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All Island Competitiveness. E-Business Working Paper

Published: February 2002


This paper recognises the significant effort that governments and business development organisations have made in promoting the uptake of eBusiness by island of Ireland enterprise.

The focus of the paper has been to examine the potential for additional co-operation between the various players both North and South of the border and, to this end, has set out a number recommendations.

eBusiness Capability

Research has indicated that the island of Ireland has a satisfactory infrastructure and a good business environment, but parts of the eBusiness equation are still lacking. However, the survey data-sets analysed showed significant variance in their figures and have tended to concentrate on the competitiveness inputs of eBusiness (access to the Internet, number of websites, etc.) rather than the outputs (contribution of eBusiness in increased sales, cost reduction, etc.)

As a result, there is some confusion as to the true uptake of eBusiness on the island of Ireland, and little or no indication of how uptake is improving overall island of Ireland competitiveness.

Recommendation: As the island of Ireland governments move forward with advancing the eBusiness capability of enterprise, an accurate and harmonised set of measures, covering both competitiveness inputs and outputs will be required to monitor and steer progress of initiatives through the island of Ireland.

Recommendation: On the subject of regulation, the processing of information is subject to the Data Protection Act. It is possible that this Act, in its current form, could act as a barrier to the development of some legitimate and innovative eBusiness applications in both the public and private sectors. Consideration should be given to establishing a process for reviewing such cases with the potential of a resultant change to the Act.

eBusiness Best Practice

On the internet there are numerous repositories, of varying quality, of eBusiness ‘best practice’.

Recommendation: Investigate the feasibility of the island of Ireland public sector organisations outsourcing their on-line eBusiness best practice provision to a single well-maintained, promoted, and monitored repository.

Absence of an eBusiness strategy, linked to the overall business strategy, puts a Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) at high risk of failure when it attempts to build an eBusiness capability. In addition, a well-crafted eBusiness strategy has a high risk of failure if an organisation has not identified the organisational infrastructure required to support its eBusiness applications. The wider business implications of eBusiness include:

  • Processes;
  • Organisation and Capabilities;
  • Systems and Technology;
  • Delivery and Operations; and
  • Tax and Legal.
Recommendation: The island of Ireland agencies should ensure that SMEs are aware of these broader eBusiness issues. Where SME support organisations have developed their own eBusiness programmes in isolation, there is a risk of duplication of effort, together with the possibility that those SMEs participating in more than one programme may receive conflicting messages.

Awareness materials and programmes would benefit from development at a single point, in order to avoid this duplication of effort across the various agencies and to provide SMEs with a more effective awareness and education programme.

Recommendation: As the uptake of eBusiness amongst island of Ireland SMEs increases, there will be greater demands from these organisations for assistance with resolving the broader potential eBusiness issues (providing that they are made aware of the issues in the first place). A review of existing eBusiness services currently offered by the island of Ireland agencies may identify service gaps that would require filling. In addition, different areas of expertise may be identified in different agencies, leading to the possibility of skills exchange and referral arrangements between agencies.
Recommendation: Whilst the vast majority of island of Ireland enterprises are SMEs, there
are a number of large organisations with a significant indigenous supplier base. Island of
Ireland governments should give consideration to encouraging these organisations to develop ‘supplier-friendly’ eSupply Chain Management (eSCM) systems in order to reduce the effort required by SMEs to connect to such systems. This would also give participating SMEs a legitimate business reason for developing an eSupplier capability.

The Impact of the ‘border effect’

In short, eBusiness is an enabler to cross-border trade. Geography becomes less important due
to potential for vast improvements in the quality of information flows between an organisation and its business community. Effective deployment of eBusiness technologies is a key factor in the shift to a knowledge-driven economy. Production can be shifted to countries with lower labour costs, enabling, and sometimes forcing, organisations to focus on the higher value services such as innovation and design.


There is an opportunity to lever off public sector eProcurement to provide SMEs with a legitimate business reason for developing an eSupplier capability. In doing so, governments should make it as easy as possible for SMEs to connect to their eProcurement systems.

Recommendation: Consideration should be given to harmonising island of Ireland public sector eProcurement strategies to minimise the effort and maximise the benefit for SMEs connecting to public sector eProcurement systems. A key goal of public sector eProcurement strategies should be to maximise SME eBusiness trading capabilities.
Recommendation: Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland public sector eProcurement
project teams should liaise with each other to explore the possibilities of developing a common supplier interface to reduce the cost and effort required from SMEs to connect to these systems.

On the subject of life-event-based portals and authentication, the Northern Ireland initiative OnlineNI is still to be mobilised, whereas the Republic of Ireland REACH initiative is further advanced.

Recommendation: The OnlineNI project team should liaise with the REACH organisation in
order to become aware of lessons learned to date in the implementation of the OASIS and
BASIS portals in Republic of Ireland, together with the establishment of eGovernment registration and authorisation processes.

In the Republic of Ireland, the Freedom of Information Act came into force in 1998. In Northern Ireland, the Act is still to be ratified.

Recommendation: Northern Ireland government departments may benefit from liaising with their Republic of Ireland counterparts in order to become aware of the impact of the Freedom of Information Act on those departments and how potential increased demand for information is being managed.

A number of web-sites claiming to provide SMEs with collaborative services exist already. There
is a risk that as the number of such sites increases, each underlying SME database will be maintained in isolation from the others. This can cause fragmentation of the SME user community with a resultant reduction in the number of collaborative opportunities.

Recommendation: Liaise with the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland agencies currently running collaborative websites to explore the possibility of linking the underlying SME/research source/trading partner databases to increase the potential for identifying North-South collaborative opportunities.

Making it Happen

In the short term, there are a number of enabling actions that can be taken in order to mobilise/further progress the recommendations:

  • Agree with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (DETE) in the Republic of
    Ireland and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) in Northern Ireland the need for an accurate harmonised set of measures for monitoring the impact of eBusiness on island of Ireland competition;
  • Draft initial set of measures for consultation with the departments and various organisations
    involved in eBusiness promotion;
  • Assess the willingness of agencies, Chambers of Trade, etc., to collaborate in the areas of:
    – Single eBusiness best practice repository;
    – Single production point for production of eBusiness awareness/ education materials for       SMEs; and
    – Shared SME/research source/trading partner databases;
  • Carry out an eBusiness service provision audit among the various agencies, Chambers of Trade, etc., in order to identify:
    – Sources of service provision;
    – Service gaps; and
    – Opportunities for referral arrangements between these organisations;
  • Liaise with both governments to assess willingness for collaboration in the areas of:
    – Data Protection Act issues;
    – Freedom of Information Act issues;
    – eProcurement; and
    – Electronic Service Delivery interfaces with the citizen and businesses.

InterTradeIreland is well placed in facilitating these activities, but the governments and business
development organisations will be responsible for implementation. The ultimate responsibility lies with the enterprises themselves to exploit eBusiness to improve competitiveness. 


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