Award-winning Irish nano-technology company Kastus is to partner with global technology giant Lenovo in a move that looks set to transform the hygiene and safety standards of commercial touchscreen usage.
Kastus is a developer of revolutionary, light-powered, ‘always on’ antiviral and antimicrobial surface coatings which have been independently proven to be effective against human Coronavirus and up to 99.99% of surface bacteria.
Lenovo, which has a major OEM solutions business, is one of the top three manufacturers of IT products in the world.
Already the world’s leading PC company, Lenovo is also a leader in smartphones, tablets, industry solutions and data centre infrastructure.
The new partnership will see Lenovo offer a bespoke range of commercial antiviral and antimicrobial screen protectors for existing machines, using Kastus’ patented protective coating technology.
It will also see Lenovo develop a new line of products which will have Kastus’ technology built-into screens as standard.
The move represents a major step forward for public health. Studies have shown that coronavirus can survive on a smooth surface – such as mobile phone glass or a touchscreen ticket terminal at an airport – for up to 28 days.
By partnering with Kastus, Lenovo’s OEM customers will have access to a proven solution to help protect end-users of essential touchscreen appliances – from ATM machines to cinema ticket terminals to handheld inventory management devices in factories – against harmful bacteria and viruses, including coronavirus.
Lenovo sees the light
Kastus’s pioneering protective coating technology is light-activated, so its power source never depletes. That enables it to provide continuous protection for shared surface users in an environmentally friendly way and one to which bacteria and viruses cannot build resistance.
Kastus’s patented coating uses ambient moisture and light as a fuel source to generate oxygen radicals, a type of unstable molecule that contains oxygen, which attaches to bacteria and viruses and works to kill them.
Its coatings have been proven effective in blocking up to 99.99 per cent of surface bacteria and fungi including antibiotic-resistant superbugs such as MRSA and E. coli.
Kastus’s light-activated – or photocatalytic – technology, is supported by 44 global patents and has been at the forefront of antiviral and antimicrobial surface protection since 2014, offering the ultimate ‘always-on’ protection for touchscreen devices.
Kastus’s factory-applied coating technology is sprayed on and sintered on to a product during the manufacturing process, forming an extremely durable immobilised thin coating.
As the Lenovo partnership shows, it offers solutions for both new screen devices and tempered glass screen protectors which can easily be applied to retrofit and protect existing commercial screens already in use.
Lenovo will provide Kastus’s screens and screen protectors for both its own devices and those of its industry partners, presenting a significant addressable market.
After all, any screen can be protected, from laptops to self-service restaurant kiosks to medical devices, ensuring the safety of both a businesses’ consumers and its colleagues.
Antimicrobial coatings are a critical tool in the current environment to help give consumers enhanced levels of protection when using shared touch screens.
The Lenovo partnership comes at a time when concern about exposure to surface bacteria and viruses, as a result of interactions on shared touch surfaces, is at an all-time high.
Kastus has you covered
As Lenovo builds its OEM business, it looks for key partnerships that complement its own technology and adds significant value for its customers as they build their solutions, explains Craig Arold, COO Lenovo OEM.
“Kastus technology is a great example of first-in-class innovation that meets a critical need in the market. By providing antiviral and antimicrobial capability, our partnership with Kastus will set the pace in helping make touch-screen solutions safer in the market,” explains Arold.
The team at Kastus is thrilled to be partnering with Lenovo too, as “one of the most significant and innovative providers of IT equipment on the planet,” according to John Browne, CEO of Kastus.
“By using Kastus screens Lenovo customers will add their devices to the millions already protected by Kastus, allowing consumers, colleagues and families to confidently interact with the touchscreens that have become so integral to work and leisure,” says Browne.
“With consumer awareness and demands around enhanced touchscreen protection growing, we look forward to working with the Lenovo team to bring the always-on benefits of the Kastus protective technology to a wider global audience.”
