Maciej Dabrowski: Start-ups Key to Galway’s AI Growth

This article was originally published on portershed.com and has been republished here with permission.

Maciej Dabrowski, Chief Data Scientist, Digital and AI at Genesys, took time to sit down with the PorterShed blog recently. Maciej has been with Genesys for four-and-a-half years. Before that, he was with Altocloud for four years. So, it’s safe to say that Maciej is a fount of knowledge in his field, and he took time to speak with us about how to create a great product, Galway’s role in the development of AI, and what he sees as the future of the technology.

It’s fair to say that artificial intelligence is dominating many conversations in the start-up and broader tech worlds today. At the recent Dublin Tech Summit, there were more than a few panels discussing the current developments as well as a few others that pondered the future of AI, too. With Genesys’ AI headquarters in Galway, it’s clear that the City of Tribes has a key role to play in what that industry becomes. 

From Maciej’s point of view, “strong universities and access to world-class engineering talent” are two of the big reasons that Genesys chose Galway as their AI centre.

“The AI ecosystem in Galway is steadily growing, we do have good universities here that give us access to engineering talent and an exceptional quality of life. What we don’t have in comparison to larger cities is access to a strong  pool of local, senior AI technical talent who have “seen it all” over a long career in AI.” Maciej adds. “In the past, I would say there were not that many AI jobs in Galway – there was Genesys and a handful of other companies working on AI to some degree. Now there are many more opportunities for finding AI jobs in the West”.

Maciej also makes the point that Galway has good engineers that are transitioning into AI, something that is working really well to fill that senior talent gap. For him, the West of Ireland has an abundance of world-class engineering talent on all levels, and with an increasing number of companies working on AI, many engineers will pick up AI skills and transition into core AI. He points to NUIG’s degree to help with this transition and makes the point that Genesys are providing the opportunities to make that switch – with success.

And there is another big positive that Maciej sees, something that Galway can do, in particular:

“If I were to pick one of the things we can do really, really well that will boost the ecosystem, it would be the start-ups. We have a relatively small but critical mass that is working on that, and one of the best ways to grow the AI ecosystem is to develop start-ups that get acquired by a big company and then start building around it. “If that start-up happens to do AI, then that’s obviously an anchor to build around them. So, one of the things we can do is to get more AI start-ups rooted in Galway because that will pull in the AI talent, engineers, new companies, and more resources into our AI ecosystem.”

Maciej Dabrowski

When it comes to exactly what AI can do for people and the wider world, our conversation veers towards the idea of what is best, what is useful, and whether AI always needs to follow either one of these paths.

“We should not approach AI as a magical, all-capable solution to the most-pressing World problems out of the box – it’s not, at least, not yet” Maciej explains, adding that there are lots of studies about how and why AI companies fail when they lack focus on the suitable use case that is feasible and can deliver value. What it all comes down to in most cases, he says, is value generation that depends on the focus on applying AI to the right use case, and access to talent that can solve it using available data and technology.

For Maciej, the best way to attract talented people is to create products that solve problems – big or small.

From Genesys’ perspective, artificial intelligence is all about making things easier for customers and users. Because while AI can sometimes have the cachet of being futuristic and otherworldly, Maciej makes the point that it needs to be understood by those who are using it – and getting the benefit from it.

“We want to make AI accessible and simple. There are a bunch of things that underline that, such as transparency and privacy, for example. Fundamentally, what we’re trying to do is build AI into the products that people use and don’t require advanced degrees to operate them. So, we have to explain what AI does, how it does it, in a way that people understand it and trust it enough to use it.”

Maciej gives an example of a product they launched last year which they ultimately redesigned to be uber simple. The predictive routing software applies AI to connect customers with the most suitable agents, finding areas in the call center that can be optimized. Businesses can identify the areas they can create value with AI within a matter of a few simple clicks. Essentially, queues which would benefit from optimization can be identified and targeted leading to better customer experience and business results. It’s certainly an everyday AI win that, on the face of it at least, is accessible and easy to understand. 

For Maciej, AI is a means to an end. He points to Genesys’ predictive routing as the ideal showcase of why that should be the focus. “In most cases It’s not really about the AI technology (algorithm) itself, it’s more about how you apply it to create value, how you make it simple, how you embed it, and how it improves people’s daily lives and makes them better.”

