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Stranorlar’s DigiHub Powered By SIRO

digihub launch at plaque Last Friday, September 17th, we announced the expansion of our Gigabit Hub Initiative to Stranorlar, Co Donegal with the connection of The DigiHub at The BASE Enterprise Centre, a new 1600 sq ft Digital Hub dedicated to supporting the growth of ICT and Digital businesses in Donegal.  The Hub is situated in The BASE Enterprise Centre, a 19000 sq ft Enterprise space built in 2015 to help attract investment and enable more to live and do business in the area.

By delivering Gigabit connectivity to the BASE Enterprise Centre, we have made remote working a reality for over 70 professionals, ensuring it’s as easy to do business in the Finn Valley as anywhere else in country.

John Keaney, CEO, SIRO

The DigiHub at The BASE was developed as part of the Digiwest programme with funding by the RRDF in partnership with Donegal County Council and the Western Development Commission. The DigiHub, which is located at Railway Road, Stranorlar, has a range of options available for remote workers, start-ups and established businesses with hot desk and start-up space on flexible arrangements, office units of various sizes, training facilities, and a range of meeting rooms. With Covid-19 fundamentally changing where people will live and work across Ireland, the BASE is aimed at enticing entrepreneurs and existing businesses to relocate to Stranorlar or offer 100% fibre-optic connectivity for remote workers based in the surrounding area.  The BASE is an independent enterprise space built and managed by BASICC, a local social enterprise dedicated to the regeneration of Ballybofey and Stranorlar. The new DigiHub focuses on strengthening the growing ICT and Digital sector in the area by dedicating a space for businesses in these industries to work together, sharing knowledge, skills and networks. With 23 desks available for short-term or casual hire, the hub can accommodate more than 20 tenants in addition to the business units available for permanent hire with capacity to accommodate an additional 50+ tenants. The DigiHub also offers a range of supports to start-ups including one-to-one business mentoring as well as access to mentoring through a network of support businesses via the Ballybofey and Stranorlar Chamber of Commerce; networking and informal learning opportunities; supportive promotion through social media channels; training opportunities; and signposting to key statutory agencies for assistance. One such company benefiting from the SIRO 1 GB connection at BASE Enterprise Centre is Secora Consulting.  Speaking at the launch of the Stranorlar hub, Phillip Close, Director of Secora Consulting said "The DigiHub will bring new and exciting opportunities for many in the Ballybofey/Stranorlar and surrounding areas. We're looking forward to being a part of the DigiHub Community and welcoming other Digital & ICT businesses to the growing network there as well. All of the business facilities required such as gigabit FTTH broadband, meeting rooms, recording studio, office space and co-working areas will now be available to support many with their business needs and ensure a healthy work-life balance.” inside the digihub The DigiHub is the latest to receive free SIRO powered one Gigabit broadband connection, provided by Vodafone and offered to 16 co-working hubs across the country. Launched in 2017, the Gigabit Hub Initiative was ahead of its time in aiming to spark a digital transformation across regional Ireland and boost local economies. SIRO’s 100% fibre-optic Gigabit connectivity, which is recognised as the international gold standard of broadband, is helping to reverse the digital divide in Ireland by offering connectivity that is better than what is available in Dublin.

These hubs, powered by 1 Gigabit broadband, are an example of how local people and businesses can work together to generate economic growth in rural areas, but they also offer employees and business owners access to the digital society and the opportunity to pursue their careers and business ventures in towns and villages across Ireland.”

Sinéad Bryan, Vodafone Business Managing Director 

siros john keaney at digihub Present at the launch of the Digihub was Minister for Rural and Community Development and Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphries, who remarked: “As we phase out restrictions put in place during COVID-19, it’s more relevant than ever to invest in co-working spaces for those who wish to remain in their home counties and avoid long commutes to Dublin and larger cities. The launch of today’s hub in the heart of Stranorlar highlights the appetite for hybrid working in regional Ireland to remain. Thanks to the partnership of Donegal CoCo, the Western Development Commission, SIRO and Vodafone, this Gigabit hub can enable Stranorlar to have connectivity unparalleled to anyone in the country.” Commenting on the milestone of becoming part of the Gigabit Hub initiative, Kieran Doherty, Chairperson of BASICC said: “The BASE is a core part of the regeneration strategy for Stranorlar, Ballybofey and the surrounding area.  In order for the area to flourish, we have to be able to connect to any part of the world instantly and Gigabit connectivity means that we have the same world class broadband that is available in international hubs like Tokyo or Singapore. So we are delighted to be part of SIRO and Vodafone’s Gigabit Hub initiative as it will help us to keep people who had been working remotely in the area during the pandemic here and attract more people back to the Finn Valley.”  

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Today Tuesday 14 September, we launched our Sustainability Strategy, which aims to establish SIRO as Ireland’s greenest broadband network. The Strategy was formally launched by the Minister of State with responsibility for Public Procurement and eGovernment and Communications and Circular Economy, Ossian Smyth. The launch occurred on the same day as the our first electric vehicles (EVs) took to the road and coincides with Dublin Climate Action Week also taking place this week.  

