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Archive for May, 2007

Office space in short supply

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Sunday Business Post – Commercial Property Pages – May 27 2007

A lack of well fitted out commercial space in regional locations nationwide is pushing up rents in the sector, writes Dermot Corrigan.

Ireland’s regional cities are facing a critical lack of high specification office space. The lack of suitable, available, centrally located, office accommodation is driving up city centre rents around the country.

The situation in Cork is symptomatic of this. “Demand is good, but there is a lack of available space in Cork city centre,” said Edward Hanafin of Lisney. “City centre rents for office space in new third generation buildings are in the region of €270 to €323 a square metre.”

The lack of available space is mirrored in other locations around Ireland.

“There is very strong demand for new, city centre office development in Galway city, however there is a limited supply of such properties,” said Colm O’Donnellan of O’Donnellan Joyce.

“Rents would be going around €20 to €25 per square foot for the city centre. There is a strong demand for properties at that, but unfortunately there is a shortage in supply.”

According to John Buckley of DTZ in Limerick, the office market in that city is showing a lot more activity than it was last year, resulting in growth in both rental levels and capital value.

“You are looking at about €194 to €215 per square metre for shell and core finish in the city centre,” he said.

In Galway and Limerick, the lack of available space means that rents are relatively static.

“Rents in the office market have increased slightly in the last twelve months,” said O’Donnellan. “If city centre space was available there would be a substantial increase, but there is a limited supply”

“There are a number of infill sites within Limerick city centre, but not a lot on the supply chain,” said Buckley. “The largest development there would be at Henry Street, which the government has taken for decentralisation. That is about 5,575 square metres of offices. Apart from that there is not an awful lot available on the market.”

Suburban Business Parks

The situation on the edge of Ireland’s major regional cities is somewhat different. A large sprinkling of suburban business parks has sprung up in recent years. These have provided a supply of high-spec and relatively cheap office space to local and international businesses.

“The availability is in the business parks, like Cork Airport Business Park and Fota Business Park in Carrigtwohill,” said Hanafin. “As you go out to the business parks you are in the range of €194 to €215 per square metre.”

“Newer office developments have been built in the last two years in the suburbs,” said O’Donnellan. “There is a new scheme on University Road which we have just leased the ground floor of to a banking institution.”

“The main suburban areas in Limerick are the National Technological Park, Castletroy and Raheen – within those markets we would have terms agreed this year on about 3,716 square metres of space. You would be looking at rents of about €183 per square metre in those areas,” said Buckley.

“The market in Limerick generally provides the accommodation on a shell and core basis, and then individual fit out packages are negotiated. Generally, each occupier will require raised floors, suspended ceiling, air conditioning and a high degree of quality on the fit out. All of the modern buildings are designed to accommodate that.”

Hanafin said that tenants like to see services in place for their employees in the vicinity of suburban business parks.

“They are also looking at the availability of other services in the area for their employees, such as shops, restaurants, car parking and transport,” he said.

City centre office space can be harder to let if it lacks up to date facilities, said Gordon Kearney, a director with Rooney Auctioneers in Limerick.

“Older office accommodation is more difficult to offload,” said Kearney. “Rents are in the region of €85 to €100 per square metre for the Georgian offices.”

An advantage to businesses of renting a suburban location is that they do not have to worry about parking, said Buckley.

“Car parking is generally provided in the suburban accommodation, but for city centre car park spaces in Limerick city centre you would be looking at between €1,500 and €1,750 a space,” he said.

The near future
The problem of limited supply in the different regional city centre areas will be addressed in the next few years. In Cork, the docklands urban renewal project is a large but typical example of future development, with the potential to provide the large amounts of modern office accommodation that businesses are looking for.

“There is a need for more city centre office space in Cork, and the docklands is going to cater for that,” said Hanafin. “The Docklands site is adjoining the main city centre and traditional office locations, so there is huge potential there to provide office space.”

The docklands project will mean a major revamp of Cork city centre and provides space for up to 745,000 square metres of non-residential development. Cork City Council has estimated it will accommodate a working population of up to 25,000 and the first mixed-use planning applications are due to be submitted this summer.

Galway is also set to experience a major increase in available high specification city centre office space.

“There is a major land bank available down in the docks area, right in the city centre,” said Donnellan. “There are plans for major redevelopment in the future there, and this should feed the supply that is there at the moment. It belongs to CIE who have plans to develop it within the next year or two.”

The proposed CIE development will encompass about 140,000 square metres and include high-rise office blocks, apartments, hotels and the second biggest enclosed shopping centre in Ireland after Dundrum.

Hanafin said that new developments adding office space to the market will not affect the upward momentum of city centre rents; he expects Docklands rents to be over and above existing rents in the city centre.

“I do not think it will depress rents,” he said. “The quality of office buildings will be higher than what we have seen so far in the city centre and the location is very good.”

Buckley was similarly confident that rents in Limerick would continue to rise over the next three years.

“I think rents around Limerick will continue to rise,” he said. “That is a function of land price and over the last twelve months city centre and suburban land prices have increased 30 or 40 per cent and that, factored with construction costs, can only lead to rental growth if developers are to get required returns.”