Rory Timlin is Playing His Cards Right

This article was originally published on portershed.com and has been republished here with permission.

Rory Timlin is from Galway and works in the PorterShed. Like his Bowling Green peers, Rory hasn’t always done things the way most other people do. In fact, for a period of around eight years, he became a professional online poker player before ultimately going on to become a business analyst and financial controller. 

This followed a period of time over a decade ago, in the wake of the most recent recession, where Rory backpacked and lived abroad for a time following his studies. Today, Rory works for a company in Galway, and it was his decision to push for a remote-working role there which would allow him to say in his hometown of the city of Tribes

“I love Galway and I’m not a major fan of living in Dublin for a number of reasons, like the rent – and I’ve got a beautiful girlfriend living in Galway as well,” he says.

The co-working and open innovation culture of the PorterShed suits Rory down to the ground, and Rory adds that the PorterShed is certainly a big part of what keeps him in Galway – especially the open and humble atmosphere.

“That’s one of the things I love about the PorterShed is that when you walk in the door, you don’t really know who’s this big-shot important guy. You know they’re there, but unless you really get chatting to people…and there’s nobody going around bragging to people about how great they are or anything like that.”

To go from a poker player to a professional analyst/wearer-of-many-hats with a company headquartered in Dublin called Meltdown is not your average career path, for sure, but it has certainly been one that has stood Rory in great stead. After all, it has allowed him to learn things most people wouldn’t, put himself in extraordinary situations, and figure things out in quick and innovative ways. 

Rory, in fact, managed to earn enough money over the course of his poker career that was the equivalent to quite a decent wage year after year. 

“I wanted something more steady, but also something that I could progress at. With poker it’s always going to be a struggle, there’s no natural progression – there’s no going to someone for a raise or ‘look at everything I did in the past’. There’s no obvious progression aside from: get better, get lucky, see what happens.”

Rory Timlin

So, Rory decided to go ahead and put his poker skills to a different use: taking the pragmatic, clinical perspective of strategies and analyses to help a business understand the hows, the whys, and the what nexts.

And Rory explains that numbers, statistics, and data are what keeps him motivated, and it’s what he’s best at.

“I love numbers, I’m good with numbers. I could happily stare at stats all day and be happy. I like taking stats and making them into something that people who don’t like stats would happily look at and understand,” Rory says. 

“For example, when I take a deep-dive into what sells best in one of our cafés. I might talk to the manager or the owner of the shop, and they’ll all have an opinion on what sells best or better, but they won’t actually know, but when you show them the facts, they might be surprised because people’s perceptions of what’s happening don’t always marry up with what’s actually happening. So, for me the stats tell the real stories, and that’s how you make better, informed decisions.”

In today’s world where industries and individual companies are over-saturated with misconceptions and misreadings, it’s people like Rory who are able to scythe through the noise and create an impact that’s felt on a number of levels. And that all comes with his varied career which covers a number of disciplines – and Rory explains that this is part of what he identifies with.

“One thing I’ve learned in the last few years is that there is no normal career path for most people, especially the people who are very successful. They just take their opportunities and see what happens.

“I was reading the other day somebody’s advice that if you’re reviewing a job description and you meet all the criteria, then you’re over-qualified – you shouldn’t be going into something you’re comfortable in, it should be outside your comfort zone.”

Rory has certainly proved that it’s best to test yourself, and even though some moves might seem like a gamble, the winnings are there to be won if you play your hand right.

Inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit in the Portershed, Rory is now offering his services to growing companies in financial systems setup and business analysis. You can find him in the Portershed, on LinkedIn, or at timlinrory@gmail.com.

Carol Ho, COO of Baseworx, on the Rise of Co-working Spaces

This article was originally published on portershed.com and has been republished here with permission.

Carol Ho is the Chief Operating Officer of Baseworx, a company that helps hubs to better manage their co-working spaces. Their easy-to-use software means that hub managers can seamlessly oversee the day-to-day operations from their own devices. All across Ireland, the hubs on the ConnectedHubs.ie platform benefit from Baseworx’s solution – helping many of them to thrive as places where professionals from many locations can come to work and connect with the wider world.

