ISA: Global Scaling in the Digital Technology Sector

Those who have been reading our articles for any length of time will know that we have taken a consistently positive and optimistic view on the prospects of the Irish economy. In particular, we strongly hold the view that the digital technology sector will be in the vanguard of bringing Ireland into a more prosperous economic era. In fact, we can’t see how it can be otherwise.

To make a serious business impact and generate real wealth over the short and medium terms there is no valid alternative. With the exception of the farming sector, (and even there, the advances being made are largely technology based) no other Irish industry or endeavour promises anything like the same return on investment in either human effort or investment capital.

The OECD’s Economic Survey of Ireland, 2011, while not necessarily sharing our rose-tinted view of the future, shows strong indications that the worst may be over and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

However, one important distinction is made very clear in the report. Foreign investment in Ireland is not the same as money earned from original Irish export capability.

One of the conclusions from the overview:

“It is essential that Ireland remains attractive for FDI [Foreign Direct Investment.] These firms account for over two-thirds of Irish exports and of business sector R&D, and have far higher productivity levels than their Irish-owned counterparts.

Ouch.

Since Ireland is neither short on talent or intellectual capability the wherewithal to respond to this challenge must lie in business operating factors such as experience in the global marketplace and knowledge on how to best present products and services.

One solution to this evident gap in performance and delivery is to have a place where leaders and decision-makers from multi-national corporations and Irish small to medium sized enterprises as well as native larger enterprises, can come and exchange ideas and knowledge.

The Irish Software Association (ISA), with over 170 member companies from across the digital technology landscape, is an organisation that has the potential to answer this need to create the necessary communication channels for the transfer of knowledge gained by experience and information.

It is an organization that is able to bring the leaders and decision-makers within the digital technology sector together.

Karl Flannery is the current Chair of the ISA. He originally joined the organization for the networking opportunities:

“Based in Galway, I didn’t have much connection with the business community and technology community in Dublin. So, I used it as a mechanism to gain access. Also, they were running some good courses like ‘Sales STAR’ and then later on, the ‘Leadership 4 Growth’ program.

According to Karl, the ISA wants to, “Bring together companies that have ambition to scale and to go global with their companies.

“We are focusing very much on the global scaling agenda and looking at how we build an eco-system of category winning, globally-scaling businesses.”

“We have built out what I call a ‘results chain,’ Which is specifically looking at what we want to do and how do we get there. The agenda is — global scaling for the member companies, and that’s it. We align that to what is unique to the ISA and on what we think the ISA can deliver.”

Networking, along with knowledge sharing and advocacy through influence are the three major parts of the work that the ISA does.

As Karl explains, “We are not focused on technology problems. It is about the long-term development of the company and getting the right competencies and skills within a company — the right connections. The value that we are offering is to the leadership within the company. We are not looking at the ISA as an organization for IT professionals.

“We are looking at it as an organization that brings the leadership together within the digital technology sector.”

One important area for the cross-pollination of ideas is the ISA’s CEO Forum.

Karl emphasizes how important it is for leaders to share thoughts in a space in an atmosphere of confidentiality. “Leaders in the digital technology centre have a mechanism to get together and have a closed door conversations. You can hear from other CEOs about what really happens on the ground when you try to do something. It is a sounding board on how to do things.”

Opportunities also exist to share ideas and knowledge and various other networking events and meetups.

The possibility for structured learning is also offered. According to Karl, the training programmes that the ISA has available are, “Extremely powerful interventions.”

One distinct advantage that an organisation with a self-selecting, paying membership, such as the ISA has, over many other initiatives to provide support to the digital technology sector, is the rapid movement of accurate, highly relevant information through the system.

Karl says this information, “Is the voice of the industry itself coming back and saying, ‘this is what we need.’ It provides a much clearer focus. It is much more action orientated.

“The ISA is the industry itself, providing input as regards what we have to do to scale the digital technology industry in Ireland. That is what we are very focused on.”

Knowing what is going on in the front lines and having a membership representative of the leadership in the digital technology sector informs another aspect of the ISA’s work. This lies in its ability to influence the government and its agencies.

A key area of activity, Karl says is, “Having the government understand the importance of the digital technology sector to the Irish economy.

“We make no apology. That is what we are trying to do.”

But it is not just government that is a target for influence.

“The banking sector, I would argue, needs to have division within it that is focused on the ICT sector. In Ireland we should see that one of the banks develops a focus on the digital technology sector and that can read and understand a profit and loss statement from that sector and one that is not just from property development.”

The dynamic character of the company leaders that makes up the membership serves to ensure that the ISA remains effective and relevant:

“The ISA is over 30 years old and has evolved several times. It is a journey about building on what we have done to date. Each Chairperson builds on what has been done to date and tries to shape it and make it relevant to the period that they are Chairperson for and looks to the longer term and where to take the ISA.”

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