Carmel Owens, Ireland General Manager, Sungard Availability Services
From a raging skills gap, to spiralling cyber-attacks and the prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit: we can safely say that 2018 has been a year of ups and downs in Ireland. The challenges to business continue to roll in thick and fast, and the pressure is being felt by all levels of organisations. A recent forum in Dublin revealed that nine out of ten CEOs are concerned that macro-economic issues would impact Ireland’s competitiveness, with Brexit, currency fluctuation and Irish taxes listed as top concerns. But looking ahead, it is not all doom and gloom for Ireland. A report from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) predicted strong growth of 3.9% for the Irish economy into 2019, and a decrease in unemployment (5%.)
As the Irish tech industry continues to grow it plays a key role in the development and growth of Ireland, which as well as being home to nearly all the largest multinational tech companies, enjoys a thriving start-up scene that shows no sign of abating. There are three areas that I perceive as the ‘ones to watch’ in technology as we head into 2019: crackdowns on data protection, data centre migration and the growing need for diversity. Here I take a look at these three key trends dominating the Irish market into 2019 and what this means for technology.
The data crackdown
From a data protection perspective, 2018 was another tumultuous year for organisations across Ireland. The GDPR and NIS Directive coming into effect pushed organisations to step up their security, while a survey released in October revealed that the number of cyber-attacks had more than doubled in Ireland in the past year.
However, despite this increasing legislation and the growing security threat, many organisations in Ireland still seem to be giving their customers reason to believe they can’t be trusted with personal data. In summer, the Central Bank of Ireland (CBI) issued a fine of €443,000 to Appian Asset Management for regulatory breaches causing the loss of client funds. In a statement the CBI said that Appian’s historic regulatory failures left it exposed to a cyber-fraud by a third party which resulted in the eventual loss of €650,000 of a client’s funds. The breaches were admitted by Appian and the client has been fully reimbursed. Not only is this huge fine remarkable, but it is the first time the Central Bank has imposed a sanction on a firm where there has been a loss of client funds from cyber-fraud as a direct result of the firm’s significant regulatory breaches and failures. This month, it also hit headlines that the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) – Facebook’s lead regulator in the European Union – has been investigating a number of breach notifications received from Facebook.
The consequences of treating data protection with complacency should be taken very seriously. When Irish organisations let the ball drop when it comes to data, the Central Bank and Irish Data Protection Commissioner will crack down without exception, and we’ll likely see much more of this heading into 2019. In the financial services sector, for example, the Government in Ireland reserves the right to revoke the license of any bank if they don’t have a proper business continuity strategy in place. With the weaponisation of data a theme in 2018, and cybersecurity threats more tangible than ever, organisations will need to build the resilience to ensure they don’t come unstuck in 2019.
Cloud is the new norm
2019 will be the tipping point when it comes to cloud adoption. Driven by increasing costs, the ever-present skills gaps and the need for agility, large and multi-national organisations are taking significant strides to completely move away from their own data centre solutions to cloud or managed service providers who can provide complex hybrid recovery, or production solutions. While many organisations have been on this journey for a while, we expect 2019 to be the year when relying on data centers becomes akin to solely relying on a landline telephone – outdated and inflexible.
We expect the hybrid IT and outsourcing trend to continue, as increasingly time short organisations put their IT infrastructure in the hands of skilled third parties. Organisations relying solely on their internal IT function for a migration find that it can take months, with various interruptions – and are instead in search of a safe pair of hands. From public cloud to data-centre based solutions, businesses will increasingly seek out managed service providers to provide the resilience, recovery and risk management required by today’s treacherous environment.
Power to women – but there’s still a long way to go
Initially hailed as ‘The year of the woman’, 2018 saw activists unite around the world at the forefront of a battle for women’s rights. We’re fortunate enough to have many women leading the way in Ireland, above all in technology, and we should take pride in the progress we’re making. From Microsoft, Dell EMC, to Twitter and Vodafone, the multi-nationals are driving many of the STEM initiatives in Ireland. Meanwhile, the conversation is starting to resonate at executive level, with executives from 18 major organisations meeting to discuss the continuing gender gap in the tech industry across Ireland at the Connecting Women in Technology (CWIT) conference last month.
However, while we’re making progress, we still have a long way to go in Ireland when it comes to driving not just gender equality, but diversity as a whole in the industry. Many STEM related fields still appear to be resistant to certain minorities, and we need to understand the detrimental impact this can have on progress being fully realised in the tech industry. Diversity in tech makes business sense. 2019 is the year we must focus on making diversity more than just a trending hashtag; instead, schools, colleges and organisations need to work together the unleash minorities’ previously restricted potential. For all the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, an influx of talent to the Republic will bring exciting new talent pools to tap into.
As we head into 2019, Irish businesses need to step up and claim their place as a world leader in the tech industry. A bumpy road lies ahead, but the opportunities for Ireland to prove its worth when it comes to education and diversity strategies, data protection and infrastructure resilience should be welcomed with open arms. While question marks remain around world politics and the future of the European Union, the Irish tech industry has a unique chance to show it can not only survive in times of hardship – but thrive.
 Deloitte and Enterprise Ireland CEO Forum, November 2018
 ESRI, June 2018