Dermot Corrigan

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Archive for February, 2009

Calls for scrappage scheme intensify

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Sunday Business Post – Motoring section – Feb 22 2009

Read the article on the Sunday Business Post website by clicking here.

Leading figures in the Irish motor industry are calling on the government to introduce a new scrappage scheme to address a dramatic drop-off in sales this year. In January, new car sales totalled just 16,000, down 66 per cent on the 47,000 sold in the same month last year, according to figures compiled by Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI).

‘‘I would be very fearful if the sales in January are replicated for the rest of the year – with that, you get a full year figure of 63,000 units. That is down from 151,000 in 2008, and 186,000 in 2007,” said Eddie Murphy, managing director of Ford Ireland. ‘‘You do not need to be a rocket scientist to see that there will be a lot of job losses, and a huge drop in the government’s VRT and Vat receipts.”

Motor sales resulted in about €2 billion in VRT and Vat returns to the exchequer in 2007, which fell to €1.5 billion last year. Murphy said returns this year would be significantly lower. ‘‘The government has a huge hole in terms of the money they are going to get from the motor industry. Unless they do something very quickly, that hole is going to get bigger,” he said.

A scrappage scheme – where a VRT rebate was offered to new car buyers -would stimulate car sales at minimal cost to the exchequer, said Pearce Flannery, chief executive of Pragmatica, a management consultancy specialising in the automotive industry.

‘‘It is a win-win situation from a government point of view,” said Flannery. ‘‘It will not result in any net cost to the exchequer. At a time when they should be beating down the doors to secure any money generating opportunity, their silence on this one is deafening and frustrating.”

The initiative could, Murphy said, operate in a similar manner to an earlier scrappage scheme which ran from1995 to 1997.

‘‘The last scrappage scheme was aimed at vehicles that were ten years or older,” said Murphy. ‘‘There was a lot of logic in doing that, as there were cars driving around that were dangerous or clapped out. Fourteen years on, there are actually more cars [that are] around ten years old or older than there was then.”

The old scheme offered a rebate of IR»1,000 (€1,270) for each car traded in. Murphy said any new scheme introduced should offer at least the same amount to participating motorists.

‘‘The rebate should at least equate to 50 per cent of the Vat and VRT payable. We would argue that is just the minimum required,” he said.

Flannery called for a significantly higher rebate to encourage large-scale uptake.

‘‘A scrappage scheme of €8,000 to €10,000 would make it worth people’s while,” he said.

The VRT rebate could also be targeted at taking environmentally unsound vehicles off Irish roads, said Flannery.

‘‘They could take hugely-emitting vehicles off the road by giving a 50 per cent VRT rebate on the new car if it emitted 50 per cent or less than the old vehicle. That would change hugely polluting vehicles into highly fuel-efficient cars.”

Murphy said it was likely that distributors and dealers would offer their own incentives alongside a government run scrappage scheme, if it was introduced.

‘‘I am sure that all of the distributors would embrace it aggressively and run with the opportunity, whether in the form of a price discount, or some other form of incentive,” he said.

According to SIMI, 3,000 motor industry jobs have been lost since September, and another 3,000 are at risk.

Flannery said the situation facing the industry was potentially far worse.

‘‘There are 75,000 people employed in the Irishmotor industry, and it is now probable that 50 per cent of those will lose their job,” he said.

‘‘There will be massive closures of franchise dealers. January, February and March are supposed to be the lucrative sales months of the year, and what is coming down the line is dismal altogether.”

Written by dermot

February 23rd, 2009 at 11:56 am

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New Windows security features revealed

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Sunday Business Post – IT security supplement – Feb 22 2009

Read the article on the Sunday Business Post website by clicking here.

Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system will include a new feature to allow users to encrypt data on memory keys and data sticks. The system, due to replace Microsoft Vista, is due to hit the market before the end of the year.

‘‘One of the new features in Windows 7 will allow users to encrypt data on memory keys or USB sticks,” said Declan Faller, infrastructure product manager with Microsoft Ireland. ‘‘A lot of memory keys with important data are being lost at the moment, and the ability to encrypt memory keys will be an important feature in Windows 7.”

Recent reports on the new operating system, which is also expected to have smart cards and biometric identifier capabilities, have pointed to the possibility of a security flaw within its User Account Control (UAC) system.