Hanafin said that developers were confident enough in demand going forward to build speculatively in suburban Cork locations, knowing that they would be able to fill office space when they put it on the market.

“We are involved as agents for Fota Business Park in Carrigtwohill and there are four buildings being built there, roughly about 9,290 square metres, on a speculative basis,” he said. “Two are let, a third is reserved, and there is one available.”

He added that there is an increasing demand from owner occupiers to purchase floors in multi-storey office buildings.

“That is something that we will probably see more of,” he said.

Pat Kearney said that owner occupiers were also increasingly important in the Limerick office market.

“There are a number of tenants that wish to acquire their own office accommodation,” he said. “Third generation space is first on their list and parking is a prerequisite.”

Northern Ireland
The supply of office space in Belfast is also limited at present. Conor Devine, associate director with BTW Sheills said developers have focused on the residential market in the last few years.

“There are a lot of apartments coming out of the ground in Belfast city centre and that has had an effect on potential office development, particularly speculative office development,” he said. “Sites which were originally planned for offices are now planned for residential.”

Devine said that canny developers are now turning towards building office space in Belfast city centre.

“Astute investors are now looking at office for their portfolios as rents are still in and around £129 to £150 a square metre in Belfast,” he said. “In regional UK centres like Birmingham, Manchester or Edinburgh, it is all between £172 and £215 per square metre. Due to the lack of supply, astute investors are saying that office rents have to go up, to maybe £172 to £194.”

Devine said that the settling of the political situation in the North, along with accompanying government incentives for inward investment, meant that demand for new office space was growing.

“Because we are a lot cheaper in Belfast than the other regions a lot of North American blue chip companies such as Fujitsu and Northbrook are attracted here,” he said.

Older, peripheral office space in Belfast is proving difficult to let, said Devine.

“There are smaller, three to five thousand square feet properties, available within the city centre, on maybe secondary routes, and there is not a great demand for those,” he said. “Landlords are having to do softer deals and take what they can get – maybe £113 a square metre. A lot of the stock that sits on our books would be smaller and older that needs to be refurbished.”

Devine said that demand for good quality office space in Derry was also growing as businesses realised there was value to be had.

“Lagan Developments speculatively built Timber Quay, on the Strand Road in Derry,” he said. “They built 5,575 square metres of Grade A high spec offices with large floor plates; it was completed in October 2006 and the building will be fully let by the end of the summer. We are getting £129 a square metre, which 18 months ago would not have been achievable.”

Written by dermot

May 31st, 2007 at 5:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Multinationals target Cork for job creation

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Sunday Business Post – Cork 2007 – May 27 2007

Cork is reaping the rewards of inward investment, with hundreds of new jobs being created, including higher skilled positions.

The first four months of 2007 have seen significant foreign direct investment announcements for the Cork region.

Headline announcements have included 100 new jobs by DeCare Systems Ireland in a strategic expansion of its software business in Cork, GlaxoSmithKline’s €250 million investment to add 150 jobs in its production site at Currabinny and VMware, another US software firm, announcing 369 new jobs for Ballincollig.

This follows on from announcements in the last months of 2006, which included €400m over 5 years to create 200 jobs at the Eli Lilly biopharma operation in Kinsale, the establishment of an R&D centre-of-excellence at Pepsi’s Little Island facility and Trend Micro’s plans to expand its Operations Centre in Cork for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In April, Amazon opened their new customer service centre in the Cork Airport Business Park, which will eventually employ 450 personnel.

Brian Conroy, area director for the south with IDA Ireland, said that he did not expect the good news to end here.

“We would hope to be making similar announcements as 2007 progresses,” said Conroy. “Cork is a popular location for inward investment, so we would hope that we will continue to see further companies decide to set up there over the course of the year.”

Conroy said that a trend within the inward investment announcements was towards higher skilled, higher value jobs.

“There is a move towards higher skilled jobs, but that does not necessarily mean there is a move from manufacturing jobs to R&D jobs,” he said. “We are still getting manufacturing companies coming in, for example the Pepsi and GSK are very strong manufacturing companies, but it is higher value manufacturing where the skill level is very high and consequently it pays relatively well from a salary point of view.”

These higher skilled jobs are typically linked to a commitment to locating R & D facilities within the company’s Irish operations, said Matt Moran, director of Pharmachemical Ireland.

“GlaxoSmithKline have made a number of R&D announcements over the last 12 to 18 months,” he said. “We see them now investing now in cutting edge biotechnology which in many ways will be the future of the industry. The newer investments we see coming in normally have an R&D piece built into the investment. This helps secure the long term future of the industry.”

A further example of the research and development initiatives which are being undertaken by international organisations in Cork is the announcement in March 2007 by Allen Vanguard to carry out a significant R&D initiative at its Irish operation at Kilbrittain. Allen-Vanguard is a Canadian manufacturer of robots which are used by security forces to perform dangerous tasks.

Conroy said Ireland’s low rate of corporation tax and high skills base was a major attraction to international businesses, but there were other specific advantages that the Cork region had built up over the years which were vital in securing ongoing investment within particular sectors.

“Reputation is important and it takes many years to develop a reputation,” he said. “Cork has a good reputation in a number of fields, particularly what we call life sciences, that includes pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and medical technologies. The success of existing companies here means that other companies hear about it and they feel a comfort level in terms of operating here and the risks are reduced.”

