Episode #9: Apps-tention

Hosts: John Breslin, Tom Murphy and Fergal Gallagher.
Special guest: Jack Harty

News on tax breaks for startups from our New York correspondent. Show also includes discussion on Trustev, Carplay, Pebble, WhatsApp, Microsoft, Project Siena, GoldieBlox, Tether Cell, Blackphone and Phonebloks.

Download or subscribe to this show at technologyvoice.com/show.

Technology Voice is brought to you by Cinema Listings Ireland, available now from the Google Play store.

Running time: 60:00

00’10” Introduction
01’05” FlirtFM Acknowledgement
01’22” Fergal Gallagher in New York http://startup.ny.gov/
08’53” Rochester Institue of Technology
10’10” Capital Gains Tax Ireland
11’10” Shutterstock
11’45” Trustev
13’10” Carplay
16’00” Apps-tention
17’53” Pebble
18’30” WhatsApp
26’05” Stephen Howell: Academic Engagement Manager at Microsoft
30’10” Project Siena
32’06” Jack Harty
51’10” Cool Tech
Tether Cell
52’43” Blackphone
54’21” Phonebloks
56’04” Outro
56’42” End
60’00” End of Music.

Special thanks to Flirt FM http://www.flirtfm.ie
Intro/outro music is “Alone But Not Lonely” by Stefan Ternemar http://archive.org/details/mtk121
Queries and suggestions to editor@technologyvoice.com
Visit our website at http://technologyvoice.com
Follow us on Twitter @technologyvoice http://twitter.com/technologyvoice

Episode #8: Wearables, Wifi & Wii U

Hosts: John Breslin, Marie Boran and Tom Murphy.

Facebook response to Princeton, Google acquisitions, DeepMind, Nest Technologies, iRobot, Internet of Things, Google[x] Loon, Nintendo Wii U, Samsung, Android, Eurapp, Startup Galway, Startup Digest,
Entrepreneur of the Year, Engineer’s Week, Apps4gaps, Apple 1984, CES – Wearable Devices, and Shimmer

Download or subscribe to this show at technologyvoice.com/show.

For additional show notes, visit the full page for this episode.

Technology Voice is brought to you by Cinema Listings Ireland, available now from the Google Play store.

Running time: 48:47

00’09” Introduction
01’18” Acknowledgement: FlirtFM
01’46” Facebook response to Princeton
08’41” Google acquisitions
08’50” DeepMind http://deepmind.com
10’25” Nest Technologies https://nest.com
12’50” iRobot http://www.irobot.com/global/ga-ie/
14’15” Internet of Things
15’50” Google[x] Loon http://www.google.com/loon/
18’42” Nintendo Wii U http://www.nintendo.com/wiiu
22’55” Samsung http://www.samsung.com/ie/#latest-home
24’35” Android
25’16” Privacy & apps
26’33” Eurapp http://eurapp.eu
30’49” Startup Galway http://startupgalway.org
32’33” Startup Digest https://www.startupdigest.com/digests/galway
33’00” Upcoming Events
33’04” Ernest & Young, EoY http://www.eoy.ie
33’25” Engineer’s Week http://www.engineersweek.ie/events-2014/
33’53” Apps4gaps http://www.apps4gaps.ie
38’38” Apple 1984
42’30” CES – Wearable devices
47’47” Shimmer http://www.shimmersensing.com
48’47” End

Special thanks to Flirt FM http://www.flirtfm.ie
Intro/outro music is “Alone But Not Lonely” by Stefan Ternemar http://archive.org/details/mtk121
Queries and suggestions to editor@technologyvoice.com
Visit our website at http://technologyvoice.com
Follow us on Twitter @technologyvoice http://twitter.com/technologyvoice

World Backup Day

For the third year running we have World Backup Day. A simple idea originally posited on Reddit and one that we all know makes sense. Nobody wants to wake up a fool on April Fool’s Day.

Not much to say on the matter really that people don’t already know and have usually learned the hard way. So, lick the last of the Easter egg chocolate off your fingers on the Bank Holiday weekend. Go plug in your external hard drive or connect to your Cloud storage service of choice and transfer away.

I backup to both a local hard drive and a number of cloud based services. I use Dropbox, Amazon, Skydrive and Google Docs for two reasons.

