IVI Summit 2022: Digital Transformation – Shaping the Hybrid Future, Maynooth University
Good morning to you all
It is a pleasure to address you here this morning in Maynooth University and thank you the Innovation Value Institute for inviting me to give the keynote for today’s event on Digital Transformation and Shaping the Hybrid Future.
In the spirit of getting the most out of both the physical and the virtual, I’d also like to thank our attendees, those of you who made it here in person today and those attending remotely.
Before I begin, I wish to acknowledge IVI and the gesture of goodwill and support for their colleagues in Ukraine by donating all registration fees for this year’s IVI summit to help colleagues at the Ivano-Frankivsk National Technical University of Oil and Gas deal with the crisis at a local level and helping them to host displaced Ukrainians.
The war in Ukraine is a serious breach of the international order. In terms of shaping our future, Ireland stands in solidarity with Ukraine and government continues to work with our European and international partners to help the Ukrainian people.
The discussions today are timely, and I welcome the opportunity to outline the work Government is doing to support digital transformation across our economy and society.
We cannot stem progress, but we can embrace it. Technology will continue to evolve and we need to plan for the changes coming. We must keep evolving and improving, and for our economy that means embracing digitalisation.
Digital transformation offers a tremendous number of opportunities to improve our lives. Some of those improvements are incremental, while others are fundamental and structural changes to the way we approach problems.
From changing the way we work and shop, to revolutionising healthcare and helping us respond to the pandemic, digital technologies are already shaping the world we live in and offering us new ways to better our lives and our wellbeing.
Embracing digital transformation and the potential offered by new technologies is vital, not only as we look to our recovery from the impacts of the pandemic, but also as we work to bolster the overall competitiveness and sustainability of our enterprise base.
Central to this, and a major priority for me, is that we support our citizens and our enterprises as they work to seize the opportunities that digital technologies present.
The adoption of these technologies will also help to maintain an innovative and resilient enterprise base. This is essential as we work to ensure the delivery of high-quality jobs and employment opportunities for people right across the country.
Digital technologies can also help our businesses as they navigate unforeseen logistical issues and supply chain disruptions. This could include responding to impacts arising as a result of shifts in international trade, pandemic, or the outbreak of war.
This increased resilience in the face of disruption can help provide a degree of security for both businesses and citizens in uncertain times.
Moreover, as we work to conserve energy and reduce the environmental impacts of our activities, the implementation of digital technologies can also help us build towards increased sustainability and energy efficiency.
A big part of the drive towards digital over the course of the last two years has been in the adoption of new technologies vital to keeping our businesses trading through the different periods of public health restrictions.
Indeed, a significant proportion of businesses in Ireland have already undergone significant digital transformation in their response to the pandemic.
For some businesses, that has meant moving toward trading online for the first time, and for many it has meant transitioning to hybrid and remote working so that staff could continue to do their jobs as safely as possible.
Last year, the Government published the National Remote Work Strategy, Making Remote Work. That strategy identifies some of the key actions that we need to take to ensure that remote and hybrid working remain a permanent feature of the Irish workplace in a way that maximises their economic, social and environmental benefits.
Our goal now is to maintain the momentum of the last two years and to continue to drive a step-change in the digital transformation of business, and in particular our SMEs.
Ireland’s approach to Digitalisation
Our ambition is for Ireland to remain a digital frontrunner, a leading country at the very heart of European and global digital developments. We are already well-connected globally and play an important role in digital regulation across Europe. We also enjoy the presence of many of the world’s leading technology companies.
In February, we launched the National Digital Strategy, Harnessing Digital – The Digital Ireland Framework. This is a whole of Government strategy sets out Ireland’s approach to digitalisation with a clear framework for how we, as a country, can embrace the opportunities offered by digital technologies and futureproof our economy for the years ahead.
The National Digital Strategy is split out across four different dimensions, each aligned with the points of what the EU calls its Digital Compass.
- the digital transformation of business
- digital infrastructure
- skills and
- the digitalisation of public services
The “digital transformation of business” dimension of the strategy sets out our determination to help businesses, and in particular our small and medium enterprises as they look towards their own digital transition. We want businesses right across the enterprise base to advance their digital transformation and reap the benefits that these technologies have to offer.
