Friday, May 18, 2007

The Business of Blogging

Kieran Murphy, director of Murphy’s Ice Cream, started out with little more than a small ice cream shop in Dingle and a passion for food.

When his second shop opened for business in Killarney and the products started selling in Dublin, he was concerned the expansion would mean the end for what made his small business so profitable – the personal touch.

“When we had the single shop we knew everybody who came in. One of the main catalysts for blogging was really about trying to connect with customers.”

Just over a year after setting up its Ice Cream Ireland blog, Murphy’s Ice Cream has done more than just connect with customers. A recipe idea that Murphy said he just threw onto his blog has ended up creating a whole new market for a range of hot chocolate drinks.

“That recipe has changed entirely the category of hot chocolates in our shop, in other words we’ve managed to raise our average sale by more than a euro, and people can come into our shop and say they’ve never had anything like that before.”

The benefits of keeping a blog for your business don’t always translate directly into cash, but are more aligned with building a customer base, and creating better brand visibility.

Murphy says, “If you look at the whole purpose of marketing for a company, one part of it would be to get people to buy, the other is just to build the brand.

“In terms of a brand-building exercise blogging is about as good as it gets.”
Murphy points out that if a business decides to start a blog, it has to be prepared to offer the readers something of value.

In the case of Murphy’s Ice Cream, the value is in the regular supply of inventive recipes, which may turn the blog into more profit.

“I’d like to have a Murphy’s Ice Cream book come out of this, collecting articles from the blog.

“I’m in love with the idea of going between different media. It’s all shifting, it’s all part of the same thing now.”

Julian Alubaidy of Bubble Brothers wine merchants in Cork had one of the first online wine shops in Ireland and is one of the few Irish sellers blogging his enthusiasm to the wider world.
He points to the myriad wine and food blogs in the US and Europe and wonders why Ireland is so slow to follow in their footsteps, considering our yearly consumption of wine is outstripping that of beer.

He sees business blogging as a low risk marketing strategy. “Just do it, if you don’t like the results you can just stop.”

Does Alubaidy see a strong future in business blogging? “I think the devil is in the detail there. Perhaps there isn’t a future in blogs, or indeed websites, as we understand them at the moment.
“I think that the frontiers will come down, it won’t be a site or a blog, those are just labels that we use at the moment.”

Barry Chandler, managing director of, set up his blog, The Snug, because he didn’t like the fact that communication on the main site was all one way.

“We were putting up features on the website but we weren’t getting any information back. The Snug is a good way to interact with the subscribers more, where they can give us valuable feedback.”

As a resource for the service industry, uses its blog as a yardstick for hot topics among subscribers and visitors.

“We put up a feature about how we felt that the Irish market had taken to the smoking ban and we had quite a lot of heated debate from both Irish and English contributors questioning us and each other.

“It got a good debate going and gave us an idea of some of the main issues our subscribers considered most important to them.”

There’s no doubt that an online presence benefits the small- and medium-sized business, but those that already have a website may not see the value in setting up another time-consuming online portal.

Chandler begs to differ. The Snug has considerably increased traffic to the main site, due to how search engine friendly blogs and their content are. Chances are Google will return a blog entry before it turns up a static website.

If blogs are a key way to keep in touch with your customers, then podcasting is the way forward for businesses looking to connect with their employees.

Brian Greene, podcasting, blogging and social media consultant with, a company that produces podcasts, describes this new channel as radio for mobile devices.
Clients of TalkingVoices, which include Rabobank, the Irish Internet Association (IIA), Enterprise Ireland and the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICA), have been using sound to their business advantage.

“It’s an avenue you can logically apply to businesses; a lot of what businesses will do is internal communications with podcasting.”

Once every two months the ICA holds a breakfast meeting in a hotel in Dublin where members listen to a business leader talking about a topic on accounting. Although only around 70 people attend, all 700 members have the opportunity to listen to it on the official podcast.