One is that the free tiers of these services don’t offer enough space for everything so I have to split storage up, usually by category.

And two, I am still uneasy about committing a) really personal stuff or b) really valuable stuff to folks who whose business is to make money out of people’s personal likes and dislikes.

I refer to them collectively as my Cloudbase to remind myself of my view of the operators as having the possibility of being got at by the Mysterons.

But whether it is a hard disk in front of me or somewhere out there in Serverland be sure to keep your data safe.

Personal story: I lost all the pictures of my son both as a new born and over the following first week of his life due to my laptop going kaput. Ten years later and the memory of discovering their disappearance still sickens. (Mercifully, I shared a few copies with relatives which I had hard copied in those pre-Facebook days but that only amounts to three photographs.)

An Irish Smartphone – Why Not?

Plato wrote about Socrates wandering around Athens questioning assumptions and challenging complacent thinking and conventionally held views. (It didn’t end well.) Over the last few months in my own very minor way I have been wandering around asking myself and the odd person here and there — Is it possible to build an Irish smartphone?

It wasn’t a survey where I had people ticking boxes. It was just an idea I floated into the conversation every now and then. I was curious to know whether others, or even I, thought it could or couldn’t be done.

The engineering knowledge already exists to build a smartphone. All the hard grind has been done. Although, it is still by no means an easy task — if you take a few minutes to watch John Breslin’s video, “Lecture 2: Systems, Plugged In” you can’t help but marvel at the amount of things that have to happen in such a tiny space and the nature of the components needed — but it is a knowable task.

Aside from resolving patent issues, either by licensing or innovation, there are no major R&D costs. Manufacturing is undoubtedly a challenge but there are companies around the world that specialize in the volume production of the needed components. Assembly tends to be handled separately from manufacture and the location for that part of the process is determined mostly by labour costs and access to transport.

So making an Irish smartphone, while difficult and challenging, is far from impossible. There are no wheels to invent.

But that is just the fabrication of the smartphone. We now have this great device made of the finest materials able to run the software apps that most users would use frequently, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. (What apps do you use? Let us know at podcast@technologyvoice.com. I am very curious now that I have brought the subject up. The Podcast app gets the most use on my phone.)

The next stage is to sell it.

The first step of getting the device into a customer’s hand is to tell them that you have it in the first place so it has to be marketed.

Oh, goodness, not that black box of nonsense.

Marketing seems to be an anathema to many of those who think of themselves as practical sorts who deal daily with quantitive realities. After all it took an extraordinary amount of very hard, concrete thinking and experimentation to make the device a reality, introducing intangible and unquantifiable attributes such as branding and the creation of customer desire for the product seems like being dropped into a room full of smoke and mirrors with only magical thinking to guide you to the exit.

This is a terrible, self-defeating error. Marketing is not something separate to innovation and development. It is just as integral to the process of making ideas a reality as the first sketch on a napkin or in notebook.

So, as makers of a device that has the same quality standards and functionality as any other smartphone out there, but lovelier to look at and easier to use, we now have to get into the hands of customers.

First of all would they want it? Well we know the market for smartphones is growing. Over a billion have been sold already and that figure is expected to double by 2015. Clearly, people want them. More importantly, we know they will want more in the future. So there is plenty of room to expand.

What about competitors? All we know is that they exist but also that they come and go. It is not a static marketplace. Just before the start of the smartphone era mobile phone use was essentially divided up between Nokia in the domestic market and the Blackberry for business. Eighteen months ago Apple was predominant and HTC was the alternative of choice.

Now we have a situation where Apple is no longer the leading player in smartphone sales. Samsung now shares (for the time being) the number one spot. HTC has faded away, Nokia is down but not dead and Research In Motion (Blackberry) are promising to reignite their sales efforts with a new product.

Essentially, no one owns the market. There is no monopoly to overcome. No absolute deterrent to participation.

After discounting all the other factors involved in making or selling a phone we are left with financing the initial stages of product development. Engineering and the marketing factors are well known and therefore R&D costs are minimal but it would still take a chunk of change to get to the stage where one could plant one’s studs in the grass.

But even then, considering that no original or very little original research work has to be done, what is really needed is a team of highly organised managers that are solely devoted to the development of a system of creation and delivery that are as competitively efficient as any other manufacturer.