The existence of local businesses who are experienced in assisting multinational partners is also very useful, said Conroy.

“If you are in the pharmaceutical sector you have the ability to build your plant, construct, design and then build your plant,” he said Conroy. “Support services in terms of things like accounting and legal that multinationals need to operate are also available in Cork.”

Joe Gantly, president of Cork Chamber, said it would be wrong to assume that Cork was only attracting investment in the life sciences areas.

“You also have to look at the ICT space,” he said. “Apple has over 2,000 people here; EMC has 1,300. You have companies like Amazon in the supply chain, and RCI in the travel reservations space, so there is a range of sophistication beyond pharma and biotech. Then you have international financial services companies like Citco based here.”

Conroy said that the local infrastructure in Cork was helping to attract investment into the region.

“I think the infrastructure in Cork is pretty good, with good roads, the new airport which is just being built, big investment in the Cork docklands project and the opening of the Cork-Middleton railway line,” he said.

“They are looking at the design at the moment of a northern ring road. They are the sort of things that investors like to see that a city or region is planning for the future, because if you are investing you want to be sure that what looks good now will still be good in five or ten years time.”

Cork’s third level education sector has also been a key attracting factor for inward investment, said Dr Richard Moloney, lecturer in economics at University College Cork.

“Both University College Cork and Cork Institute of Technology have strong links to industrial sectors,” said Moloney. “Also there is the National Microelectronic Centre which gives strong support to the computer and IT industry. It is also a world leader in nanotechnology.”

Moloney said that colleges are also designing third level courses with the requirements of industry in mind.

“There are close contacts with many of the graduates needed by these industries being trained locally,” he said. “Many of the business courses in both institutions have work placement.”

Linkages between the international life sciences businesses located in Cork, and the education sector, were also important, said Gantly.

“There are developing links between those industry players and UCC and CIT, and with FAS as well,” he said. “GSK recently signed a very significant research collaboration with UCC. This would be around product development processes, and also manufacturing process improvement.”

Conroy said Cork faces the same challenges as the rest of Ireland, if it is to ensure that the high levels of inward investment continue into the future.

“We are trading not so much on the quantity of people, but the quality of the people,” he said. “That is always a challenge to ensure we are leading edge in a wide range of areas. You are playing at a very high level, and you are playing against the best competitors in terms of what they can offer – the likes of Switzerland, Singapore, the US and other countries in Europe which have been investing in their infrastructure for much longer than we have. To continue to be attractive you have to offer quite a sophisticated product in terms of infrastructure, skills base, support services have all to be at a very high level.”

Gantly said that competitiveness was a major issue.

“You are looking at wage inflation in Ireland over a number of years and indirect costs such as energy have increased substantially, and clearly they subtract from the competitiveness of industry here,” said Gantly.

Cork especially needs to keep energy costs down, given the particular multinational organisations that are located there.

“The energy situation in the country does need some attention,” said Gantly. “Pharma and other industries that use a lot of energy as part of their manufacturing processes will see that as a differentiating factor moving forward.”

Gantly said that further government input was required if Cork was to continue to attract the high level research jobs that it needs.

“The incentives which the government have put into effect regarding R & D are going to have to be expanded over time and become probably more complex and sophisticated to get more and more companies to locate R & D facilities here,” he said.

Written by dermot

May 31st, 2007 at 5:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Focus on Equality Training

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First Train Magazine – May 2007

Dermot Corrigan explores how companies are meeting the challenge of implementing a more strategic approach to equality and diversity in their workforces.

Irish businesses must put in place structured and intelligent equality and training policies if they are to keep up with increasing diversity in the workforce and strengthening of equality legislation.

“The challenge is for companies to move on from strategies for equality and diversity that are based on individual goodwill, to a more planned and systematic approach,” said Niall Crowley, CEO of the Equality Authority.

“Central to that is equality and diversity training,” he said. “Traditionally this training has been seen more in terms of awareness of equality legislation and a positive disposition towards diversity. Both of those are important, but the big jump in equality and diversity training is to develop skills to engage effectively in a diverse workplace, skills that promote equality and manage diversity in a way that is best for the organisation and for employees.”

Crowley said that all businesses in Ireland are required to put in place programmes that ensure that all equality and diversity requirements are met.

“These skills are important in all organisations regardless of size and sector,” said Crowley. “They are key to employee wellbeing and organisational performance. If we can create a culture that values diversity and makes adjustments for diversity, that is good for business, and good for employees.”

The last decade has seen the introduction of detailed legislation in the equality and diversity areas. The Employment Equality Act 1998 came into force on the 18th October 1999, and was amended on the 25th October 2004 by the Equality Act 2004.

Employers are required to ensure that their equality and diversity policies protect all staff from discrimination related to nine distinct grounds. These grounds are gender, marital status, family status, age, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation and membership of the Traveller community.

While the law has been strengthened, the face of the Irish workforce has also evolved quickly.

“The make-up of the Irish workforce has changed rapidly over the last few years, basically because of increased inward migration into Ireland, in particular from Eastern European countries,” said Phillip Watt, Director of the NCCRI (National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism).

