Sunday Business Post – New to the Market – September 23 2007
Aodhan Cullen started in business when he was 12 and now runs one of the most visited sites on the internet, writes Dermot Corrigan
The emergence of a viable online marketplace means that a growing number of new companies are successfully targeting the internet, according to Dublin based entrepreneur Aodhan Cullen.
Twenty-four year old Cullen, who was recently named BusinessWeek Young European Entrepreneur of the Year, said the availability of cheaper web technology meant good online business ideas no longer required substantial financial backing.
“Within the internet industry, this is an incredible time where so many new services are being launched onto the internet every day,” said Cullen. “The upfront capital investment for internet businesses is now very low. Traditionally, you might have needed a couple of million to launch a business, but at the moment you can have a great idea and get it up and running with a very low capital investment.”
StatCounter is a web analytics service that provides free web site traffic statistics to 1.4 million members. It tracks over nine billion page-loads per month across over two million websites. Its business model is based on selling advertising in the members’ area where users view their traffic statistics. It also offers extra detailed statistics to members on a paid-for basis.
StatCounter is one of the most visited websites in the world, ahead of household names like Apple, Adobe and Dell. It has the same ranking in the Google PageRank system (9/10) as Google itself, Microsoft, Cisco, NASA and the White House.
Cullen, who set up a business typing CVs when he was 12, was designing websites for companies by the time he was 16. His customers wanted to know how popular the websites he was designing were, so he came up with the StatCounter idea.
StatCounter has never been advertised or aggressively promoted, according to Cullen. It does not try to compete with larger players in the market, such as Omniture or WebTrends, but is instead aimed at smaller and midsize customers, primarily websites with 250,000 pageloads per month or less, that want a free reliable service.
“It started off quite slowly,” said Cullen. “Then, word of mouth started spreading, and each year we would double or triple our membership base, and it just all grew organically. Once we had all the people coming to our website and visiting StatCounter, we were able to show ads to support that business model.”
Cullen, who has a degree in computer applications from Dublin City University, said that the organic growth meant he had no requirement for outside funding.
“Whatever revenue came in from the website was spent back on the website,” he said. “The fact that we have not had to consider any outside funding means we have been able to direct the company the way we want to. Third party funding may be considered in the future if something arose, but in the meantime, there is no need for it.”
According to Cullen his young age has not impacted on the growth and development of his business, apart from one memorable occasion.
“I was 16 when I started doing StatCounter, so I could not get a credit card,” said Cullen. “All the hosting had to go through my da’s credit card. That was quite funny, but once I reached the legal age of 18 I could get my own credit card and that was a main obstacle out of the way.”
By the time the BusinessWeek result was announced in July, StatCounter had just moved into a new office in the Guinness Enterprise Centre in Dublin 8, where it employs eight staff.
“Up until three months ago, Statcounter was run from a bedroom in our home,” said Cullen. “The Guinness Enterprise Centre is run by the Dublin Business Innovation Centre (DBIC), which offers assistance to start-ups. One of the attractions is that there are lots of young, growing IT businesses there, and there is a spirit of hard work, enthusiasm and entrepreneurship.”
“My advice would be to believe in themselves, to believe in what they are doing, and not to give up,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of hurdles along the way but if you keep persisting with something you are a lot more likely to be successful.”
Sunday Business Post – Autumn Motoring Supplement – Sep 16 2007
A fuel treatment made in Ireland could help the government to comply with EU targets to reduce carbon emissions in member states, writes Dermot Corrigan
A unique fuel treatment developed by a Wicklow company could help the Irish government to comply with targets laid out by the European Commission to reduce carbon emissions in all member states by 20 per cent by 2020.
Drew McDowell, managing director of Dipetane International, said the fuel treatment manufactured by his company could benefit the environment and save motorists money by buring the carbons that build up in motor engines, resulting in cleaner and more economic fuel usage.
“Use of Dipetane could save the government millions in fuel supports and reduce all the fines to nil,” said McDowell. “It would also make us all Kyoto compliant immediately.”
“We have also asked the Minister (for the Environement) to consider giving a one to two per cent duty relief for Dipetane fuels,” added McDowell. “Really the governmnt should be encouraging people to use best practice fuels like Dipetane. We could then have the same amount of vehicles on the road, or even more, and still have fewer emissions.”
McDowell said that Dipetane had the effect of increasing the output of standard fuels, including diesel and petrol, by 10 per cent.
“It reduces all greenhouse gases by 25 per cent and reduce smoke by 50 per cent. It can also increase engine life by 40 per cent.”
A report released last month by the Environmental Protection Agency found that temperatures in Ireland are rising twice as fast as in other countries. McDowell said a major factor driving this trend is the high rate of fuel emissions from motor vehicles in Ireland.
“(Our Company) is 21 years at this, but it is only in the last couple of years that the world has accepted the need to reduce greenhouse gases,” he said. “In previous years oil was too cheap, and nobody gave two hoots about the environment.”
Dipetane International was developed in Ireland in 1985. Its eco-friendly fuel treatment is now manufactured and distributed around the world from its facility in Kilcoole Industrial Estate.