“The value to the association is that they can make that sound travel much further than the PA system in the hotel, so they can apply value back into their membership.

“There are huge opportunities for associations and membership organisations to use podcasting from the podium to bring that sound further.”

Greene also points to the advantages of podcasting to the lifecycle of corporate sponsorship. The IIA held a daylong event last year that was sponsored by Microsoft.

There was 10 hours’ worth of podcasting from this event, which Greene says is still getting listeners to this day. Sponsors are still getting value, long after the event is over.

“Sound is sexy again and is now worth recording. Podium talks by business leaders are now interesting to record, not just to amplify to the 60 or 70 people within the organisation.

“There’s an inbox for email and there’s an inbox for paper, but sound comes into a company and leaves a company yet doesn’t get recorded anywhere.”

Greene says the best advice he can offer for a business or organisation thinking about podcasting is to “Don’t script it – keep it real and speak from the heart.

“If you’re going to pick up a microphone and engage employees, clients, customers and the world at large, speak passionately about your product, service and yourself.

“Don’t try to sound like Pat Kenny or Gay Byrne,” he deadpans.

Babble for bubbles

Julian Alubaidy, customer and supplier services manager with Bubble Brothers, an online wine merchant with shops in Cork, started his blog on a friend’s advice.
Although he says he never intended the blog to drive sales and just wanted to have a go to see what would come of it, it ended up becoming a valuable business resource.
“For us it’s extremely useful because it’s an archive of what we’ve been doing. If you try to make time to catalogue all your ideas you’d never do it but the blog ends up being a useful resource for what we were thinking and what interested us. And it will obviously become more valuable as time goes on.”

Alubaidy’s blog is a lively mix of wine-related news, marketing and events with a quirky sense of humour and an educated palate.

The Bubble Brother’s blog encourages contributions and comments from both customers and suppliers, and Alubaidy likes the potential of anonymous blog comments to give people new to wine the courage to come out and ask questions.

“There is so much mystique about wine anyway. People can be very timid about saying things to you.”

He says of the evolution of the internet from the static website to the form of blogging, “The online world is crawling on its hands and knees towards the civilization we had before the industrial revolution.

“In terms of the online world as a paradigm of the real world, given the nature of our business, which is small, I wanted to attempt to provide via the computer some of the human qualities that we have in the shop, what we consider is an important part of what stops people from going to the supermarkets instead.”

Where on the web
Blogging and podcasting resources on the web:
A good place to start. It’s free to sign up and easy to create a blog and start posting within minutes
A step up from Blogger, with tools to allow for easy linking back to your main site, leading to better online visibility
The IIA’s podcast directory, including some interesting ones on the implication of podcasting for business growth
Podcast production and consultancy service.

An Apple a day

Apple this week released its updated MacBook series of notebooks, with faster processors, larger hard drives and the same pricing as current models.

A few months ahead of the already delayed Leopard operating system, due for release in October, Apple has fitted its MacBook range with faster Intel 2 Core Duo processors and increased-capacity hard drives.

The white MacBooks will now have 80GB and 120GB hard drive respectively and the black version will sport 160GB.

The MacBook is a consumer notebook that comes with Apple’s suite of digital lifestyle software, iLife, aimed at users with plenty of music, photos and other digital media to store.

MySpace invaders

News Corporation-owned social networking site MySpace has launched new software to prevent users from reposting copyrighted content to their homepages.

This move comes after MySpace was sued in November of last year by Universal for copyright violation, in light of users unlawfully uploading video and audio clips belonging to the media company.

Universal alleged that MySpace had aided the violation of copyright by making it easier for its users to reformat and share clips.

MySpace is now tackling the issue of reposting. Having removed content at the request of copyright owners, the site is looking to prevent users from simply putting up the same material again.

Changing man

Computer Associates is the world’s fifth largest software company. Al Nugent is the company’s chief technology officer

The modern mantra is that IT needs to be more aligned with the business. Are we there yet?

