Ireland’s Digital Future will be a Game Changer by PJ Rudden

The UCD Engineering Graduates Association (UCD EGA) hosted its 2015 Autumn Panel Discussion entitled ‘What will the Digital Future mean for Ireland?’.

A star line-up of speakers included SEAI CEO Dr Brian Motorway as Keynote Speaker, along with Vodafone CEO Anne O’Leary, Google Vice President Europe Middle East Asia Ronan Harris, IBM Research Director Dr Eleni Pratsini and Investment Director Atlantic Bridge Capital Dr Helen McBreen.

Mr. PJ Rudden, President, UCD EGA and Group Business Director for the RPS Group provides a window in to the event.

“We are moving from the Age of Carbon to the Age of Silicon” stated Dr Brian Motherway CEO of Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. The UCD Engineering Graduates Association Autumn Panel Discussion also heard from Vodafone CEO Anne O’Leary, Google Vice President (EMEA) and CEO Ireland Ronan Harris, IBM Research Director Dr Eleni Pratsini and Atlantic Bridge Investment Director Dr Helen McBreen.

‘There will be 80 billion devices in the world by 2020 in our homes, pockets, businesses – not only iPhones but iKettles and iToothbrushes. We will move from the ‘power of capital’ to the ‘power of knowledge’ with all the intellectual property implications that will bring’ added Brian Motherway.

‘On sustainability, we spend €6.7 billion each year on the import of fossil fuels which is some 89% of our energy costs. What is the biggest environmental challenge on the planet – climate change – is going to become the biggest social challenge we have ever faced. Ireland has one of the largest carbon emissions of greenhouse gases per capita in the world.

On Education, Anne O’Leary CEO Vodafone stated ‘the classroom will be transformed by Internet enabled devices replacing textbooks but they can’t replace teachers as the primary source of learning. Learning analytics will allow teachers to monitor teacher outcomes. Access to numerous resources on the Internet for teachers will allow teachers the opportunity to increase their skills.

L to R: PJ Rudden UCD EGA President, Prof David Fitzpatrick Dean of Engineering, Anne O’ Leary CEO Vodafone Ireland, Ronan Harris Vice President Google EMEA, Dr Helen McBreen, Investment Director Atlantic Bridge, Prof Orla Feely UCD Vice President & Dr Brian Motherway CEO SEAI
L to R: PJ Rudden UCD EGA President, Prof David Fitzpatrick Dean of Engineering, Anne O’ Leary CEO Vodafone Ireland, Ronan Harris Vice President Google EMEA, Dr Helen McBreen, Investment Director Atlantic Bridge, Prof Orla Feely UCD Vice President & Dr Brian Motherway CEO SEAI

We must not however allow the digital classroom to become impersonal. Education is as much about social and cultural as it is about course content. We also should not seek to suppress body language and peer to peer learning which remain integral to the educational process. It must not demote the role of the teacher in the classroom. As Bill Gates said, technology is just a tool but in terms of getting the kids to work together and motivating them the teacher is the most important.’

‘On Healthcare, the digital economy will bring remote treatment to patients at home and thus avoid overcrowding in hospitals. We have a lot of problems in the Irish health system while the Digital Future will help us navigate this perfect storm. It will bring world class healthcare to peripheral areas through ehealth systems. Connectivity will allow for remote monitoring and diagnosis so that hospitals become a last resort rather than the first port of call’.

A major challenge to Ireland’s Digital Future is inclusivity Anne stated. ‘In my view it must be a shared future as innovation can often widen the gap between urban and rural rather than narrow it. There is the potential to have a two speed Ireland across urban and rural which we must avoid. Rapid innovation has the potential to leave people behind. In my mind Ireland cannot afford to have a digital divide to further increase the divisions already created by the economic turmoil of the past number of years’.

