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Call for digital strategy to cash in on e-commerce

The Digital Hub Development Agency has called for the development of an “ambitious” national digital strategy to enable Ireland to benefit from the rapid growth of online spending and e-commerce.

Irish people will be spending more than €20 billion a year online by 2017, the agency said at the release of its 2011 annual report on 2 August. But without an effective national digital strategy most of this money will be spent in overseas companies, the agency warned.

The current annual spend stands at about €4bn, of which three-quarters goes overseas, mostly to the UK, said the agency’s Leonard Donnelly. If this was not redressed, the revenue loss to the domestic economy would be “immense”.

The Digital Hub is an international centre of excellence for digital content and technology enterprises, based in inner-city Dublin. Set up by the government in 2003, the agency promotes and manages the development of the hub and the infrastructure it requires to attract companies.

The government must ensure that digital is at the centre of the economic agenda, Donnelly said. This required investment in world-class communications in support of public access to e-commerce, taking into account that the next internet wave would be focused on “video-net” services. Video would develop, as had text services, in support of education services, entertainment and commercial transactions, making it “critical” to Ireland’s future success, he said.

Ireland would have to develop its online services along the lines of the UK and India. Both countries had moved to promote online services and encourage public access to these services, he said.

The agency announced it had put together a 10-year development plan for the hub, in cooperation with Dublin City Council and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The agency’s work had suffered in recent years from the crash in the financial and property sectors, said the agency’s Philip Flynn. This had curtailed development of the hub’s campus.

Nevertheless, companies based there continued to grow and 18 firms joined the hub in 2011, Flynn said. Its campus office occupancy rate stood at 95 per cent, with more than 70 companies employing 800 people. But given overall demand for experienced IT staff, finding skilled people remained a problem, he said.

In the longer term, the agency expected to see a phased “build-out” of its campus, work that would also serve to regenerate the area in which the campus is based.