Motorists can purchase Dipetane over the counter, said McDowell.
“ We have been selling Dipetance through motor factors for the last five years,” he said. “We now have 60 outlets alone in the Dublin area selling Dipetane to individual car owners covering petrol, diesel and bio-diesel fuels. Our customers include about 600 taxi-drivers who use Dipetane continuously in their cars.”
Dipetane is also available in garage forecourts nationwide. A one litre bottle costs €10.
McDowell said some businesses in Ireland had been using Dipetane in their fleets since the 1980s.
“Dipetane has been used in many Irish companies and organisations over the last 18 years, including the likes of Coca-Cola, Roadstone and the Irish Army,” he said. “All our customers are getting one vehcicle in ten on the road at nil fuel costs.”
McDowell said the introduction in 2000 of the National Car Test (NCT), had increased demand for his company’s product.
“Dipetane is the sole pre-combustion technology used anywhere in the world,” he said. “It does not use any detergents or additives. Standard combustion cannot cope with unburnt carbon and they have to use detergents to wash it away. This is very wasteful and also creates combustion chamber deposits which uses more fuels and creates more emissions.”
Last May, Dipetane won a €2 million deal with the W Y Energy Development Company in China. The agreement will see Dipetane used in 20,000 trucks and vans, 10,000 taxis, 20,000 buses and many thousand private cars. The aim is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Beijing by one million tonnes.
“It started on a trial basis two years ago,” said McDowell. “Now we are sending containers to China every month with 20,000 litres of Dipetane per container.”
McDowell said Dipetane was currently in negotiations with a number of other international customers.
“We are just starting off with Argos in France who are going to do all of their home heating for the whole of France with Dipetane treated fuels, so we have quite a number of irons in the fire,” he said.
Sunday Business Post – Technology – September 9 2007
Read this story on the Sunday Business Post website by clicking here.
With the number of Irish people on Facebook, employers are having to decide how to deal with it, writes Dermot Corrigan
The explosive emergence of social networking website Facebook.com is provoking a heated debate in Irish workplaces.
There are currently more than 40,000 people signed up to Facebook who say they are Irish. The real number is probably bigger and is growing quickly.
The Facebook website allows registered members to chat with friends, play interactive online games, search for people they may have lost touch with over the years, make new friends with people who share their interests, and generally have fun online. It has been referred to as Bebo for grown-ups.
Employers are worried that previously productive staff are now whiling away their work time on the addictive website. However, Facebook advocates retort by saying that it is a networking tool that allows employees to build contacts and spread information, which can only be a good thing.
British employers have reacted to perceived large numbers of their staff spending work time on Facebook by banning the use of the site or blocking all access to it. Lloyds TSB, Credit Suisse, and Goldman Sachs are among the companies reported to have blocked employees from visiting Facebook. The TUC (Trades Unions Congress) entered the debate by criticising these decisions, saying that a blanket ban was unreasonable.
Patricia Callan, director of the Small Firms Association (SFA) in Ireland, said employers were well within their rights to crack down on staff spending time on social networking sites while they were supposed to be working.
“Under a contract of employment you pay a person and they come to work and they work,” said Callan. “So if somebody is time-wasting, whether that be on the phone, not showing up, or being on a website that is not devoted to work, then a company is entitled to take disciplinary action against that person.”
“If people who have access to email and internet in the workplace just spend ten minutes a day for their own personal use then that costs Irish business over €575 million per annum.”
Callan said staff using facebook was more problematic than occasionally checking email or reading an online magazine.
“It seems that Facebook is addictive and people could be on it for maybe two or three hours,” said Callan. “Most people only work a seven or eight hour day so that is a huge chunk of time wasted. Obviously employers would have to take action.”
According to Callan wasting time online was different than chatting over the watercooler or taking extra-long smoke breaks, and employers had to employ more sophisticated systems to monitor it.
“The difference is that you can be a lot more subtle about it,” said Callan. “If people are standing around the place or are going on breaks that is visible, but people can disguise the fact that they are time wasting on an internet site. That is a reason why employers might go for technological solutions that track internet usage and see what sites people are using.”
Callan said wasting company time by browsing the internet could have serious consequences for the staff member involved.
“There have been cases where companies have successfully dismissed people for spending hours and hours doing things like booking holidays,” she said.
Social media consultant Tom Raftery has a different view of the Facebook phenomenon. He said employers should embrace new technologies – such as social networking websites – and trust their staff to use them responsibly.
“I think employers should just let their staff use them,” said Raftery. “If you do not trust your staff, that is a whole other issue entirely. If they are using a social networking site, such as Facebook, the chances are they are doing it for a good reason.
Raftery said many multinational organisations were actively encouraging their staff to set up Facebook accounts.
“If employers are worried about their staff spending time on Facebook, maybe they should wonder why the Fortune 500 companies encourage their staff to be on Facebook,” he said. “Their staff are all over it. Why? Because they know it is a good thing for their company.”
