Dark clouds loom over Northern Ireland’s economy in the wake of the Comprehensive Spending Review and various pessimistic visions of future economic performance.
Working closely with both the public and private sectors, it’s hard not to empathise with those who are trying to chart a course forward regardless of the commercial weather forecast.
But every cloud though, they say, has a silver lining, and perhaps in the months and years ahead it is to metaphorical skies that businesses and public bodies will look as they seek to reduce cost in an age of austerity.
At eircom Northern Ireland we certainly believe the growth of so-called cloud computing will have an undoubted impact on the way companies go about their business and the way the public sector generates efficiencies. But more about that later ...
The telecommunications industry has always been a vital cog in the wheels of Northern Ireland commerce but now, as our ability to utilise the latest available technology increases, it is fast adopting an even more essential role in the day-to-day running of our businesses.
Competition in the sector is fierce and, as far as we are concerned, that means customers here and those thinking of investing in Northern Ireland can avail of great value for money.
That level of competition has to be good for everyone. Indeed it’s that sort of competition that keeps costs down — and in telecommunications that’s especially important.
In addition to fixed telephone lines, providers also act as internet service providers, mobile phone service providers and often take responsibility for installing their own infrastructure in the form of fibre-optic cabling.
And now we’re entering a new era. Where we used to talk about convergence as the rapid integration of all of these products and services, we now look to the development of cloud-based services as offering businesses the opportunity to significantly reduce IT costs, provide greater integration and avoid huge capital expenditure.
These are services where the hardware you would normally find in a business disappears and is replaced by internet-based services that are off-site or up in the clouds, so to speak. We are on the verge of a virtual ICT revolution.
However, if organisations are to take advantage of what cloud-based services have to offer, then they have to have absolute confidence in their network and its ability to support their mission-critical business applications.
Northern Ireland is starting to reap the benefits of significant investment in communications infrastructure by ourselves and others over the last few years and the economy is now ready to take full advantage of it.
The key now, as far as choosing a provider is concerned, is service provision, and at eircom our effort to innovate in this area of the business is as intense as the way we go about developing and introducing new technologies. You really can’t talk about total or unified communications without talking about quality and flexibility in how one interacts with the customer.
The more pressing challenge today for businesses and the public sector is to understand the potential of the new technologies coming on stream and to utilise their capability in a meaningful and cost-effective way.
Increasingly, that means looking to the clouds for inspiration and for solutions!
Cloud technology is a useful metaphor for what is going on and we hope through this Virtual ICT Week to convey the accessibility of these technologies as well as their flexibility and the ways in which they truly facilitate business in the 21st Century.
Their influence on the way in which we trade is only going to grow, and here in Northern Ireland it is important we all stay ahead of the pack in every respect because this type of technology brings cost-effective competition to your doorstep in a way unimagined just a few years ago.
If in doubt, just look to the clouds.