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Monday 19 October 2009

Innovation Task Force - consultation meeting

I flew back from Silicon Valley last night on the Aer Lingus redeye to make a consultation meeting this morning of the Innovation Taskforce at Government Buildings in Dublin.   There were some ITLG folks on the flight,  heading up to their event in Belfast on wednesday.   The taskforce meeting started at 9.30am,  but I arrived a little late straight from the airport just after 10am.

Saturday 17 October 2009

Slideset for "An Irish Smart Economy: Aspiration or Reality ?"

COMREG have posted my powerpoint slideset from this talk last tuesday,  here

Tuesday 13 October 2009

An Irish Smart Economy: Aspiration or Reality ?

The text below is from an invited talk I gave this morning to the COMREG (the Irish Communications Regulator) annual conference in Dublin.

It was deliberately a little provocative,  to catalyse discussion in the audience.

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Engineers Ireland

Just a short reminder that I'm running a parallel blog to diary my work this year as President of Engineers Ireland - quite busy and an awful lot going on ;-)   Hope to put some more thoughts here in this blog when I eventually get a chance :-)

Friday 25 September 2009

Innovation Taskforce - second plenary meeting

We had our second plenary Innovation Taskforce meeting today in Government buildings, from 9.30am-5pm. I reported on the first here.

The meeting today was chaired by Dermot McCarthy (Secretary General Dept. of Taoiseach). No Minister, junior nor senior, attended on this occasion. The CEOs of Enterprise Ireland (Frank Ryan), the IDA (Barry O'Leary), SFI (Frank Gannon) all attended, together with the Chair of the HEA (Michael Kelly). The Secretary General of Dept Education and Science attended (Bridget McManus) but not the Secretary General of the Dept. Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Sean Gorman) who had attended the first meeting.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Irish Technology Exits 2000-2009

As part of the work for the Innovation Taskforce, I was interested to see a survey of all Irish technology related companies since the start of the decade.

I tweeted #itaskforce and asked whether anyone had seen one. Joe Drumgoole, a friend of long standing, was kind enough to share a list which he had put together, although his list is primarily ICT companies and excludes the life sciences. A few other people also kindly replied to my tweet with data for some specific companies.

The Irish Venture Capital Association have some excellent data on their web site on venture deals closed in Ireland, and update these on a quarterly basis since the start of 2008. Sadly however, they admitted to me this morning that the IVCA does not itself routinely collect exit data and valuations.

I have approached Enterprise Ireland to see whether they have comprehensive data, and are in discussions with them.

In the interim, I used Joe's data as a starting point and then did a web trawl myself. I also searched the CRO to find each company's start date, so that the age of the company at its exit could be found. My data and list are here as a .pdf file.

Saturday 18 July 2009

Innovation Task Force - first meeting

The first meeting of the Taoiseach's Innovation Taskforce took place yesterday at Government Buildings from 10am to about 4.30pm.

As has been noted elsewhere, the taskforce is relatively large. There are representatives of various Government agencies and Departments, and the presidents of TCD and UCD. In addition there are a number of individuals who collectively have personal experience in innovation, enterpreneurship, start-ups, multinationals, academia, and venture financing. The taskforce is chaired by Dermot McCarthy, Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Astrologists call for less funding of the pure sciences and more funding for astrology

As our economic recession deepens, leading astrologists are lobbying to have their profession revered by the Irish public and policy officials. Since astrologists have predicted 24 of the last 3 solar eclipses, they clearly could play a major role in influencing Irish enterprise strategy and policy.

In the light of some astrologists incorrect conjectures in 2008 that the Irish economy would have a soft landing from the global downturn, it has emerged that in fact a range of alternative predictions for the recovery or otherwise of the economy were actually made by their colleagues: a U-shaped recovery, a V-shaped recovery, an L-shaped stagnation, a W-shaped double bounce, an O-shaped Groundhog-day stasis, and an I-shaped off-the-cliff collapse. Astrology therefore clearly has the ability to predict any specific actual outcome.

Friday 3 July 2009

Engineering Engineers

Posted my talk this afternoon at the Engineering in Context symposium here.

Its main focus is the impact of the internet on education and teaching; and the role of mentoring and coaching by professional engineers to young engineers.

Sunday 14 June 2009

Engineers Ireland - new blog

Just a note to say that I've started a new blog specifically devoted to the next 12 months as President of Engineers Ireland.

I'll keep this blog for musings, opinion pieces etc, of a more general nature....

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Boxing above your weight

I reproduce below an invited keynote talk which I gave this morning at a seminar organised the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre in University College Cork, on the general topic of entrepreneurship and start-ups.