Companies can organise their own private networks on facebook, which their staff can join. This can help employees from disparate geographical locations, and experts working in similar sectors, get to know each other and communicate ideas, according to Raftery.
“Companies can go in and set up groups within Facebook and encourage their employees to join those groups and start having discussions within the market segment they are in,” said Raftery.
“If you are sharing information, and you are helping other people get their work done, then you are actually being more productive” he said. “If you are in Facebook talking to people in similar companies or other branches you are quite often swapping information about work. If you are showcasing your expertise, then you are raising the company’s profile.”
Irish organisations which have their own Facebook networks include university staff at UCD, the Irish Defence Forces and Poetry Ireland.
Multinationals operating here, such as Apple, Nokia, Tesco and Allianz have all set up their own Facebook networks, that their Irish based staff are free to join.
Raftery said managers should concentrate on whether their staff were productive or not in the medium to long term, rather than monitoring every mouse-click.
“It is up to the employer to have proper metrics in place to measure the productivity of their staff, that is basic managerial stuff,” said Raftery. “If your staff are being as productive as you need them to be, then so what if they spend ten hours a week on Facebook? They are getting the job done.”
According to Raftery if staff in a company are spending too much time on Facebook, it may point to a more serious fault within the company’s processes.
“If they are not getting the job done, then that is another issue” said Raftery. “That is about managing your staff’s productivity. Maybe they are on Facebook, or YouTube, maybe they are reading a novel under the desk, or on the telephone for an hour talking to their friends about Coronation Street. It does not matter what the distraction is, you have to have management systems in place to manage your employees productivity.”
Fergal O’Byrne, chief executive officer of the Irish Internet Association (IIA), said employers wary of Facebook – and employees addicted to poking their friends online – should find a happy medium. He said this can be done by putting in place an agreed internet usage policy.
“The implementation of the internet usage policy is where employers and employees have to work together,” he said. “Everybody knows and every company around Ireland knows that people, whether on their lunch or not, will check their personal email or book a flight or whatever, and if employers want to be rigorous they can say that is company time and against the policy and you are fired. But that does not happen.”
“An internet usage policy is very easy to write and it is just common sense,” said O’Byrne. “Employees sign it and know they are meant to do certain things and not do other things.”
O’Byrne said blocking individual websites could provoke a negative reaction from staff.
“The IIA does not recommend barring or blocking these sites,” he said. “That is a very draconian action to take. Employers should treat their employees with respect and know that they are mature individuals.”
O’Byrne said the internet was now a fact of life for companies, who should look for positive usages of the technology instead of putting up barriers.
“The days of clocking in from nine to five are over,” he said. “People can telework or mobile work, and if they are not doing their job that is a performance issue that is going to come up at their review. But if they are empowered to use the internet appropriately it can benefit the company and the employee as well.”
O’Byrne said that linkedin.com, a similar site which allows individuals in companies around the world to find others with similar work interests, was a more work focused alternative to Facebook, and that balanced use of both could be quite useful to companies.
“If you have staff using Facebook or Linkedin there is a lot of evidence to show that it can be quite beneficial,” said O’Byrne. “Linkedin particularly is a great way of making business contacts. It is phenomenally successful and I use it myself. It is not Bebo, it is not people hanging around saying what did you do last night and what music they like, it is actually people making real business connections. Meetings are set up through it, people recruit through it. So there is a huge amount of positives coming out of these sites.”
“Just because it is a bigger, faster car, that does not mean you take the keys away,” added O’Byrne. “They are powerful and they are useful and if you set the parameters by all means let people use them.”
Sunday Business Post – Recruitment pages – September 9 2007
When using online recruitment sites, jobseekers should share personal data with discretion and be wary of unsolicited requests for information, writes Dermot Corrigan.
One of the biggest internet security breaches ever was discovered last month when global online recruitment giant Monster admitted personal information belonging to over one million of its job-seekers had been stolen.
According to Monster, hackers gained access to personal information – names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses – of 1.3 million individuals.
Monster is now working closely with the appropriate regulatory agencies and law enforcement authorities on this issue and informing individuals affected on the appropriate precautionary steps to protect themselves. Monster said less than 5,000 of those affected were based outside the United States.
The problem was first detected last month by Symantec’s EMEA security headquarters based in Dublin. Kevin Hogan, who is director security content operations within Symantec Security Response, said the company immediately notified Monster and worked on shutting down the threat.
Hogan said the thieves did not try to circumvent Monster’s security systems as in a traditional hacking threat.
“They somehow managed to get the log in details for three separate accounts and used them to gain access to the site as any normal recruitment agency or employer would,” he said.
According to Hogan the criminals then used a ‘trojan’ programme to search through Monster’s database of candidates and steal personal information.
“There was an e-mail sent to the individuals whose email addresses had been stolen,” he said. “These had an attachment which purported to be a job search tool, but if you double clicked it was actually a malware that encrypted files on your local system. It then flashed you a warning saying if you wanted to see those local files again you would have to pay a certain amount of money. It was sort of an extortion racket.”
