A National Digital Strategy that aims to assist members of the public and businesses to "do more online", will be published today by Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte.
Mr Rabbitte said the digital part of the economy is growing 16 per cent per year, more than 10 times the rate of growth of the economy as a whole. Furthermore, digital contributes 4.4 per cent, or €7.1 billion, of Ireland’s GDP. So technology should be exploited to assist with economic recovery.
“Part of the recast of our economy is to grasp our digital opportunity and we’re not doing that,” he said.
The strategy aims to see the complete rollout of 100Mbps of broadband to all second-level schools in Ireland and the launch of an awareness campaign to show members of the public the benefits of internet engagement. It will also provide supports to traditional enterprises to help them realise the full opportunities of online trade and transactions.
Mr Rabbitte said Ireland's success as a high-tech economy is well publicised. Yet for a variety of reasons the push to get the Irish economy and its citizens online still lags behind its potential.
He said up-skilling students to the highest standards of ICT and digital media and encouraging people who don’t use the internet to embrace the possibilities of digital online will serve to grow the digital economy and promote greater inclusiveness in our society.
The strategy aims to secure more citizen engagement, to empower members of the public to engage with the internet to reduce social isolation, address a work-life balance, save money and participate in community and business activities that they could not otherwise access.
More than half a million Irish people have never used the internet and Mr Rabbitte said a lack of digital skills among citizens has been a major barrier to them using the internet.
As a result, a BeneIT training grants scheme will be introduced to fund digital skills training.
The aim of the strategy is to reduce the number of people of who haven’t used the internet by half over the next 2.5 years.
Less than a quarter of small companies in Ireland are selling online. Against this backdrop, Irish consumers spent about €3.7 billion online last year, with 70 per cent of that spend going out of the country. Furthermore, at least 30,000 Irish businesses do not trade online.
Mr Rabbitte said the trend towards increasing online spending represents a real challenge for Irish businesses as just 23 per cent of small companies use ecommerce. This proportion could be even less for SMEs with less than 10 employees.
The strategy aims to get 10,000 Irish businesses online for the first time and 2,000 businesses trading online with the introduction of “trade online” vouchers and a “Winning with Web” awareness scheme. The vouchers are valued at up to €2,500 and can be redeemed against the cost of establishing an online presence.
“The evidence we have is that small companies grow twice as fast and employ twice as many people if they exploit technology,” Mr Rabbitte said.
The strategy will also examine international experiences in maximising opportunities of a digital society, with particular focus on countries that have excelled in this area such as Singapore and South Korea.
What the National Digital Strategy means for trading online and entrepreneurship
To get 10,000 Irish businesses online for the first time and to get a further 2,000 Irish SMEs trading online over a period of two years, the Government will introduce a “trade-online” voucher scheme as part of the National Digital Strategy.
At present tens of thousands of companies in Ireland do not trade online, with statistics showing just 23 per cent of small companies are engaged in ecommerce sales. These companies are potentially losing valuable opportunities including larger markets, increased revenue and better market intelligence.
The vouchers, which will be capped at €2,500, will be available to small businesses wishing to develop a website or their online trading presence, or to engage in ebanking.
The business owner will need to match the voucher amount received.
The strategy will also involve a “Winning with Web” awareness scheme to highlight the benefits of trading online.
What the National Digital Strategy means for education and elearning
To utilise ICT to its full potential across the education system, including the use of the internet in learning, the National Digital Strategy will see the completion of the rollout of 100mb to all post-primary schools by summer 2014.
It is hoped access to online educational media will allow schools to share resources, access global teaching aids, help students learn new skills, and engage students more deeply through the use of online interactive content.
In the area of further education, ICT courses will feature prominently within the Back to Education initiative, which provides funding for part-time learning opportunities for adults. Other actions under the education and elearning section of the strategy include a new framework for junior cycle in which ICT plays a role, the development of a new ICT strategy for schools, and peer-to-peer teacher supports including “Switch On” exemplar workshops.
What the strategy means for more citizen engagement
Almost one in five Irish adults (577,200) have never used the internet. This figure rises to more than half of those aged 60-74 which have never used the internet.
Against this backdrop, the National Digital Strategy will introduce an awareness campaign to convey to members of the public what they can do online, and how they can benefit from digital engagement.
By 2016 it is hoped the number of people who have not yet engaged with the internet will be halved. Funding of €1.4 million will also be provided this year under a new BenefIT grants scheme for training for 24,000 citizens.
The training aims to show the public how to book flights online, send emails, conduct banking online and use TV playback facilities. An online mapping resource to identify digital skill learning opportunities will be developed.