Barry O’Sullivan: “Technology, by Definition, is about the Future”

Barry O’Sullivan is the Senior Vice President, Voice Technology Group at Cisco. He has been running his $2 billion division out of Galway, Ireland for the last three years and recorded 20% growth in the most recent of those. For example, as reported previously, a great deal of the work on Cisco Quad was done in Galway.

The first question that we put to Barry was ‘why Ireland?’: “I think that Ireland has what a lot of the more developing economies don’t have yet and that is a strong pool of experienced technology leaders. Managers who know how to recruit, who know how to deliver programs, and who know how to work with global organizations.

“You can’t teach it, you have to live it and work it. We have got managers here who have worked for HP, Nortel, Apple and Intel. They have learned their trade that way. They know how to work with global companies, they know how to build teams, and they know how to deliver products on time with quality. That’s priceless.

“What it means is that you can go and get some of those people and build teams around them. It is harder the other way around with loads of graduates and none of them leaders.

“We are quite pleased with the quality of the graduates coming out of universities. We are quite pleased with the immigration policies around tech graduates so we can bring people in. Galway is a great place to live for young people, so it is a good formula.

Cisco is one of the quintessential technology companies of the last few decades. Started by a husband and wife team in 1984 at Stanford, it now has annual revenues of $40 billion dollars and employs over 70,000 people.

But Cisco has its eyes firmly on the road ahead. As Barry says, “Technology, by definition, is about the future. Today’s technology in five years is not something that we are going to think of as technology but as something that is in the past.

“To the extent that you are in high tech then you are always in the next big thing. That means continued investment in research and things like Science Foundation Ireland. That is huge and it is going to pay off down the road. You can’t always see the path where it is going to pay off but it is going to pay off.”

To precipitate this growth for the future Barry recommends, “A continued focus on education. Particularly maths education from primary through secondary and so on. Create that Petri dish where we have the ingredients to get a few big hits in terms of home-grown companies.”

Cisco is not working in isolation in Ireland. It is only too willing to take advantage of the ‘cluster effect’ — the geographic assemblage of companies and academic research working in similar fields.

Barry explains, “The other thing that made Galway particularly attractive for us is some of the work that is going on in Semantic Web at NUIG DERI.

“If you think of the technologies that are going to change the Internet then the Semantic Web is going to be one of them. We are working with DERI and brought some of that technology into Quad for example.

“That is Science Foundation Ireland-funded and supported. You see the virtuous circle that has been created. If they hadn’t invested in DERI would this product be coming out of Ireland? Would this cooperation be going back into DERI?

“So this is one of the core locations for this technology and hopefully it will keep increasing.”

On the issue of where and how Irish technology should position itself Barry is unequivocal. “I do think that Irish people are very creative and that is one of the ingredients to be successful in technology and to build a great technology company. It is necessary but not sufficient.

“You are not going to build a great global company if you sit in Dublin or Galway.

“Silicon Valley is the center of the tech world… think of all the great companies that have been started in the last twenty-five years, the last ten years, the last five years and where they come from – it’s Silicon Valley because it has that set of magic ingredients.

“I think the Israelis have done a good job on that. Most of the ideas start in Israel, most of the work is done in Israel, but very often the magic ingredients to make the company happen are done in Silicon Valley, and that is a good model for Irish companies as well.

“What they expect in Silicon Valley is smart people with smart ideas. So, for any Irish tech company you need that Silicon Valley presence. That’s where it happens.”

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