Hogan said some Monster users were even offered positions by a Russian company as “financial consultants”.
“The hackers knew the people were looking for jobs,” he said. “It also sent a spam email saying you could be a financial consultant and make money from home. If you read through it you saw that they were recruiting people to act as go-betweens or mules in a money-laundering scheme. You needed to set up an account with Western Union and a bank account with Bank of America, and you would get a percentage of transactions that went through. That was pitched as a real financial consultant job.”
The server used in the attack was located in the Ukraine and the Russian company offering the positions was apparently based in Moscow. Hogan suspects a professional group was behind the attack.
“These guys are definitely organised,” he said. “They are relying on different means of setting up websites, shell companies and so on. You are not talking about pranksters here.”
The malicious emails sent out would not have appeared suspicious at first glance, said Hogan.
“The e-mails themselves had the monster logo and looked very professional,” he said. “These people would have expected to see something coming from Monster as they had registered.”
Hogan said in the Monster case there appeared to have been no breakdown in their security procedures.
“We do not know exactly how, but there were some standard accounts that were abused by the hackers,” he said. “They may have been accounts that the hackers themselves managed to set up, although there is a vetting process on Monster’s site. Or they may have been accounts from legitimate companies or recruiters that were somehow passed from person to person until they landed in these characters’ hands.”
Hogan said companies had to safeguard their login details and passwords.
“Even something as simple as the recruiters’ username for the monster site is of value to people like this,” said Hogan. “People need to ensure they are not just slapping these onto a post-it note and attaching it to their keyboard.”
According to Hogan, there was nothing particular about the Monster site that invited this attack.
“It could have been any other of the myriad sites where people input personal information,” he said. “In this case it happens to have been a recruitment site, but if you look at the information that was being stolen it did not have anything to do with these people’s CVs.”
Fergal O’Byrne, chief executive officer of the Irish Internet Association, said individuals inputting personal information into any internet site should be aware that it was never completely safe.
“If you are going to put CVs or personal information up into any internet environment, whether it is a recruitment site or a social networking site, you have to be aware that the internet is an open medium and unfortunately there are fraudsters and scammers who are looking for just that kind of information” he said.
The criminals in these cases rely on humans making mistakes, according to O’Byrne.
“People are the weak link here,” he said. “The reason phishing is so prevalent is that it is working.”
O’Byrne said anyone who received an email containing an attachment or a click-through web address should be careful.
“These scammers embed a different internet address in the email which redirects to somewhere else and most people do not know it has even happened,” he said. “Always go to the actual website itself and type in the actual domain name into the address bar – e.g. paypal.com or monster.ie.”
O’Byrne said these sites should have appropriate security measures in place to protect users’ information.
“The encryption of data, called SSL or secured sockets layer is incredibly robust,” he said.
Users should also only input information that is directly relevant, and be suspicious of any unsolicited requests for information or urgent news, said O’Byrne. Reputable companies never ask for details such as PINs via email.
Hogan advised individuals using online jobsites to set up temporary web-based e-mail accounts such as yahoo or google to protect themselves.
Sunday Business Post – Managing Your Business supplement – September 2007
The government must address the major issues that are curtailing business growth in Ireland, including taxation and red tape, in order to allow small businesses to become more profitable, writes Dermot Corrigan.
The current taxation system in Ireland is hindering growth in the SME sector, according to Pat Crotty, chairman, Small Firms Association (SFA).
Crotty will give the opening address at the SFA’s annual conference in Dublin Castle next Tuesday. For many of the business owners attending the event Crotty said indirect taxes have become a major issue.
“In the last ten years we have gone from fifth to 15th in Europe in terms of the relative competitiveness of our cost base,” he said. “The costs that are going up all the time, out of line with everything else and in excess of inflation, are all related to government controlled or influenced agencies.”
“We are a low income tax economy, but we are a very high indirect tax economy,” said Crotty, who runs a hotel and restaurant in Kilkenny. “I am in the tourism business and the people who come here on their holidays from Europe find the cost of food and all sorts of other items very high.”
“This is not because of the cost of producing or selling food, or drink, it is the taxes on it. Our taxes on things that are not particularly luxury goods are taxed at a luxury rate. The average tax on food and drink in Europe is between five and nine per cent. We go between nine and 13 and a half per cent on food, and up to 21 per cent on drink. That has to be addressed sooner or later.”
Crotty said consumers complaining about the high cost of goods or services often do not realise indirect taxes are partly to blame.
“Local authority charges do not affect Sean Citizen in the normal course of events,” he said. “They are not paying for their water, or paying rates just because their property happens to take up a piece of ground. Business is the only one paying those. We are picking up the tab for the local authorities.”
Crotty rejected the notion that Irish businesses are ripping off their customers.
“The rip-off label is totally unfair,” he said. “I am a consumer as well as a business operator, and so is everyone that works for me. I would have staff that complain that people do not understand why our product is the price it is. At the same time when they walk out onto the street with their consumer hat on they are the ones giving out about the price of the next product. People can understand why their own product justifies a price and cannot understand why they are being charged so much themselves. People have never got their head around it.”