Ireland has some of the best managerial talent in the world. Just by looking at the names listed in company reports in the US and UK, executive ability seems to be one of our more successful exports. Lack of ability isn’t a barrier.

I acknowledge that to many people this seems silly and impossible and, of course, they will have all sorts of good reasons why that may be so and they are right. But they would be missing the point.

If, on paper anyway, it is possible that we can contend favourably in the global market for smartphones then by the same logic we can participate in any technology-based global market.

Just a reminder that we are going to put out a podcast in a couple of weeks time (TBA) and we would love to have you send in comments, suggestions, questions, points for debate to our good selves at podcast@technologyvoice.com. Look forward to seeing what you send.

Shamrock image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Thomas Gun

Man App: The Marketing of a Relationship Preserver

Death and taxes are frequently cited as being the two great inevitabilities of life, but for a great many men frequent trips to the doghouse are equally hard to dodge. This enforced journey is often accompanied by a deep sense of confusion mixed in with a huge measure of mystification. (So I’ve heard.) By an odd coincidence, a great many of these unpleasant events seem to occur around birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and sometimes, rather peculiarly, around the middle of February. (I think that’s the right month.)

What all those occasions have in common is that they come around every year, so you would think, and certainly half the population seems to agree, that they would be easy to remember and plan for. But for the other half of the population, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

But help is at hand. Man App could just be the salvation of relationships across the globe.

Cillian Ó Mongáin first had the idea for it when he was on a surfing holiday with a friend of his who had recently been dumped by his girlfriend. “He didn’t know why. He just didn’t understand.” So he decided that, “We need an app to tell us what went wrong… what women are thinking. I need something to beep at me to tell me to do things.”

Unlike many other men presented with a similar challenge, he figured out very early on that if they wanted to find out what women wanted them to do then they ought to ask a few actual women. Very wise and sensible.

Cillian surveyed 43 women and the results produced a (surprisingly for some,) consistent consensus of opinions on various subjects. For instance, suitable gifts for the lady in your life.

(Please feel free to copy and paste to somewhere handy.)

Gifts that the women surveyed said they would most appreciate:

A trip away
A dinner
A home made gift or card
Flowers (NB: Carnations are a no-no.)
Voucher for beauty salon

Gift suggestions unlikely to engender a wholly positive response:

Fancy soap
Cute teddies

A link to instructions on how it can be gifted are at the bottom of the page.

Man App, as Cillian admits, is a novelty app but like any other product it has to be sold. Putting it on the shelf at the iTunes Store is simply not enough. People need to know about it to buy it and therefore a marketing plan is needed.

There are three clear steps in getting a product from a sketch on a napkin into a fully functioning product that a paying customer can use. They are like the three legs of a stool with quality of attention being the key ingredient at every stage.

  • Idea: Origination, research, and development of the original concept.
  • Construction: The building of the product.
  • Selling: The use of marketing strategies to get the product sold.

Working up ideas, designing and creating a product are challenges that most app developers and many small businesses are willing to take on. However, selling seems to be the part of the process that often suffers from gross under-investement both in time and money. This is particularly true of engineer-led companies where hard-to-quantify marketing processes run counter to preferred ways of working and so are avoided or ignored.

There a number of possible reasons for this:

Most developers and business owners by dint of where their focus and attention has been while developing the product have not allotted the necessary time and energy to marketing until the moment they have to market the product.

For logically-minded coders and the practically-minded doers, the lack of directly-measurable and quantifiable cause-and-effect of marketing initiatives is vague and off-putting. It is really hard to know what works as what is effective with one customer maybe a turn-off to another.

Lastly, there is the psychological issue of the avoidance of rejection. It is far, far easier to keep developing features and add bells and whistles than to take a functioning product to market only to find that nobody wants it. Rejection is hard. You are not supposed to like it. But its absolute value is to save you from wasting your time. You learn your lessons and move on as quickly as possible.

This all can lead to a default approach to marketing that has the character of being based on the idea that the supposedly self-evident virtues of the product will somehow enable it to sell itself. This is more magical thinking then a workable solution.

Cillian is based in Belmullet in County Mayo. Like many app developers all he needs is his office, his laptop, some software and broadband. His commute is one mile and if you’re unlucky, “There’ll be cows on the road.”