I don’t think the gap has widened, but no, we’re not there.

Mature organisations are going from IT as a backroom function to making it an engine for growth.

We see pockets of collaboration between IT and the business organisation, but it’s nowhere near as widespread as it needs to be.

Are people inevitably an obstacle?

It sounds terrible to say, but they are at the root of a lot of the issues. Resistance to change is the biggest problem.

People need a reason to change and it’s not because a CEO or the head of a ministry tells them to.

There have to be tangible benefits for the individual involved to make the leap.

We give people the tools – we know they don’t trust us because we’re IT – but if we can show them that we can add value, we will be able to close the gaps.

What is service oriented architecture (SOA) and why are CIOs cynical about it?

The first thing to say is that it is architecture and not a product. It’s a way of doing things with processes, structure and open standards.

Resistance from CIOs is because there still aren’t many examples of true SOA applications at scale.

But the underlying model, which is about IT being distributed and stateless, and having different levels of control, is the right model for the future.

I would never tell CIOs they’re wrong, but if they are not seriously looking at creating an SOA environment they are missing the boat.

As an industry we can’t keep developing software the way we have been doing so far; it’s not sustainable so we have to start thinking differently.

You have a problem with Windows Vista. Explain.

The footprint of the desktop operating system over the past 10-15 years has grown from a few hundred kilobytes to 40GB. Do you really need all that complexity?

It creates more opportunities for threats, not less. And there is nothing wrong with XP now that its problems have been solved.

What’s the next big thing for the IT industry?

There are the usual suspects like software as a service, but it’s not groundbreaking, it’s a natural extension of what we’ve all been doing.

It’s going to come down to the way we index and make available complex content.

The content explosion will continue unabated and we need an intelligent way to navigate it.

There is no approach I’ve seen from existing vendors that will do this in a way that makes it truly usable.

It’s about being able to dynamically bring content to where you want it, based on something other than high-level attributes – finding a scene in a movie, for example, knowing only the actor and actress.

The company that figures it out will be huge. I don’t know how it will be done because if I did I’d do it!

Fall in software piracy rate

Industry losses through distribution and sale of illegal software are estimated to have reached ?124m in Ireland alone last year, a recent study claims.

The Global Software Piracy Study for the Business Software Alliance claims that piracy in Ireland is decreasing, with 36pc of all software used here pirated in 2006 compared with 37pc in 2005.

Since the introduction of the Copyright and Related Rights Act, 2000, piracy in Ireland has been steadily decreasing, from 56pc in 1999 to its current rate, which is the EU average.

Virtually a business issue

The virtualisation – or consolidation – of technology assets is proving to be one of the most divisive issues in the IT industry. But what does it mean to ordinary businesses of Ireland?

The term ‘virtualisation’ sounds like a word out of a Star Trek fan’s phrasebook.

The term is an old one, in use since the Sixties, to describe combining or consolidating computer resources at different locations in order to boost performance and cut costs across an organisation.

In practical terms, it means that instead of having several servers in your business – each one managing email, web, file and print, accounts and so on – you can create ‘virtual machines’ for each of these roles on just one or two servers. Result: reduced costs and environmental impact.

It is only in the past five years that the industry has truly embraced the concept, creating software tools that allow business to create these virtual machines.

But the very use of the term ‘virtualisation’ is a prime example of how the technology industry continually manages to make a sow’s ear of an obvious, potential silk purse.

If the IT industry’s well-paid marketing people used the terms ‘consolidation’ or ‘reduction’ of IT resources then accountants and managing directors from all over would be queuing up.

As usual the industry sows confusion and gets ready for a long, hard sell.

The practical advantages of pursuing virtualisation can mean different things depending on who you talk to.

“It certainly can lead to cost savings,” explains David Laird, managing director of IT services firm Datapac. “Less servers means lower maintenance, which in turn means a smaller IT department or reduced spend on outsourcing.