In that respect, it is important to note that we are already in a strong position when it comes to digitalisation. As it stands, Ireland is currently ranked the fifth most advanced digital economy in the EU, and we are determined to maintain our position as a digital front-runner in Europe.
The National Digital Strategy sets out specific digitalisation targets for the Irish enterprise base that we want to reach by 2030. Those targets include getting 90% of our SMEs to at least a basic level of digital intensity and getting to 75% enterprise uptake of digital technologies like cloud, big data, and AI
The strategy also sets a target of having at least 800 businesses supported under the new Digital Transition Fund by 2026.
Digital Transition Fund
I launched the Digital Transition Fund and the “Grow Digital” campaign earlier this month. The fund itself is part of Ireland’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan and draws on funding made available by the EU under its Recovery and Resilience Facility.
The Fund provides for €85 million for up to 2026 and will support businesses in Ireland at all different stages of digitalisation -from getting early-stage advice on developing online sales to helping to fund cutting edge digital innovation, It is my intention that this fund is will assist companies in staying competitive, resilient and productive.
The Fund will help businesses seeking to innovate, to build digital marketing capability, and to carry out research and development.
For some, that will mean assistance is in place to help them as they take their first steps in establishing an online presence and toward the digitalisation of their products and business processes. For others, it will mean help to facilitate exporting and using digital technologies to develop new markets and business models.
As part of this work, our objective is to significantly ramp up the level of micro and start-up businesses becoming Digital Exporters by 2025.
Enterprise Digital Advisory Forum (EDAF)
As we look to drive the digitalisation of the enterprise base, it has been a particular priority for me to ensure that the voices of businesses are heard and their views considered.
To that end, I established an Enterprise Digital Advisory Forum to help advise and guide Government as we work towards this goal. The forum brings together members from indigenous enterprises of all sizes, as well as representatives of multinationals active in Ireland. It also includes experts in the implementation of AI and other digital technologies in business.
Last month, I chaired the first meeting of that forum, with further meetings expected in September and November. I look forward to hearing more of their insights on how best we can keep our momentum and what we can do to ensure that Irish businesses are well placed to take advantage of the digital transition.
Digital transformation, and our hybrid future as a whole, depends on the delivery of robust digital infrastructure. Under the National Digital Strategy’s Digital Infrastructure dimension, Government has committed to getting all households and businesses covered by Gigabit network by 2028, as well as having all populated areas covered by 5G by 2030.
That broad access to universal, high-quality digital connectivity is vital to achieving our digital objectives and our goals for sustainable regional development.
While the rollout of digital infrastructure will be crucial to enabling the adoption of digital technologies, it will also contribute to the reinvigoration of our towns and villages. This will help us as we work to address the digital divide for rural areas, as well as our goals around reducing emissions.
That same high-quality digital infrastructure is also a prerequisite for ensuring the delivery of the social dividends that the digital transformation can offer, ensuring that at-risk groups are not left behind and can fully embrace digital opportunities.
It will also serve to sustain Ireland’s attractiveness as a location for leading digital enterprises, and to maximise the benefits of the digital transition for the wider enterprise ecosystem.
It can be tempting to think of digital infrastructure mostly in terms of its capacity to enable remote and hybrid working. However, access to high-speed networks also facilitates access to education and digital public services, as well as businesses looking to advantage of other digital technologies like cloud, big data and AI.
On that note, I’d like to take a moment to focus on AI in particular, because I think that when we talk about digital technologies, people tend to have an instinctive grasp of topics like cloud and big data. By comparison, AI can often be the area where people are a bit less certain, even apprehensive. This is despite the fact that as a general purpose technology it is already in use in many of areas of our lives, and has huge potential to transform our economy for the better.
The success of AI adoption here in Ireland is going to be based on trust.