“One in eight of the workforce is now made up of migrant workers, and in certain industries such as hotel and catering one in five of all workers employed there are from outside Ireland,” said Watt. “Migrant workers coming to Ireland are now an essential component of our developing society.”

Niall Crowley advised that the increase in interest in diversity in the workplace is not solely down to increased immigration.

“We are seeing a growing acknowledgement of the relevance of diversity that has been there and is still there,” he said. “There has been growth in the number of women employed, in the number of families with children where both parents are employed. We see a growing interest in older people staying on in the workplace. Alongside that is the growing awareness of gay and lesbian people in the workplace, as well as people with different religions and people with disabilities. We have a small number of travellers in the Irish workplace as well.”

This more diverse workforce is a great benefit to the Irish economy, said Claire Jones, IBEC Equality Executive.

“There is no doubt that having a diverse workforce is an advantage for a business for very many reasons,” said Jones. “The primary reason from a business perspective is that if your customers are diverse, it is very helpful if the makeup of your employees is diverse too. Businesses can then understand the needs of people much better than before.”

Crowley said that having detailed equality and diversity policies in place helps companies to attract and retain the best people and therefore adds to business results.

“In terms of a tight labour market, a focus on equality and diversity enhances retention of employees,” said Crowley. “ESRI research from 2005 showed that companies that have equality policies in place had a very strong link with job satisfaction, organisational commitment and lower stress levels. These are all factors that contribute to better organisational performance.”

Declaring that a company wishes to put in place best practice in the equality and diversity areas is one thing. However, organisations have to equip their staff with knowledge and skills to bring this about. Training is all important.

Crowley said that there are two functions within organisations that require particular attention.

“HR people have to develop skills to be able to protect diversity and promote equality within the organisation,” said Crowley. “Customer service specialists also have to have the skills to be able to provide quality service to diverse customers.”

A wide range of private training companies and individuals offer training programmes for organisations looking to improve their employees’ skills in these areas. Some HR departments also design and implement programmes in-house.

AIB has made a conscious decision to ensure equality and diversity standards are upheld all across its organisation.

“AIB has had an equal opportunities policy long before there was any sort of shortage in the employment market, when we were recruiting generally Irish workers. Obviously that has changed now, but the policy was there,” said Ger Whelan, Group HR Policy Manager, with AIB. “What we are now doing is we have developed a diversity statement for the whole enterprise.”

“We are focused on looking at what is diversity, in the first place,” said Whelan. “People do not think of other people as being diverse straight away. It is about creating an understanding of what diversity actually is. Given the size of the company that we are, with such an expanding workforce working across different cultures and different areas, it is best practice that we do that.”

AIB have worked with HR consultancy Pearn Kandola to design and implement a tailored equality and diversity training programme. The aim of this programme is to ensure that all members of the AIB organisation know the behaviour and attitudes required of them at work.

Every staff member, including senior management, must take the interactive e-learning programme. It is hosted on the AIB intranet and takes around 45 minutes to complete.

“There will be an introduction, setting the context initially,” said Whelan. “Then it gives different scenarios with questions to answer about different situations. It will look at internal relationships within the organisation, but also external with customers as well. Like all of our mandatory training it will be followed up a later stage with a short revision session. For all new staff coming in, it will form part of their induction.”

The programme has not been rolled out yet, but Whelan said she expects it to be in place all across the AIB organisation within two or three months.

Other AIB staff members, especially those with responsibilities in the HR function, require extra specialised equality and diversity training.

“We would have a particular training section towards equal opportunities from an interviewers’ point of view,” said Whelan. “This would cover internal promotion interviews and also externally as well.”

IBEC (Irish Business and Employers Federation) are aware of the need for Irish businesses to invest in equality and diversity training. The IBEC ADR Skillnet offers a training programme that looks at the issues involved in managing a diverse workforce, and addressing challenges in both attitudes and behaviour.

‘Why can’t we all just get along? Equality, Diversity and Integration in the workplace’ is a one-day workshop focuses on the important issues of equality, diversity and workplace integration. The cost of the workshop is €250 for IBEC ADR Skillnet network members and €350 for non-network members. The next programmes takes place on the 30th May at the Galway Bay Hotel.

The NCCRI also offer many equality and diversity training programmes.

“We have a range of programmes,” said Watt. “Some are focused on raising awareness and others are about putting policies in place in organisations.”

Watt said that the scale of the equality and diversity training requirements within Irish organisations means that the NCCRI focus not on training individuals. Instead they run programmes which train one staff member from each organisation, who is then able to go back and pass on the knowledge and skills they have learned.

“We have adopted a ‘training for trainers’ approach, which is about training trainers that are already within organisations,” said Watt. “We are training those people up to be competent to deliver intercultural and equality training, and have a wide range of expertise in this area.”

The ‘train the trainer’ courses last two full days and are open to people in the public and private sectors.

“It is still very much in its early days at present,” Watt. “Most of the training that we do here at the NCRII is still with the public sector as that is where the biggest demand is, particularly the health sector. We are seeing much less demand from the private sector, but we hope that will increase over the next few years.”

Written by dermot

May 22nd, 2007 at 11:46 am

Posted in Business

Getting down to business in east Asia

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Sunday Business Post – Recruitment – May 13 2007

Gaining skills and knowledge about the local market, customs and business processes is a key to success for any Irish organisations considering doing business in east Asian markets, said Mary Mooney, international business executive with Chambers Ireland.