The hub network across Ireland is key to the government’s initiative to make it easier for professionals to work remotely in a variety of locations. The push to have spaces available to work from has been catalysed by Covid and the shifting dynamics of the future of work. In Ireland, it has been encouraging to see so many new hubs opening up in recent times. However, as Carol explains, coworking has long been an existing option in other countries – and the landscape is very evolved elsewhere.

“You can see so many co-working spaces in a tiny city like Hong Kong – it’s super-competitive if you’re running a co-working space over there. They have their own territories. Over there, if you’re talking about social innovation, you go to Good Lab. If you are tech-focused, you go to Science Park. If you are a maker, you go to MakerBay. They have different themes and focuses for different hubs over there,” Carol says.

A quick look on ConnectedHubs.ie will show you that there are over 230 hubs open across the country at the time of writing – that’s quite an impressive number, and while we still have a way to go to catch up with countries like Hong Kong, it’s encouraging to see such a high number.

So, why is it that so many people are pursuing the co-working experience?

“Of course, working from home is still okay, but I do get more stuff done when I’m working in the PorterShed,” Carol explains. So, productivity is clearly a big factor in why people are ditching the kitchen table for the purpose-built desk.

But there’s another factor behind the rise of co-working spaces.

“Lots of big companies are getting rid of the office. If you’re running a business, you probably rent your own office somewhere else. But right now, a lot of big corporates have started to rent desks in the co-working space because it’s handy – they save time, they save the maintenance, and they reduce cost,” Carol says.

Carol Ho, COO of Baseworx

In addition, people view co-working spaces as a way to reconnect with the real world. Many professionals are still re-emerging back into office life, and some are still looking for ways to do so gradually. For many people, co-working spaces offer a chance to do exactly this. Ultimately, co-working spaces provide the sweet spot between traditional offices and remote working. Worldwide, too, that trend is clear – a recent newsletter from The Hustle explains that analysts are predicting approximately 42,000 coworking spaces globally in 2024, an increase of 116 percent when compared to 2020.

As Carol explains, these hubs are having a positive knock-on effect around the country.

“We see the benefits of Connected Hubs – it’s definitely supporting the development of the countryside of Ireland, bringing the jobs, and helping to boost the economy of the countryside areas.”

The ConnectedHubs.ie website, which is managed by Baseworx, is clearly in high demand, and Carol explains that they have big plans in store for the site in the near future – both in Ireland and internationally.

“We are launching version two of Connected Hubs, so that’s one of our flagship projects that we’re working on at the moment. Right now, we are pretty much focused on the Connected Hubs projects because it’s such an important government initiative. I’m spending lots of time talking to many of the hub managers to get their feedback on the software to understand what features they want to get.

“We are taking in some interns from Limerick and Cork – graduate students from some of the colleges there. So, we are doing a summer internship programme and spending some time training the students up. And they will help us with some of the international market research. Because apart from Ireland, we are looking at some other countries to see if other countries could have the same model.”

Back home, the focus of course is on continuing to help hubs harness the power of the Connected Hubs platform through the Baseworx software.

A lot of talk continues to centre around the future of work and what it will look like in the next five to 10 years. An important topic of conversation, for sure, but what does Carol think about the future of co-working? Will we see even further revitalisation of rural areas in Ireland in the near future?

“I just think that probably we will have more young families moving back to the countryside area and that way they won’t need to stay in the city with the high living expenses and all that. But it will take a while. Right now the government is trying to build loads of infrastructure to support that, but it will take some time,” the Baseworx COO said.

In the meantime, your local hub awaits with high-speed broadband, coffee, and the facilities needed to get work done, no matter where you are. The future can wait, for now.

Itera’s Lana Liubetskaya: “Use tech for good things”

This article was originally published on portershed.com and has been republished here with permission.

Svetlana Liubetskaya is a tech professional with over 15 years of experience in computer science and artificial intelligence, and she has recently arrived in Ireland from Ukraine, looking to make a new start.

Our conversation starts with Lana telling me that her decision to move country was forced after her house in Ukraine was destroyed because of the war being waged by Russian forces.

Having spent a number of years in project management and software management, Lana currently works for Itera Research, a full-stack web and mobile development firm in Ukraine that is focused on helping businesses grow. In spite of the ongoing war, the company remains in operation, and amazingly they are focused on keeping their clients satisfied.