“Today’s launch is the culmination of several years’ work at SIRO, first to measure our outputs and impact on the environment and broader sustainability targets and second, to then act to become cleaner, greener and more sustainable as a leading Irish telecoms business."

John Keaney, CEO, SIRO

A switch over of our existing diesel commercial fleet to EVs is a key component of the Strategy. This initiative alone will see 1.6 million kilometres in journeys undertaken each year as part of our network roll-out operations (equivalent to travelling around the globe 40 times), become greener and more sustainable. We expect the switch will more than halve our existing carbon emissions. With effect from this month, we have switched 65% of our existing diesel fleet to EVs and the remaining third will be phased out by the company over the next year, with the fleet fully electric by end 2022. image of siro electric vehicles Work on developing and activating the Strategy, which encompasses environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues relevant to the company and its operations, began in 2018 leading to today’s launch at our Carrickmines offices. Our broadband network is 100% fibre, with no copper at any point, also making it significantly more energy efficient (by up to 60% and emitting less carbon emissions (over 80% less) than traditional copper or cable broadband networks).

Key aspects of the Strategy include:

  • Switching the SIRO fleet to EVs: Transitioning of SIRO’s existing diesel fleet to EVs by end 2022, reducing carbon emissions by 53% once complete.
  • Joining the UN Global Compact: SIRO joined the UN Global Compact in February 2021. The Compact obliges participants to implement changes to their business to achieve a set of agreed UN objectives in areas such as environment, human rights, labour, and anti-corruption. SIRO is only one of 14 Irish SMEs (or 35 Irish entities in total) to join the Compact (vs. comparable sized countries such as Denmark where almost 500 (493) businesses are members)[1];
  • Utilising solar power and supporting biodiversity on its’ network: SIRO has commenced a feasibility study on installing solar panels on SIRO’s PoP cabins. These panels would offset the energy used in these internet connection points with renewable and green energy and feed into the national electricity grid. SIRO is also undertaking biodiversity projects in the environs of PoP cabins.
  • Reducing waste: SIRO has reduced its annual waste to landfill by 20% between 2018 and 2020 and is targeting zero waste to landfill by 2030.
  • Reducing commuting: Introducing a hybrid work strategy which aims to reduce emissions from employee commuting by 15% per annum.
  • Championing gender equality: The company has made significant progress in achieving gender equality, with its’ senior leadership team now 66% female, with 34% female representation across the business generally. The company is also a signatory of the UN’s Women Empowerment Principles (WEP) which commits employers to equal pay for work of equal value, gender-responsive supply chain practices and zero tolerance against sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • Partnering with community stakeholders: SIRO is partnering with several community stakeholders including Open Doors, Junior Achievement Ireland or Employers for Change to promote inclusivity and equal opportunities in their workplace and the wider communities served by the company.
[1] Figure as of 1 August 2021.

“Long term success for all telecoms operators requires strategic transformation, including through embracing sustainability and committing to a long-term investment which not only contributes to the circular economy, but which will also reap numerous benefits in meeting customer needs, increasing efficiency, strengthening brands, and creating new business opportunities."

Ossian Smyth, Minister of State

“I look forward to engaging with SIRO and other telecoms operators to ensure that the sustainable solutions they apply in all aspects of their activities will allow for building competitive advantage and best in class innovation, while also helping to protect and preserve our natural ecosystems for future generations” - Minister Smyth commented. siro build team with new EV   According to SIRO CEO John Keaney: “Today’s launch is the culmination of several years’ work at SIRO, first to measure our outputs and impact on the environment and broader sustainability targets and second, to then act to become cleaner, greener and more sustainable as a leading Irish telecoms business." Mr Keaney stressed the urgency for action: “Change is never easy or convenient. Becoming sustainable and protecting both people and planet is no longer a choice, but an essential, enduring activity; one which business leaders must champion. Technology can be a great enabler of more sustainable living. SIRO’s 100% fibre broadband is empowering communities and businesses to become more sustainable in areas such as remote working and reduced commuting; smart homes and cities; enhanced business productivity reducing emissions and driving greater energy efficiency. SIRO’s fibre broadband network is also the cleanest broadband available today, using less energy than traditional copper networks and emitting significantly less harmful emissions. This further highlights the focus that all stakeholders must place on achieving a full fibre Ireland, not least because of the contribution it can make to Ireland meeting climate change and sustainability commitments”, added Mr. Keaney.  

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Education is a journey full of little milestones and big achievements, traditionally populating one’s life until early adulthood. With a global pandemic, the way, where and when we learn has changed forever. Throughout the pandemic the issue of school closures and restrictions was an emotive one. Unsurprising, given the mix of actors and issues at play. Parents, students, teachers, mental health experts, all conscious of the impact on education and learning, child development and socialisation or physical and mental wellbeing. While fair, it must also be remembered that the shift to remote learning was not a carefully planned and designed process. It was an experiment in emergency remote learning necessitated by the extraordinary circumstances of a global pandemic. As we approach another school year, the positive expectation is that students will return to classrooms or lecture halls. It’s critical we take the experiences, good and bad, from e-learning during COVID-19, apply them and adapt accordingly to ensure it remains a significant and responsive part of how we deliver education. Partially due to COVID, remote learning is flourishing. Benefits include the ability to work at your own pace, greater personal control over learning and potential savings on transport and accommodation.  

