Visitors to the IBM Technology Campus in the Damastown Industrial Park in the west Dublin suburb of Mulhuddart can’t help but be impressed by the scale and range of the activities carried out there. More than 4,000 people work on the campus on a variety of areas from software development, design, technologies to make our cities smarter and more environmentally friendly, sales and technical support to customers around the globe, and the latest internet of things applications which can make us healthier and more productive as individuals. And that’s just to scratch the surface.
The Technology Campus only tells a small part of the IBM Ireland story, of course. That dates back to the very beginning of US investment in Ireland in 1956 and to small but not very humble beginnings.
“Our first office in Ireland was in the Shelbourne Hotel”, says IBM Ireland Country General Manager Peter O’Neill. “Just three people set up the company back then when we were one of the first US multinationals to invest here.”
O’Neill joined the company in 1981, by which time it had grown to 300 people. “I actually worked with one of the three originals”, he recalls. “They had done a great job building up the company. When I joined IBM was still very much a mainframe computing company. Each year we would have kick-off meetings when the European management team would come in and forecast 15 percent compound annual growth for the next year. That happened every year and a lot of people thought things would stay that way forever.”
And things did remain much as they were until the early 1990s when the company went through what O’Neill describes as a difficult period. The world had changed quite dramatically and Lou Gerstner was appointed as global CEO in 1993 to lead a radical transformation of the company.
This left the local management team with two options, according to O’Neill. To continue as it was as primarily a local sales operation or to grasp the new opportunities which were arising within the corporation and attempt to become a global centre of excellence. “We saw the opportunity to go and compete for these opportunities. This culminated in some major investment decisions in ireland in 1996 which led to a big expansion with our workforce growing from 300 to more than 3,000.”
This saw IBM Ireland win four significant missions mainly in the hardware manufacturing area. O’Neill refers to this as the second of three stages in IBM’s development in Ireland. While these investments were highly successful the world continued to change and IBM was changing with it. “As the market changed we were exiting some businesses and moving into others”, he explains. “We realised that continuing manufacturing here was not sustainable so our job was to manage the exit from those operations while bringing in others to replace them. That’s very much been the story of over the past 12 to 15 years – the third stage of our journey in Ireland.”
The success of that process is evidenced by the fact that the company has grown further to more than 4,000 employees. “If you look at where we are positioned now we have a very significant presence in many of the areas where the group is targeting future growth.WearekindofuniqueinIBMintermsofthe diversity and spread of the areas we cover and the people we have. If you take a corporation of 400,000 people with different business units around the globe collaboration between them can be a challenge. We have so many of those units represented here on one campus that it allows opportunities for collaboration which aren’t so easy to do elsewhere.”
He points to the European Digital Sales Centre which operates from the campus as an example of the transformation which the company has undergone in Ireland. “That started out in the late 1990s offering basic technical and customer support around the consumer PC market and has since morphed and changed a number of times and now offers an integrated client experience where staff engage with customers at every touch point including online and mobile apps and use social media and mobile technology along with IBM’s commercially available analytics software to better identify client needs.”
The biggest single group of employees at IBM Ireland is the 1,700 software professionals in the software lab who use innovative technologies to design, build, deploy, test and support, solutions for IBM’s global customer base, across the company’s core solution strategies of cloud, analytics, mobile, social and security.
That group is also working on the IBM Watson technology platform which uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data and processes information more like a human than a computer. Watson now powers new consumer and enterprise services in the health care, financial services, retail and education markets. IBM has also opened the Watson platform to developers and entrepreneurs, enabling them to build and bring to market their own “powered by Watson” applications for a variety of industries.
Also, in a significant collaboration in the health sphere, the group teamed up with the INFANT Centre (Irish Centre for Foetal and Neonatal Translational Research) at UCC on the LEANBH pilot research project to provide remote healthcare monitoring to expectant mothers to improve the detection and treatment of hypertension and pre-eclampsia during pregnancy.
“These are just a few of the activities we are engaged in here in Ireland”, says O’Neill. “We have completely transformed over the past 15 years and that process will continue. Our ability to transform is very much down to our people who have been able to adapt to new roles over the years.”