In general, Crotty said that the price of goods in Ireland were not rising. He said smaller businesses, not consumers, were taking the brunt of cost increases in the economy.
“We have had years of the perception of ‘rip-off’, so it is now very hard to get a price increase. This is evidenced by the regular factory gate surveys which show that really prices are not going up, which means that all the cost increases are being absorbed by businesses,” he said.
Crotty said the services sector is not being affected as severely by the ‘rip-off’ misconception.
“The services sector seem to be able to get the prices they need, but this means that we seem to very dependent on services and if the economy does take a dip and cash dries up the services will suffer too and then we are in trouble on both fronts,” he said.
Crotty said a major challenge facing SFA members was the open, globalised market Irish companies now operate in.
“We are a small open economy,” he said. “In the global economy everything affects us – fluctuations in interest rates, wars, the price of oil, things that we absolutely cannot control. They all affect consumer confidence and business confidence.”
The recent turbulence in the Irish stock market is an example of this, said Crotty.
“Things like the sub-prime lending in the US can throw everything out of kilter. A lot of people are working on a knife edge and for some of them it will make life very difficult.”
Energy price increases in recent years are another issue for smaller Irish businesses, Crotty said.
“If you are producing a product that requires a significant energy input to make, your costs can change very dramatically with the price of oil,” he said. “Any hope of getting an increase in your sales price is very small.”
Crotty said SFA members now operate a globalised business model, with customers all over the world. This poses new challenges, especially for smaller manufacturers.
“As a small economy we are really price takers in the international market,” he said. “We can not go to the market and say ‘here is our price’. The customer will say ‘fine, we will go to China’.”
Crotty said that the regulatory burden on smaller businesses in Ireland was a serious issue for SFA members.
“The difficulty is that people who are in manufacturing are largely competing with the Pacific Rim and Asia and other developing economies and they do not have the same regulatory burden,” he said. “The regulatory burden in developed economies does significantly impinge on your capacity to compete. It is a cost that your competitors do not have.”
Full employment in Ireland is a challenge for smaller businesses that have to cast their nets further afield to find qualified staff, said Crotty.
“For the growth of our employment base we depend on immigrant labour,” he said. “We need skills that we do not have in the country.”
Crotty said that his members’ efforts to secure non-EU staff were hampered by the amount of red tape involved at government level.
“The main difficulty, other than sourcing, is the bureaucracy involved,” he said. “The advertising and interviewing processes could take a month or two. Then you could have another three months wait to get the permit, and then maybe not get it in the end. We have been talking to the government about streamlining the procedure. There needs to be more urgency and the process needs to be more businesslike.”
Crotty said Irish business owners and entrepreneurs would have to become more innovative, and move up the value chain, if they wished to compete successfully.
“In the long term research and development and innovation are the key,” he said. “We can not just be ‘me-too’ operators when we are selling a product or a service, we have to be leaders, be at the edge in terms of where products are going. That way you can get a good price.”
Crotty said that the government, and in particular Micheál Martin, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, was aware of the importance of innovation. However, he said government efforts to help smaller businesses needed to improve.
“The government are aware of it now and, in the last budget made significant progress in terms of supporting companies to do R&D,” he said. “It still is not a catch-all. It will benefit bigger companies more than small companies, but at least it is beginning to knock on the door of small companies.”
Crotty said small business owners could not afford to be complacent, regardless of their current rate of success.
“No matter what business you are in you cannot say ‘Well we had a good year. Now I am going to put the money in my back pocket or buy a boat or whatever’,” he said. “If you are not making your business stronger you are actually getting weaker, because everyone else is improving. Things are generally just getting a bit tougher all the time, so your preparedness depends on your capacity to grow and react.”
“The statistics show that our record at growing small businesses into larger businesses is really quite poor,” he said. “Small businesses that have really good ideas actually tend to be bought out by the bigger players, they do not get to become a big business themselves.”
Crotty said business owners that establish and develop a small business initially are not always able to take the business on to the next stage without outside help.
“People have the skills and the ideas to start up a business,” he said. “It is growing the business that becomes difficult. While a business is small an owner/ manager can be the jack-of-all-trades. As it grows it can be difficult to see and realise when it is time to bring in other people, to buy in other skills. Owner/managers can often be very much hands-on, and as a result head-down. They say it was my idea so I know best. They do not see that to get to the next stage they might actually have to take their hands off and have a look at where they are going and what skills they need to grow the business.”
Crotty said that carrying out research, or being really innovative at the level required to compete on a global level in the modern economy, required substantial knowledge and resources.
“People have a capacity to take a business to a certain level,” he said. “After that you need, particularly for R&D and innovation, you need serious expertise. That means someone handing over their idea to someone else or giving part of it to someone else to see how it develops. It also means a very substantial investment; there is no R&D or innovation that comes cheap. As soon as you start talking to innovation centres or third level institutions about trying to develop something you can get into big bucks very fast.”
Crotty entered the business world in 1980 as a baker. At that time, he said the Irish economic situation was very different.