Coating the world
Founded in 2014, Kastus’s globally patented range of ‘always on’ antiviral and antimicrobial surface coatings are designed to protect both glass and ceramic surfaces.
They are proven to global ISO and ASTM lab test standards to protect coated surfaces against harmful bacteria, everyday tough viruses such as Influenza A & Hep A and, more recently, human coronavirus.
In June 2020 Kastus was awarded a significant European Commission grant to help combat the Covid-19 pandemic and support recovery in Europe. Today it is partnering with a host of global brands, including Lenovo, enabling them to add enhanced protection to their commercial and personal use touchscreen portfolio.
The applications are enormous – literally
Kastus’ coatings include solutions for both finished products – such as screen protectors for existing screens – as well as coatings for use in the manufacturing processes of all types of new products. They are effective not just on glass but ceramics too.
Their efficacy had already resulted in partnerships prior to that with Lenovo, such as with Zagg, a leading US producer of screen protectors for tablets and smartphones, as well as Omani-based tile company Al Maha Ceramics, which has reach in markets across Asia and Africa.
Kastus is working with floor tile makers for tiles designed for use in residential, commercial, and healthcare settings and, John Browne predicts, Kastus’s coating technology will, in time, most likely become mandated as a standard finish under national building regulations.
Given the lessons learned during the current pandemic about human health and the need to manage shared surfaces of all kinds, very many manufacturers are likely to follow Lenovo’s lead.
To find out how Kastus can add value to your products visit www.kastus.com
Irish companies are carving out a reputation for technical excellence and the development of innovative solutions in the rapidly growing $300 billion global space technology market. At present, more than 70 of these companies are engaged in projects with the European Space Agency (ESA) on a diverse range of areas including structures, materials, microelectronics, photonics, telecommunications, radio systems, and life sciences.
ESA is the primary gateway to this exacting but highly lucrative market for Irish firms, according to Enterprise Ireland Programme Manager Tony McDonald. “ESA is the only agency we have access to in Ireland that can qualify products for use in space,” he points out. “You can go anywhere with that verification. It’s a very specific quality mark that gives a product credibility. It is recognised by NASA for its technology readiness level scale, so it allows Irish companies to sell their products there as well.”
Ireland is a member of ESA, with the government here contributing €20 million to the agency each year. “The 22 member states contribute €6 billion to the ESA budget each year and it uses that to place contracts with industry to develop technologies for the space programme,” says McDonald.
But the prize on offer to Irish companies goes far beyond those contracts. “If you can develop something that works in space, it means it is very good and extremely reliable,” McDonald explains.
“It helps position the company in other markets which demand high levels of performance and reliability. When it comes to reliability, the product has to be zero failure. That makes it very expensive to develop and it may be too expensive for other market verticals. But the automotive sector is now looking for the same reliability. The guidance systems for autonomous vehicles have to be zero failure. A key part of the strategy for Irish companies succeeding in space is to have transferability to other markets.”
Ubotica is one of those Irish companies which is blazing a trail in the space market. The firm is bringing artificial intelligence to satellites to make them far more efficient in how they process images and send them back to Earth.
The company has combined AI and edge computing capabilities to the Myriad 2 vision processing chip designed by Irish company Movidius. In short, this allows the chip to interpret images in space and decide which ones are worth sending back to Earth.
The current application, which is running on the recently launched PhiSat Earth observation satellite, is for cloud detection. “It detects when there is cloud in an image,” says Aubrey Dunne, Ubotica co-founder and Vice President Engineering. “At present, Earth observation satellites gather data and then downlink it to the ground station when they are overhead. About 66pc of the world is covered in cloud at any one time. This means the majority of the images downlinked will have to be thrown away and downlink time is very expensive. By detecting the clouds before the downlink, the time can be optimised, with only usable data sent.”
Connections between the thousands of satellites being put into low Earth orbit by internet and cloud technology companies like SpaceX, Amazon and Viasat is the business of Galway-based mBryonics. The company has pioneered the development photonic integrated circuits (PICs) which use light to transmit data wirelessly and at the ultra-high speeds required by these new networks.