FTTH (Fibre-To-The-Home) connectivity should not be considered a luxury rather an essential utility accessibility to all Irish homes.

  The improvements in connectivity resulting from increased availability of high-quality fibre broadband networks has democratised access to education. Marginalised groups in society, lifelong learners, mature students among others enjoy greater options. Connectivity is enabling a more inclusive form of education delivery to develop; fundamentally changing the traditional meaning of what it is to be a student. Remote learning is also rapidly transforming what it means to be a student by providing alternative routes to qualifications vs. the time spent in lecture halls. It’s not that one way is better or worse, it’s more that technology and connectivity has given greater choice and options on how and where education is delivered - expanding access to groups where the traditional onsite approach just didn’t work for them. Students are increasingly voting with their keyboards, with online courses becoming more favoured. A CSO study covering Q3, 2020 underlines the trend:
  • 21% of Irish internet users used an educational website or portal.
  • 18% took an online course in 2020 vs. 5% in 2017.
  • 25% used online learning materials (online learning software, electronic textbooks).
As much as remote learning can expand access to education at any stage or age, in Ireland connectivity and high-quality broadband remain a barrier for many. To accommodate remote learning, you need reliable connectivity. Those working remotely, know well the dreaded buffering of Zoom and Teams calls, with signals dropping in and out regularly. Now, imagine that for a teacher facilitating an average class size of 25 or more. Challenging, to say the least. Naturally, the more people participating on a call with video and audio included will increase the bandwidth requirements for these applications, and the factor of “peak” or “off-peak” times will skew the figures too. Therefore, FTTH (Fibre-To-The-Home) connectivity should not be considered a luxury rather an essential utility accessibility to all Irish homes. Progress is being made. Fibre broadband is now available to 53% of Irish homes and businesses, but the urgency with which the remaining 47% (or as close as possible to it) needs to be rolled out cannot be overstated. Estonia shows what’s possible. As far back as 1997, Estonia declared internet access a basic right and set an example of what Ireland should put into practice in terms of Digital Learning. These included connecting all schools with connectivity, equipping them with smart learning devices and introducing ‘eKool’ - a system which both manages the school and includes digital exercise books, learning materials and an online overview of grades and performance. The result? Estonia sits top of European league tables for digital learning.  

Connectivity is enabling a more inclusive form of education delivery to develop; fundamentally changing the traditional meaning of what it is to be a student.

  Our Department of Education is currently developing a new Digital Education Strategy. It’s timely, coinciding with several factors changing our view of future digital education. COVID, is one factor. The attainment of a fully connected Ireland with access to high-speed fibre broadband, in the not-too-distant future, as companies like SIRO rollout their fibre network, is another. Both must shape our thinking on digital education for the years ahead. The pandemic showed us elements of the future in an exaggerated fashion but also how, once challenged, all stakeholders can adapt to better ways of working. Delivery of education should be no different.  

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Is it time for Irish homes to get smarter? SIRO's Head of Operations Cian O’Mahony gives his views on the life-changing potential of smart homes.

Is it time for Irish homes to get smarter?

For generations leaving the immersion on was one of the worst offences that could be committed in an Irish household, worse even than missing the ‘long’ mass on a Sunday. The arrival of the plug-in timer has resolved this ecumenical burden, for those of you who remember to use it! Now, technology has leaped forward again with the onset of smart homes. But what do smart homes mean in practice for Irish householders? Smart homes can mean different things depending on your stage of life and on the built environment or building type in which smart technology is being installed. Below, I look at these aspects.

Elderly

A segment of our population I have been very engaged with recently through lock downs, both personally and professionally, are those over 70. The bandwidth demands of our senior citizens is often overlooked. However, their ability to continue to adjust and use technology, particularly during the pandemic, has been marked. Many have lived through a world war and other life challenges, so they come armed with resilience and adaptability. The first thing to note is that elderly are serious bandwidth consumers already. Tablets for the zoom calls with grandkids in New Zealand, no problem. RTE Player on the smart TV? A must. DAB radio for the stations they prefer, even an old Amazon Dash Button to replenish the kitchen essentials. Society will always be judged on how it looks after the vulnerable and smart tech can give older people greater comfort and convenience in their lives. Stakeholders to the fore in enabling smart tech must now also look across the generations and consider how smart homes can better support our elderly in their earned autumn years. Technology is responding to this need, with the application of smart tech for the elderly an area which has really taken off in recent years. Increasingly it spans a broad spectrum from connecting with loved ones right up to sophisticated remote medical monitoring.  

"Providing the very best fibre broadband infrastructure creates the platform on which the full potential of smart tech will be realised."