“I remember the bad old days of low employment, high inflation, very high interest rates and no confidence,” he said. “In the bakery business we did micro-costing, you were looking for fractions of pennies in profits to justify your existence. Anyone who lived through it would never forget it and it makes them more careful and more thorough.”
It is difficult to explain the situation in Ireland in the 1980s to younger people, said Crotty, even those who now own their own companies.
“They do not even know what you are talking about,” he said. “We now live in a consumer society. Back then people did not have money.”
When Crotty realised that there was no future for him in the bakery business, he moved into the hospitality sector.
“I had properties that I could move toward new markets,” he said. “As a baker the next progression was food in general and now I am in the bar and restaurant business. I am in a very good city for that, Kilkenny is one of the primary tourist destinations in Ireland and it is a growing place in its own right.”
Crotty has been an elected member of Kilkenny Corporation since 1999, serving as Mayor of Kilkenny in 2003. He was also chairman of Kilkenny Tourism for several years and chairman of the South East Regional Tourism Authority. He has also served as president of Kilkenny Chamber of Commerce and is current ly a member of Kilkenny City and County Vintners Federation Committee.
Crotty was elected to succeed Angela Kennedy as chairman of the SFA in December 2005.
“The main job of the chair is to chair the board meetings,” he said. “Around the table, we have a diverse mix of opinions. We have people who think about the big picture and understand it in terms of how it impinges on their own business. It is because we get such a useful mix of opinions that we can come up with good policies for lobbying the government and government agencies and representing our members’ interests.”
In addition to his many other roles, Crotty served as president of Kilkenny Chamber of Commerce for two years.
“The main difference between the SFA and Chambers is that they work at ground level,” he said. “They are trying to trickle up from each chamber to a central agency to find out which issues to lobby at national level. We start at national level and are entirely focused on national issues that affect most people in business that need to be addressed to government.”
Crotty said part of his job was to ensure that SFA members made full use of their membership and contacted the SFA when they required assistance.
“People who are operating small business can have their heads down most of the time,” he said. “Suddenly a problem appears and they do not know what to do or where to go. They should ring us or at least go look at our website to see the range of services that are there. There are only five staff in the office, but they have answered so many queries so many times that they know the answers. Our most frequent phone-calls from members would be on employment and HR (human resources) issues, insurance or service supports.
Crotty said this year had seen changes in the SFA boardroom, with four new members joining the SFA National Executive Council.
“I have been saying for years that while we had very good voices around the table, we needed to broaden our membership of the board,” he said. “We have done that this year, we have brought in new people from completely new backgrounds in technology and services and they are beginning to feed into the system now. That will make us stronger.”
The new faces on the Small Firms Association’s National Executive Council include Colin Anderson, general manager of Athlone Optical; Carol Ann Casey, managing director of CA Consulting in Dublin; Barry Coleman, managing director of Pensions Matter, also in Dublin; and Brian O’Kane, managing director of Oak Tree Press in Cork.
Crotty said that, despite the challenges, these were good times to be involved in business in Ireland.
“Every day should be a challenging day for anyone in business, and it tends to be particularly for small businesses,” he said. “But in ten or fifteen years we may be looking back on this as the good old days. It could be a lot more challenging, and it likely will be.”
First Train Magazine – August 2007
A new professionally recognised qualification, the QFA Diploma, will strongly benefit the financial products retail industry. Dermot Corrigan reports on what the qualification entails…
You can read this story on the First Train website (registration required).
The introduction of the new QFA (Qualified Financial Advisor) continuous professional development qualification has had a dramatic impact on career development and training in the Irish financial services sector.
The QFA Diploma is a required competency requirement that was announced by the Financial Regulator in July 2006 and introduced on the 1st of January 2007. It is now the single benchmark qualification for those working in an advisory capacity in the retail financial sector in the Republic of Ireland.
The administration of the QFA Diploma is overseen by the QFA Board, which is a joint venture of the Institute of Bankers in Ireland, the Insurance Institute, the LIA and the Central Bank.
Individuals working in the insurance, banking and other related financial services sectors can gain the qualification. It is particularly aimed at those working in retail, public-facing advisor positions.
The Qualified Finanicial Advisor Diploma, offered by the Institute of Bankers in partnership with LIA and the Insurance Institute of Ireland, satisfies the educational requirements for designation as a Qualified Financial Adviser (QFA). Anyone who succesfully completes the diploma course is recognised by the Financial Regulator as having the skills and knowledge to adequately advise consumers on financial services and products.
“Those who hold the QFA Diploma meet the financial regulators Minimum Competency Requirements (MCRs) for selling, or advising on five categories of retail financial products,” said Mike Brouder, education specialist with The Institute of Bankers in Ireland.
These five categories are
* Savings, investment and pension products
* Housing loans and associated insurances
* Consumer credit and associated insurances
* Life assurance protection products
* Shares and bonds and other investment instruments
What is in the QFA Diploma
“An individual who wishes to complete the diploma with a view to meeting these minimum competency requirements can register with The Institute of Bankers in Ireland or the LIA, who also offer the diploma,” said Brouder. LIA is an educational and professional body for people working in the Financial Services Industry. There are also private educational institutions who offer tuition towards the qualification, including Dublin’s Moresoft Institute and Ormonde Business School, Tullamore.