“Today Japan and Korea are among the world’s largest economies and many Irish companies are investing heavily in providing staff with language lessons and providing cultural sensitivity training to address issues such as etiquette, protocol, communication styles and negotiation approaches,” she said. “In a competitive world businesses appreciate that greater cultural sensitivity will assist them in forging longer and more prosperous relationships.”

Mooney said that there are many observable and more subtle differences between internal structures and processes in Irish and Japanese organisations. Rituals and protocols such as bowing, presentation of business cards, sitting in the correct position around a meeting room table and wearing the appropriate forms of dress are all very important, while being able to read highly formalised non-verbal communication can just as useful.

“In Japan they would very rarely say no to a business proposal,” she said. “So it is very important to read the signals before investing a lot of time and effort into pursuing business.”

Mooney said that Irish organisations setting up operations in Japan should be aware of the different management and human resources practices that are unique to that market.

“The emphasis placed on seniority in the workplace is one unique characteristic of the Japanese labour market,” she said. “Japan’s strong belief in authority and the chain of command has led to a well-established hierarchy in Japanese companies, where senior staff members are accorded the greatest respect and deference.”

Mooney said that recruitment was another area where Irish organisations needed to be aware of the local cultural practices. In Japan career paths are typically very rigid and workers are often recruited straight from university and remain with one company until retirement. Mooney said that this can pose problems for foreign organisations trying to source new staff.

“Most foreign companies rely on temporary staffing, mid-career hiring, overseas Japanese returnees and expatriates to fill their positions,” said Mooney.

The decision making process within Japanese organisations impacts on the particular skills and attributes that Japanese executives have compared to their Irish counterparts.

“The Japanese corporate hierarchy, along with a strong tradition of group consensus, has had a significant impact on the skills that employees acquire,” said Mooney. “Mid-career managers are typically only allowed to make decisions on routine matters, and often make these decisions as part of a large group. Forty-year-old Japanese managers do not have as much decision-making experience as Western managers of similar age.”

She said that Japanese nationals returning home after they have worked abroad are often particularly suited to the requirements of overseas operators with offices in Japan.

“These individuals, many of whom are in their late 20s or early to mid-30s, are often well trained and highly motivated,” she said.

“They have Japanese roots and some Western business and cultural experience, and many (particularly women) believe that they will have a difficult time re-adjusting to the highly formalized Japanese way of doing business.”

Given these differences, Irish organisations and individuals are advised to gain relevant skills and knowledge before entering into business relationships or setting up operations in East Asia.

Chambers Ireland are currently promoting a programme which aims to assist organisations that are presently involved in the Japanese or South Korean markets.

The year long Executive Training Programme (ETP) provides intensive cultural and language training to European executives, including three months of intensive seminars at European universities, six months tuition at a university in Tokyo or Seoul, and a final three month placement with a local company where the participant can practice their new language skills and gain first hand experience of Japanese or Korean business and management processes on the ground.

“The ETP programme aims to accelerate the career objectives of executives operating in the Japanese or Korean marketplaces through its mix of blended learning and secondment,” said Mooney.

The ETP is funded and managed by the European Commission. There are no tuition or participation fees and each participant receives a €24,000 scholarship. The closing date for applications for the ETP programme beginning this November is May 15th.

Courses on the ETP scheme range from Japanese or Korean language training and familiarisation with Japanese or Korean culture and customs to practical business simulations. Elective options include Organisational Structure and Communications and Human Resource Management and Personnel Policy modules.

Dr Liming Wang, director of the Irish Institute for Chinese Studies at University College Dublin, said that Irish organisations considering forming relationships with Chinese counterparts should also arm themselves with some local understanding.

“Any Irish firm in the Chinese market should have at least some knowledge of the Chinese system,” he said. “Some basic Chinese cultural understanding is a vital component to help you do business with Chinese people.”

The Confucius Institute for Ireland at University College Dublin (UCD) oversees a range of short courses aimed at those interested in China for business, diplomatic or recreational purposes. From June 2007 it plans to run a free seminar series, at the Quinn School of Business at the UCD Belfield campus, aimed at Irish managers or organisations. This course will provide general information about the economy in China, as well as market trends there, organisational culture, management systems and legal issues relevant to enterprises.

“Within this public lecture series we try to give as much as possible an idea of how to do business in China,” said Dr Wang. “There will be not only theoretical lectures but also talks from people with practical experience of working in China.”

Written by dermot

May 16th, 2007 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Business

Luxury villa scheme launched in Algarve

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Sunday Business Post – Property Section – May 6 2007

The Oceanico Group is targeting the upper end of the holiday home market with its latest development on the western Algarve in Portugal.

The scheme of €2 million luxury villas is being marketed under Oceanico’s Prestige brand and will include just 12 villas set within the €500 million Amendoeira golf resort, which is home to two new courses designed by Nick Faldo and Christy O’Connor Junior.

Each villa features a private pool heated by solar panels, jacuzzis, internal bars, underfloor heating and intelligent home control systems, which can be monitored from Ireland.