“We have to deliver terabit capacity at very low power and the cost has to come down by an order of magnitude as well,” says mBryonics CEO John Mackey.
“Data has to be routed from satellite to satellite in the network and between the ground stations. The switching speed has to be incredibly fast. If you are connecting from Ireland to the US through the network in most efficient way, the connection has to be made within one trillionth of a second, with the system deciding on how to do that autonomously. With our PICs we can put all the systems required to do that onto a chip no bigger than a fingernail. They have many advantages for space, including low weight and low power consumption and they offer viable pathways to producing high volumes at low cost.”
Another innovative Irish company making inroads in space is Lios, formerly known as Restored Hearing, which is using its revolutionary SoundBounce acoustic material to protect the interiors of launch vehicles from the extreme noise and vibrations encountered on the journey into orbit.
“The most exciting part of that is the nose cone,” says Lios CEO Rhona Togher. “We help the contents of the vehicle get into space safely unharmed by the rough journey.”
The SoundBounce material is up to three times thinner and 1,000 times more effective than traditional solutions. “It is a lot lighter and smaller than the one currently being used,” she adds. “That will enable the mass of the vehicle to be reduced and allow the companies to put a lot more stuff up there. Success in the space sector will open up opportunities for us in other industry sectors like the automotive and aerospace sectors. We can now say our product is qualified to a much higher level than they normally look for. That will break down a lot of barriers to entry to those markets.”
The number of new Irish companies engaging with ESA developing technologies for the space market has doubled over the past year.
According to McDonald, “We have seen a flowering of companies in the area. There are a few factors at play. The market is changing and becoming more commercial and we are seeing the concept of new space. The market is moving away from a top-down structure led by states and state-run bodies to a bottom-up one led by commercial organisations. It’s really exciting to see the number of start-ups in Ireland engaging with space. They are springing up with new technologies which are being adopted pretty quickly. The capability of Irish companies in this market is really something to see.”
Founded in 2011, Gavin & Doherty Geosolutions (GDG) is a civil engineering consultancy with specialist geotechnical skills. GDG provides innovative solutions to clients around the world, principally in the offshore wind sector. The firm’s geotechnical engineers provide a range of services to both the domestic and international markets in areas spanning concept design, detailed design, in-situ monitoring and general geotechnical advice.
GDG is currently working on offshore wind projects in Ireland, the UK, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines and is targeting the US for further growth. The company is ideally positioned to take advantage of the rapid growth in the Irish offshore wind sector which is anticipated in the coming decade as a result of regulatory changes and the implementation of the National Climate Action Plan.
GDG began life in industry-funded research into the technical problems faced by offshore wind projects being carried out in University College Dublin (UCD). This grew into a consultancy business for the lead researchers and eventually to the establishment of GDG.
In 2012 GDG decided to expand its business internationally; this led to the firm winning contracts in countries as diverse as Canada, Myanmar, Tunisia, Germany, and Belgium.
The net result was a portfolio of very high-quality reference projects which provided the base on which to expand the engineering team to enable the company to take on more work. By 2014, the Irish economy was in full recovery and GDG began to win contracts in its home market as well. Today, GDG has 90 staff, with plans to increase that to 100 in the near future. The company’s office network has grown to span Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Edinburgh, London and Bath, with plans in place to expand into Japan, South Korea and the East Coast of the US once Covid-19 travel restrictions are lifted.
The company’s work profile has changed over the years. “We do a lot of work in the heavy engineering and onshore renewables sectors, but 65% of our work is offshore wind,” says Doherty. “We are now working on projects in Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan and we are looking at opportunities in other markets like the US.”
The services provided are very high-end technical solutions, including geotechnical data interpretation, site identification, site assessment, site investigations, cable route design, seabed stability assessments, and anchor design for tethered structures. The aim is to stay with projects from design through to construction and commissioning.