While having experience of working for and with marketers he finds, “That pushing my own product is completely different. I was surprised at the amount of noise out there and how I don’t get heard.”

Cillian has targeted the selling of his app during Christmas gift-giving season as the prime near-term objective. The subsequent marketing window being, of course, St. Valentine’s Day.

Unlike many app developers, Cillian has developed a marketing plan that takes advantage of the fact that the app can be downloaded pretty much anywhere in the world. At the moment he is creating press releases to make initial contact with publications in Ireland, the US and the UK. He is focusing on publications that have an audience similar to the possible purchasers of the app.

His initial target list consists of 300 media outlets that he hopes would either report upon his product or dedicate an article to it. Crafting the press releases is a challenge in its own right. Cillian is also aware that there will still be serious graft to be done in the follow-up calls and reminders. He has already accepted in advance that he will have to face up to and handle rejection by simply acknowledging that not everyone he approaches will be interested.

But he has ambitions that will help him weather the inevitable squalls and storms, “I want to do apps all the time. I’d love to be doing my own apps rather than commissions. This [marketing] is the last part of the puzzle. Without marketing it is just going to sit in the App Store and disappear. They don’t sell themselves. If you do nothing, you sell nothing. That’s what I’ve learned.”

Gifting apps on iTunes is straightforward. Just follow the instructions here or click on the Man App logo to the left.

Serving the Future, Not the Marketing Department

Looking through various forums I see the, now common, complaint about current Apple products which distills down to some version of, “Steve Jobs wouldn’t have allowed it.” Most of the time this sort of criticism is just griping and has little use or validity.

However, I think in the following case they may have a point. Last week I purchased a book on Apple’s iBook service not fully realizing the implication of not being able to read the book on my laptop. Not the greatest disaster in the world but I found it indicative of what happens when marketing is becomes the name of the game rather than bringing the future to life.

Currently books purchased through iBooks are only capable of being read on iOS devices. It is a transparently cynical marketing decision to encourage people to purchase iOS devices to avail themselves of services, like the Kindle, so they can read their books or in a mobile format. (Kindle has an app that works on all the Mac and iOS platforms – ahem.)

Years ago, back in the late nineties, when the world was young, Apple decided to rid its devices of floppy discs. They could see, (maybe only Steve could, maybe he had to persuaded,) that as a form of data storage they would be succeeded by other technologies in the near future.

From the user standpoint – as in the normal user who just wants things to work and doesn’t much care about the technical details – it was if Steve had personally snatched Linus’s security blanket from his chubby-fingered grasp. Not only was the move disruptive it was cruel. A whole generation across the globe had ridden the first widespread wave of PC adoption using floppy discs and now they were suddenly deemed irrelevant.

It seemed a crazy decision. Observers (those who actually knew something about technology) were skeptical that such a daring move wouldn’t be counter-productive. As for the marketing department. Well, at that point there was no market for personal computers without floppy discs.

Nobody cared that devices could be redesigned once the space for the drive had gone. Customers just wanted what they knew. Apple naysayers accused the company of scoring a massive own goal. But the customers and the critics were wrong on two counts.

Firstly, the timing was right. Floppy discs had had their day. The customers didn’t know it but working better and more efficiently would mean moving on to better, bigger, more efficient storage solutions at the next purchasing cycle. 

Secondly, the motivation was right. Apple was putting itself at the service of technological progress. It could see that the overwhelming benefits to the customer would outweigh short-term resistance and inconvenience.

The primary goal of the switch away from floppy discs was not some crass marketing exercise to isolate the customer base as is the case with the iBooks iOS scenario only provision but to serve the future.

That is really what having a vision is about. It is not about initiatives to grab market share with no obvious benefit to the consumer. It is about seeing the future and placing all your resources at making it a reality. All else comes after.

Images from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Floppy_disk

The Lost City of Clonmacnoise Now Found on an App

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Ozymandias – Percy Byshe Shelley

While the Lost City of Clonmacnoise has not been altogether lost to the sands of time, a new app by RealSIM, the makers of Virtual 3D Galway, has, through a combination of modern technologies, recreated a virtual version of the city to be interacted with on mobile devices. The app gives a visually enhanced, spatially accurate rendering of what it would have looked like at some point in its heyday in the early 12th Century. The Clonmacnoise app can be used either as an on-site guide should you pay a visit or you can take a remote tour regardless of your location.