The four and five-bedroom Moorish-themed properties will form a traditional style pink walled village, with quiet courtyards, cobbled steps and cloistered roof terraces, and will range in size from 300 to 400 square metres. Each plot measures from 1,600 to 2,500 square metres.

Purchasing a Prestige branded property gives the owner membership of seven Oceanico golf courses in the Algarve, and complete access to all of the other facilities in the resort.

Prestige members will also have access to a high level of personal lifestyle services, including a private concierge, a dedicated car service and the use of a Sunseeker luxury cruiser, which is moored nearby.

The new Oceanico Prestige brand and luxury developments will be officially launched on May 15 and 16 at an invitation-only exhibition in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin.

The Faldo and O’Connor courses at Amondeoira are scheduled for completion next spring. Facilities will include an on-site golf academy with professional tuition for golfers of all levels, a pro-shop, bar and restaurant.

Tennis courts, astro-turf football pitches, an indoor gym, a kids’ club, swimming pools, an interactive arcade, cafes and restaurants will also be located within the resort.

The 640-acre Amondoeria development will also be home to a mix of 92 two and three-bed apartments, ranging from 104 to 134 square metres and starting at €495,000.

There will also be three-bed villas measuring 235 square metres priced from €950,000. The second phase of the development went on the market last month.

Oceanico is expecting the properties to appreciate by 25 to 30 per cent over the course of the 22-month build, and then by approximately 10 per cent a year after completion.

Annual rental returns are estimated at 4.5 per cent, and anyone who rents the properties will benefit from discounted green fees on the O’Connor and Faldo courses.

Amondeoira is situated six kilometres from the coastal town of Silves and 60 kilometres from the Ryanair and Aer Lingus-serviced Faro airport, via the recently completed A22 motorway.

Silves has a 15th century cathedral and warm water beaches, along with a thriving bar and restaurant scene.

Oceanico Group completed the €125 million purchase of five leading Algarve golf courses in March 2007, all located in close proximity to each other in the resort of Vilamoura.

These include the Oceanico Victoria, an Arnold Palmer signature course, which held the World Golf Championships in 2005 and will host the PortugueseMasters European Tour event in October this year.

Further Oceanico Prestige properties are planned for the Vilamoura sites.

Oceanico was formed by Drogheda businessman and ex-Bewleys Hotels director Gerard Fagan along with Briton Simon Burgess in 2000, and has a current Portuguese property portfolio worth more than €2 billion.

The company is currently developing further golf projects including a Seve Ballesteros designed course at Royal Obidos on the Silver Coast north of Lisbon, and in the Azores.

Written by dermot

May 6th, 2007 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Business,Travel

Technology – always close at hand

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Sunday Business Post – Computers in Business Magazine – May 6 2007

The development of Virtual Private Network technology means that information and systems which workers require to do their business are rarely out of reach, writes Dermot Corrigan…

The development and ubiquity of Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology now means that the information and systems which Irish workers require to do their business are almost never out of reach, whether they are at home, temporarily out of the office, or even out of the country.

“If I am in Dublin airport and I want to connect back to the office, I will just connect to the wireless hotspot. I will open a VPN application on my PC which will set up a tunnel across the internet,” said Karl McDermott, System Engineering Manager with Cisco Ireland. “It is like I am connected within the office, but it is actually across the network.”

A VPN is the connection of private networks across a public or shared network. VPNs allow users who are located away from a company’s headquarters or branch offices to remotely access systems, networks, applications and resources via their own or a stranger’s PC or laptop. Typical VPN users in Irish businesses include mobile sales people filing orders from the road, workers in one branch of an organisation pulling down information from a centralised accounts or customer management system and teleworkers accessing their office applications from home.

More advanced VPN systems can be used to transfer voice and video data, or to connect together two or more branches of a company who are running shared systems or applications in real time. Michael Conway, director of Renaissance Contingency Services, said that the rollout of broadband across Ireland had enabled the deployment and utilisation of VPNs in many organisations.

“If somebody is working from home, they are normally going to have to deliver whatever communications they have via broadband,” said Conway. “VPN is the most secure and flexible way of setting up a company to company communication within a broadband environment.”

John Conlon, who heads the solutions team at Cable & Wireless, said that there are a number of different VPN options available to Irish organisations.

“There are two types of VPNs, he said. “Site to site VPNs are used in place of your standard leased line or frame relay circuit to connect two sites together, maybe a head office and a branch site. Then there is the client to site VPN which is normally used by individuals who are on the road, working from home, or as a consultant and want to connect back securely to centralised resources.”

Connecting via a VPN network is very simple, not too different from logging on to your network from your desktop or accessing the internet via a dial-up connection.

“Normally you will have on your laptop a VPN client, which is a piece of software,” said Conlon. “You will have to give your credentials to the VPN device, which will authenticate you and let you through.”

VPN and firewalls
Once there is a VPN solution running on their machine, it might appear to the user that they are hooked up to their company network as normal, but generally this is not the case. The firewall application will place itself in between the remote VPN user and the network and manage and monitor the access to ensure nothing untoward occurs.

“The firewall knows that you are trying to communicate from a remote site and it automatically brings up a tunnel between this site and the remote site,” said Sean Rooney, Technical Director of Integrity Solutions.