 

Families

The volume of connected devices in the home now is a figure that varies depending on the publication, but likely north of 10, and growing rapidly. A key focus in this space will be privacy and security, as the application of technology to this demographic is more of a base skill set. We grew up with it to a degree. For SIRO, we recognise our role is to ensure we deliver a broadband installation which gives as strong a foundation for a seamless experience across all devices as possible. Positioning our entry point as close to the centre of the home, providing the customer with advice on modem positioning (no photo frames near it, not behind a TV, up as high as you can facilitate). In addition, we help customers connect their first two devices to the broadband network and carry out a speed test to demonstrate the product they have purchased is working correctly. Beyond this, our retail partners are coming to market with Wi-Fi enhancement products to further underpin the backbone connectivity which all these devices require. This will likely become the norm in all homes.

Youth

The pace of technological development has accelerated in each generation, and this will be no different for the babies born in 2021. They will apply technology available today in an even more sophisticated way than we currently do. The next generation will go further, turning existing technology features into tangible benefits – even to solve global problems. This will include reducing carbon emissions throughout the home through fully interconnected devices or making connected home security enhancements accessible to all. Think a fridge that adapts to the ambient temperature; a washing machine which senses the weight and shortens its spin cycle or a set of security cameras and scanners that have a WPS set up to the home Wi-Fi and link back to monitoring stations. These features exist today but applying them as standard across our homes will move the next generation on to a whole other level of expectations. Providing the very best fibre broadband infrastructure creates the platform on which the full potential of smart tech will be realised.  

"The pace of technological development has accelerated in each generation, and this will be no different for the babies born in 2021."

 

Built environment

As homes are constructed, we typically think of the thickness of the walls and the effectiveness of the roof. However, increasingly the commentary has moved to the presence of fibre broadband. A real shift in sentiment has been experienced through lockdown, and the feeling is that purchasers of all homes, new and old, are now attuned to the importance of purchasing a property that will facilitate their 10+ devices and importantly, the ability to work from home in the new post-COVID-19 normal. Fibre broadband is the gold standard in broadband connectivity. SIRO continues to work with a range of developers across Ireland to ensure our 100% fibre-to-the-premise service is available in all new developments.  We also advise on home layouts to ensure a customer can enjoy broadband from the first day they move in, including that the devices and the modem are strategically positioned to maximise efficacy of use. Similarly, with SIRO’s enterprise product we work closely with each business on the installation of our fibre service, in both new and existing business premises, to ensure they can use the service in the way their business demands. Whether that’s wireless connectivity with machines on a manufacturing floor or wired upload speeds capable of sending the next Oscar-nominated animation feature across the Atlantic to Hollywood studios. Smarter homes, in addition to retrofitting of older homes, can make a meaningful contribution in driving a more sustainable and energy efficient Ireland. Part of Ireland’s green and digital recovery must be fostered not just within our business community but also within our homes and a focus on smarter homes must be part of that objective. The ‘immersion generation’ can drive the smart home movement too. Investing in smart home devices might just be the way to exorcise their childhood demons! Cian O’Mahony, is Head of Operations at SIRO, a joint venture between ESB and Vodafone, rolling out a new 100% fibre broadband network across Ireland.  