Although he declined to comment on specific details, Faller said the development of the product was at beta stage, and changes to the UAC would be made prior to its full release. He said Microsoft was working with major global security vendors to develop applications to run on Microsoft-enabled PCs and servers, and that the aim was to ensure that all would be compatible with the new version of Windows.

‘‘We recently announced the Windows 7 Ecosystem Readiness Program, where we’ll be working closely with software, hardware and peripherals vendors,” said Faller. ‘‘A key area for us is to ensure that each of the different vendors – like MacAfee and Symantec and many others – work very closely with the product team developing Windows 7, to ensure the products are ready to go.”

Microsoft is also set to release new versions of its ForeFront range of security products later this year. These will be used to protect company’s desktops, servers and applications.

‘‘The next wave of these products will be released before the end of this calendar year,” Faller said. ‘‘They will begin to really integrate the world of security with the world of infrastructure management, helping to automate security processes and giving users one console to look at all the potential vulnerabilities within their organisation. This will enable people to be much more proactive in how they manage their IT infrastructure security.”

IT managers and business owners facing falling IT budgets should not opt to scrimp on security.

‘‘We are very much aware that IT budgets are being reduced dramatically or, at best, remaining stagnant. It is very important that companies assess exactly where they make those cuts,” Faller said.

‘‘We are seeing that companies realise that they still have to spend a certain amount on security to protect their systems. Most organisations realise that maintaining the security of their systems is not negotiable.”

There could be potential savings for companies that were not utilising all of the security features on offer in their existing systems.

‘‘We are advising customers to look at their existing licensing agreements and maximise what they have paid for,” said Faller.

‘‘Sometimes, a customer might be licensed to use products that they might not be using. Another area is to make sure they are using all the features in the products that they have.”

Microsoft Office has a number of features to ensure data security. ‘‘There are a number of security features within the Office products which can restrict what can be done with a document,” said Faller.

‘‘If you are sending a sensitive document to a colleague that you do not want forwarded on, and you do not want to get into the public domain, you can set the rights of a particular document or spreadsheet so that they can only just view it, not forward it or print it off.

‘‘There are also password protection features for documents, such as spreadsheets from the finance department, that they want to share. They can restrict access to it using settings within the active directory, on who has the right to view that document.”

Businesses with valuable customer information held within their SQL databases or Microsoft Dynamics Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems should be using encryption and following strict information management processes, Faller said.

‘‘It is very important that databases are encrypted, whether the information is sitting locally on people’s machines or somewhere centrally,” he said.

‘‘If information goes missing – for example, if a laptop with customer details is lost – you should know where the information sits, and if that laptop was encrypted.”

Written by dermot

February 23rd, 2009 at 11:46 am

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Dunwoody expects top racing at Fairyhouse

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Sunday Business Post – Business of Sport page – Feb 22 2009

Read the article on the Sunday Business Post website by clicking here.

Three-time champion jockey Richard Dunwoody, who is the official ambassador for the Irish Grand National, expects a top weekend of racing at Easter.

Dunwoody was announced as the ambassador for the 2009 Powers Whiskey Irish Grand National at a Racing Legends event in Dublin’s Merrion Hotel last week. The event, which is celebrating its 140th anniversary, will take place over Easter weekend (April 12-14) and has a prize fund of €250,000.

‘‘The Grand National at Fairyhouse is always a great race, and the festival is always a fantastic three days of racing,” said Dunwoody. ‘‘Racegoers get to see the best jockeys and the best horses. It’s a really good social occasion as well.”

During his career, Dunwoody rode 1,699 winners, including two English Grand Nationals, the Champion Hurdle, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and an Irish Grand National victory with Desert Orchid in 1990.

‘‘Winning the Irish national on Desert Orchid was one of the most memorable days of my career,” Dunwoody told The Sunday Business Post. ‘‘I made a bad mistake at the last, but fortunately we survived it. The reception Desert Orchid got was just amazing to witness.”

Last year’s race saw 33/1 shot Hear the Echo stun Fairyhouse to win by 12 lengths. Dunwoody said the Michael O’Leary-trained eight-year-old had a chance again, if declared.

‘‘At the moment, it is too early to know who will definitely run,” he said. ‘‘Horses like Hear The Echo and last year’s Welsh grand national winner Notre Pere, if they run, will be up there but, whoever runs, it will be a top-quality race.”