Life in Ukraine is continuing for many – somehow. Like her father and her mother. Lana tells me that she regularly phones them to find out how they are. She speaks about her father who is in his 70s; their phone conversations focus on how he is taking care of his garden. Now and again, the sound of rockets will interrupt their conversation, but her father tells her not to worry.

“For sure, I am worried about it a lot, and I cried a lot for sure, but it is what it is, and now let’s continue doing something good in this world.”

Now, Lana lives in Ballinrobe, County Mayo, with her son, and she is keen to make the most of a new beginning. Lana is enjoying life in the west of Ireland. Her son has already made so many friends, and she has had the opportunity to go surfing in the sea during her down time.

Lana with her son

In her professional world, tech has been something Lana has always been profoundly interested in, and having run a successful light business for a time, she returned to that first love.

“I came back to IT because it was my passion, actually since childhood, because I started coding when I was around 12 – just for fun with my cousins. We played games with random numbers and I created code for these games to show people pictures, just for fun. I didn’t play games a lot, but I liked it for creating something, and that’s why I came back to this industry,” Lana explains.

She also says that she has been particularly focused on the digital transformation of companies throughout her career – helping organisations to embrace technology.

“I personally participated in the digital transformation of a factory – their processes. I also did this in the governmental sector which is a big challenge because they are very slow, they don’t want to change everything. They like to sign papers – keeping pen and paper – and they would do this for the next 20 years if they could, but we found a way, though it was not easy!”

Indeed, Lana is focused on how the tech industry can solve problems, not only through start-ups but through communities keen to harness the power of tech for broader, inclusive missions.

In Ukraine, Lana explains that this pursuit is becoming increasingly popular, through the likes of Unit City [unit.city] which gathers start-ups together to drive innovation, create a comprehensive mission, and build an environment that helps the community, the city, and the surrounding areas to solve broader problems that affect lots of people.

Lana points to the notion that it is too easy for people to concentrate on just the tech, without realising that the tech is simply a means to and end.

“The technology is just a tool. If you know how to use it, that’s great, and you can spend less money, using the money [you saved] to do something else, to support the business, and grow the business. The most important thing is to solve the problem, the main problem of the business.”

And Lana is keen to tackle one big challenge throughout her career in tech – how to make sure that we harness its power for good and not for bad.

“It can be a medicine, or a treatment, or a system, and it can be a weapon…our human challenge is to find a way to use it for good things,” she says.

startlab: A Bank-Funded Incubator in the Heart of Galway


In a corner of Eyre Square in the heart of Galway City is the Bank of Ireland’s startlab. This is a tech startup incubator whose stated aim is to educate, connect and scale. It doesn’t take equity nor does it fund startups.

Tracy Keogh is the Program Manager and runs the incubator day to day. She is responsible for bringing in the coaches and mentors and working with the teams afterwards.

She brought the first bank-run incubator to Galway with the idea that, “In a formalised, structured way we could do something great.”

Interest was immense and it took, “Two hundred meetings to get down to the eight companies that are there. But my personal milestone achievement for this was that two of the companies came from Dublin and one came from Limerick. We are starting to attract in good talent; bringing more people in, more knowledge, different perspectives.

“For the first cohort… We needed people who had some level of funding beforehand. We wanted to see some level of traction, some cash behind them and a good team.”

She emphasises that, “For us a team that is coachable is very important. When somebody takes their day out to spend time here and gives their valuable knowledge to the teams it is really important that the teams are able to take on board the information and feedback that’s been given.”

For Tracy an entrepreneur is someone who is, “Prepared to take on all the risks and runs up against brick walls constantly.” And, “Being able to bring on board employees one and two and lead them on that journey so that they can actually create something.”

Tracy was originally destined for corporate life but yearned to do something on her own.

“I was actually at a roundabout. There were two cars either side of me. One was a Mercedes. One was a clapped-out little Nissan. The man on the right-hand side in the Mercedes was on the phone and you could see him pulling down his face and he looked so stressed. And the guy in the Nissan was bopping away to some music. I thought what sort of life would I like?”

She opted for the Nissan.

“I loved working in a startup, I loved being a jack of all trades… You were always learning. Conversations were always about new things. You were just fulfilling your curiosity all the time. I felt if you were doing that you could never really go wrong.”