‘There is one Ireland which is the poster boy of economic rebound and another Ireland which still bears the scars of economic crisis and poor access to credit. There is therefore the danger of two Irelands unless there is access to universal high speed broadband to all homes and businesses. Connectivity is the key to consistent economic recovery across Ireland. Vodafone and ESB are partnering to provide ‘fibre to the home’ which is 4 times faster than what is currently available.’

Ronan Harris who now runs the Irish Google operation and is Vice President Europe Middle East and Asia talked of the primitive digital world when he was a UCD engineering student in the early 90s. ‘Convergence only happened in the UCD bar and search engines only had two feet venturing into the UCD library!’ he said.

Now Google technology particles can now be injected into your blood cells which can monitor your health and wellbeing transmitted to a ‘wearable’ and then transmitted to the cloud.

‘In UCD I learned Moore’s Law and other laws that define the digital transformation. We are only at the dawn of this transformation and innovation, only starting to get a glimpse of what the day ahead looks like and the next 20 years will bring huge changes. These changes will be driven by computer technology, connectivity and storage’.

‘We are looking at technologies that would not have been possible 5 years ago. Google can use large ‘Lunar Balloons’ 19km into stratosphere to provide access to Internet at low cost in remote rural areas not previously capable of being served e.g. Africa, Asia and South America’ he concluded.

Dr Eleni Pratsini leads the IBM Research Lab in Dublin working on Smart Cities. ‘One third of food is wasted across the world while others starve. Europe wastes 20% of energy due to inefficiencies. The US wastes 58% of their energy produced. Water wastage varies from 5% in Northern Europe to over 30% in Ireland and 60% in some US States. The number of cars will double from 2010 to 2020’ she stated.

‘70% of people will live in cities by 2020. By 2020 an extra billion citizens will be middle class. By 2025 the top 600 cities will account for 25% of global population and 60% of global GDP.

Can you imagine life without a smart phone? We have 35% penetration of mobile devices in Ireland currently expected to increase to 50% by 2020. 90% of data was collected in the past 2 years and some 90% of collected data is never used or analysed!

IBM have examples of close collaboration with cities in the case of the current Dublin City Council – relationship especially in the transport and traffic area.

IBM have also working with UCD on collaboration consumption or the ‘sharing economy’ on electric cars, parking etc. e.g. GoCar. Cars can be idle 90% of the time so can we not use them more efficiently and more collaboratively?’ she concluded.

Dr Helen McBreen of Atlantic Bridge Capital looked at Ireland entrepreneurial spirit. She puts an investors lens on People, Technologies and Markets.

‘80% of the world’s digital investment deals happen in Silicon Valley as the principal world investment hub in California USA. That led to the formation of Atlantic Bridge Capital to ‘bridge’ Silicon Valley to Europe headquartered in Dublin. ‘We have $450 million under management across offices in Dublin, Silicon Valley, London, Beijing and Hong Kong’ she said.

‘Entrepreneurs will have a deep curiosity and will search and search to get to the root of the problems. These are particularly in global challenges like Healthcare, Climate Change, Education, Energy and Computing.

We challenge the traditional way of doing business. Yet in this business there are more often failures than there are successes. That’s why there is a star quality to the profession of entrepreneurs who eventually succeed.

These people look for sustainable growth. They produce products that people want to purchase over and over again. The dynamics of the venture capital asset class are a little strange. We look for decent valuations, disruptive technologies so we seek entrepreneurs who can build businesses of scale in a short timeframe.

The technologies that we seek are disruptive becoming cheaper and faster e.g. drones and robots’.

UCD Vice President Prof Orla Feely thanked the speakers stating that UCD are mobilising in all of the important areas mentioned like Big Data and Internet of Things and also in Agrifood, Energy and Environment and Health sectors all of whom interact with the ICT team to provide creative solutions to global problems. These in turn interact with UCD’s strengths in Humanities and Social Sciences and with our Industrial Partners.

PJ Rudden is President of UCD Engineering Graduates Association, former President of Engineers Ireland and currently Director of RPS Group in Ireland.

For a fuller account see link to blog and video and