Exactly twenty years ago, American Airlines and Hewlett-Packard Corporation took an initiative in the global software industry to interconnect distributed software applications. The initiative rapidly gained momentum, with all major software suppliers - with the sole exception of Microsoft - quickly joining. Yet by 1996, a small company from Ireland, IONA Technologies, was a widely recognised world leading supplier of products to interconnect distributed software applications, ahead of such major vendors as IBM, Oracle, HP, Microsoft, Digital and Sun. As a result, IONA had major customer contracts with companies such as Motorola, Boeing, Goldman Sachs, Lufthansa and Hong Kong Telecom. How can a relatively small player punch way above its weight ?

Friday 29 May 2009

Engineers Ireland: my start to my Presidential Year

I was approached by John McGowan, former President of Engineers Ireland, back in 2007 and asked "Chris I know you're very busy right now, but what will you be doing in two years time ?". So, I signed up to be put into the pipeline of Presidents for Engineers Ireland, and last night my twelve months started. Martin Lowery (ex IDA and Coilte) will take over from me this time next year, with PJ Rudden (MC O'Sullivan, Bord Gais and now RPS) takes over from Martin in two years time.

I attach below the inaugural speech which I gave last night at the headquarters of Engineers Ireland. Apologies for the length! The main points are:
  • Thanking my colleagues.
  • Innovation now being Ireland's highest strategic priority: in my view, innovation is rather different from invention, and is also not limited to scientific and technology discovery.
  • Regret that the national transition year scheme appears to be being diminished, since it will reduce discovery, innovation and team work with our young people.
  • Engineers Ireland to take an initiative on the teaching of higher level mathematics, applied mathematics and pure sciences in our schools.
  • Increasing Engineers Ireland's recent initiatives to assist unemployed Members.
  • Opening up Engineers Ireland to a much broader membership:
    • Opening up full membership of Engineers Ireland to ordinary bachelors degree (level 7) graduates of accredited engineering courses, in addition to honours bachelor degree (level 8) as at present;
    • Opening up full membership of Engineers Ireland to level 7 and level 8 graduates from "cognate" courses in mathematics and sciences, provided that the individual is in practice working in an engineering discipline.
  • Chartered Engineering status for graduates from 2013 will require masters (level 9) education, or demonstrated experience equivalent to masters level.
  • Encouraging and frankly expecting most, if not all, faculty members of universities and institutes of technology to become Members of Engineers Ireland, and ideally Chartered Engineers.
  • Engineering is an altruistic profession, serving society. Engineers have a duty to articulate concerns about the safety, health and welfare of society
  • Engineers in Ireland today have concerns over infrastructure issues relating to water, broadband, roads maintenance, and strategic vulnerability of national electricity supplies and grid, amongst other issues.
  • Activities in Ireland in any engineering discipline - such as civil, mechanical, electrical, bio-medical, software, petrochemical... - which impact, or could impact, the safety, health and welfare of individuals or society should be regulated so that approval is required by a Chartered Engineer. Engineers Ireland will push for regulation, and may in the short term initiate a voluntary disclosure and public register of projects which have been duly approved.
  • Ireland has suffered severely from governance failures in various sectors. Engineers Ireland already has a strong code of ethics. There is currently no national embracing legislation for good faith reporting. Members who in good faith report concerns about their employer or client, or even another Member, concerning the safety, health and welfare of individuals or society, and who subsequently feel inadequate action was taken or even worse that they were sanctioned, can bring this to the attention of Engineers Ireland which will if necessary defend such a Member.
The full text follows:

Saturday 23 May 2009

Ireland must remember

Earlier this month, the Pope Benedict XVI visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. He said the suffering of Holocaust victims must never be denied, belittled or forgotten. As a child, Pope Benedict grew up in Nazi Germany, and joined the Hitler Youth as was expected of young people at the time. The role of some of the Christian Churches in Germany and in their occupied territories during the Second World War in the holocaust has always been a painful and shameful memory.

In 2008, I visited Rwanda and blogged about my trip. On my first morning, I visited the Kigali Memorial Centre and was particularly saddened by the stories and personal tragedies which children suffered. Some of their testimonies and memories, with photographs, clothing, tools used for maiming and murder, and other mementos are there for us to absorb and to try to understand. The Centre also has a section on genocides which have occurred elsewhere in the world, including those during the Second World War.

This week in Ireland, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was published, receiving widespread international coverage as well as domestic revulsion.

Jim Cooke: a quiet Irish hero

I attended the third annual conference Science, Engineering Communications and Outreach conference earlier this week at Engineers Ireland. As incoming President of EI next week, I had the privilege of presenting the annual award for Science, Engineering and Technology Awareness to Jim Cooke.

