PwC says recession putting IT projects on hold (IT – 16/07/10)

Many organisations have scrapped or curtailed IT projects in light of the downturn, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) survey of Irish chief information officers (CIOs).

One-third of those asked said planned or initiated projects in their organisation had been cancelled in the past year. Two-thirds also reported a reduction in the scope of other projects. Eighty per cent of respondents said this kind of cost-cutting was their biggest challenge as they tried to maintain service levels and innovate.

“There’s a few different directions that it [IT spend] is going,” said Pat Kelleher, director of PwC consulting. “There’s a cost-reduction focus in IT, but there are quite a lot of companies where it’s not been cut or has actually been increased in the downturn.”

Ninety-five per cent of CIOs also reported that a business case was now required before any significant expense was made in IT. However, a third of organisations did not follow this through to see if the promised benefits were actually realised upon completion.

This lack of proper procedure is an issue, according to Mr Kelleher. However, he said it had improved on years gone by.

“There was a time when people could afford not to know what the IT expense was even for or what it did,” he said. “There is still a deficit but now more people want to see and understand what they’re getting for their investment.”

The survey also showed that most organisations lack a formal policy for the reduction of their IT carbon footprint, with just 21 per cent already having one in place. While there are clear signs of an awareness and understanding of green issues in IT, the survey suggested they are not a priority.

“Green is on the agenda, all CIOs are aware of what can be done and should be done to reduce carbon footprint,” said Mr Kelleher, “but I don’t think there’s going to be any significant investment in that area in IT while there are difficulties elsewhere.”

Mr Kelleher also said simple green initiatives that saved money were sure to have been embraced but longer-term investments were being overlooked for now.

There are positives in the survey, however. For example, 71 per cent of CIOs said IT had been a significant factor in cutting costs.

More than two in five said they were now reporting directly to their CEO while 62 per cent are members of the senior management team. This suggests that IT is now being seen as a more important part of an organisation.

This piece originally appeared in The Irish Times on 16th July 2010.

Airspeed to expand WiMax service with extra spectrum (IT – 16/07/10)

Airspeed Telecom has bought Magnet Networks’ wireless spectrum licence, allowing it to expand its WiMax broadband services in the months ahead. Airspeed already holds a licence for another piece of the spectrum and through it provides broadband to businesses around the country.

Wireless spectrum is the space that allows information, such as broadcast signals and mobile calls, to be transmitted over the air.

“This acquisition has allowed us to augment the spectrum we have to add more capacity so we can connect more customers and do a technology refresh,” said Liam O’Kelly, managing director of Airspeed Telecom. “It also means that we can provide a lower entry point to our services for customers who may not require a higher-capacity leased line.”

Airspeed’s deal with Magnet means the company now owns the 3.5GHz Fixed Wireless Access Local Area spectrum licence for Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. Magnet will maintain its relationship with its customers using the frequency, but with Airspeed now providing the service as a wholesaler.

“We have a good reputation for technical excellence and our customer base has a lot of well-known names and some Government agencies so we expect to get an immediate pick-up of customers from there,” said Mr O’Kelly. “After that, we hope to get more custom through word of mouth and maybe from the digital advertising that we always do but there will be no big TV and radio campaign.”

Wireless spectrum has become an increasingly lucrative asset for companies in recent years as its range of functions increases. Countries like the US have already seen multibillion-dollar auctions for pieces of spectrum which can allow phone and broadband companies to offer a wider range of services.

While the Communications Regulator (ComReg) has already issued licences for some of Ireland’s spectrum frequencies, the most attractive one, 2.3GHz, has yet to be offered. This is expected to draw a lot of attention as it is one of the best available for companies wishing to offer reliable mobile broadband.

“Spectrum is a limited resource, no one’s making any more of it and generally the lower you go in terms of frequency the better it is,” said Mr O’Kelly. “We expect there to be a lot of interest when the 2.3GHz spectrum finally becomes available, especially from the phone networks.”

This piece originally appeared in The Irish Times on the 16th July 2010.

Irish firm using GPS system to transform navigation for blind (IT – 2nd July 2010)

An Irish company is testing new technology that could revolutionise navigation for the blind. Point The Way is conducting early tests of its phone application that helps visually impaired users follow GPS directions easily.

The application uses a phone’s built-in GPS receiver and compass to gauge its location. It then vibrates when the phone is pointed in the correct direction, allowing users to follow a route by touch.

“A normal GPS may say ‘go straight’, which makes sense to most people but may not to a blind person,” says Tim Walsh, director of Point The Way. “Our tool will let them put it in their breast pocket and follow it quite easily.”

The company is currently running a small trial in conjunction with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland but is hoping to expand this soon. As part of this, it is already in early stage talks with manufacturers like Motorola, which has an accessibility programme in the US.

Another application designed by Walsh is being used to assist Team Daft.ie in this year’s Round Ireland Yacht Race. It was developed as an extra safety precaution to track the boat in case of emergency as one of its crew, Mark Pollock, is blind.

“It basically looks at the GPS location and texts it off to a particular number, we pick up that on our database and pull it into Google Maps,” says Walsh. “SMS is a very robust way of doing things as it requires the least signal and battery power to work . . . it means we get updates every five minutes compared to every 20 on the official race trackers update.”

The phones used were provided by O2 and run on Google’s Android system. As part of this agreement Point The Way is also recording mast signal details so O2 can gauge the quality of its network in coastal regions.

Walsh says that while the application started as a side-project, he now sees commercial potential to it. “When I built it it didn’t occur to me, but I realised this is actually quite useful.”

This article originally appeared in The Irish Times on 2nd July 2010