As the Irish offshore wind market is gaining momentum, GDG is keen to assist in the selection of the most suitable sites for development as well as the engineering of those sites in the most efficient and innovative manner.
A key driver behind that momentum is the Marine Planning and Development Management (MPDM) Bill. The previous maritime consent regime was complex and unwieldy and held back offshore wind development in Ireland. The MPDM seeks to establish in law a new regime for the maritime area which will replace existing state development consent regime. It is intended to streamline procedure on the basis of a single consent principle.
It is believed that the MPDM will greatly improve conditions for offshore wind development. A number of projects are in the process of transitioning from the old Foreshore Act to the new regime. They will get special treatment, and be able to move ahead quite quickly, and there will be a steady stream of projects for the next 25 years.
As the only indigenous Irish consultancy with a decade of experience on offshore wind projects worldwide, GDG is well placed to prosper in that market. The company also has extensive experience of dealing with various Irish stakeholders such as the ports, coastal communities, the fishing community and statutory bodies.
The company’s largest markets will remain overseas. “For the next decade, our biggest markets will probably still be in Asia in countries like South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, and the Philippines. The US will also be a major market for us,” says Doherty.
GDG has benefited from Enterprise Ireland support over the years. “That has been very helpful in allowing us to remain at the cutting edge of what we do. We have received a lot of support from the Agile Innovation Fund for our ongoing research and development work,” he concludes.
If you’d like to connect with innovative Irish companies, click here.
The traditional model of financial services is being overhauled, and foreign exchange is no exception. Between new regulations, digitalization and the rise of FinTech companies challenging banks, the banking market is almost unrecognizable from twenty or thirty years ago. This year we can expect to see a new range of changes & challenges as banks have only a few months left to adapt to the new Cross-Border Payments Regulation.
Since its inception, the European Union’s policy has been to minimise the borders between countries and ultimately create a true single market. The recently updated EU Cross-Border Payments regulation will mark another step in improving consumer access and understanding to cross-border payments. This regulation means that traditional banks are facing a significant change as to how they communicate with cardholders regarding foreign exchange. These changes bring significant challenges in their implementation.
Adapting to the new era in pricing transparency
The EU Cross-Border Payments Regulation will create a common approach for card issuers and acquirers to communicate the price of cross-border (FX) transactions to consumers. This will herald the introduction of a new era in pricing transparency on cross-border activity. Setting up systems to compare the bank’s own charges to the daily ECB reference rate will greatly increase consumer awareness of differing pricing points and the value available from different payments providers. However, at a time where new competitors, such as Revolut are increasing their presence and leading the way on foreign-exchange based innovation, banks need to respond to the competition that arises with this newfound transparency, while also ensuring compliance and managing legacy infrastructure.
As banks must now face both the introduction of these regulatory requirements and the impact these have on the consumer’s experience, several factors must be taken into consideration.
Consolidating methods of cross-border pricing strategies
A bank may have as many as eight cross-border payment pricing strategies across multiple lines of business, all of which need to be benchmarked to the latest ECB reference rate. requirements.
Complications from multiple back-office systems
Bank card products typically utilise a range of back-end systems (in-house, outsourced, debit, credit, etc.) and multiple card schemes (e.g. Visa, MasterCard, UnionPay International, Diners Club etc.). This variability complicates the ability to both provide a consistent experience to the cardholder and deliver comprehensive reporting to establish ongoing compliance with the requirements to regulators across all of their products.
Delivering a consistent customer experience is seen as the major challenge for the 2021 deadline
The increased visibility brought to customers by this regulation will likely create queries and confusion where pricing varies by product, by currency & by day and will give cardholders pricing information that is directly comparable to competitor propositions. This will result in consumers changing behaviour by taking more active decisions around how to spend in a different currency.
Each consideration above represents a challenge for banks, card issuers and acquirers to address in a relatively limited timeframe. Cambrist’s product is designed to support all phases of the EU cross-border payment regulation as defined by both the 2020 and 2021 mandates, to make the implementation as effective & efficient as possible.