Although he has his hands full as a racing pundit for the BBC, sports columnist and inspirational speaker, Dunwoody is also something of an adventurer. In 2003, he completed a 350-mile ski race to the magnetic North Pole. And in January of last year, he completed a 680-mile, 48day un-resupplied trek to the South Pole, along a route attempted unsuccessfully in 1918 by legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton.

‘‘We set out on December 1 with all our provisions and, 48 days later, we got there,” he said. ‘‘A year on, I look back on it and have to say that it is certainly my greatest-ever achievement.”

Dunwoody said he would soon be announcing details of his next challenge.

‘‘I cannot say a lot about it yet, but it involves walking quite a long way,” he said. ‘‘We are hoping to launch that in the next month.”

Written by dermot

February 23rd, 2009 at 11:36 am

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Animation company bags lucrative Noddy deal

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Sunday Business Post – Done Deal page – Feb 15 2009

Read the article on the Sunday Business Post website by clicking here.

Dublin animation company Brown Bag Films has secured a second international contract following its Olivia deal with US children’s TV channel Nickelodeon.

The Nickelodeon deal saw the first episode of a new Brown Bag animation series, based on the Olivia series of children’s novels by author Ian Falconer, broadcast last month.

Brown Bag bagged a hefty €6.2million production budget for the 52-episode series and is now working on another deal for a 52-part CGI animation series, Noddy in Toyland, for Chorion and British broadcaster Five.

‘‘Noddy is due to complete production by late summer, and we are currently in the final stages of contractual negotiation s wit h a global broadcaster for another project we hope to announce before then,” said Cathal Gaffney, managing director, Brown Bag.

Gaffney said the Olivia animation series, produced in high-definition CGI, would also air on television channels in Britain, Australia, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland.

Gaffney, who was also an executive producer of the series, said that the company worked hard to convince Nickelodeon of its credentials during the pitching process.

‘‘We did a series of tests on the show before we landed the job,” said Gaffney. ‘‘Olivia is a very big property outside of Europe, and lots of animation studios were keen to win the contract. Our creative approach and the vision of the director, Darragh O’Connell, secured the work for us.”

Gaffney said producer Gillian Higgins had been hired at the outset to oversee Brown Bag’s end of the project and liaise with US media giant Chorion, which held the rights to the award-winning Olivia book series.

‘‘Gillian joined us after working in the US for over 10 years, and her US broadcast experience made for relatively smooth sailing,” he said. “’Olivia took 14 months of production and over 80 people are credited. We worked extremely closely with Chorion at every step of the production.”

Gaffney said that the project, the company’s biggest so far, had required investment in some new equipment.

‘‘We produced and post-produced almost ten hours of high definition in 14 months, which brought huge technological challenges for us in terms of rendering, editing and storage,” he said.

Brown Bag is owned jointly by Gaffney and O’Connell, who set up the business in 1994. The company employs 50 staff across television commercial and production divisions based in Dublin and Toronto.

‘‘We have a slate of our own original television properties, as well as family feature films, in development,” said Gaffney. ‘‘A huge part of our business is about generating, producing and exploiting our own copyright internationally. One 2006 TV series, I’m an Animal, has sold to over 110 countries worldwide.”

Written by dermot

February 18th, 2009 at 6:55 pm

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Move onto the right career path

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Sunday Business Post – Recruitment Section – Feb 08 2009

Read the article on the Sunday Business Post website by clicking here.

Career coaching services, such as psychometric testing, can help people who are made redundant to devise a viable career plan.

‘‘For many, the goal is getting straight back into employment, thus job-hunting strategies are critical,” said Paul Mullan, director of Measurability.ie. ‘‘Companies may provide professional support, but if not, individuals can pursue the professional support option themselves.”

Joe MacAree, managing psychologist at Pearn Kandola, said career coaching had particular appeal for candidates looking for work in a tight and highly competitive market.

‘‘If there are more people vying for fewer jobs, those who are successful will have to be better prepared,” MacAree said. ‘‘Unfortunately, it is a numbers game, and any advantage that you can get is very valuable.”

Re-entering the job market
Individuals who are made redundant following long-standing service with one employer or in one particular role often need help to decide how best to re-enter the jobs market, according to Joe Ungemah, regional manager for Ireland, SHL.

‘‘Maybe someone has not had to change job or role for 20 years and is looking to understand what their preferences are,” said Ungemah. ‘‘Psychometrics and career coaching can be a good place to start.”

Ungemah said the technique could help candidates to understand fully what they have to offer a prospective new employer. It can help to give them a clearer picture of how they will be perceived in terms of their working style, competencies, skills and experience.

