Irish IT success story
THREE DECADES ago, when Ireland changed its approach to economic development, it started the task fully aware that it was in for a long-haul. From the protected economy it was during the 1930s to the visible poverty in the 1960s, the country's economy was constrained further by contracting domestic markets. That was when the `path to progress' was charted out.
Today, Ireland prides itself of having one of the best performing economies in Europe. Along the way came its joining the European community in 1973.
The integration with the European Union, with its advantage of structural funding to the tune of 45 billion euros meant that much of the problem relating to finding resources was solved. The priorities set by the country towards investments in sectors that were of long-term consequence however, was a continuation along the path charted earlier.
Now, three decades since those initial steps were taken to put the Irish economy, the single-largest gainer from the changes has been the domestic software industry. Virtually non-existent some years ago, Ireland's software industry is today the world's largest exporter.
One of the principles behind the quasi-Governmental organisation, Enterprise Ireland, is "to grow Irish owned companies.'' The effort has been a special success in the software industry. Even a decade ago there was no indigenous Irish presence in the software industry. Today, however, the 500-plus companies employ close to 15,000 employees and earns a billion euros as revenues. In addition is the impressive line-up of the presence of multinationals, including Dell and Microsoft, to name just a couple.
In a way, the Irish software industry is `comfortable in the high-end' and that is what distinguishes it from its Indian counterparts. One of the several consequences of its presence in the product segment, rather than the out-sourcing segment, has not been just greater spin-offs, but a relatively lower level of job-losses from closures. Some of the better-known Irish software products include those from Trintech for e-payments and security, Iona Tech (middleware products), Riverdeep (educational software) and Baltimore (encryption for digital security).
A direct question that flows from the strong Irish presence on possibilities of collaboration with India, however, receives a none-too-encouraging reply. "The Indian focus is more on outsourcing,'' said an industry representative to visiting journalists recently in Dublin. "We are looking for products, while the Indian industry looks for outsourcing opportunities. There is a mismatch of expectations.'' One possible area of collaboration which will take both countries to a higher level of presence in the global software industry would be joint efforts for third countries. Ireland already is looking at addressing the issues of the future in the software industry. With labour shortages not as pronounced as they were two years ago, there is unlikely to be an immediate requirement.
However, as Katheryn Raleigh of the Irish Software Industry explained, there "is a decline in the inflow of students'' for the technically-oriented courses. This would mean that steps would have to be taken to revive the student-interest in areas such as computing.
Indian software professionals have made a modest presence in Ireland, but on the issue of immigration, Ms. Raleigh was of the view that "there will always be a requirement for qualified people.'' especially those with strong international sales background, specific technical qualifications combined with good experience and high value-added jobs.
The inherent mismatch of expectations between the Irish and the Indian software industries apart, the recent global economic downturn also did not help much. Official efforts to forge a relationship between the two software industries are likely to receive greater attention during the scheduled visit of the Indian President, K.R. Narayanan to Ireland in May.
V. S. Sambandan
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