“Virtualisation will matter a lot to the mid-sized SME in Ireland in the years ahead. Firms will reach a point where they have amassed a number of servers. It will make sense to reduce the number of servers to cut spending and gain efficiencies.”

Up until now every time a business wanted to add a new function or host a mission-critical software application it would have to buy a new server to host it, explains Richard Moore, business manager for servers at Microsoft.

“With virtualisation you use software to take one single server or a couple of servers and use that software to create many ‘virtual machines’ to better manage resources.

“Instead of having several servers to run your business on, you would need only one or two and can manage them more easily,” says Moore. “Servers are expensive to run, hard to keep cool and are hard on electricity, so virtualisation has an environmental impact.”

A study of 250 IT executives of small, medium and large firms across eight industry verticals in Ireland found that one third of them plan to pursue virtualisation in 2007.

“Some 29pc of IT buyers understand that server consolidation will result in cost savings in terms of power, cooling and storage for physical software, costs that have recently been rising in the Irish marketplace,” explains Neil Brennan, an analyst with iReach.

“Furthermore the centralisation of business applications will result in remote management and therefore staff can save time and focus on value-added offerings.”

Brennan says 21pc of those interviewed also recognised that virtualisation will result in easier business continuity/disaster recovery migration as well as flexibility.

“People are starting to realise that virtualisation can duplicate mission-critical servers and therefore a reduction in investment in physical duplicates of their hardware,” Brennan explains.

Not everyone is for virtualisation. A global study of 800 IT managers by Computer Associates found that 44pc were unable to declare their deployment a success so far.

Industry analyst Gartner warned that without implementing best practices for security, firms that rush to implement virtualisation strategies to reduce costs may actually end up increasing costs.

Because of the rush to apply the technology, many security issues get overlooked or best practices not applied, and as a result up to 60pc of virtual machines will be less secure than their physical counterparts.

“It will take several years for the tools and vendors to evolve as well as organisations to mature their processes and staff skills,” says Neil McDonald, vice-president and Gartner fellow. “Knowledge of the security risks and the costs to address them must be factored into the cost-benefit discussion of virtualisation.”

But the advantages outweigh the doubts, says Lee Bonham, worldwide leader of server strategy at IT giant HP. “When businesses invest in IT the idea is to smooth out processes. Unfortunately, over time data builds up and this can end up causing difficulties.

“Traditionally businesses have chosen one server for accounting applications and another for web or email and then have added data storage to that. But the result has been vast silos of information.Today, people want to move on and streamline this infrastructure.

“Organisations are struggling to manage complex IT infrastructures and do things quickly. To resolve this often means a lot of investment in time, people and effort. Thankfully, technology has moved on.

Businesses have the option to standardise, simplify and automate their IT infrastructure.

“This leads to smaller IT departments and reduced costs but better control overall,” Bonham adds.

Bonham’s colleague James Henry, head of blade servers for HP in Ireland, agrees: “Virtualisation, or the trend to handle many tasks on a reduced number of servers, will become mainstream in Irish business. Companies want to do more, but pay less.

“They want to reduce the silos of information, pool all of that into one resource they can easily control,” Henry says.

In the months and years ahead the true judges of whether virtualisation will be a success or not will be the managing directors of Irish businesses who will vote with their feet and their wallets to reduce their costly IT footprint.

© Silicon Republic Ltd 2007

All content copyright 2007, Silicon Republic Ltd — all rights reserved


- By John Kennedy

Did BlackBerry kill the PDA?

Push email and smart phones seem to have sounded the death knell for the personal digital assistant (PDA). But what does this mean for Irish businesses users?

When Dell decided it was going to kill off its long-standing Axim line of personal digital assistants (PDAs), many concluded that that was the end of the good old PDA.

While promising ongoing support for Axim owners, writing in a Dell corporate blog, digital media manager Lionel Menchaca confirmed for anyone who cared: “Why did we make the decision? Because of a steadily declining market for pen-based PDAs noted over the past several quarters by analyst firms like IDC and Gartner.”