‘‘This means giving them a diagnosis of what they have to offer, and using that to present themselves in the best possible way in an interview or meeting with their potential next company,” he said.

Candidates who have been in one position for a protracted period may not be aware of all they have to offer a new employer.

‘‘Some people may not always realise the depth of experience or skills and attributes they have developed if they have been in a job for some time,” said MacAree. ‘‘They might be able to look at other jobs and see how those would now apply to a new position. In that way, we can see opportunities for people.”

Testing approach
A career coaching process typically begins with the candidate filling out a s et of psychometric questionnaires, according to Ungemah.

‘‘People are already familiar with their qualifications, their work experience and the usual CV stuff,” said Ungemah. ‘‘There is another type of information, and that is the stuff that psychometrics is particularly useful for. Usually these will be around personality, motivation, interests and values. These allow the individual to ask questions that they have never really asked of themselves.”

Psychometric techniques used by career coaches include motivational questionnaires, personality tools, interest inventories and emotional intelligence guides. The aim is to help to establish the candidate’s natural competencies, vocational leanings and personality traits, as well as their fit with different working environments and job tasks.


MacAree said psychometric tests were formulated to help the individual learn more about their own personal strengths and preferences.

‘‘Individuals can find out their own strengths, and areas they would like to work in,” he said. ‘‘That can be a range of things from personality questionnaires or broad based questionnaires that can help people to see where their natural strengths bring them towards.

‘‘Then, by talking to them about that, you can help to align them with particular roles or career options that might be a good fit for them.”

Combined strengths
Psychometric test results are usually combined with other information from the candidate’s career history to create a rounded picture. ‘‘The personality questionnaires are a very good starting point, but you need to then look closely at the CV as well to get an understanding of their experience,” MacAree said. ‘‘For example, the coach would ask the person how they had demonstrated a particular competency in the past.

‘‘If a person was quite extrovert, you would look at their communications skills or their people or leadership skills and experiences. By putting those two together, you would see that the person would be interested in roles with a high people content, and there perhaps might be opportunities to lead or direct other people.”

Active role
During coaching discussions, candidates plays an active role in identifying valuable information or options for themselves.

‘‘In coaching, the person themselves is very much in control,” said MacAree. ‘‘The role of the coach is to help them see what the information is telling them or suggesting to them. It is about bringing out options and potential future directions with them, in a very collaborative way, as opposed to a career guidance teacher in school who may have just told someone what job was for them.”

In some cases, Mullan said psychometric testing confirmed a candidate’s own view of their strengths and competencies.

‘‘My role is facilitation,” he said. ‘‘Individuals have the answers, they know what they want and what they enjoy. For some people, the goal could be to earn more money. For others, it could be to relocate, but others are genuinely looking for a job that offers more satisfaction and fulfilment.

‘‘Quite often, they cannot see these things through the haze of everyday life and work. A lot of the time, people have an idea what they want to do, but they need confirmation and someone to just say: ‘Go for it.’ “

Likely outcomes
Career coaches often use the information gleaned using a number of psychometric techniques to suggest potential new career directions for individuals, rather than specific roles.

‘‘If someone shows a strong preference for people, and enjoys working in groups, they are likely to enjoy activities like caring for people or helping them with their problems,” Mullan said. ‘‘This can lead into roles within, say, education and training or medical and health or travel and hospitality.

‘‘It can provide direction, but there are a lot of different roles within those. If they are then socially confident, good with people and competitive, it could then be worth considering a sales role within the health or education sector.”

Targeted selection
Mullan said the results of psychometric tests could also be used to focus on particular roles within one profession or sector.

‘‘Some people could be in field sales, and enjoy selling, but they do not enjoy the remoteness of the role,” he said. ‘‘To use a term from the personality questionnaire, they could be high-affiliated, which means they need the interaction of people and to have people around them. The sales element of the job might be right, so if you bring them into an office based sales role, it can help improve their situation.”

The coaching process can help to guide candidates out of one sector and into another that might suit them better.

‘‘We were working with somebody who came from a marketing background, who ended up moving into a HR role,” he said. ‘‘There is some overlap between the skill sets between the two jobs, but there are also some differences.”

Costs and options
The cost of psychometric assessments or career coaching varies depending on individuals requirements.

‘‘Private one-to-one career coaching can range in cost frome60 to €100 per hour, with career tests an additional €30 to €100 depending on the type of assessment,” said Mullan.

