Prioritise digital for a better Ireland

Jun 18, 2020

How can we safeguard our economic future through digital opportunities? By investing now, we can create a better Ireland going forward, says Erik O’Donovan.

Digital tools are essential services to our economy and society. They have enabled us to connect, work, study, shop, and access public services in these challenging times. Digital tools and data are even assisting and enhancing healthcare provision during this public health emergency.

Ireland had made progress in its digital development going into the COVID-19 crisis. However, some gaps remain in our relative readiness to access and adopt existing and emerging digital opportunities for future growth and well-being. Accessing these digital opportunities has been a challenge for some, while the attainment of digital skills and bridging regional digital divides have grown in importance. The ambition of the National Broadband Plan and opportunities presented by 5G technology must be realised.

Criminal elements have also sought to exploit the crisis using digital tools, underlying the need to preserve trust and protect our essential services, businesses, and people online. Finally, this emergency has shown the value of government, agencies, businesses and citizens working together, both at home and internationally, to drive positive change in difficult times.

A digital recovery plan

Our economic future is intrinsically linked to the ability of our health and wider governance systems to confidently model and plan for the phased re-opening of the country. Furthermore, our economic future must be robust enough for the potential re-emergence of such emergencies in the future. Trustworthy digital tools and data, used in conjunction with a suite of health measures, offer the opportunity to assist Ireland and Europe in transitioning from this emergency to providing better public services, economic growth, quality jobs and enhancing well-being.

The European Commission’s COVID-19 recovery plan for the EU is based on a more digitalised Single Market and green growth. It has been estimated that, under certain conditions, a more digitalised Single Market could provide annual gains of up to €178 billion to the EU economy until 2030. Ibec research indicates there has been a business move towards more online sales (31%), coupled with greater use of remote working (73%) and increased investment in technology (42%), pointing to a more digitalised way of conducting business in the future.

So, how should Ireland ensure it is at the forefront of this digital future?

  1. Given the scope of the challenge, the government should appoint a Minister dedicated to digital affairs to work with national and EU stakeholders and drive a coordinated approach to our further digital transformation.
  2. Protect services, business, and citizens, and preserve trust online. Ensure national cybersecurity and data protection capabilities are adequately resourced.
  3. Signal and enable further digital opportunity across our economy. Deliver new roadmaps on digital and artificial intelligence.
  4. Finally, invest in supports, research, infrastructure, and skills necessary to help government, public services, businesses, educators, and individuals to lock-in positive digital developments, as well as access and adopt further digital opportunities.

As James Joyce noted, “I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today.” It is time to reimagine tomorrow.

Read about Ibec’s Reboot and Reimagine campaign at www.ibec.ie.

Erik O’Donovan is the Head of Digital Economic Policy at Ibec.