The PDA was always a struggling member of the personal computer family, never quite making it to the mainstream and was always pitched as a niche business critical device.

The onset of push email devices such as Research in Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry family and more recently devices powered by Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 5.0 are being credited with the device’s ultimate demise.

There are even rumours that Dell is planning to launch its own smart phone, code-named ‘the Fly’, which will run on the forthcoming Windows Mobile 6.0.

In reality the death throes of the PDA began five years ago when Nokia began shipping standard phones with software to enable owners of even their most basic phones to synchronise calendar and contacts information. The PDA lost its unique selling point and now every mobile phone has these abilities.

“Although our origins have been in PDAs,” says Jim O’Dea, director of operations for Palm in Europe, “the market for PDAs, like the Irish property market, has definitely softened and is in decline. Like property owners, we’re hoping for a soft landing.”

O’Dea has little cause to be concerned, however. More than 80pc of Palm devices now sold are actually smart phones and as a result of an alliance with Microsoft the company is planning to take on RIM in the market for push email, the killer app of the present decade.

Manufacturers like Palm are on the front line of a new battle starting to rage in the business smart phone market for push email devices.

RIM is the undisputed leader in the enterprise push email sector, with more than 5.5 million subscribers worldwide. Sales in 2006 were around the US$2bn mark. PDAs, by comparison, saw demand fall by 31pc last year, according to IDC.

However, there are over 140 million Microsoft Exchange email customers worldwide that are currently on a desktop platform and are ideally placed to migrate to mobile.

But another unforeseen threat to BlackBerry’s dominance is looming in the shape of Visto, which is sold in Ireland by Vodafone and Meteor. Visto is an open application, which means businesses can tailor it to their own needs and don’t need to buy specific handsets to run it on.

One user of Visto is facilities management company ISS, which has kitted out 130 Irish executives with Vodafone’s Visto-based Business Email product. “The nice thing about Visto is that unlike RIM or Microsoft’s Windows 5.0 it can work on all kinds of mobile phones such as Nokia or Sony-Ericsson,” says the company’s IT manager, Karl Ffrench.

“Many of our executives would already use data cards but when they’re getting from A to B it is essential they can receive documents on the move,” notes Ffrench. “The other good thing was that unlike BlackBerry where we’d have to buy hardware and licences, we just highlight the necessary person’s phone number on the Exchange server and their mobile phone becomes a fully-fledged PDA and push email device.”

Vodafone’s Darragh Fitzgerald Selby says that while Visto services grow in popularity, RIM’s BlackBerry can currently be considered mainstream in business while Microsoft’s push email service has achieved surprising demand.

“We launched Windows Mobile 5.0 last year and in the corporate market some 25pc of sales for mobile email devices were for Microsoft-supported devices,” Fitzgerald Selby adds.

“The attraction of Visto is that the email goes straight to a user’s normal handset and updates their calendars and contacts too, without need for a licence, for as little as ?15 a month.”

Oisin Byrne, managing director of analysis firm iReach, sees Irish businesses looking to develop new mobile applications with a laptop and 3G card still being the most popular mobile device, followed by PDAs/XDAs purchased from the mobile phone operator, rather than buying PDAs from computer makers.

“However, we see many more business applications using SMS/WAP to build new applications or extend applications using ‘standard’ mobile phones, due to ease of use, reduced training needs, little overhead in hardware or new software,” Byrne said.

Billy D’Arcy, head of business and corporate sales at O2, believes that despite increasing assaults on RIM’s dominance, the BlackBerry has caught the imagination of business owners. “Originally it was only senior executives that would have been kitted with push email devices, but now we are seeing them being bought for whole teams. It’s not unusual to see companies in Ireland ordering several hundred at a time.”