Ungemah said it was more likely for senior candidates to source career coaching services directly. Other candidates typically avail of psychometric services as part of an outplacement programme.

‘‘A process like this is quite expensive, and can be quite detailed and long,” he said. ‘‘You may have four or five meetings with your coach, and one session can cost more than €200 per hour.’ ‘The whole process might cost €1,000, which is a lot for an individual just to get a sense of what type of career they might want to go into.”

Written by dermot

February 12th, 2009 at 3:01 pm

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Green approach to job creation

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Sunday Business Post – Recruitment Section – Feb 01 2009

Read the article on the Sunday Business Post website by clicking here.

‘Green collar’ jobs are top of the agenda for US president Barack Obama, who has pledged to support employment in renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen is thinking along similar lines. His €500 million Innovation Fund Ireland, launched in December, made reference to a green deal, and early plans to introduce tax breaks to help make Ireland an ‘innovation island’.

‘‘We hope that the government remains faithful to its pledge to create tax breaks for companies working in the renewable energy and environmental industries,” said Andrew Molony, commercial director of Greenjobs.ie. ‘‘If it can entice some of the big green players to set up in Ireland, this will bring some much needed economic stability through the creation of green collar jobs. The presence of multinational companies and smaller independent companies will open up more options for Irish jobseekers.”

The tough times in which we live could help to create more environmentally friendly jobs.

‘‘People are now being forced to look at emerging markets for longer-term security as traditional industries are no longer providing viable sources of employment,’’ Molony said. ‘‘We are likely to see a massive demand for qualifications in environmental biology, renewable and electrical energy systems, environmental management and specialist fields within science and engineering.”

Policy approach
Martin Shanahan, divisional manager of Forfás, said that policy-makers at the highest level in Irish society were already keen to make Ireland a greener economy.

‘‘There is a significant awareness at a policy level of the possible value to Ireland from the green or environmental sector and its ability to create future jobs,” said Shanahan. This is being reflected in the approach of the enterprise development agencies and education and training providers.

‘‘A joint report recently published by Forfás and Inter Trade Ireland showed that the environmental sector has the potential to become a valuable component of long-term economic development in Ireland. The value of this sector to the island of Ireland is growing and is currently estimated at €3.6 billion.”

Irish workforce
Molony said there was interest in environment-friendly jobs among Irish workers.

‘‘The Irish workforce is extremely keen to get involved in green industries,” he said. ‘‘Every day, we get people registering their CVs onto our site, which shows the level of enthusiasm out there. The slowdown in formerly dominant industries like financial services has forced the Irish workforce to look to alternative routes.”

However, the skills and qualifications of the Irish workforce do not compare favourably with some of our European neighbours, Molony said.

‘‘Denmark and parts of Scandinavia are arguably five to ten years ahead of Ireland,” he said. ‘‘Ireland is in the fledgling stages of providing enough green courses and training programmes. It is, however, a huge growth area.

‘‘Dundalk IT, NUI Galway, UCD and Limerick IT are all now offering environmentalthemed courses, which is a clear indicator of the growing appetite for these types of qualifications. There are also plenty of part-time courses like Building Energy Rate (BER) assessor courses and solar panel installer courses available to help people become more attractive to employers.”

Job creation
Molony said he expected green job creation in the medium term to be good quality and well paid.

‘‘We predict average annual salaries to come in close to €50,000, perhaps even higher while the skills set remains so scarce,” he said. ‘‘To attract the best applicants with the strongest qualifications and experience, it is vital to offer a salary that reflects the specialist training undertaken. However, as green industries develop, we envisage there being jobs created for all levels of skills and salaries.”

Shanahan said it was not just people with skills and qualifications in obvious green disciplines that would be attracted to green jobs.

‘‘There will be a requirement for people with some broad knowledge of the technologies, business acumen and management expertise to manage such multidisciplinary teams,” he said. ‘‘Companies involved in the production of environmental goods and services need all the other traditional supporting business functions such as finance, HR and marketing.”

Renewable energy
Conor McGennis, division manager – engineering & pharmaceutical, Sigmar Recruitment, said there was considerable demand from renewable energy companies for qualified candidates.

‘‘I would definitely say the energy and particularly the renewable energy sector will be a hugely progressive area over the next few years,” said McGennis.

