HP de­ci­sion doesn’t mean end of tech

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Technology - By Adrian Weckler @adri­an­weck­ler

Does Hewlett-packard’s shut­ter­ing of its Leixlip fac­tory rep­re­sent the start of some pull­back by US tech com­pa­nies from Ire­land? It seems un­likely. Boom­ing dig­i­tal firms such as Google and Face­book are still ex­pand­ing their Ir­ish op­er­a­tions like there’s no to­mor­row. There’s a queue of sim­i­lar dig­i­tal tech firms wait­ing to open up of­fices here, too.

‘Legacy’ multi­na­tion­als — such as Mi­crosoft, Dell and IBM – ap­pear to have tran­si­tioned to ser­vices that help their com­pa­nies com­pete glob­ally.

An­other the­ory, that HP’S re­trench­ment shows there is no place for man­u­fac­tur­ing in Ire­land’s new in­dus­trial land­scape, is also a lit­tle wa­tery.

Ap­ple still makes PCS at its fa­cil­ity in Cork, a fact fre­quently over­looked when talk­ing about its fi­nan­cial ar­range­ments here. Sim­i­larly, In­tel makes chips at its Leixlip plant, a short hop from HP’S fa­cil­ity.

Mod­ern man­u­fac­tur­ing in any western coun­try is light years be­yond the Dick­en­sian stereo­types of low-skilled assem­bly lines.

Any man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs still here are un­likely to be shifted to China or East­ern Europe. (If any­thing, the threat to man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs no longer comes from any for­eign ter­ri­tory but from robots in our own coun­tries).

What about Don­ald Trump? Is his ‘Amer­ica First’ pol­icy tip­ping the bal­ance when US com­pa­nies come to re­view their off­shore fa­cil­i­ties?

If they are, the timing of the HP an­nounce­ment doesn’t par­tic­u­larly rhyme.

The com­pany’s core de­ci­sion to cut jobs was made in Oc­to­ber, when Trump’s elec­tion still looked like a far-fetched thing.

In the end, it may be that HP’S de­ci­sion to close its print car­tridge pro­duc­tion here boils down to a much more ba­sic rea­son: it can no longer fully sus­tain the pro­duc­tion of a tech­nol­ogy that the world is grad­u­ally turn­ing its back on.

While most of­fices still use print­ers, peo­ple are us­ing them less and less.

Even the home-printed air­plane board­ing cards we kept our print­ers for aren’t a rea­son any more, now that smart­phones act as board­ing cards.

Bills and bank state­ments fre­quently ar­rive on­line rather than through the post. Even mid­dle-aged man­agers no longer ‘print off ’ emails the way they used to when dream­ing of some golf out­ing.

And in case any­one is think­ing that 3D print­ers might ride to the res­cue, that the­ory also seems un­likely.

The 3D printer mar­ket is still a com­par­a­tively small sec­tor worth around €12bn per year. Its prospects re­main niche for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

This not to say that the print­ing or PC mar­kets — both of which HP were pri­mar­ily linked to — are dead.

Both sec­tors still have huge resid­ual busi­nesses, even if that is start­ing to re­treat from the con­sumer mar­ket back to purely of­fice-based ones.

In this con­text, it’s worth not­ing that HP re­mains a prof- itable com­pany (to the tune of over €3bn last year).

But the com­pany’s long-term fu­ture does not lie in inkjet print­ers.

For stressed work­ers hear­ing that they no longer have a job, the only mi­nor ray of sun­shine is that it will be far eas­ier to get al­ter­na­tive em­ploy­ment now than it would have been back in 2011 or 2012.

It’s not just that our unem- ploy­ment rate has halved in the last five years, or that most big com­pa­nies are hir­ing.

Big US tech firms are gen­er­ally per­ceived to have ad­vanced work­ing pro­cesses that are aped by ri­val sec­tors.

Re­cruit­ment firms say that those fa­mil­iar with such work­streams are con­sid­ered em­i­nently em­ploy­able by al­ter­na­tive em­ploy­ers which, them­selves, are seeking to mod­ernise sys­tems.

Peo­ple are us­ing inkjet print­ers, made by the likes of HP, less and less

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