D’Arcy doesn’t believe the PDA as we knew it is dead. “Our XDA family is a PDA first and mobile phone second. But lately it has become more than that. Our new XDA Orbit family is actually a GPS [global positioning system] device.

“I’m not surprised Dell killed off its PDA line and is looking at getting into smart phones. Smart phones can simply do more and I’ve seen prototypes of Nokia devices coming down the line with five-megapixel cameras, HDSDA [mobile broadband] and GPS on good-quality screens.”

The advent of push email and a variety of smart phones for business is viewed by Meteor national sales manager, Stuart Kelly, as putting the mobile operator on an equal footing to compete with Vodafone and O2 in the business market.

“Our offering is based on the Visto model and we are finding that there is demand amongst SMEs in particular for voice and data on one device. Our market base is primarily SMEs as opposed to big enterprises.

“We are seeing a strong shift towards smart phones with push email. Business users are better educated – just go to any conference or business meeting and you’ll see people checking their email. It’s the way work has gone, people want to be able to do more in their working day,” says Kelly.

But the humble PDA on its own merit is not dead, says HP mobility development manager, Mark Gunn. HP entered the smart phone market three years ago and has three devices on the market running on Windows Mobile 5.0. However, the company still sells iPaq Pocket PCs.

“The standard PDA saw an onslaught prior to mobile email from the BlackBerry because of the synchronisation capabilities of Nokia phones six years ago. I used to use a Palm Pilot and stopped because I could store all my calendar and contacts info on my mobile phone.

“While the BlackBerry has definitely captured the market so far, mobile operators and businesses want to be more open to roll out mobile email without significant spending on hardware and middleware.

“Corporate organisations in particular are happy to maximise their existing investment in a Microsoft Exchange infrastructure. In the past only senior executives were kitted out with these devices, but in the years ahead they will be standard to most workers in most businesses, right down to the cafeteria staff.”

Asked why HP still makes and sells stand-alone PDAs, Gunn answers: “In the business world there are still cases where PDAs have a use such as in medical, retail and warehouse management. There are still specific situations that will require a standard PDA.”

In other words, the PDA isn’t dead, it has simply evolved.

Deals on wheels

A prime example of a business marrying the power of traditional PDAs with the latest in push email is Ballymount-based Relay Express Couriers.

The company has developed a system that enables its van and motor bike couriers to receive instructions on the move and automatically send customer signatures back to the server over a mobile network when a delivery has been made.

To carry all of this out the company has acquired 55 XDA 11is from O2, plus an additional 11 XDA Orbits on order.

The company’s managing director Andy O’Donovan says the system was inspired by the example of UK courier firm Addison Lee he witnessed on a fact-finding trip two years ago.

“We were blown away by their use of a software system called ROCS that sent information to a driver’s PDA over a mobile network. Instead of a mess of paper documents and radio traffic the entire process was streamlined.

“We decided to buy the system ourselves and worked to roll it out on O2’s network. We feel that the system has revolutionised the way we operate and has speeded up everything by 50pc.”

O’Donovan explains that once a delivery has been booked by the company’s call centre, the information and documentation is automatically sent to a driver’s handheld. “If he’s available he just accepts the job or rejects it if he’s not available.

“Back at base, 40-inch plasma screens track where the driver is using satellite navigation and tracking on the mobile device. Security-conscious customers can view the same information by logging into a specific web location.

“There are a lot of financial sector customers who appreciate the benefit of PDAs and the signature system for sensitive documents,” explains O’Donovan.

© Silicon Republic Ltd 2007
All content copyright 2007, Silicon Republic Ltd — all rights reserved

- By John Kennedy

Security the future

A little-known group of Irish IT security companies has attracted US venture capital, bucking a trend that has seen minimal US equity investment in the local market

In a drive to chase technology’s next big thing, countries often identify key areas to focus on. But in Ireland’s case, information security was not one of them.

There has been no equivalent project to compare with the Digital Hub cluster, which is intended to generate a sustainable crop of digital media companies.