‘‘Airtricity has shown the way forward and there are a number of start-ups within the renewable sector with potential in areas like wind and wave technology. The government, through Sustainable Energy Ireland, has a lot of companies in incubation, with links to academia.”

McGennis said he had come across candidates, with experience in more traditional engineering areas, looking to move into renewable energy.

‘‘Most engineers would agree that there will be fewer opportunities in manufacturing, and the number of jobs available in construction is very limited to say the least,” he said.

‘‘There is a shortage of well qualified electrical engineers in Ireland. People are doing additional courses, such as the Masters programmes in renewable energy. There is a flow towards that, as most people are aware that manufacturing is not going to be a long-term runner.”

Financial candidates
Among employers in the electricity sector, McGennis said there was growing demand for candidates with experience in financial services.

‘‘Companies like Airtricity, Wind Energy Direct and other slightly lower-profile private organisations, are looking for traders and analysts and similar jobs,” he said. ‘‘These would be for highly numerate people, not necessarily just engineers, but people more towards the trading side of things.”

Other sectors
Simon O’Brien, managing director of Honan O’Brien, said multinationals from other sectors with operations in Ireland, would more than likely switch focus to more environment friendly areas.

‘‘While there will be an increase in indigenous Irish companies, existing multinationals will also offer job opportunities,” said O’Brien. ‘‘Companies such as Siemens and ABB are likely to get involved in renewable energy and should offer great opportunities especially in research and development.”

Michael O’Leary, managing director of HRM Recruitment, said that smaller indigenous consultancy firms were actively recruiting people for ‘green’ roles.

‘‘Both our science and engineering divisions are recruiting for clients who are consultancy firms,” O’Leary said. ‘‘They are interested in people who have good experience in renewable technologies. The lead into a market tends to be in consultancies, where organisations buy the services first, and then tend to move in that direction.”

Shanahan said that a focus on energy efficiency would help stimulate demand for candidates in otherwise depressed sectors of the Irish economy, including construction and manufacturing.

‘‘There will be an increase in the demand for those who are qualified to install energy-saving technologies, such as biomass heating systems , geothermal, solar and photovoltaic panels, and who are capable of insulating properties to required levels,” he said.

‘‘There is now a much higher level of compliance required in the management of sites for all forms of development. The type of skills and knowledge associated with site assessment and waste management will be required both in the development of new sites and in the rehabilitation of old sites.”

Written by dermot

February 2nd, 2009 at 12:50 pm

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Working towards a unified solution

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Sunday Business Post – Computers in Business magazine – Feb 01 2009

Read the article on the Sunday Business Post website by clicking here.

The concept of unified communications (UC) is gaining significant traction in the Irish marketplace. It brings together communications channels including e-mail, voice calls, video conferencing and others, to enable all employees in an organisation to communicate better and work more efficiently.

Advances in the usability of the technology, and falls in the costs involved, means that UC is moving firmly into the mainstream, according to John McCabe, technical architect at CDSoft.

“UC is coming out of the earlier adopters’ phase, where the technology was quite raw and sometimes clunky and more for the tech-savvy companies,” said McCabe. “It is now a more sleek, usable and easier to implement solution. More and more companies want to reduce the cost of managing their systems and due to the associated maintenance costs of UC, they realise they can reduce the amount of support contracts in place, which reduces their costs.”

Paul Kenny, head of infrastructure consulting services at Dell Ireland, said that particularly small and mid-size companies were looking at implementing UC solutions.

“Historically, the first companies that invested in UC were major companies trying to save on phone bills,” he said.” Today, it is more and more widely adopted by any kind of company. The technology from an end-user point of view is so simple to use that you do not need to be a tech guru to handle it.”

Pressure from individual staff members for the efficiencies and ease-of-use associated with UC was leading many companies to consider the technology, said Clive Ryan, director of advisory services at Eircom.

“People are used to this from their personal life, with instant messaging from Google, Yahoo, MSN and others,” Ryan said. “People want to dictate their presence to those who wish to contact them.”

Kim Majerus, managing director of Cisco Ireland, said that Cisco’s internal research showed that interest in UC from Irish companies was increasing strongly.

“Our latest Irish research shows that about 30 per cent of Irish businesses cite unified communications as a high priority for their organisation in 2009,” said Majerus.

What is UC?
At its simplest, unified communications involves bringing together all of the different methods and channels of communication used by an individual during their working day, according to Joe Molloy, director of managed services with IT Force.