As for the teams currently working at startlab. “We’re very excited to have them here. We want to be part of their journey. We want to see what they do over the next six months. To help them as they are zig-zagging along the route to greatness is, frankly for me, thrilling.

“My goal would be that they would come out of here after six months with all of the networks — all those coaches and mentors still onside — and they move into the PorterShed, then grow and expand and then IPO.”

Eventually Tracy wants to start her own company but is not in a rush, “I used to have a fear that I would run out of ideas but I don’t anymore because they keep coming.”

Blackstone LaunchPad at NUI Galway – A One Stop Shop for Ideas

The recently opened Blackstone LaunchPad at NUI Galway offers students, postgrads, alumni and staff the opportunity to feel out, test and nurture their fledgling startup ideas. They also have the opportunity to see if the life of an entrepreneur might be a possible or worthwhile career path to follow.

To help them with their questions and to provide support in determining the feasibility of ideas and creating a pathway of development is Executive Director, Mary Carty and Program Manager, Natalie Walsh.

LaunchPad is centrally located on the Concourse at the heart of the NUI Galway. No matter what background the students have or what degree they are pursuing, they can come to LaunchPad discuss their ideas.

Mary says that, “If they have an idea or they want to pitch something or present something, they want to build out some skills or they are just curious, they can just come in and talk to us and we’ll help them to figure out what’s next in their journey.”

Mary is herself an experienced entrepreneur having been CEO of Spoiltchild, an award winning design and development agency, and co-founder of Toddle, an email marketing system for small businesses. Prior to LaunchPad she co-founded Outbox, an incubator for young women with tech ideas.

“I pretty well understand how you start something, how you develop something, how you grow something.”

The number one question she hears is, “Is my idea a good idea?” To which the answer is, “We have to figure that out. This is the first stage of the conversation. Let’s figure out if this ideas has legs and what are you going to do next.

“We use the lean business model. That’s very good as it focuses very much on the problem that you want to solve. It focuses on the customer end – what the pain is and how you are going to help the customer solve that problem. It is a very interesting flip of the mind for a lot of people.”

LaunchPad is funded by the Blackstone Foundation in partnership with the Galway University Foundation.

Blackstone LaunchPad already works with over 500,000 students across the United States. In Galway, over six hundred students signed up for the program in the first month.

The space itself is mainly fitted out with benches and bare tables – no computers. “We wanted this space to be very collaborative and open so students could come in and talk about their ideas and work on their canvas. We have a well-used blackboard and people can become as hands on and as creative as they want.”

“We are signing up people from across the colleges. So that’s arts, humanities, social science, medicine; then, obviously, science and business as well.”

Mary says that LaunchPad is, “A one stop shop for ideas. Our aim is to help you to get you to the next point from where you are at with your idea.”

It is expected that some users will go on to other incubators and accelerators while others may go through the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) at NUI Galway.

“The pipeline is there and there are pathways that people can follow and we can help people to figure out where to go next.

“We have StartLab. PorterShed is going to come online. BioInnovate is here. The TTO office is here. No matter where you are at in your career or in your evolution as a startup there’s a place for you to go.”

Video Review of the BMW i3 Electric Car

You can read more about John Breslin’s experiences of using an electric car on a daily basis at the Technology Voice website:

The Six Questions I’ve Been Most Frequently Asked About ecars and the BMW i3 http://tch.vc/1DtJrzh

From the 19th Century Electric Car to an Internet of Electric Vehicles http://tch.vc/1xPy6GC

The main video was shot entirely on an iPhone 5s in and around Galway City, Ireland.

John Breslin is a senior lecturer and researcher at NUI Galway, and co-founder of boards.ie, Ireland’s largest online community. @johnbreslin

To EXPLORE staff-student collaborations, to seek out new ideas and new innovations

How does a university promote collaborations between students and staff to stimulate innovation? In a joint effort between the Vice President for Innovation and Performance at NUI Galway and the NUI Galway Students’ Union, the EXPLORE Innovation Initiative at NUI Galway has funded 38 student-staff projects since it began in January 2012. The projects each receive €1000 of funding from the initiative to deliver innovation that will benefit the university or the wider community in the area. Some of these projects include creating a locator app for cardiac defibrillators (AEDs) in the west of Ireland, building bilingual video-based teaching aids for school students, running a regular student-entrepreneur technology meetup in Galway City, and many more.

