Creating a centre of digital excellence across Dublin

A new plan aims to put the city at the heart of the digital world, but what do people working in the area think of it?

Soundwave founder and chief executive Brendan O’Driscoll: “The major global tech players are being lured to set up offices in Ireland by the IDA”.

Soundwave founder and chief executive Brendan O’Driscoll: “The major global tech players are being lured to set up offices in Ireland by the IDA”.

 

Dublin’s Digital Masterplan to develop the city as a centre of digital excellence will be unveiled next month. The plan will provide a common focus for a number of smart technology initiatives but also use international best practice and citizen opinion.

Its publication is the beginning of an effort by Dublin City Council and partners to ensure the city establishes itself as a digital city. Launching the plan in November, Lord Mayor Naoise Ó Muirí said the city could no longer wait for Government action around a digital strategy for the State.

The masterplan he said, would create a “digitally connected and sustainable city, from home to workplace, from streetscape to public park and from healthcare to education”. The masterplan will be modelled on similar digital development plans already in place in New York, Barcelona and London.

The next major event ahead of the June launch will be the Open Innovation 2.0: Sustainable Economy Society conference in Dublin Castle on May 20th. This is a collaboration between the European Commission Open Innovation and Strategy Policy Group, Intel Labs Europe, Dublin City Council, Trinity College and many other stakeholders, organised in association with the Irish Presidency of the European Union, and is aimed at bringing together senior decision-makers, policy leaders, leading executives and social innovators to initiate a manifesto, platform and road map for sustainable economic and societal development.

Ahead of the masterplan launch, The Irish Times asked those working in technology and start-ups for their thoughts on the plan.


Frankie Whelan
Co-founder, Pewter Games Studios
I think the city needs more incubation spaces for tech start-ups. There are some great ones, like NDRC’s [National Digital Research Centre] LaunchPad, but spaces are quite limited. As the games industry has a long development process before the product is released and income generated, a start-up is always trying hard to survive those first months with as few overheads as possible.

We’re lucky enough to have access to office space thanks to Games Ireland, but the city really needs a space with hot-desking and free business and legal advisers available. Tech start-ups often seem to lack that legal/business background, so free advice in that area would be very beneficial.

Realistically, there are a lot of supports already out there, but it takes a lot of work to go and find them. Start-ups need to realise that trawling through websites is currently an important part of the business.

We’ve committed a sizeable amount of time to researching what’s out there, but there’s still the case that we’re only hearing about certain schemes after they’ve been awarded. If an actual physical incubation hub is out of the question, then at the very least there should be a Dublin-centric website with comprehensive listings of current supports.

In terms of the games industry, Ireland has always been great at the middleware, at servicing the industry and consuming the products, but we’ve never really been producers. There’s a current upsurge of small Irish game design studios, and the right supports could see this flourish and Dublin become a global player in a billion dollar industry.


Brendan O’Driscoll
Founder and chief executive,


Soundwave

I think the Government’s steps to ensure that Dublin become a cutting-edge tech capital have been extremely effective to date. Organisations like Enterprise Ireland have been investing in early-stage Irish tech start -ups, concepts are being incubated from ‘ideas to income’ by centres such as the National Digital Research Centre, and the major global tech players are being lured to set up offices in Ireland by the IDA.

Dublin City Council has done a fantastic job in rolling out free wifi to the city centre. I think that it is of paramount importance that the rollout of this programme continues to be expanded to cement Dublin’s place as a leading tech capital.


Ronan Morris
Client director, QT Comments
Dublin City Council has great control of what happens and what is visible on the streets of the city. There are opportunities within this to improve the overall connectivity between the online and offline worlds.

Wifi hotspots are very important but perhaps get too much focus relative to other potential initiatives. DCC should devote energy to staying as close as possible to the changing (tech-driven) behaviours of city residents, visitors and businesses in order to be able to develop relevant actions to support Dublin’s already strong tech credentials.


Paul Watson
Chief technology officer, Storyful
I work in tech in Dublin and I’ve barely heard of the Dublin Digital Masterplan. None of my tech colleagues or friends are talking about it. Instead, they are arranging, with their own initiative and no grand plan, conferences like Úll, Ship Week, Brio and the Web Summit, in between their day jobs of creating digital start-ups in spaces like Dogpatch Labs. They don’t hang around talking about what they are going to do in several months’ time, they just get up and do it.

Masterplans rarely work, they are overthought and out of date before they even launch. Masterplans are taken over or sucked dry by politically savvy consultants. Masterplans are slow, inefficient, unwieldy and unresponsive.The tech world (Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, eBay, PayPal, Yahoo and even Microsoft) has learned that small, fast, iterative plans are the best way of tackling large problems. Call it agile, call it common sense.

Dublin is already on its way to becoming a cutting-edge tech capital. This masterplan will only hinder that by diverting resources such as time, money, and attention they need. Give those resources to the people of Dublin and get out of their way.