First, a little history: Clonmacnoise was founded about 1500 years ago on the banks of the River Shannon on the main east-west road that ran through the low-lying bogs of the Irish midlands. By the 9th century it was a thriving city but its ascendancy was only to last another couple of hundred years before the world moved on leaving behind what has come to be the ruins that inhabit present site and an incomplete set of annals that serve to remind us of what once was.

Clonmacnoise is now a major tourist destination and there are a considerable number of things to see in a relatively small area. There are churches, temples, towers, important Celtic crosses and a even a cathedral.

All these structures stand testament to the craftsmanship of old and the good use of the rough, rugged, long-lasting stone. But as redoubtable as these materials are they can only ever tell a partial story of what life was like in Clonmacnoise. We know where people worshipped but where did they live? What did they do? How did they get by? What sort of people were they?

Our available knowledge of societies in the so-called Dark Ages combined with the archaeological record and the events described in the annals does provide us with enough information enough to deduce and infer what life may have been like then with what we believe to be some degree of accuracy.

However, it still remains hard to visualise how life was lived in the mundane, quotidian sense. Away from the monks, priests and High Kings, the minutiae of every day living still had to be handled. How do we begin to compare our daily lives with the daily lives of those who lived back then? Even more interestingly wouldn’t it be fascinating to see the city of Clonmacnoise on something like the scale that it originally had – in three dimensions?

With the Clonmacnoise app Gavin Duffy has just done that. He and his team have combined 3D content with GPS and mobile technology to provide an interactive guide whether the user is on the site or not.

According to Gavin, “Most of the geo-located apps are 2D augmented reality — images super-imposed on the camera view. This is the first app that I am aware of that you can navigate an app which is a full 3D environment just like a game but using your own movement through the real-world scene.”

As the user walks around the iPad (soon to be other devices) uses GPS to locate their position. Because it is connected to the compass as well as the user turns the 12th century version of the scene shown on the device turns with them. The net effect is of the user moving through the 3D environment while simultaneously moving through the location. The image they see on the screen is what they would have seen if they had been standing in the exact same spot more than a thousand years ago.

“The big advantage over traditional 2D augmented reality.” According to Gavin, “Is that you don’t have to be here on site to appreciate it. You can be in Dublin or San Francisco. You can use simple touch-screen movements to look around the environment just as you would in a regular game.”

While Gavin’s background as a geo-physicist went a long way to help him in developing the app there were still a number of major challenges to overcome. “It’s relatively easy to map what exists, photographing and modeling in 3D. It is more challenging to map what does not exist. There are no maps from a thousand years ago so we had to create those maps ourselves with reference to literary information from various annals that survive and archaeological evidence from other sites of the same period.

“From that we were able to establish that there was a blacksmithing industry and a thriving market place, people came from all around. This was a university town — Ireland was one of the bastions of learning. Students came from all over Europe. At the time Europe was in the dark ages and this is a prime example of why Ireland became known as the Land of Saints and Scholars.”

While we can never know what life was really like, especially for the ‘ordinary’ people that have inhabited our history the more we endeavour to seek an understanding of their lives, the more we can, perhaps, gain vital insights into our own.

As Gavin says, “We are all very interested in where we come from. There is a natural, innate, curiosity as to what has made us what we are. What is the fabric of our history makes us who we are today.”

Also, by taking advantage of the technology available to us to render a better of understanding of our own very temporary place in the scheme of things.

“Clonmacnoise is a classic example of things that are great today do and will fall, change and evolve. It’s good to keep in mind that humanity and our values are continually changing. It is an important lesson to communicate that great empires and great cities fall.”

What has gone has gone and there is no likelihood of any app bringing the past to life again. But with carefully applied use of the mobile, mapping and rendering technologies we have at present we can make a decent attempt of envisioning the past.

The Clonmacnoise app is now available for iPhone and iPad. Do have a look at the following video to see how the Clonmacnoise app works in greater detail.

Speeksy: Social Discovery Through Facebook

Social discovery is an online space that has been emerging over the last couple of years. It is a throwback to some of the original ideas that the first social networks were built around. Friendster was about meeting new people through mutual friendships. Likewise, MySpace was a very social way of discovering new music.