“The firewall encapsulates the traffic going via the connection. After the initial setup happens it is all done automatically; the user will not be aware of any of that happening at all.”

This apparent ease of access means that there are very real security and privacy concerns around VPN use. Generally people do not want anyone outside their organisation, particularly criminal elements or competitors, to see, hear or otherwise access information which is being communicated or transferred using the VPN. Hence VPN technology is closely linked with firewall applications.

“A VPN offers access to corporate systems and it is essential that such perimeter access is effectively protected to ensure that the central systems are not compromised,” said Conway. “Firewalls should be deployed and anti-virus should be centrally deployed, administered and managed to ensure that the integrity of the systems are protected.”

In today’s environment of sophisticated spyware threats, phishing scams and myriad other security menaces, networks have to be sure that anyone trying to access their system is who they say they are. Conway said that VPN and firewall solutions now expect users to prove their identity using more than the conventional username and password.

“Traditionally people might have just used password, which is a single factor of identification,” he said. “Now we are moving towards two factor identification, either with a physical device, or with no device. A physical device might be a small number generator that you can plug in to the USB port, so that every minute it will generate an actual number. This is combined with the server sitting in your headquarters. You put in your usual ID, plus this random number, and that will then let you log on.”

“Two factor identification with no physical device is using SMS technology whereby I have a onetime password or number string sitting on my phone which I get SMSed to me,” said Conway. “I have a PIN which I know and I take the first character, second character, fourth character etc from that string. When I have used it, I will get another string sent to me.”

Another level of security is put in place through encryption, where even if someone manages to get a look at your information as it is being carried over the internet, they will be unable to use it.

Conlon said that almost all VPN / firewall solutions will include encryption as standard. “Encryption is an absolute requirement when using a VPN, or the P is lost basically,” he said. “It is quite technical, but basically the devices carry out advanced encryption that is almost impossible to hack.”

Caroline Ikomi, security engineer with Check Point Software in the UK, said that it is imperative to keep your encryption methods up to date, as hackers will be working on the systems that are in the market to try and crack the codes.

“As new vulnerabilities emerge the software will need to be updated to protect against these vulnerabilities,” said Ikomi. “This is becoming increasingly important as we see hackers using more and more sophisticated attacks.”

Most companies require users to shut down all other programmes on their PC, especially internet browsers or email systems, before opening their VPN application.

“There is an issue about people being allowed to browse out to the internet, and use the VPN, at the same time,” said Conlon. “You do not want a situation where somebody could hack into your machine through the internet, and then use that as a channel to get into the company through your VPN.”

Web based VPN technologies such as SSL (secure sockets layer) are also increasingly being used by Irish organisations. With SSL VPNs the user goes online as normal and browses to a particular URL that uses HTTPS protocol, for instance

“You log in with your credentials, and extra security such as two factor authentication is optional there as well,” said Rooney. “Depending on what the administrator has configured that can give you access to your desktop, your email or whatever applications you have on your network. Sometimes it will install a little tunnelling client onto the desktop you are using, which will allow you straight access into the network over IP.”

The advantage to the user of SSL is that the VPN can be called up from any machine; they do not need to have a laptop with the VPN application installed to hand.

“A lot of people are interested in this as it means you do not need to install clients on their laptops, so they can use somebody else’s machine or internet cafes for example to connect to their home site, without having to install any software,” said Rooney.

A disadvantage of SSL VPNs is that security becomes even more of an issue if you are using an unknown or unverifiable machine.

“Generally the VPN or firewall will install a tiny ActiveX or Java control which will clean up the desktop when they are finished,” said Rooney.

Many Irish organisations are now looking to incorporate wireless connectivity into their networks. The latest VPN solutions will include this wireless capability.

”The growth in use of VPN technology has been about increasing the level of accessibility, whether users are at home, on their smart phone or Windows mobile device or alternatively using a laptop in a customers’ site or connecting via a wireless LAN (Local Area Network),” said Ikomi.

Next generation VPNs
Most traditional VPNs have been internet based. This means that networks suffer the same issues and drawbacks as the traditional internet, such as quality of service and reliability. “Even if you have high speed internet connections at all of your sites, there is no guarantee that a problem on the internet, like a worm outbreak, will not effect communications on your VPN,” said James McLoughlin, senior security specialist with Lan Communications.

Conlon said that another issue with internet based VPN systems is that even high speed broadband access may not be as quick as people are used to in their internal LAN (Local Area Network). “There can be performance deficiencies,” he said. “It is not as fast as it would normally be if you were on the LAN.”

Newer technologies, such as MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) are stepping in to deal with these issues.

“MPLS based networks will gain a lot of ground in the coming years,” said McLaughlin. “MPLS based VPN is intended as a replacement for traditional Wide Area Network (WAN) technologies. It has the ability to eliminate quality of service issues and decrease integration problems.”

MPLS VPNs also allow for greater flexibility and mobility of connections across the network. Internet based VPNs use a hub and spoke type model, with individuals connecting back to a central system.

McDermott said that MPLS technology allows individual users or branches to communicate directly with each other, without having to be routed through HQ.