Eimear McCormack
Managing director,

Pitchify

Where we are in the tech sector in Dublin is far better than even a year or two ago. However, I am surprised that some things haven’t been done yet. The Digital Hub is great, but you have to be a company and pay fees. There’s no communal area in Dublin where people can set up their laptops and work from, or to socialise and help each other in the tech sector. With Pitchify we bring start-ups and investors together, but it took myself and the co-founder, Brian Daly, to put people in front of investors.

One thing that needs to be looked at is mobile connectivity. We have made fantastic strides with free wifi, particularly on bus routes. I live on the 16 bus route and have enjoyed wifi for nearly a year now, but it needs to be expanded onto Luas in order to make it better access.

One thing I can’t understand is the fact that some businesses don’t offer free wifi. If you have a business, I check in on Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter which is a huge marketing tool. I think there’s an onus on businesses to step up to the plate and start opening up their networks. Compared to the UK we have better internet connectivity in our hotels and other outlets. We need to take that extra step so we can say Dublin is 100 per cent connected and open for business.

Some people have an idea but don’t know where to start. If you want to get help you have to go out and look for it, but that can prove difficult for less experienced people so we’re missing out on potential entrepreneurs. We need a similar organisation to Women On Air which has a database called ‘the list’ which has all the people on there that are available for interview for any type of subject and links to other journalists. Some type of central resource for the tech industry, which would have the names and contact details of people in the industry would be great.

In the past few years, people have become more open to tech companies, with Google, Facebook and Linkedin. It’s now seen as cool to be involved in start-ups and tech. Around 750 people registered for a recent Pitchify event in the Odeon bar, which would have been unthinkable several years ago and shows how much the mindset surrounding tech has changed.

Pauline Sargent
Owner of Social Zavvy and MD,

Digi Women

I think it’s great what Dublin Digital Masterplan is trying to achieve and it’s interesting what the Lord Mayor is trying to do. Dublin has real potential to be a global leader in the digital economy. However, more needs to be done to get women involved in the industry as there are over 18,000 jobs on offer in Ireland in the tech sector. I think Sheryl Sandberg’s book has helped women a lot and her concept of “lean in”.

In my own experience in Digi Women, we are finding more women who want to set up their own business and get involved in technology or start-ups. I think that women collaborate and network differently. What we need is a visual map that could be made available which would show people the various stages they need to go through to set up their own start-up and collate all the information. Start-ups and tech are seen as a vibrant young industry but it’s important we don’t make older people feel excluded. As a mother of two, you can feel like an outsider.

How do you make people over 30 feel like they’re a part of it? Places like the Digital Hub are great but they can be quite intimidating. A lot of ordinary people may never open the business pages of a newspaper, so it’s important to make this kind of information more accessible. It’s important that we change perceptions to ensure the industry is not seen as off limits to anyone, regardless of age or gender.


Richard Stokes
Director of innovation, Dublin City
University, and chief executive of
Invent DCU


It’s a tremendous opportunity for Dublin. However, while wifi is good in Dublin city, there are issues with 3G and 4G connectivity which is coming down the line in the wider Dublin area, such as north Dublin and Wicklow.

Enabling a digital environment requires an absolutely top class mobile network because many of the new services that consumers will access requires mobility. For the vast majority of the public who avail of mobile data services, the speed of that service is quite variable and patchy and that needs to be looked at as a priority. The enablers for driving the digital economy are public wifi and domestic broadband for business. This initiative could spearhead many of the new breakthroughs that entrepreneurs and new companies are working on.

One of the problems facing these new companies trying to expand internationally is the lack of access to test beds. If we can demonstrate that there’s a new breed of enterprising companies that can get their products adopted, tested and trialled by State agencies, then I think the Dublin Digital Masterplan can be deemed a success. The economy needs these kinds of companies and should be given the support necessary as they will provide much-needed jobs.


Conor Lynch
Chief executive,

Social Media.ie
Education is something the Dublin Digital Masterplan needs to address. In general, there does not seem to be much joined-up thinking from universities, classrooms and industry placement and onto final employment. Older people tend to have more work experience but not necessarily much digital experience.

There are huge efforts being made to fill this skills gap by a number of State agencies. We look for graduates in computer science, yet many are being taught old technologies as that is what the lecturers are familiar with, even though the technologies have moved on.

There are lots of opportunities due to the increase in digital media, but few graduates have the skills we require. I lecture business management students in NUI Maynooth and we create practical modules that will give them the skills we know employers are looking for from graduates.

Due to the challenging economic situation, there are a large amount of graduates and new arrivals to the country looking for career opportunities. The JobBridge programme offers interns to companies and we find that companies are using this to get help with digital. At SocialMedia.ie we specialise in digital and social media software and solutions for the Irish and UK markets.

In our experience as soon as we train the intern, they will leave to get a job as there is no incentive for them to stay for nine months.

Then you have a bureaucratic nightmare trying to get another one. There has to be a better strategy put in place in order to hang on to our talent.