Students are required to successfully complete six modules to gain their QFA Diploma. These are Life Assurance, Regulation, Pensions, Loans, Investment and Financial Planning. There are written examinations in each of the modules which can be sat in a number of locations across the country.
“All six modules are offered over three terms within an academic year,” said Brouder. “Typically students would take either one or two modules per term and must take the QFA Financial Planning module after all the other modules, as this is the summative module for the course.”
Take-up of the qualification from people working within the financial services industry has been excellent, according to Brouder.
“The QFA Diploma is the most popular course in financial services in Ireland with strong registrations country-wide and across financial institutions,” he said.
Who may register for the diploma?
Brouder said that there were many career development benefits for individuals in gaining the qualification.
“As well as offering students the opportunity to enhance their breadth and depth of knowledge to provide consumers with sound professional advice, the diploma also satisfies the educational requirements for designation as a QFA,” he said.
Anyone working in the financial services industry is free to undertake the QFA programme.
“While the qualification is open to all, it appeals most to those who wish to complete the diploma as a means to meeting minimum competency requirements and to develop their skills to provide sound professional advice,” said Brouder.
People who do not currently work in financial services, but who wish to further their career prospects in this or a related area are also welcome to apply.
“New entrants may apply for the diploma on the same basis as other students,” said Brouder. “The diploma is a general entry point for school leavers and graduates in the Institute of Bankers education structure.”
Staff who have built up experience working in the industry, or who have previously been awarded with relevant professional qualifications, may be able to benefit from an exemption, according to Brouder.
The QFA can be seen as an introductory step up the financial services career ladder. Brouder said that holding a QFA diploma enabled the holder to further exemptions if they wished to gain higher qualifications in the financial services area.
“Those who complete the QFA Diploma are exempt from six of the 12 modules of the Joint Financial Services Diploma (JFSD),” he said. “Holders of the JFSD gain direct entry to Level two of UCD’s Bachelor of Financial Services.”
CPD and the Institute of Bankers
Other CPD programmes run by the Institute of Bankers include the Specialist Certificate in Mortgage Practice, Foundation Certificate in Consumer Credit and Bridge to General Insurance. Further up the ladder is the Certified Banker (CeB) award, which is the most prestigious examination-based professional qualification awarded by the Institute. It is awarded to those who have gained both the requisite educational standard and experience to operate effectively in managerial, supervisory, professional or specialist roles in banking and financial services.
Brouder said that continually upgrading and supplementing professional qualifications and expertise was very important within the retail end of the financial services industry in Ireland.
“Continual Professional Development (CPD) encourages life long learning and will ensure that your knowledge and skills are kept up to date with ongoing developments in the industry and in your business,” he said.
Brouder predicted that the existence of a recognised professional standard meant that people looking to work within the financial services retail sphere would require a QFA designation in future.
“It is too soon to detect an observable impact on recruitment,” said Brouder. “However, in the longer term, the QFA Diploma will clarify the career path for those advising the public on retail financial products and it is likely that the QFA will be a prerequisite for key customer-facing roles in financial services.”
The existence of recognised professional development standards is good for the industry as a whole, said Brouder.
“CPD helps establish minimum standards across the industry,” he said. “Under minimum competency requirements all accredited individuals will be obliged to complete CPD.”
Brouder said that this recognition was shared by all the financial institutions operating in the Irish market.
“We currently have students from across the financial institutions,” he said. “Each organisation has its own support structure in place for their staff.”
The QFA and Consumers
The QFA Board is keen to raise public awareness of the newly introduced qualification and produced a number of advertising campaigns across press and radio earlier this year. They have also commissioned silver QFA pins which each qualified person receives and are encouraged to wear it on their lapel, collar, tie, breast-pocket – wherever is visible to members of the public and/or colleagues.
According to Brouder the implementation of the QFA programme meant that consumers of financial services and products know that they are dealing with a representative who is equipped with a recognised level of competency.
“The QFA designation, for which holders of the diploma may apply, is a way for consumers to recognize that their financial adviser has attained a minimum level of competency to advise on the specific categories of retail financial product covered by the QFA diploma,” he said.
More information on the QFA is available from the QFA Board at www.qfaboard.ie, while you can register online at the Institute of Bankers’ website www.bankers.ie or the LIA website www.lia.ie. Alternatively, telephone (or email) LIA on 01-4563890 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or IOB on 01-6116500 (email@example.com).
Sunday Business Post – Computers in Business magazine – September 2007
Ongoing training is a must and companies provide highly flexible courses that should cater for all, writes Dermot Corrigan
The continual upgrading of certifications across a range of technologies from security to networking to database management, is driving increasing demand for technical training in IT departments nationwide.
Last year’s introduction of new Microsoft certifications has lead to significant training and upskilling requirements for IT professionals specialising in Microsoft technologies, said Catherine O’Keefe, training manager with PFH Technology Group.