“There are just under 20,000 staff and students at NUI Galway and students account for 86% of this figure”, says Prof. Chris Curtin, Vice President for Innovation and Performance. “We know that students at all stages of their studies, together with the know-how of staff, can create an innovative culture on campus.

“NUI Galway and the Students’ Union have joined forces to introduce a new model for students and staff to work together to bring about positive and transformative change at the university.”

So what has been the actual impact of EXPLORE? In terms of staff-student involvement, over 215 staff and students have participated in creating and running the projects. As regards impact on the community, the numbers are in their thousands, directly or indirectly.

For example, the Cell Explorers project – run by Dr. Muriel Grenon and nearly 20 student partners at NUI Galway – had 200 children and parents taking part in their show at the Galway Science and Technology Festival, and also had 500 primary school children plus their teachers and parents participating in their biological and biomedical outreach programme.

The Exponential series of tech entrepreneur talks (previously covered on Technology Voice) has given over 300 participants the opportunity to learn from six of Ireland’s top technology leaders in a casual setting. The Video Lab YouTube channel of easy-to-follow chemistry lab demonstrations has had over 2,500 views since it launched in February 2012.

“EXPLORE breaks down traditional hierarchies in the university environment that can stand in the way of innovation and treats the entire campus population as active innovators”, according to Paul Curley, the President of NUI Galway Students’ Union. “We are seeing that when students and staff combine their wealth of expertise in new ways it can have very powerful results.

“EXPLORE’s far-reaching contribution to not only campus life, but also to the wider community, is to be applauded.”

The project areas for EXPLORE projects are wide ranging, including technology, science outreach, the arts, environment, health, employability and mentoring, teaching and learning, and skills development.

“Staff and students are equally enthusiastic about their involvement in EXPLORE”, says Amber Walsh Olesen, EXPLORE coordinator. “Student participants have developed valuable transferable skills within the areas of teamwork, leadership, project management and communication capabilities, and have bolstered their CVs with hands-on experience. In fact, some students have already secured jobs and summer internships as a result of their EXPLORE projects.

“Staff see EXPLORE as a way to pilot new ideas in a low-risk environment, to collaborate with undergraduate students, and obtain new skills, particularly within the area of digital media.”

A current EXPLORE project aims to build a high-performance computing cluster from used laptops. According to student partner Finn Krewer, “Supercomputers are big, expensive and need a lot of electricity. With this project we aim to acquire used laptops from students who are upgrading their laptops. We will then connect between 10 and 30 laptops together to form a small low energy computing cluster.”

EXPLORE is a first for Irish universities and has been inspired by similar efforts abroad. The goal is to establish a permanent fund for this initiative beyond 2013. To boldly go where no one has gone before.

Starolas: The All-in-One Web Application for Academic Conferences

Academic conferences allow researchers and academics to present, discuss and showcase their work. The conference chairperson generally organises the entire event from the paper submission stage, months in advance of the conference, right up to the event itself.

Galway-based company, Starlight, plans to simplify the organisation process for the chairperson through its conference management application, Starolas.

Starlight is a creative lab space of six people that focuses on the creation of web apps. Its diverse portfolio also includes website design and animation.

The name for Starlight’s app, “Starolas”, combines the “Star” from Starlight and “Eolas,” the Irish word for knowledge.

The app is designed to be used for approximately nine months leading up to an academic conference. It contains four key modules:

  • Paper submission and review
  • Online payment and registration
  • Website
  • Delegate management

The final module above allows a conference presenter to upload his or her presentation and biography to the conference website in advance of arrival. The delegate management module will also download the presentation files to the presentation computer to negate the need for the speaker to bring it on a USB key.

Founder and Managing Director of Starlight, Paul Killoran says, “Academics are focused on research. They don’t necessarily want to organise a conference. At the end of the day, their key is that the conference goes well, generates a lot of papers, research and presentations. My objective is to create a piece of software that is robust and will provide that infrastructure. It will make them look really good and in doing that, take away all the pain of how to coordinate the conference.”