Last summer I launched the National AI Strategy, AI – Here for Good. The strategy sets out a roadmap for how we can leverage the potential of AI
- to unlock increased productivity
- to address some of the challenges that we face as a society and
- to enhance the delivery of our public services
- through a people-centred, ethical approach to its development, adoption and use
On a regulatory front, work is underway at European-level on the AI Act which sets harmonised rules for the development, placement on the market and use of AI systems, and crucial to this is a proportionate risk-based approach. Certain, particularly harmful, AI practices are prohibited as contravening Union values, while specific restrictions and safeguards are proposed in relation to certain uses of remote biometric identification systems, such as facial recognition, for the purpose of law enforcement. AI applications, such as Facial Recognition Technology, have a role to play but it is my firm belief that we need to have the regulatory structures in place to ensure its safe deployment.
I and my Department fully support a harmonised regulatory environment across the EU in relation to AI technology – one that is proportionate, and most importantly, at the same time instils trust in AI Systems and ensures the individual is protected.
As the transformative potential of AI becomes clearer, so too do the risks posed by use of unethical, unsafe or insecure AI systems. That is why we need to have clear direction, with safeguards and ethical governance in place to make sure that AI is used and deployed securely, and in a manner that is fair, transparent and builds public trust. My department and I continue to engage across Government and with our European counterparts to ensure a risk-based approach is adopted for the adoption, deployment, and use of AI and to ensure the commitment to ethical and trustworthy AI is upheld.
In May, I appointed Ireland’s first AI Ambassador, Dr Patricia Scanlon, who will lead a national conversation around AI, emphasising the importance of an ethical approach to the adoption of AI by enterprise.
She will also work to demystify AI and to promote the positive impacts it can have on areas like health, agriculture, transport and education.
As someone working in the AI space, she has a strong understanding of the importance of regulation in ensuring that the public trust that the technology is being used in a responsible manner.
Another key element of Dr Scanlon’s role will be engagement with young people. To that end, we are planning a National Youth Assembly on AI, to be convened in September. There, she will engage with young people to gain an understanding of their attitudes, awareness and fears in relation to AI, as well as to promote careers in technology.
The AI Ambassador also sits on the Enterprise Digital Advisory Forum, and provides input along with the rest of the group. As the founder of an AI-based business herself, Dr Scanlon is well placed to offer insights on how other businesses might introduce AI into their own processes.
After some discussion at the first meeting of the forum, one topic that was raised by representatives repeatedly was that of skills.
Government is working to deliver skills for all to ensure that society, as a whole, can engage with and benefit from digitalisation – this includes ensuring high-level digital skills, broader digital skills for the wider labour market, and digital skills for society more generally.
The next meeting of the Enterprise Digital Advisory Forum will focus on the topic of skills specifically, and will give us greater insight into the issues and opportunities around skills from the perspective of the enterprise base.
The development of better digital skills is a priority not only for productivity and enterprise, but also for the population as a whole. The National Digital Strategy sets a goal of increasing the share of adults in Ireland with at least basic digital skills to at least 80% by 2030. This will enable all cohorts, regardless of age or background, to engage with and benefit from digitalisation.
Digitalisation of public services
Alongside the goals of improved digital literacy, the National Digital Strategy also aims to drive the digitalisation of public services. This will be achieved through the creation of a trusted, user-driven, intuitive, inclusive and efficient world-leading digital government service.
The pandemic saw a marked increase in the volume of citizens accessing public services online. This includes the provision of services like the COVID-19 vaccine and test booking systems, the use of digital certificates of vaccination and the registry of COVID-19 cases online.
The objective under the strategy is that we build on that, setting a target of 90% of applicable public services be accessed online by 2030.
This will be underpinned by the targets already described around the provision of robust digital infrastructure across the country and around digital skills.
The stage is now set for the next stage of digitalisation in Ireland, so that we can continue to reap the benefits offered by digital technologies.
I’m sorry I cannot stay for the rest of the proceedings today but I am sure the discussions will be insightful and I look forward to engaging with the Prof Mark Helfort and his team after. Congratulations also to the team on the launch of the Digital Innovation Space and I wish them the very best as they continue to engage researchers and industry on what is one of the biggest imperatives for our economy – nationally and globally.
Preparing ourselves for tomorrow’s economy and society means seizing the opportunities presented by digital technologies today. For some, this will mean continuing and building upon the digital transformations they have already begun, for others it will mean embracing change.