“Unified communications is about combining all the different means of communication into one – be it voice, video, e-mail, text, instant messaging – and facilitating the recipient to communicate back in their preferred manner,” said Molloy. “The ‘unified’ concept means the medium used to initiate the communicate does not necessitate that you communicate back through the same medium.”


McCabe said that the boundaries between communications channels were falling.

“UC generally means that, for example, you could receive a voice mail and later read it in your e-mail inbox or a user could instant message a colleague, escalate it to a phone call or full video meeting whilst sharing content to all users participating in the meeting,” he said.

In a full UC situation, individuals no longer have different e-mail addresses, phone numbers or instant message user names, Ryan said.

“It does not really matter what format the communication is in, whether it is a voice cal l, e-mail or instant message,” he said.” It all ends up in one common inbox, so the recipient of the communication can see it in one place. All the forms of communication can be mixed together, using a single identity or single logon.”

Present and correct
The user remains in control of this re-routing of all his communications, through the concept of ‘presence’, which allows him to dictate to everyone else if and how he would like to be contacted at any given moment, according to Molloy.

“‘Presence’ means that you can be contacted when and how you want,” he said.” It lets you know where someone is, whether they are available and how they wish to be contacted. It is effectively their contactable status, advertised to co-workers and in some cases third parties, such as suppliers or key clients.”

McCabe said that this presence function is one of the most useful elements of UC.

“It can tell you if a colleague is available, busy, on a call, at a meeting, etc,” he said. “This is real-time information, so it proves very useful if you are in a hurry to contact that particular person. UC provides the infrastructure for people to contact them via any particular method the person can choose to respond to the contact method if they wish but generally, once enabled for one UC, they are open to all methods of contact.”

Colleagues who were previously uncontactable by a particular communications method can now be reached using UC, Majerus said.

“It makes collaboration possible when users are online – no matter where they are,” he said. “For example, I can smartly ‘find’ colleagues that I may need to join in a conference call at short notice. Generally, the users would define rules about when and how they can be contacted.

“Presence becomes particularly powerful when applications can decide on the best and most appropriate individual to contact and the best method to use.”

Jason Flynn, country manager for Avaya in Ireland, said that this did not mean that the status of all staff members was being constantly monitored.

“Presence does not mean a ‘Big Brother’ approach to business though,” said Flynn. “The user can decide to turn off their presence status if they are busy or unavailable. It just means that when they are working and available, they can be reached in the quickest, most efficient and most productive manner.”

Business case Kenny said that lowering communications costs was generally the primary motivation for a UC implementation.

“The costs reduction is the first objective,” he said. “UC allows a company to not go on the telephone network for internal company calls across multiple sites, including long distance and international calls. UC also allows a company to save on travel costs for internal meetings or internal training by organising very efficient video conferences.”

Speeding up communication between individuals was another important business benefit of UC, Molloy said.

“Without UC it can be difficult to quickly find, contact and share information with people,” he said. “Delays due to telephone tag and waiting for replies to e-mails negatively impact employee efficiency, and this is not good in the current climate, where time is money.”

Ryan said that the spiralling of the number and type of communications media in recent times had impacted negatively on people’s productivity.

“Previously, there was a huge number of available communications devices or mechanisms that an employee had,” he said. “The employee in this case is actually unproductive, as people were trying to reach someone on multiple channels and missing them.

“People were also being deluged with different types of messages, emails, voice mails etc, and people trying to work together resulted in multiple copies of documents or notes being shared and piling up.”

Enhanced staff mobility was also a major attraction of UC, according to McCabe.

“Generally people use laptops or notebooks to do the majority of their UC interaction,” he said. “However, you can dial in with your mobile device and collect your e-mail or voice mail or faxes. You can also compose an e-mail or fax or have the presence and IM function if required.” Kenny said that implementing UC generally led to greater teamwork within organisations.

“UC allows an organisation to unlock their hidden teams by enabling people from different regions or areas to work together,” he said. “Presence allows them to see when their colleagues are available, then the ease of use of the variety of communication modes makes it easier to collaborate than not to.”

The joining up of the different channels enables better communication with clients or customers, Kenny said.

“Usually if someone calls you on your office phone and leaves a voicemail, you will get the message later that day,” he said. “With unified messaging, you will receive the voice mail in your inbox and you can hear it straight away.”

All of these business benefits tend to lead to higher productivity, Flynn said.