In terms of the current web apps available for an academic conference chairperson, Paul explains, “some of the competitors only do about 25% of what we do. For example Eventbrite
and EventElephant do online payment and registration. But we’ve tried to make it a one-stop shop for everything you would need to run your academic conference. We would hope that within five years this product could be the de facto standard for how to run a conference.”

Starlight is also considering adding a social networking tool to the app. Paul explains, “These conferences are not just about publishing papers. They’re probably more about meeting up with your peers from all over the world in the same subject area and then networking with them. What would be nice is an opportunity for you, before you get there, to see all the submissions or the presentations that are going to go on and to see a list of who will present those in a social way, almost like a Facebook.”

In addition, Starlight also hopes to include a feature that will allow the abstract book for delegates attending the conference to be complied through Starolas. The app will gather the individual submissions into one document that can be produced easily by the conference chairperson.

The idea for Starolas first originated from an Institution of Engineering and Technology conference held in NUI Galway in 2008. Starlight was approached by a lecturer to design software for the event. Paul remembers, “I said to him I can write that in a week. Six months later I finished writing it and it broke me. If I had a house I would have lost it. But we had built this amazing app.”

After the event, Starlight was approached by other conferences to use the app. Paul says, “After four or five conferences I thought: we have something here and we should make it in such a way that we can deploy it really really fast.”

Starolas has already been sold to twenty conferences. Paul notes, “We’ve never lost a conference. The first year we did two conferences, the second year we did seven. Then the recession hit so we maintained our seven and we’re hitting seven again.”

Starlight is most proud of having powered the 2009 symposium on Applied Reconfigurable Computing (ARC) in Germany as it was the first European sale of Starolas. Amongst others, it currently powers ARC 2011 in Queen’s University, Belfast and the Western Vascular Institute Symposium.

Paul recalls one particular moment where he realised the potential of Starolas. “I was sitting in Germany at ARC 2009. We had servers which were located in Galway. So I’m sitting there and there’s a guy in front of me with his Mac open and he’s working on his PowerPoint. There’s a presentation going on at the same time. He finishes the PowerPoint, closes it, saves it and goes to the website and uploads it. The presentation in front finishes and he walks down the stairs, clicks on the link and presents. His presentation had gone from Germany to Galway and back to Germany.”

The funding for the app was acquired from the Galway Enterprise Board with match funding from the bank.

Paul advises other budding designers seeking funding that “the best thing you can do is just be completely honest with yourself. There’s no point going in with a business plan trying to sell the bank manager on if you don’t believe in it yourself. To get the funding, we put together a very clear business plan, we showed a product that clearly worked, that was sold twenty times, that had generated x amount of revenue in 2 years and were able to demonstrate that this product would work.”

Starlight aims to have Starolas at alpha (the first phase to begin software testing) or approaching beta (the next phase generally when the software has all its final functionality) by May with a view to showcasing it at upcoming conferences in June.

Cisco Quad: A Social Network for the Business Enterprise

Quad is Cisco’s enterprise collaboration platform. It is a system where the social tools that are widely used in Facebook and Twitter and other social networks such as; newsfeeds, groups, relationships with friends and followers, contacts and the ability to be able to see activities that other people in our social network are doing, have been adapted to meet the demands of the business world. The emphasis here, however, is more on enterprise than social network.

The social networking capability that we are used to having with Facebook or Twitter has been enabled for integration with the enterprise systems that nearly all businesses have, and which already deal with the demands of CRM systems, document management and numerous other tasks.

Cisco developed Quad because they found that there was a need to provide integration between social networking and the requirement to maintain commercial security and fulfill various legal compliances. It was time to bring social media into the grown-up world. Quad transforms the idea of social network systems from being a fun tool to stay in touch with family and friends to a cutting edge business tool to aid communication and productivity.

Keith Griffin, Lead Architect of the Enterprise Collaboration Platform at Cisco, is based in Galway, Ireland. The Cisco site there is heavily involved in the field of unified communications: the combining of video, audio, instant messaging, online meetings and other collaborative solutions. Using their knowledge and experience, the team in Galway were able to make a large contribution to the work being done on the core development of Quad taking place in San Jose, California.