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We have now passed 16,000 homes and businesses as part of our Kerry fibre broadband roll out program. When launched in 2015, Kerry was one of the first counties to receive SIRO’s 100% Fibre To-The-Premise broadband. To date, SIRO has invested €10.2M in bringing its’ fibre broadband network to Kerry towns including Tralee, Castleisland and Killarney. Killarney, one of SIRO’s Gigabit towns, now has 5,000 premises passed with fibre broadband on SIRO’s network, as we complete the first phase of our roll out in the Kingdom. SIRO’s enterprise product, providing equal upload and download speeds, is particularly popular with many businesses in the town availing of this best-in-class fibre connectivity. The Killarney Oak’s Hotel (‘the Oaks’), situated on the outskirts of the town, is just one such business benefitting directly from SIRO’s reliable broadband connection.  The hotel, a family-owned business has been open for more than 20 years, catering to a wide demographic from young families to grandparents. The Oaks is also an award-winning wedding destination hotel, with couples from as far off as Australia choosing the hotel for their special day. The Oak has 70 double guest bedrooms, but with its’ wedding, restaurant and bar facilitates it has the capacity (outside of current COVID-19 restrictions) to host many more, particularly during peak wedding and summer holiday periods. This made the hotel’s need for high speed and reliable broadband a priority, shaping their decision to switch to SIRO’s 100% fibre broadband network. Commenting on the progress of the Kerry roll out, SIRO’s Chief Commercial Officer, Ronan Whelan said: “We are very pleased with the progress of SIRO’s roll out in Killarney and the county. Killarney was one of SIRO’s first gigabit towns to benefit from SIRO’s best-in-class connectivity. Now, to see Kerry homes and businesses being supported by our broadband network, and throughout the pandemic, underlines to us the continued importance of our mission to bring high quality fibre broadband to regional towns across Ireland. “Killarney and Kerry are the jewel in the crown of the Irish tourism and hospitality sectors, with the pre-Covid value of the industry worth over half a billion euro to the county.  While it’s been an incredibly tough year for these sectors, reliable connectivity has given a lifeline to businesses within it enabling many to pivot to new ways of working and trading, which our broadband network has supported. “As Ireland begins its’ journey to recovery, connectivity will grow even more in importance. Getting the message out that high speed reliable broadband is available in towns like Killarney is key to business bounce back in the months ahead. “Businesses like the Killarney Oaks with customers booking or doing virtual tours of the hotel months in advance of travelling, are further proof of the importance of a reliable fibre broadband connection”. Eamonn Courtney, owner of the Killarney Oak’s Hotel, remarked: “As a family-owned business operating in Killarney for the past 20 years, we understand the significance of growing and evolving your business to keep up with the times. “The pandemic brought its own challenges and we had to adjust our business accordingly. Having fibre broadband allowed us, even during lockdowns, to prepare the business for reopening and recovery into next year and beyond such as by continuing to handle bookings or enabling virtual wedding tours. Now that we’ve begun to welcome guests back, the first question they always ask is “what’s the Wi-Fi password?” and we’re delighted that it’s now not something we worry about”, added Courtney. SIRO for Business is live in Killarney with Vodafone, Viatel, Digiweb, Blacknight and PureTelecom offering 100% FTTP connectivity. Visit www.siro.ie/killarney for more information.
A survey by IrishJobs.ie, published last week, found almost 40% of workers did not have clarity on when and in what way they will return to the office. This level of uncertainty, after 15 months of pandemic, is hard to fathom. Sure, the date of return to the office could be subject to movement given COVID variants, but there is no reason why there should be a lack of clarity in the form it takes – whether at all, part-time or full-time return. Remote working has been the great social experiment of our age, but the longevity of the pandemic has meant that there has been the time to test the hypotheses around remote or hybrid working. Most must know whether this pilot project can be mainstreamed. The most sceptical of employers’ pre-pandemic concede that, even with the challenging circumstances in which the experiment was trialled, it has succeeded. U.S. research even pointed to productivity gains of up to 30%. Employees too have experienced benefits. No long commutes, greater flexibility in how and where they work, increased time with family or to pursue their interests. Greatest of all has been putting control back into their own hands. They now manage how and when they work, making their working life synch better with their lives outside of work. Some companies called it quickly, as early as last summer and autumn, declaring a permanent move to remote working, based around a spilt of remote and office based, so called hybrid working. A minority went further calling an end to office work completely. At SIRO, a company rolling out a new 100% fibre broadband network across Ireland, we have always facilitated remote and hybrid working. We are now working to enhance this further. This includes supporting greater collaboration, ensuring no divisions or disadvantages between remote or office-based working and bolstering company culture to underpin the existing strong sense of purpose and value. The idea that some companies are waiting to see hybrid works out for others first just isn’t credible. A measure of uncertainty on ways of working into the future should not be a reason for indecision or inaction. To do so creates a vacuum; risks disengaging and demotivating employees; or worse, a business brain drain where talent migrates to companies who have provided greater clarity on their working policies. In short, business leaders need to get comfortable with uncertainty and deal with it. Confronting risk and working with it is a normal facet of business life, so why look at new ways of working any differently? Variance on what the future of work will be goes to the heart of hybrid working – there is no single definition and equally no playbook. Companies need to frame what works best for them; not what others are doing. Arrive at that point and the pathway to implementation becomes easier. Hybrid working, like all experiments, can be trial and error. Some things work well. Those that you expect to, may not. The greatest advances in science or technology didn’t happen overnight. Be willing to experiment, fail and learn to achieve a model that works for your business. A successful transition to hybrid working requires clear and consistent communication. Your internal communication strategies and tools are going to be working overtime. It’s ok to admit you don’t have all the answers - the situation is an evolving one. It is critical to continuously communicate, engage and encourage