We've never been better connected - locally and globally
After a lengthy career in tech communications, notably as founder of leading IT and telecoms firm Rainbow Communications, which last month was acquired by by Radius Payment Solutions Group, Eric Carson reflects on a journey of accelerating change
“UNCERTAINTY is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” That's a recognisable and famous proverb which is never more relevant than the world we live in today.
For readers of this regular column, I've attained at least some certainty after a career of almost six decades. I'm retiring and stepping back from the heady world of tech and making way for a new, younger generation to take the lead at Rainbow Communications, a company I helped to establish way back in 1998.
Economically, it wasn't the best year to start a business. However, there were many turning points and increasing optimism about the future. It was the year the Good Friday Agreement was signed, raising hopes of wider peace and potential prosperity at a time when then the world started to take notice, people wanted to visit and more businesses were looking to invest.
The scale and pace of recovery in the next 10 years were dramatic, and though not all attributed to the political watershed agreement, things were definitely changing for the better.
The focus on skills, training and education, in high value jobs and in technology was strengthened and new career opportunities opened for many as we became more outward looking and we embraced the competitive realities of operating, economically, in a brave new world.
The 1990s also chartered a decade when technology really started to upend the way we viewed the world, how we communicated and, ultimately, how we began to do business.
The internet was only coming into its own and by 1995. Mobile phones were basic, clunky and expensive to use, desktop computers took up most of your desk and laptops certainly weren't the lean portable machines we take for granted today.
New technology has driven a host of dramatic changes to our working lives since the 1990s, and this will continue perhaps even more rapidly in the decade ahead.
When I founded Rainbow Communications in 1998 with Martin Hamill, we had a vision for change, to harness the powers which the fast-evolving telecoms marketplace could bring to thousands of local businesses in Northern Ireland – and we're proud to work with many of our largest well-known companies and those forging a new and exciting path in niche, innovative firms located right across the island and beyond.
But I wasn't starting from scratch. With a background in engineering, I'd always been interested in ‘phones' – starting out as an apprentice at Belfast-based Telephone Rentals way back in the day before taking over as general manager in 1983.
In 1988 the company was taken over by Mercury Communications, one of the first organisations to challenge BT's monopoly of the market.
In 1995, I formed TSI (Ireland) and in 1996 was concurrently appointed the head of Orange in Northern Ireland. TSI became Rainbow Telecoms in 1998 after Martin Hamill and I jointly purchased the company, a former colleague at Telephone Rentals, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In establishing Rainbow in that pivotal year, both of us felt that there was a much-needed gap in the market that we could utilise – to offer all our business customers a choice and provide cut-price calls by working with a variety of network suppliers.
After two years as TSI (Ireland), together we rebranded the company to Rainbow Telecoms and we worked with a team of five people out of the Dundonald Enterprise Centre on the outskirts of Belfast providing lines and call services.
Since then, we grew our team to more than 100 and we adapted our services to bring unified, integrated communications to businesses by embracing the cloud and a suite of new products and services that would guarantee continuity and quality remote working for everyone.
Rainbow Communications evolved as quickly as the technology around us changed, making fiction a reality and bringing new efficiencies, cost-savings and productivity gains for forward-looking and ambitious SMEs.
And, as I wind down after almost 60 years in the business, and almost 25 years at Rainbow, the integration of business communications technology, and our own business integration, continues apace.
This month, Rainbow embarks on an exciting new technological and business journey and will expand further following the acquisition by a Sunday Times Top Track 100 company, Radius Payment Solutions, bringing a new scale of opportunities, products and services to current and new clients across these islands.
A Radius Payment Solutions is a perfect partner, with the same ethos and ambition held by our Rainbow team, this new force will give clients even greater choice in the transition from legacy technology to cloud computing and I'm excited for its future and its power to deliver.
But I won't be hanging up my coat just yet!
As a founding member of the Milford Everton Football Club (now Armagh City), I have always had a keen interest in football and, when restrictions ease, I look forward to seeing the team again. I'm also looking forward to indulging my passion for Chelsea FC in person, when we can, and I cannot wait to experience the horse racing buzz at Down Royal again soon.
For six decades, I've stood firm on passion for communications and to helping to continually improve the way all of us can regularly interact – and now we've never been better connected, locally and globally.
As a career in communications spanning six decades draws to a close, during a year when the way in which we've communicated has changed beyond comprehension, I am reminded of the very thing that has enabled technology to be a force for good in our lives as it has evolved over many years.
As we enter the next age of technological advancement, perhaps it is important that our political leaders and our innovators remember that the purpose of technology is to enhance the way we communicate with one another as human beings, not replace it.
I want to thank the Irish News for its continued support, to all our staff, associates and partners, and to you, the readers, for your interest in this increasingly important part of our world – technology - over many years. Thank you.