A digital strategy
For a country that greatly relies on multinational companies in the electronics sector – Apple, Microsoft, Intel and others – for export-led growth, the failure of parts of Irish indigenous industry to exploit communications technology more fully is remarkable. Belatedly, that problem is now being addressed with Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte publishing a National Digital Strategy. The aim is three fold: to get more businesses online; to encourage more people to use the internet, and to ensure digital technology is fully utilised throughout the education system.
Mr Rabbitte highlighted the rapid growth of the digital economy, which is expanding at a far faster rate than the overall domestic economy. Companies that fail to trade online are losing out, by limiting their growth and employment potential. A mere one in four small companies use the internet for ecommerce sales. And likewise, almost one in five Irish adults have never used the internet; while for those aged 60-74, more than half have never gone online. In a digital age, where so many routine business and social activities are conducted online the half a million and more Irish people who have never used that facility find themselves at an increasing disadvantage.
The case for greater internet use by small companies is, as Mr Rabbitte stated, compelling. Small companies can grow twice as fast and employ twice as many people where they use the technology. To encourage them to do so, the companies will be given a €2,500 voucher – which they must match – towards establishing an online trading presence or engaging in ebanking. With high quality, high speed broadband more available throughout the country, Ireland is finally acquiring an advanced communications infrastructure. That facility offers one of the best ways for the country, and smaller companies, to compensate for its relative isolation and distance from major world markets. And it should also make it easier to convince half a million non-internet users of the utility and benefit of online access.