feedback from your employees (good and bad) as you plan and activate hybrid working strategies. Think staff surveys, one-to-one check ins, and bigger picture all-employee communications, on an ongoing basis. Numerous surveys show most employees want hybrid working. It’s a great opportunity to reframe our lives for the better, so don’t let the intricacies of implementing it drain the positivity of the experience. It’s essential to maintain and strengthen company culture. The novelty factor of the company social club Zoom event has, understandably, waned. Yet, sustaining those connections, fostering a sense of purpose and cultivating collaborations which are both work related and social is even more important with hybrid working. The answer lies within the office part of the hybrid model. After over a year of restrictions there is a palpable yearning for contact with real people, not just people onscreen. As offices reopen use these spaces, not just for work tasks, but for social collaborations. HR and senior leaders must drive these, prioritising these connections as essential to company success. COVID-19 reset many aspects of life, but it has also created many opportunities to do things differently, and better. Living more sustainable lives, where we are more rooted in our communities, became a reality during lockdowns. Hybrid working fosters sustainability but there are other actions employers can push to further it. These include supporting sustainable commuting to work (walking, cycling or public transport); greater diversity through a wider hybrid working talent pool; or ongoing upskilling/reskilling for employees to meet emerging workforce needs. Hybrid working is good for business and employees. It’s a huge opportunity to reset; getting rid of bad ways of working which suited neither employers nor employees. Time is moving on; business leaders now need to embrace change and give employees their vision for a new world of work. Blanaid O’Regan is SIRO Director of People and Culture. SIRO, a joint venture between the ESB and Vodafone, is rolling out a new 100% Gigabit fibre broadband network across Ireland.
On 17 June last, SIRO brought together a range of experts from the Irish video gaming industry, as part of our webinar “Gaming for Growth”. With diverse speakers from game development, eSports promotion and the IDA, the event explored if and how Ireland can grow the sector here further. The context to asking the question was important. The global video gaming industry is huge, valued at €140 billion annually. This makes it’s value twice that of the music, TV and film industries combined. It’s also an industry experiencing unprecedented global growth; up to 10% year-on-year. These numbers alone should make all stakeholders focused on economic growth and job creation sit up and take notice. Financial muscle apart, video gaming growth is now pervasive; it’s immersion across society evident all around us. Video games, already a significant consumer product before Covid-19, strengthened their market share of the entertainment sector even more during the pandemic. A recent Deloitte study  found that 87% of Generation Z, 83% of Millennials, and 79% of Generation X said they play video games on devices such as smartphones, gaming consoles, or computers at least weekly”. Equally interesting is who are now consuming video games. Here again, traditional perceptions no longer hold true with a rapid increase in female gamers. A 2019 study in the U.S finding that 46% of all gamers in the U.S. are female. A further key consideration about the industry’s growth is that it is now much more than just about mass entertainment. Gamification of multiple aspects of life, work or business is now standard. Take retail, eBay were one of the first to push gamification across a retail eCommerce platform. It’s competitive bidding system, buyer-seller feedback, and power of seller statuses turned eBay into a gamified platform. Others have followed, with Amazon applying gamification components albeit more subtly, in areas such as rating reviews or trusted sellers. Gamification is now also common in recruitment - used to test the aptitude of candidates or to give a better sense of the role with video simulation exercises. The U.S Army was one of the first to embrace this idea, providing would-be recruits with a gamified version of military exercises. In the UK, Asda trains staff with a smartphone game which simulates a store setting and customer conversations. Gamification has social applications too, increasingly used in healthcare for everything from surgical training to mental health and wellness programmes. In education too, the use of video games is now well embedded as part of the overall learning experience. These examples point to the diversification of video gaming stretching into expanding use cases. Add-in ever improving connectivity and reduced latency due to fibre broadband, as companies like SIRO roll-out high-speed fibre broadband, and the opportunity for Ireland to level up and grow the industry here further comes into focus. Ireland is not starting from a standing position. We have performed relatively well in developing the sector. Several of the bigger global players are already here, names like Activision or EA, in addition to a community of homegrown game development companies. Yet contributors at the SIRO video gaming event, noted the significant opportunity for Ireland to grab a much larger slice of the global video gaming pie. Key to this is supporting our indigenous game development companies to grow and scale. A template already exists. Internationally countries, such as France or Canada, who have rolled out ambitious national programmes have succeeded in creating world-leading domestic video gaming industries. Positively, their efforts have not gone unnoticed. As part of his Budget 2021 speech Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, announced that from January 2022 the video gaming sector would be able to avail of a tax relief scheme akin to the existing reliefs enjoyed by our film sector. The details are under discussion. The latter has been hugely instrumental in making Ireland a destination of choice for the film industry, creating a thriving local film sector. The hope is that, for the video gaming sector, it could have a similar impact. Though the proposed tax measures have been welcomed by the industry, a legitimate question has been raised by some industry players about the extent of the relief. In Canada, it’s possible for smaller game studios to receive financial assistance to support up to 40% of employees’ wages during their formative years. It’s a recognition that early-stage game studios can often have a couple of years with little or no revenue, in advance of securing a publishing deal. A factor attested to by John and Brenda Romero of Romero Games during the webinar when they spoke about their experiences of establishing their studio in Galway. The hope is that the Government’s proposal can be the starting point for further measures to grow video gaming development here. The return on investment for Ireland could be substantial not least because there are several factors which suggest the sector here is ripe to achieve to greater success. As