A Special Report is content that is edited and produced by the Special Reports unit within The Irish Times Content Studio. It is supported by advertisers who may contribute to the report, but who do not have editorial control.

Has the pandemic fast-tracked Ireland’s digital revolution?

Service providers have had to adapt quickly and create improvements for the new virtual working space

 According to the 2020 Eurofound study, 47 per cent of Ireland’s workforce worked remotely during the height of the pandemic, the second highest in the EU. Photograph: iStock

According to the 2020 Eurofound study, 47 per cent of Ireland’s workforce worked remotely during the height of the pandemic, the second highest in the EU. Photograph: iStock

 

Even the biggest Luddites among us had to get to grips with a dizzying array of technology when the workplace went remote almost overnight last year. From remote conferencing and cloud solutions to broadband and employee relationship software, service providers quickly began innovating to improve the way we work as the pandemic accelerated the virtual working space.

Mark Higgins of Eir says there is “no doubt” the pandemic has fast-tracked Ireland’s digital revolution. Yet the speed at which businesses were forced to facilitate employees working from home brought many challenges. “Many were lacking the fundamental requirements to support remote working, including the appropriate technology, communication structures and organisational policies,” says Higgins.

According to the 2020 Eurofound study, 47 per cent of Ireland’s workforce worked remotely during the height of the pandemic, the second highest in the EU. Eir saw “massive” increases in traffic on both its mobile and fixed networks, Higgins says; “however, the network remained stable and reliable, supporting many Irish businesses through this difficult time”.

The move to virtual workspaces has brought with it new connectivity requirements and concerns, such as an increasing need for managed services like cyber security. Higgins says Eir delivers these services from an ISO-certified service operations centre in Dublin and maintains accredited partnerships with global technology brands such as Cisco. “This allows us to provide the most innovative and secure solutions to our customers,” he explains.

The move from traditional fixed line services to cloud technology has been one of the defining features of the past year but it hasn’t been a straightforward one, he notes.

“Many legacy networks are struggling with increased demand from users who require fast and easy access to an ever-growing list of cloud-based applications,” he says. A recent Eir Business survey found half of respondents agree security and compliance considerations heavily influence their decision-making process. Eir Business recently launched the number one SD-WAN offering available globally; this technology extends the corporate network to users with the same access and user experience they would have in the office, while ensuring complete security and compliance.

A seamless transition

The pandemic proved connectivity is king, says Karl Duffy, head of enterprise and public sector with Three Ireland. “We were proud to support everyone from individual customers up to the largest corporate and government entities with their connectivity needs through the pandemic.”

We may not have known it, but tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams existed pre-Covid-19, as did the essential network technology needed for all of these tools to work, Duffy says. This meant a relatively seamless transition for workers across Ireland. “It was largely a case of doing more of what we were already doing or responding to new use cases for the solutions. For example, last year we supported the HSE with remote connectivity in their testing sites around the country, and this year more optimistically we’ve supported them with connectivity in some of their vaccination centres. This is an existing solution we have but with heightened importance as a result of the pandemic.”

The group also saw a “huge” demand across its enterprise and public sector customers for 3Communicate, its SMS messaging platform; “the HSE, banks and big tech companies took this solution from us last year for employee messaging, as well as our unified communications solution 3Connect”. The rapid deployment of 3Connect for its charity partner Aware allowed the organisation to continue their work from home at a crucial time.

Remote working has also accelerated the adoption of 5G, and it has become increasingly popular among larger corporate clients wishing to offer their employees dedicated broadband while working at home. “This has proven to be a must-have for those who would otherwise be sharing wifi with the rest of their household,” Duffy notes.

Contract workers

Conor Lavelle is the marketing coordinator with CXC Global, which manages global payroll and compliance for contingent labour or contract work for organisations across the globe. He says the company has seen a significant shift in its service offering since the advent of the pandemic.

“Covid-19 saw many employees move from their country of employment and working remotely from another jurisdiction. This has thrown up many questions around tax compliance and permanent establishment. We have helped our clients ensure they are tax compliant and free from risk. We expect the growth of this service offering to grow further after the pandemic as employees look beyond the borders of their employment to live and work from,” he explains.

Lavelle expects this trend to become a permanent fixture. “Organisations now want to ‘hire anyone anywhere’ in order to access talent and take advantage of labour arbitrage opportunities across the globe. We have also seen growth in our payroll business as many businesses look to hire more contract workers. We believe this will continue as top talent moves to contract labour due to increased flexibility.”