As Keith explains, “What we are doing here is adding horizontal social interconnectivity to a vertical directory structure. You can see in my profile (pictured above and below) that I have got directory information here. You can see my latest microblog about a research meeting that took place the night before last and my recent blogs and tags which I share with everyone else. If people want to go to this page, they can see all this. It is not just a static web page. It’s a full Web 2.0 environment.

“In the directory, I can see the reporting line. You can see all the people I am following in the directory. If I hover over anybody on the list here, I can see for example that so and so is not following, but this person is. That’s the difference between the ‘following’ model and the ‘friend’ model. If both people follow each other they are friends.

“When we did this integration (at one point there was in excess of a hundred thousand people participating,) the social activity was immense. As soon as people could see where they were in the directory and where they related to other people, they started sending friend requests and following requests.

“It just showed to me that vertical integration remains the backbone of the organisation, but it’s of limited value without this horizontal social activity because that represents the interactions that people do in real life, and in the virtual teams they work with, and so on.”

As it was felt that people have a little more to say in the business world, Quad uses 400 characters in its microposts. There is also the ability to have a ‘watch list’ where a separate filter of the main feed’s social activities can be displayed. This can allow the watch list to be used as a de facto to-do list. It gives the user the ability to respond to the news, requests and information that is most pertinent and relevant to them.

How easy does Quad make it to access the vast and varied amount of resources and expertise that a company like Cisco has?

“A big trend that we borrowed from the Web is the concept of social relevance. If I am an expert on something and I offer an opinion or write a blog, that tends to be given a pretty heavy weighting. If someone offers an opinion and perhaps they don’t have a background in a certain area, then it tends to stay as an opinion with a lesser weighting.

“In a social network, because you get to see all the activities, you can see who is active in any particular area. Over time, if people aren’t getting the answers that they expect from somebody who has been represented with having those skills, then in a system like this you would see less social activity associated with those topics for those people. So their relevance and ranking overall can drop.

How is Quad modeled?

“What we have done here is modeled our entire system on people, communities and information. Those are the three dimensions of the system.

“If I search for something like the Semantic Web, which is something we research quite deeply with the people at DERI, it will bring us back a three-dimensional search result. We’re not doing anything special with search, but what we are doing is interpreting the results in the context of social network rather than in the context of a keyword search on a number of documents.

“What it is about is providing a richness of information in any given search.”

A natural by product of social activity is the creation of communities. How are they handled?

“When people have a certain interest and that’s an ongoing interest, whether it is a project or it could be a sales campaign or a feature that they are working on, they can set up a community. The community can have a number of owners and contributors. We can have wikis and other Web 2.0 tools of the sort which you would expect, as everything running here is completely within a browser environment.

“Just like on the Web, crowdsourcing in an enterprise is significant as well. It is not just based on the hierarchy of our team. Anybody can come in and contribute their ideas. We use the crowd within our own organisation to get things done.”

While Cisco and companies like Cisco have been using instant messaging technology in preference to emails and telephone conversations for a number of years, particularly in the areas of engineering and software development, there is a major benefit to be had in harnessing one of the real powers of social media – persistence.

Persistence means that a message is kept alive and relevant because it can be seen in the context of its usefulness and relevance by the people engaged with that conversation. Important ideas don’t get lost in emails or are forgotten to be passed on after isolated conversations on telephones.

As it is easier to see the relationship between different messages and their place in the context of activity, it makes it easier to obtain a better perspective on what has already happened, and as a consequence be more appropriately placed to make better decisions about what to do next.

How does Quad help with the issue of time zones in a company as large as Cisco?

“I work an awful lot with San Jose and I am not sure if I could get through my day without Quad. As soon as I come in, I get a snapshot of all my colleagues and all the projects and technologies they are working on.

“It’s not as good as the coffee machine conversation, but I can get a sense of what is going on. The alternative is reading lots and lots of individual emails which doesn’t give me the same context or the same conversational view.”

A tool or a piece of software will only go so far. There has to be a desire for a company to collaborate and want to work together. There is an organisational and business process that needs to happen with this technology as well. Software, as ever, is just a facilitator. It is just something to make things happen. But perhaps when people look at the powerful possibilities that technologies like Quad can offer, it can inspire them to drive the sort of changes needed to enable organisations to work more collaboratively and, hopefully, make things better for everyone.