noted, ever improving fibre broadband connectivity, and the ambition to reach effectively almost universal fibre coverage, makes Ireland a very attractive location for digital industries such as video gaming. Ireland’s position within the EU, as a Member State with a young, well-educated, digitally savvy and English-speaking population is another. Consider too the increasing range of creative, design and computing courses now available in our further and third level institutions. As the IDA’s Catherine Slowey pointed out a talent pipeline is key, and Ireland can point to a strong one. Yet with youth unemployment at 60%, many gifted graduates are struggling to find work right now. Covid-19 has upended many of the sectors of the economy we relied heavily on, such as hospitality and tourism. As we look to move beyond the pandemic, Ireland has a unique opportunity to reset and focus on industries which synch with an increasingly digitised world, such as video gaming. The attractiveness of Ireland to international and domestic video gaming players was best captured on the day by Brenda Romero, CEO of Romero Games, when she commented: “it made more sense to be here than it did to be in Silicon Valley...it made solid economic and solid creative sense to here [in Ireland]. We have zero regrets”. Amanda Glancy, Director of Corporate Affairs, SIRO.
SIRO’s Chief Commercial Officer, Ronan Whelan joined Mary O’Neill on WLR FM to discuss SIRO’s €7.5 million investment, connecting over 9,000 homes and businesses in Waterford city to 100% fibre broadband.
SIRO Ireland · Ronan Whelan says SIRO will roll out broadband to 9,000 homes in Waterford
On Tuesday last the Government launched its’ long awaited National Economic Recovery Plan - Ireland’s €3.6 billion investment shot in the arm to help economic recovery from COVID-19. The level of investment puts it on a par to Budget Day, but €3.6 billion in the context of high unemployment and precarious position of thousands of businesses won’t stretch far. That said, it continues the pragmatic approach by this Government of propping up businesses, which, pandemic apart, would be viable. There is a strong focus on a digital and a green recovery too. Digital and green go hand in hand, with digital often being an enabler of more sustainable ways of living. Take remote working, fuelled by high quality fibre broadband and reliable connectivity, but pervasive in reducing the need for long commutes, reducing carbon emissions as a result. If the extent of funding committed to Ireland’s digital recovery, at €295 million, was the only marker of success, then Ireland would have already aced it. Add in ring-fenced funding of €85 million to support SMEs accelerate digitisation and the opportunity for Irish business is significant. Yet, funding, while critical to the success of any project, is only one part. Ensuring funding is invested in the most impactful and transformative way is also critical. And it isn’t just about what it can do for business, but also how it benefits communities and individuals, particularly in reducing inequalities. Plans are often only as good as the leaders behind them. In deciding how best to support a meaningful digital revolution, it’s important to set out what’s the vision and the end goal for Ireland, including KPIs. A glance at where Ireland’s ranks on digitisation relative to others in the EU, finds we are marked relatively high. Unfortunately, this doesn’t tell the full story. The European Investment Bank has noted of Ireland, “the digital economy appears to run at two different speeds, with a small number of foreign-owned multinationals with high digi­talisation levels and productivity, and traditional indigenous SMEs, which are slower in leveraging digital solutions”. With 99.8% of active businesses SMEs and 70% of the workforce employed in non-digital sectors such as services, construction and manufacturing, there is no doubt that we are a nation of small businesses and digitally, we are exposed. The priority must be to foster SMEs, ensuring that they are digital leaders not laggards. We need fast adaptation of new technologies such as AI, digital automation and VR, as everyday business tools. Equally, with the winds of global tax changes blowing ever stronger, we must cushion ourselves against a significant drop off in multinational corporation tax by investing now in the capacity of our domestic businesses. The starting point is a swift transition to the new networks driving connectivity, possible through rapid migration to full fibre broadband. We need greater awareness of the importance of high quality and reliable fibre business broadband connections. As fibre networks, such as SIRO’s, increase their footprint across Ireland it’s hard to believe, but some businesses remain unaware of an alternative to slow and outdated copper connections, paralysing their business every day. Business leaders and State agencies can play a greater role, in addition to industry, in ensuring SMEs understand what best-in-class fibre broadband is and can unlock for their bottom line. The upfront cost of a business broadband connection can be an issue for some businesses. It’s a commercial reality - rolling out a fibre network cost hundreds of millions. To fund this investment a once-off connection fee is necessary, but it can dissuade some smaller businesses. Government can support businesses, particularly micro-enterprises, in meeting this cost. There are already voucher schemes for companies wishing to develop a website or sell online so why not to connect to high-speed fibre broadband too? Government has spoken about digital training for SMEs, but unless we have a more rapid uptake of high-quality broadband then the training can’t be applied. Equally, the training we provide SMEs must be appropriate for their individual needs. SIRO has submitted a proposal to Government for each SME to undergo a digital fitness test, identifying their digital weaknesses and the best to means to resolve them. It makes no sense to expect SMEs to self-diagnose their digital condition, perhaps opting for unsuitable training courses. Beyond SMEs, the digitisation of our public services is key. A National Digital Strategy is imminent. It must develop digital public services which meet users’ needs; not the agencies which provide them. Digital pioneers such as Singapore, give food for thought. Its’ LifeSG App provides access to a grouped suite of public services to support citizens at key life stages such as young families, active ageing or employment and job seekers supports. In Ireland it’s end users who must work around State agencies when accessing public services. The pattern starts early. Take parents of a new-born, in those early weeks, they must engage with three different agencies with three sets of paperwork when registering a birth, applying for children’s allowance and applying for under 6 free GP care. For business, the bureaucracy can be worse. The Plan also commits to bridge digital divides. This is more than just older, non-digital natives. While important, there are other, equally significant, impacted groups including lone parents, carers, those with disabilities or ethic communities. They need equality of access to both digital skills and the tools needed to deliver those skills, including broadband. The pandemic exposed many manifestations of digital marginalisation in Ireland, in home schooling, working from home, healthcare or access to other services. But it also established broadband as an essential service equal to water or electricity. Do we also need to consider providing financial assistance to pay for broadband for groups without the means to afford it, akin to how we currently provide a weekly payment to support phone charges for pensioners? In the U.S., the Biden administration recognising the potential for digital divides to grow is providing $50 a month to low-income families to pay the cost of broadband. Government plans to accelerate Ireland’s digital competency, though welcome, bring competing choices on how to invest scare these resources - making it even more important that we spend wisely.