I had not met Jim before, but had heard of his remarkable work. Jim has been a physics and mathematics teacher at the Christian Brothers School in Synge Street, in Dublin city centre, for over 40 years. He also reintroduced the teaching of Applied Mathematics at the school, after it had been absent from the school curriculum for a very long time.

Saturday 16 May 2009

Will the real You please identify yourself ?

It's election time again in Ireland folks, and so roll up and vote for your favourite European MP, local county councillor and, if you're lucky, by-election TD.

It can be a tough choice. Unless you really know somebody well, you don't really know their values, their ethics and their objectives. Is the candidate whom you see arguing in a heated TV interview or debate really like that in real life ? Does that manifesto really reflect the candidate's beliefs ? Is that opinion piece really what that politician thinks ?

Social networks provide political candidates with yet further channels to reach the electorate. Despite the popularity of Facebook, Bebo, Twitter and others here in Ireland, remarkably few of the Irish politicians appear to have embraced the medium. Obama set the gold standard during the US Presidential campaign. But for me, the challenge of the internet is confirming the authenticity of what is presented.

Impersonation and fooling the public is a popular theme in the movies for a very long time. The Prisoner of Zenda presents a mere commoner to impersonate his distant relative and the true would-be king when the latter is kidnapped before his coronation. The Great Impersonation provides a complicated web of intrigue. Kagemusha tells the story of a mere thief posing as a deceased Japanese warlord.

For the Irish public, and I suspect elsewhere, ghost-writing of articles and opinions on behalf of politicians is not uncommon. I have little doubt that a political candidate may argue that given the pressure of work, it makes sense to have someone else - especially a PR specialist - to spin a particular issue in favour of the chosen position of the candidate. With the advent of some political blogs from Irish politicians - including in one or two cases blogs which have only very recently suddenly popped up in the run up to the imminent elections - no doubt the temptation is there to sub-contract the authorship and content of the blog to an appropriately supportive ghost-blogger. Social networking contributions may equally be vulnerable to ghost-submitters working on behalf of a particular candidate.

It therefore is often challenging to read a political blog, or a political social network entry, or a political tweet, and know that whatever is said is actually said by the attributed politician. Perhaps some may feel that my observation is irrelevant: as long as the content is accurately ghost-written to reflect a candidate's true position, and their character and their personality, does it matter ? Maybe I am old fashioned, but actually I believe yes it does matter: if something is written by a named author, then I - naively - expect that that author actually wrote the piece. I am also naturally very happy to read something written on behalf of a politician by some third party who is not a ghost, but openly declares their authorship.

If ghost-contributions on the internet are supposed to be acceptable to the public, then is impersonation also acceptable ?

We laugh when we see comical impersonations of politicians: Tina Fey's impersonation of Sarah Palin comes to mind. But is it OK to laugh when a politician's views are impersonated in a tweet or blog or social network contribution ? If it is OK to be fooled by a ghost writer acting on behalf of a politician, then is it also OK to be fooled by a troll writer undermining a politician ?

Remarkably few of the Irish politicians and candidates have a web presence. Irish politicians and candidates are therefore vulnerable to having their web identity obtained by someone else. It would be all too easy for a well known politician to apparently start not only blogging, but to start socially commenting and tweeting. It is a particular risk for senior politicians, since their views are widely followed including by international media. And if some of the media are lazy in verifying web sources, such as a wikipedia quote from the deceased Maurice Jarre which in fact was invented from UCD student Shane Fitzgerald, then surely our senior politicians are very vulnerable indeed ?

The is of course the law of defamation. But a week can be a very long time in politics, and a defamatory comment (or tweet or blog or social comment) incorrectly attributed to a politician could cause significant political damage, even if the real author was eventually tracked down after lengthy forensic work, possibly over international boundaries, and perhaps ultimately brought to court in some jurisdiction. The political cat would be out of the bag well before then, and the political damage well caused before the author was found.

What if a (apparent) senior politician started tweeting on what "really" was said at important meetings ? Like when Mary Coughlan and Willie O'Dea went to Michael Dell ? Or what Brian Lenihan said about the prospects of an early general election to international bond investors ? Or what Brian Cowen said to Angela Merkel in Berlin on the Lisbon Treaty ?

The web, and particularly the social web, is a wonderful opportunity for politicians to reach out in a very sincere way to the electorate. But it is also potentially a very dangerous tool by which a politician could be severely undermined by opponents or even by naive cynics.

I believe that politicians ignore the web at an extreme peril. They should go out of their way to claim their identities on the web as a matter of urgency, and be brave enough to then use it honestly and ethically to the electorate.