In contrast, Facebook, with its multiple levels of privacy settings is very much about keeping in touch with people you already know. Social discovery is, in essence, a network that enables you to meet people.

For the moment, with Facebook’s star still in the ascendency, launching a competing social network is a task set aside for the brave and the foolhardy. A smarter way to address the need people have for meeting new people would be to integrate a social discovery application with the Facebook platform.

This is what Barry Cassidy has done with his company Speeksy — a social discovery platform that uses Facebook information to create connections through shared interests and mutual friends.

Barry says that, “We looked at how people met new people in the real world. What was it that makes a connection between you and someone new that you are meeting? Essentially, mutual friends is a big thing and so is common interests.

“The Facebook API is pretty easy to engage with but for us it was more about thinking through the features that we could use. What features in the Facebook Open Graph could we leverage to make it easier for people to meet new people?”

Speeksy has just one single sign-on process. Information needed to create an account is pulled from Facebook’s Open Graph. A match is then made between you and people who share your interests and are connected to you through mutual friendships.

Connections are created based on things that you have already indicated that you liked on Facebook such as movies, TV shows, bands, books and so forth. Barry says, “It is a seamless entry from Facebook into our product where you don’t have to create a profile of fill in a questionnaire or personality test.

“We are trying to create a social experience where you can meet new people in a very natural way. We are creating an enjoyable social experience that people will want to go to and engage with regardless of whether they meet new people or not.

“When you log into our site we create connections through interests. You can find interests that you already have or you can explore new interests such as running and other things you might do in the real world. You can create music playlists and see what other types of music people are listening to. You can also browse people and see their interest graphs”

Just like in the real world the online world has its share of unsavoury characters. However, Barry has a strategy for dealing with egregious behaviour: “We filter people out on the reputation [they acquire] based on their behaviour and engagement with other people.”

Meeting new people (providing they are not nut-jobs) is a necessary component for maintaining our health as we move through life. We are social animals who revel in novelty. New social encounters can sometimes challenge some of our fixed, but maybe false, notions. They can provide new sources of stimulation and through shared interests we can feel a sense of belonging that is essential to our tribal natures.

Most of social media is human nature taking advantage of the technologies of the World Wide Web to broaden one’s horizon from the village and the local area to the global. Social discovery and applications like Speeksy offer us a new opportunities for fresh engagement based on shared interests.

Having common ground to begin with makes it all the easier for new relationships to flourish.

RoleConnect: Cutting Out the Middleman in IT Contracting

Kieran Logan founded Cork-based RoleConnect as a result of personal experience. He had been working as an IT contractor for almost 10 years doing software development and systems design. He obtained most of his work through recruitment agencies. However, 2004 he became the CTO of a small company and was in a position where he was required to hire contractors from time to time.

It struck him that his conversations with recruitment agencies were a complete reverse of those he had when he was a contractor: “As a contractor, whenever I was looking for a certain rate of pay, I was always argued down. As an employer I was always been argued to raise the pay up. It didn’t take me long to figure out where the difference was going.”

This is a process that involves two different negotiations and lacks any kind of transparency.

Kieran reasoned that, “That from an employer’s perspective, if they could negotiate directly they could potentially save money that would allow them employ another number of people. But also allow the contractor to increase their daily rate.”

There was a substantial amount of space in the middle where they could both meet.

“It’s a win-win situation where employers would save a lot of money and contractors could dramatically increase their take-home pay.”

Although from the user point of view RoleConnect may look like an application built on a database it actually uses search engine technology to access profile information.

A potential employer uses search to locate skills but in addition, semantic web technology is deployed to help find additional terms that may be implied by the original search term. The software is able to, “Understand the wider implication of the search terms. It not only understands the search terms but also the connectivity between skills.”

Kieran explains further, “If someone starts putting in skills like PHP then you can anticipate stuff like MySQL might be involved. Skills can be uncovered that are not in the search terms.”

For some time now there has been a global shift from full-time, permanent employment, to people working freelance and on ad hoc short-term contracts. To check out the validity of some of the assumptions underlying this trend Kieran did his own research:

“In 2009 we did a study over the summer months. [The summer was picked so they could see recruitment amongst recent graduates.] Over a three month period we captured every single job advertised in Ireland and analyzed them. In that period of time, approximately 8.5% of the jobs advertised were contract jobs. The rest being permanent.