“Definitely over the next year we are going to see greater demand for those,” said O’Keefe. “They are rebranding MCSE (Microsoft Certified System Engineer) and MCSA (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator) as MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist) and they are being broken down into more core areas. The likes of Vista 2008, Longhorn 2008, Exchange 2007, VMware, Sharepoint, SQL are all going to increase.”
Professional certification programmes are now standard throughout the IT sector, and play an important role in ensuring that companies keep their IT skills and competencies up to date, said Michael Galvin, general manager, Cisco Systems Ireland.
“We have a very formal programme of certification at different levels,” said Galvin. “By way of our position in the market, our certifications have almost become industry standard, particularly in the networking industry.
“The highest level for an individual is CCIE – Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert. These are not generic certifications, they are specific to different parts of the market. You can be a CCIE in security or voice over internet protocol (VoIP). They are very high level technical certification, which are almost seen as benchmark in the industry.”
Newer technology players, such as VMware, also have their own certification processes.
“When you do the course and you pass the exam you become a VMware certified professional (VCP),” said Enda Fitzpatrick, sales manager with Commtech. “They are developing more courses at the moment. The VCP is just around installing and configuring, but they have also brought one around the security side, which is much more in depth course, and also an operations course which is around the management of the system.”
Other vendors such as Sun Microsystems, IBM, Oracle, Avaya, MacAfee and many others also have specific certification programmes in place.
Many vendors offer certification programmes and training themselves as well as in association with licensed partners, consultants and resellers.
The resellers generally must hold the relevant certifications to offer solutions and support to customers. Larger customers often must also have in-house staff who hold certifications in order to efficiently utilise the technologies.
Other stakeholders in the IT space, such as industry groups, open source technology developers, regulatory authorities and governments, can also develop certification programmes (e.g. CISSP in security or ITIL in IT service management).
Colman Morrissey, managing director of Espion, said that regulation and compliance were going to be an important driver in certification going forward.
“Regulation will drive security which in turn will drive technology as security managers strive to cope with the internal control requirements imposed by new regulatory requirements,” said Morrissey. “Thus compliancy, auditing incident response tools and technologies combined to newer evolving technologies such as biometrics, single sign on authentication et cetera will play a big part.”
Galvin said that major vendors, such as Cisco, develop their certifications alongside new advances or upgrades in the particular technology.
“As we bring new technologies into the market we add them to the certification process as part of our life-cycle readiness programme so we can support it,” he said.
When new products or services are brought to the market there is often an accompanying certification, said Galvin, who pointed to the introduction of the Cisco SMB specialisation in April this year.
“The inhibitors for small businesses deploying technology are cost and security, so we have launched a set of certifications aimed at that market that are very focused on technologies that those customers use,” he said.
Gaining a certification
Keeping IT skills and certifications up to date tends to be an open-ended process, with new technologies, skillsets and certifications being added all the time. The amount of time and money that must be invested in an individual’s training varies, according to O’Keefe.
“It depends on your experience, some people may have done similar courses for some products, or some study, whereas some people might have never used some of the products,” she said.
O’Keefe said that delivery of certification was generally flexible and rolled out over a period of time.
“We deliver the full seven modules as a 20 day programme, with mentoring as well for each exam,” said O’Keefe. “It would not be consecutive days, it could be delivered over a period of three to six months, or even two to three years, depending on the requirements of the customer. There may be three or four days and then a gap of three or four weeks, between each course. They would then go back to work to use the product, then do the exam, and then move on to the next module. “
Continually returning to training is a vital element of the certification process, according to Galvin.
“For all of our certifications, each individual has to re-certify every two years,” he said. “Every year we update the content of the certification based on the market, and the fact that the technology evolves pretty quickly, even the core technologies such as routing and switching. The number of upgrades and advances that go on is quite phenomenal. The purpose of these certifications is to have a high bar, so that when our customers have a good experience. That is why we do it.”
The certifications are typically designed in a ladder format, so that staff can continue to build on their qualifications as their career progresses, O’Keefe said. For example the new Microsoft certifications sit on top of the previous generation.
“If they are already an MCSE they are going to want to keep the equivalent of that certification,” said O’Keefe. “The normal ones will be your server product, your desktop product and your exchange. You will be getting the equivalent in the new version. There is no need to start again.”
Individuals who are already technically adept and have experience in the technology, may not need to sit through all of the formal programmes. Galvin recently met one person who had completed the CCIE certification in just four weeks.
“He pretty much did it all himself, with no formal training,” said Galvin.” He just happened to be a talented technology person who spent a lot of time on the web and then just went and passed the course. That would be an exception though.”
The costs involved in completing a recognised certification programme can be significant.
“If someone goes through a training programme, where they take every course in a formal way through a training partner it could cost €30,000 to €50,000 to train an individual,” said Galvin. “That investment would be over a number of years and includes intangible costs such as time out of work and travel. The ongoing investment would be different, as once you have reached the level you then only have to top-up.”