“A lot of companies are moving to MPLS based VPNs because in a leased line world you have got a hub and a spoke,” he said. “You have the headquarters and then the branches and if one branch wants to talk to another, it goes via the headquarters. An MPLS VPN allows one branch to talk to another branch directly. All of our customers that have more than one office and want to connect branches are now utilising VPNs and starting to move to MPLS.”

As organisations get used to greater and more sophisticated levels of data over their standard networks, including voice or video traffic, they also expect to be able to use their VPN in a similar way. Using the internet for a VPN makes it difficult for anyone to guarantee the level of reliability and quality required for voice or video traffic.

McDermott said that MPLS technology allows networks to carry a greater level of traffic, including data, voice and video, and also can provide the reliability and quality required.

Importantly, it also facilitates the intelligent management of a network, which also helps to maintain service levels.

“One of the benefits of the VPN is that the service provider can offer the customer the ability to prioritise the different applications across the VPN,” said McDermott. “That is something that they would not have previously been able to offer.”

“A very good example of that is the move to IP telephony or Voice over IP, where that ability to prioritise voice traffic ahead of data traffic is very important. Likewise if they have a particular application that is quite critical or client sensitive, the VPN technology will allow them to prioritise that application ahead of others, such as email or batch transfers.”

McDermott said that as MPLS is a private network solution, there is not the same requirement for security and encryption features.

“Most customers do not firewall the traffic,” he said. “MPLS based VPNs are as secure as leased lines or any other wide area technology. However, some customers are choosing to encrypt communication across the network. Very often these are financial institutions, but they would be the exception rather than the rule.”

The ability to carry extra loads, specifically voice over IP traffic, means that one quite basic, but very important, benefit of resilient and reliable VPNs is to help organisations eat into their fixed line and mobile phone bills.

Conlon said that when he contacted people from outside the office, he was still using his office phone line, and did not have mobile costs “or anything like that.”

Conlon also referred to a customer who had a lot of staff working on projects in the Far East.

“They have a requirement for regular conference calls back to Belfast, to other colleagues around the world, and also to speak to their family, so they had a lot of mobile costs,” he said. “We were able to integrate VPN technology into their telephony which allowed them to give the guys a phone which if they had access to the internet, which is now basically ubiquitous, they could connect across the VPN and could make local phone calls and set up conference calls as if they were in the office.”

Conway said that VPN technology is increasingly being used to allow people not on the company payroll, including customers, suppliers or consultants, restricted access to an organisation’s internal network.

“People now are using VPNs to place orders on their suppliers’ sites,” he said. “They are making secure access available on a controlled basis to the supplier or the customer, depending on their relationship. Very often in the manufacturing environment you may have situations where the customer is looking at what is coming off the line, or even getting some levels of reporting.”

Different VPN product options
There is a wide range of different VPN products available at present to Irish organisations. The best purchase for a company will depend on the budget and requirements of their business.

“A VPN can be very simple, very inexpensive, or it can be something that can be very complicated and expensive,” said Conway. “Large corporate customers look at solutions that support lots of remote users and can be centrally managed and administered, whereas when you get into the small business end you will get a lot of fairly straightforward systems.”

Rooney said that setup costs for a VPN start at about €400 for a basic firewall with VPN functionality, and a lot of companies would have these firewalls in place already.

A mid sized company looking for full VPN usage, including teleworking capability, full site-to-site access and full security measures should budget around €5,000 for a full VPN installation, he said. At enterprise level the costs then go up into the tens of thousands.

Companies can decide to purchase a full VPN and firewall solution and run it themselves, or they can opt for VPN, and all the associated security aspects, as a managed service from a service provider.

“A network provider can provide and manage the whole VPN infrastructure for you,” said Conlon. “With the latter case there are more ongoing costs, and with the former there are more costs up front.”

McLoughlin said that integrating a VPN solution properly into an organisation’s systems can prove challenging if the proper care and attention is not taken or paid.

“It is easy to go to the local retail park computer store and buy a VPN solution off the shelf and VPNs themselves are relatively plug and play,” he said “The trick is making sure your network and the applications on it function the way you want them to. The applications need to be made aware that there is a network in place where there was not before. It is the same issues and challenges and deploying a Wide Area Network in that respect.”

Ikomi said that integration is especially key when considering the security issues around VPN deployment, as a breakdown in communication between two security systems can have particularly damaging consequences.

“Managing the use of solutions from multiple vendors can be challenging,” said Ikomi. “That is why it’s best to consolidate and minimise the number of security vendors providing solutions for any given security infrastructure.”

Conlon said that in some cases VPN installations can cause extra headaches and man hours for an IT support team. However, correctly managed deployments can lessen the IT support workload.

“You have to be careful about how you deploy your VPN,” said Conlon. “You do not want them to become a huge overhead in terms of managing. Anything that has a lot of users, and you have to manage passwords and people’s profiles, you need to make sure that you have an infrastructure that allows you to manage that centrally, and then to push that out to the client.”

Conlon said that a managed services partner can intelligently use a MPLS VPN to move other services and systems off site and streamline a company’s internal network.

“Then you can begin to use a managed services partner to manage your VPN traffic,” he said. “It can take all those headaches away, you can have internet based firewalls, internet based email exchange etc. You can take all that out of the core of your network and hand it over to a service provider.”

Written by dermot

May 6th, 2007 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Technology