“We repeated that exercise last summer in 2011 and there was a dramatic change in circumstances. In the exact same period of time, the number of contracting jobs had gone up to 28%.”

This seismic change or as Kieran puts it, “Strongly emerging trend,” is not about to reverse itself anytime soon.

RoleConnect has just two full-time employees, Kieran himself and Catherine Wall formerly of it@cork. Kieran says, “We needed to be true to what we believe in and the rest of the workers are contractors.

“From the company side we are concentrating on Ireland and the UK at this point. But our ambition would be to be global and not just nationwide and across the water.

“We see the emerging demands for skills and we see a lot more remote workers and contract-based workers. The successful companies of the future will be more agile and will have skilled people to call on for specific projects.”

Open Ireland: Opening the Doors to Talent

On March 23rd this year Sean O’ Sullivan an Irish/American entrepreneur, was asked to give a keynote speech at a technology leaders conference. He gave a talk entitled “Re-inventing Ireland: Making Ireland the Silicon Valley of Europe” which was inspired by his need to address the biggest challenge to the growth of his own business — the lack of properly qualified, engineering talent presently available in Ireland.

This is a problem that faces the entire Irish tech sector. Many companies are being held back by the inability to find and hire enough people with the requisite technical skillset.

As a result of that speech the Open Ireland initiative was born. Technology Voice spoke with Sean recently to find out why Open Ireland isn’t just another earnest, well-meaning, flag-waving, talking shop.

“We have to recognize that Ireland with a population of 4.2 million can’t produce enough engineers to produce the products required by the [7 billion] people on the planet.” Says Sean, “We have to acknowledge that there is a short-term problem with economy here that was caused by an errant banking sector and an errant property development sector. This has nothing to do with the success that we have had in technology.

Quarter after quarter* there is a widening trade surplus. Ireland has a two-track economy. There is the high tech sector where we are continuing to grow jobs and continuing to drive the rest of the economy and the over-heated sector which had a bubble and burst.”

The question that naturally arises from this evidence of Irish strengths is, “Why don’t we trade on our advantages in our world-leading position in that market to help us get out of trouble?”

The answer, Sean suggests, comes in three parts:

“The first goal is to create Ireland as a vibrant economy where people are coming to rather than leaving. To double the population over the next 20 years and to have people accept that the goal is to have Ireland become more cosmopolitan and for Ireland to become more open to immigration rather than emigration.

“The second goal is to really blow open the doors for all tech talent across the world to come to Ireland and allow them to fill the vacancies we currently have in our vibrant tech sector and to enable startup companies to startup more readily.”

That would involve enabling over 70,000 work visas to become available for suitably qualified people.

The third proposed goal would be to, “Become a gateway for China to Europe in the same that we were a gateway for US companies to Europe.”

Unlike a lot of government initiatives these suggestions require little or no money to make happen. “These are things that can be done without spending any tax-payer dollars yet these are things that will increase the flow of funds to the exchequer and help us to recover our economic vibrancy.

“There are about 20,000 jobs available in the IT sector alone. And these are positions that cannot be filled. There is not enough oxygen in the room right now. We can’t grow all the talent that is needed by long-term educational planning alone.”

There is also an enormous opportunity for Ireland to take the legislative lead in rewriting in some its laws around the issuing of work permits.

Silicon Valley has exactly the same problem as the US government is not providing enough visas for IT professionals with highly desired skillsets. But due to this being an election year, taking place at the end of a long and deep recession, it is extremely unlikely that have immigration quotas and restrictions will be eased.

Sean is very aware of this opportunity for Ireland, “If Ireland is going to become the first country in the English speaking world to open its borders to high-tech talent then we’ll have huge inward investment by any company that is facing this type of shortage.

“I think it would be a huge relief to Silicon Valley if they could come and open new plants and operations in Ireland— if they could get access to the workers in Ireland.

“Why don’t we trade on our advantages in our world-leading position in that market to help us get out of trouble?

“It is only stating the blindingly obvious that if we take advantages of our strengths our weaknesses can go away and it wouldn’t cost the taxpayer anything.”

You can pledge your support for this initiative by visiting the Open Ireland site.

*A full breakdown of export categories can be downloaded from the CSO website.