Over two weeks on since news broke that the HSE’s IT systems suffered a cyberattack, the organisation is still in the thick of it, battling to restore IT services and get health services back up and running. Much has been written on the preparedness, or not, of our health service and wider Government Departments and agencies for such attacks. The temptation is to criticise Government for not having a sufficiently robust system and framework in place. This may prove to be justified but, before we start finger pointing, we need a balanced view of the issue and its broader context. What has happened to the HSE is far, unfortunately, from unique. In May 2017, the WannaCry ransomware attack spread rapidly across the world. The UK’s NHS hospitals were one of the biggest organisations impacted by the attack. Many of the same issues our HSE now faces occurred across NHS Trusts too, with computers, MRI scanners and theatre equipment exposed. Like Ireland, some NHS hospitals were forced to turn away non-critical emergencies. New Zealand’s health services this week is also struggling with a cyberattack. There, an attack on Tuesday brought the Waikato District Health Board's (serving a population of half a million) entire IT network down, affecting testing laboratories, cancer treatments, email and phone services. It’s not just public bodies that are exposed. In April, the story broke that Facebook data relating to 533 million users had been scraped with much individual personal data later published online. The circumstances though different to those facing the HSE have at least one similar outcome – the risk of individual personal data appearing online. It’s more than coincidence too that as hacks have increased over recent months and personal data becoming more accessible as a result, the number of phishing scams have become ubiquitous. Working from home has also increased user’s vulnerability. In the scramble to keep businesses up and running, the standards of security applied in the office may not have transferred to the home in all cases. Whether home, office or elsewhere, cyberattacks are growing and most amongst us have been targeted in some way by cyber criminals. This last point brings us to the nub of the problem, cybersecurity is not the sole responsibility of one agency, one department, one business or one individual, it’s a universal issue. Few in the public or private sector, upon hearing of the HSE attack didn’t think for a moment that on another day it could have been them or their business. The only positive is that the seriousness of cybersecurity has now been elevated in the public mind. We have all now got a greater understanding of the implications arising from such attacks and how it can threaten something as fundamental as our health services. Awareness is the first step but educating and arming ourselves as the best method of defence are the next. Jeremy Fleming, Director of the Government Communications Headquarters, a leading U.K intelligence and security agency outlined what is required when recently commenting: “…cybersecurity is an increasingly strategic issue that needs a whole of nation approach if we are to continue to reap the benefits of technology”. This ‘whole of nation’ approach is where Ireland now needs to go. We need a national focus at all levels and sectors to enhance our defences. This won’t be possible unless we are prepared to invest in and resource it fully. The accusation of underinvestment in our national approach to cyberthreats has been the most vocal criticism this week. Comparisons are always precarious but looking at the UK finds a stark contrast in investment between both countries.  Its’ National Cybersecurity Centre has a 5-year budget of €2.2 billion and employs 1,000 people. Excluding pay, investment in Ireland’s National Cybersecurity Centre from 2017 to 2021 inclusive is €12.45 M, with a staff of about 25 people. Crucially too, it has no Director in situ currently. The salary for this role, €89,000, is unlikely to attract a candidate of sufficient calibre. Population-wise Ireland and the UK are very different sized countries but, considering, the presence of global tech giants in Ireland means we store about 30% of all European data, then the differences between the two countries are not so large. We also need a whole of life education mindset. With cyberattacks, in most cases it’s an end user or individual who lets the hacker in and sets off the chain of events. This makes basic cyber hygiene now an important life skill and digital and cyber literacy a non-negotiable business requirement. To embed this culture, we need national leadership and our Cybersecurity Centre’s role will be pivotal. Initiatives needed include public and business information campaigns on cyber risks or publicly available, free to use cybersafe tools for businesses which encourage a minimum baseline security for smaller SMEs, unable to afford more expensive commercial services. The UK’s Early Warning tool, a cyber-threat warning service offered to all UK businesses and designed to give customised timely notifications about possible incidents and security issues to businesses who sign up to the service is a further example. Businesses too can play their part by opting to work with companies who can show adherence to cybersecurity standards. Cybersecurity resilience is critical. This includes a sufficient pipeline of qualified cybersecurity experts, created via standardised education and training programmes at our higher and further education institutions. A UK study found cyber security skills in the labour market there were poor. 54% of businesses lacked the skills to carry out one or more basic cybersecurity tasks such as creating back-ups or arranging automatic software updates. While only 11% employed someone with cybersecurity responsibilities as some part of their role. It’s unlikely Ireland would fare much better. Again, the National Cybersecurity Centre can play a key role in ensuring the requisite skills exist. Cybercriminals are sophisticated, unmerciful and very attuned to any vulnerabilities, it is very unfortunate that our health service fell foul of their dispassionate mentality. However, what matters most now is how our health service responds to protect its IT services from repeat attacks and that the learnings are carried forward to create greater resilience to such attacks into the future.