“With flexible working comes higher productivity through extended business hours, and an increase in responsiveness,” he said. “According to The Yankee Group, employees having access to unified and intelligent communications technologies can improve productivity by 15 to 20 per cent per day.”

Technology/ implementation
McCabe said that many of the larger technology suppliers were rushing into the UC marketplace.

“There is a lot of competition in the UC market,” he said.” There are UC solutions from all the major vendors and even some open source vendors. Each of the UC solutions essentially support all the same functions.”

Organisations could rollout UC solutions on a phased basis, Flynn said.

“They have the option to take either an evolutionary approach to implementation or a revolutionary approach,” he said. “Evolutionary being the choice for customers who wish to upgrade their solutions gradually, and revolutionary being for those who want to implement a complete set of IP solutions from day one.”

Vendors were typically working together to ensure that UC solutions were compatible with new and existing communications systems and business applications, McCabe said.

“UC itself used to be very difficult to implement and required specialists in both telecoms and data communications to bring it all together,” he said. “Now integration of systems is becoming easier to do and more secure.

“All the major companies who have UC in their product profile have very good documentation regarding installing and configuring the equipment and software. Not to mention friendly end-user experience, so adoption to the technology becomes very easy.”

Ryan said that a full UC solution generally involved working with more than one supplier or partner.

“We are not yet at the situation where it is a one stop shop,” he said. “You cannot buy or configure a UC solution entirely from one vendor; integration will always be required. You need to glue the UC platform into your existing infrastructure. For example you might have to integrate the UC solution into your existing e-mail application.”

Costs
Companies implementing a UC project generally need to invest in some new devices or networks, McCabe said.

“In most cases, they need some investment in new hardware, networks and/or handsets,” he said. “But when you consider that between the time saved for employees and the further reduced costs of managing the environment, the overall picture means a slimmer, more cost-efficient environment.”

Majerus said the cost of a UC system depended on the scope and scale of solution sought.

“Like any technology implementation, it would really depend on the size and scope of the solution – the hardware, services, implementation and other considerations,” he said.

“But to take a basic example, for a business that needs a simple yet effective collaboration solution, focused on online meetings, costs can start from about €50 per month for a fully hosted service, with no hardware to install or technical know-how required.”

Molloy said that a larger scale UC solution required a more significant investment.

“Where we have deployed a fully-f ledged UC solution, it is usual ly between €600 to €1,000 per user upfront,” he said. “However, when the immediate enhancement in employee productivity and efficiency are taken into consideration, and also the fact that you now have a solid and scalable foundation that allows you to plug in enhancements going forward, it makes great financial sense.”

Flynn said that UC projects could be designed with the requirements of the particular company in mind.

“It is also crucial that providers and vendors listen to their customers and take time to understand the specific challenges they face,” he said.” For example, an SMB working on skeleton staff may be most concerned about the mobility of its employees, whereas a large corporation may wish to integrate the latest video conferencing solutions into its existing infrastructure.

“Another key point to bear in mind is that in house technical know-how can vary depending on the type of business you are selling to and ease of use is therefore critical.”

Take-up so far
The costs previously involved meant that it had been mainly larger companies that looked at UC until recently, McCabe said.

“At the minute in the Irish market, enterprise customers have implemented UC more than SMB companies,” he said.” This is typically due to the perceived cost of implementing UC and the lack of understanding of how beneficial the roll-out of UC could be to them.”

McCabe said that companies with dispersed workforces tended to be early adopters of the technology.

“UC does suit some companies more than others at the minute,” he said. “Companies who have distributed offices or teams who work away from the office and, of course, large companies who employee hundreds of people benefit the most as they can communicate in real time with staff in the central locations without leaving their desk and usually without additional cost to the company.”

Organisations who either have a new premises or need to refresh their existing communications networks, are generally opting for UC-friendly systems, Molloy said.

“If a company is moving premises, has more than one office or needs to update the traditional telephone system, it is a no brainer, as new cabling and kit has to be done anyway,” he said.

Future
McCabe said he expected the take-up of UC to mushroom in the short to medium term in Ireland, particularly given current economic concerns.

“Over the next 18 months, Irish companies wil l be looking at costs and the associated cost centres,” he said.” They will be looking to become more efficient in how they operate. UC will certainly help with this. The technology around UC is becoming cheaper and easier to implement. Combine this with virtualisation and you can see that, for any size company, this is becoming a very viable solution to implement.”

Written by dermot

February 2nd, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Business,Technology