Despite this, attention is starting to focus on a handful of indigenous companies in the IT security space.

“Almost by accident, Ireland has ended up with a cluster or core of these companies without setting out to do so,” says Owen O’Connor, chairman of the Irish branch of the Information Systems Security Association.

Many have recently taken on investment, have launched or are about to release new products or are actively expanding into international markets.

Added to this, industry observers believe many of the emerging companies have strong potential.

Howard Schmidt, an international expert on cyber security who consults with venture capital (VC) firms in the US, was impressed with what he saw at a showcase event organised by Enterprise Ireland (EI) in Dublin last month.

“They are developing things that solve real-world problems. They’re relatively small but they’ve got good technology,” he said. More importantly, they already have customers, which Schmidt said was essential.

“When you look at the smaller companies, the ones I’ve talked to, they’ve got revenue coming in and that makes it very attractive to dealing with venture capitalists or partnering with third parties in other parts of the world.”

In fact, VC firms in the US such as Trident are known to have held discussions with indigenous firms about possible funding.

“Those conversations are happening, which I think validates the Irish security vendor community quite well,” confirms Ben Mosse, vice-president with EI’s New York office.

EI has earmarked security as a key growth area and has already invested in some of the companies. “Our interest really spawned when we had a look at the number of companies coming out of Ireland with security solutions. A lot were world class and achieving traction in the US already.”

Typical of the new generation, Asavie develops systems that allow mobile customers to access the internet securely. Just this week it announced its first deal in the US with the mobile operator Alltel.

The Dublin-based company is privately held and last month received a €1.2m investment from EI and private investors. Over the course of this year it plans to expand in the US, Europe and the Far East.

In January MXSweep secured a second tranche of private VC. “That will see us well into 2009,” reports CEO Declan O’Connor. The company provides email filtering and was founded in 2005 by the email security guru Danny Jenkins.

This month MXSweep invested €150,000 in data centre infrastructure for serving international customers. In two weeks it will launch its latest managed security service.

Earlier this year Validsoft closed a €4m funding round through the UK investment house Pentland Group plc, NCB Ventures and EI. It provides ‘out of band’ authentication technology for online banking systems.

It expects to go back to the market in 2008 to fund an international expansion drive. The 20-man company plans to increase staff headcount significantly over the course of next year.

Also in expansion mode are iQuate and Vigitrust. The former is currently revising its product set and growing headcount; the latter is close to finalising an outside investment deal. “It will more than likely see us double in size over the next year,” says managing director Mathieu Gorge.

Vigitrust’s revenues have been growing between 30 and 35pc year on year since the company started in 2003. In year two it branched out into giving security awareness training, which led to work throughout Europe.

Lately the company has focused on the emerging PCI (data security) standard for payment cards. A speaking engagement at a security conference in February has led to a contract with a leading US bank — a considerable coup for a 14-man company.

“Small organisations that have a lot of subject matter expertise can penetrate international markets like the US and the UK,” says Gorge.

FraudHalt, which recently closed a funding round from private investors, is addressing a market that is potentially worth millions.

Its DiscMatch forensic hardware system checks the ‘fingerprint’ of a CD-Rom, allowing large media copyright holders like record labels or software companies to control their supply chains for unauthorised products — potentially saving millions in lost revenue.

In addition, FraudHalt has developed technology to tell whether the hologram on a credit or debit card is real or whether the card is a clever forgery.

Closer to home, FraudHalt is finalising a deal with one of Ireland’s largest banks to roll out an ATM surveillance system that can detect if the machine has been compromised by criminals.

“Banks don’t like to say how big this issue is, but it’s huge,” says Patrick Smith, a director of the company.

NetFort will seek further investment later this year to scale and grow in the US, confirms CEO John Brosnan. “We don’t just want a venture capitalist for the funding, but one that can help us in lots of ways,” he says.

