new economic order is becoming visible, the cornerstones of which will be digital communications and content.
Nearly every country in Europe, including Ireland, has unveiled some form of digital readiness plan. But some are more advanced and more tangible than others.
Two weeks ago, the EU Commissioner for the Information Society Viviane Reding said that building on the potential of the digital economy is essential for Europe’s sustainable recovery from the economic crisis. She said the EU is readying a digital strategy that will be unveiled in 2010 as part of the next wave of the Lisbon Agenda.
"Europe’s digital economy has tremendous potential to generate huge revenues across all sectors, but to turn this advantage into sustainable growth and new jobs, governments must show leadership by adopting co-ordinated policies that dismantle existing barriers to new services," said Reding.
"We should seize the opportunity of a new generation of Europeans who will soon be calling the shots in the European marketplace. To release the economic potential of these ‘digital natives’, we must make access to digital content an easy and fair game."
A month ago, the Government through Communications Minister Eamon Ryan TD and Minister of State for the Information Society, Conor Lenihan TD, outlined a broad plan that, if successful, could create 25,000 new jobs.
At the heart of the plan are the construction of an ‘Exemplar’ fibre network, continued investment in science and innovation and the creation of an International Content Services Centre (ICSC), similar to the IFSC.
"We believe the ICSC could replicate and even excel beyond what we achieved with the IFSC," says Neil Leyden, one of the contributors to the Government’s report: Technology Actions to Support the Smart Economy.
Our nearest neighbour, the UK is a step ahead, having created its own Digital Britain plan, and two weeks ago appointed a Digital Britain minister, Stephen Timms, to keep the Digital Britain proposals on track.
For Ireland – with one of the youngest populations in Europe and a wealth of global IT giants – from Google to Intel and HP – to succeed as a key player in the emerging digital economy, it needs to outline firmly what industries will create the jobs of the future to sustain these digital natives.
Leyden, who is also involved in the Digital Media Forum, says digital literacy will be pivotal to getting people back to work. "At a very basic level, you can have someone on the dole doing nothing or you can teach them basic digital skills, so they can be creating products such as t-shirts and selling them on eBay, for example. They can get to a global market literally over night.
"Or, at another level, you can teach people to start selling digitised content such as music or iPhone apps that only exist in a digital realm. Once you create a digital product, you can sell it ad infinitum," Leyden says, pointing to the example of Steven Troughton-Smith, a 20-year-old DCU software student who is making more than €1,000 a month selling software applications on the iTunes Apps Store.
"The beautiful thing about the internet is disintermediation – it cuts out the middleman. The best example of this is on our own doorsteps in the form of Ryanair, which began selling over the internet in the Nineties," Leyden explains.
He warns that although Ireland has no shortage of creative young minds who can create content and services, what’s missing are the business skills to capture opportunities in the emerging digital economy.
Leyden cites one company that emerged out of a digital master’s degree course in IADT Dun Laoghaire, Onlinetradesmen.com, which arranged €1.8bn worth of transactions for carpenters, electricians and plumbers on over 220,000 home improvement projects.