The Galway company already provides network security monitoring to most of the Irish third-level sector and recently turned to Europe and the US for growth.

Dublin-based Shenick is a good example of a business that started in a different technology area before spotting opportunities in security. It builds load-testing systems for networks that are designed to simulate large numbers of people visiting a website all at once.

It adjusted the product to simulate a denial of service attack or a deluge of spam email, letting internet service providers check if their security systems can cope with the load and whether the quality of service is affected. Now, around 15pc of Shenick’s business is security related.

As new security areas are emerging all the time, there’s even more potential to be exploited, O’Connor believes.

“There are lots of unsolved problems that Irish companies could help with, be it fraud solutions or network monitoring,” he adds. “It would be very difficult in 2007 to launch an e-learning company. That’s not the case with security.”

In a recent report, EI polled US security professionals and identified three key areas — authentication, regulatory compliance and security awareness — on which Irish firms could successfully focus.

Behind the scenes, Ireland is positioning itself as a centre for excellence in information security, O’Connor adds. Several universities and institutes of technology are engaging in security research; UCD, for example, runs Europe’s first master’s degree course in cyber crime investigation.

Beyond the coincidental emergence of these companies there are encouraging signs of a developing infrastructure that should support those at the front line in years to come.

Alert to privacy

Dublin-based PixAlert could be a template for the kind of indigenous company attracting attention in the security sector.

The 14-strong firm owes its origins to technology developed at NovaUCD as well as research from Trinity College Dublin.

It’s best known for a product that scans computer networks for illicit or inappropriate content.

A recent coup was having developed the parental control settings within Microsoft’s new Windows Vista operating system. “That was a real feather in our cap,” says CEO John Nolan.

The company also has the kudos of an international partnership with Deloitte.

PixAlert has since launched a product that conducts privacy audits within companies, which Nolan says will allow it to address the significant market opportunity around regulatory compliance.

Damage caused by exposure of an incident involving illegal or illicit images held on corporate computers can be much more extensive than the potential financial exposure of a civil law suit. It can also significantly affect a company’s ability to trade.

“We’ve built out the product to look for data that should be encrypted but isn’t,” he explains.

In addition, PixAlert is branching out from its background in software to produce a hardware-based security appliance.

The company doesn’t intend taking on further investment in the immediate future. “There’s no need to go to the market,” says Nolan, adding that the company is profitable and growing sales through partners.

He confirms the company is hiring more employees and plans to double revenues this year.

© Silicon Republic Ltd 2007
All content copyright 2007, Silicon Republic Ltd — all rights reserved

- By Gordon Smith

Google searches for internet's holy grail

Google, the world's most popular search engine, has begun the first major overhaul of its search function, taking the first steps towards what it is calling the universal search - an internet holy grail in which text, video, news, maps and local services will all be posted in a single coherent list. The move is both a technological challenge - company executives said they had "melted down a data centre or two along the way" - and also a natural next step following a flurry of acquisitions of services spanning photographs (Picasa) and online video (YouTube).
Google gave a demonstration of the new concept at its Googleplex headquarters in Silicon Valley. On the website itself, the change was only modestly noticeable. A search for Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No 3 included a YouTube video of Evgeny Kissin performing the piece, but otherwise looked much as it might have done the day before.
"At first, universal search results may be subtle," the company said. "Over time users will recognise additional types of content integrated into their search results as the company advances toward delivering a truly comprehensive search experience." A search for the Star Wars character Darth Vader, for example, would previously have focussed on web-page mentions of the movie. Now, the company said, users can expect a set of "blended search results" including a parody of the movie, images of Darth, and news reports.
The more precise search returns are, the more they can interest advertisers who can tailor their messages to very specific audiences.
"The thing everyone is wondering right now is, what will an advertiser be willing to pay for a video link," said the analyst Martin Pykkonen, of Global Crown Capital.
Last year Google had revenues of more than $10.6bn and a net profit of more than $3.5bn.