In Sweden, Cambrist’s products have ensured that Länsförsäkringar Bank AB has already complied with EU Cross-Border Payments Regulation requirements. Now, Cambrist’s aspiration is to support more Nordic issuers in becoming leaders the new era of pricing transparency.
For information on other suppliers active in the Nordic region please reach out to the Enterprise Ireland Nordics team
The Nordics are quickly becoming a global data hub. Known for innovation across all sectors, from FinTech solutions to life science technologies, it’s no surprise that data centres have been attracted to the technologically advanced region. However, as with any innovation, collaboration and learning from other’s work is the key to success. What may surprise you about the Nordic Data Centre industry, is that many Irish companies have been heavily involved in its construction.
The Nordic region has become very attractive for all the Data Centre providers with a lot of work being done both at local and Government level to attract and support Hyper-scale Data Centre providers to set up here. Local regions receive a wide range of benefits from these projects, such as employment –both during Data Centre construction and afterwards – or even capturing the excess heat generated by the data centres and using it to heat local buildings, thus reducing costs for people living in the area.
For Data Centre providers, the availability of stable power – priced reasonably – coupled with excellent internet connectivity makes setting up a Data Centre in Sweden an attractive opportunity. Another determining factor is the Swedish climate, which lends itself to free cooling of the Data Centres all year round thus negating the need for expensive chillers.
How Irish companies became leading experts in building data centres
Ireland was one of the first data centre hubs for many of the world’s technology giants, including Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and have quickly become leaders in Data Centre projects. The experience Irish contractors, construction services and engineering companies have gained has been one of Ireland’s key exports to the Nordics as well as the UK, Europe, North America, and the Middle East.
Collen Construction has been involved in several of these projects and has vast experience in owner-occupied, hyperscale data centres, that prioritise sustainable energy, low energy consumption and intelligent systems in their design and build process. But who are the people behind the Swedish operation?
Collen Construction is an 8th generation family-owned construction company, celebrating 210 years in business this year. Over the years, Collen has continued to adapt and is now a leader in the Data Centre sector internationally. Collen has vast experience in Ireland in delivering many types of complex projects from Data Centres to Medical facilities.
The man behind the Swedish operations
In Europe Collen has been delivering Hyperscale Data Centres since 2013. In 2016 Thomas O’Connor, Collen’s European Director, moved to Sweden to work on local Data Centre projects:
“When we were awarded our first major project in Sweden it was felt that the best way to support the project was for me to fully relocate to Sweden. So, my wife and I moved and have loved the experience, the people, and the lifestyle.”
Thomas was struck by the differences & similarities between Swedish and Irish culture. He saw immediately how important work-life balance is in Sweden and how it is something that anyone who works in Sweden must learn to adapt to.
“A lot of the time in our Industry, it is work first and family second, but Sweden has mastered the balance between the two – and family is most definitely first. This is something we are trying to rectify across the industry by using a well-being approach to our work-life balance, but this will take time.”
Thomas’ move to Sweden ensured the best support possible for their clients and helped Collen successfully complete the first two projects and win a third and indeed fourth project. Thomas’s time in Sweden really showed him the importance of understanding the market and supply chain when taking on projects overseas. Even simply understanding that Sweden shuts down for the entire month of July was vital knowledge when working on local projects. By being based in Sweden and working with local experts, such as Enterprise Ireland, Thomas was able to build relationships with people within the supply chain of Data Centre projects in advance.
“Doing business in the Nordics has had a positive effect on our business insofar as we have learnt to adapt to different ways of carrying out our day to day business and incorporate other cultures.”
The importance of partnering up with local expertise
Part of Collen’s policy is to partner with as much local expertise as possible and their clients have seen the value this brings into the projects. Thomas explains that Collen continues to build relationships with as many members of the Nordic Data Centre supply chain as possible. Collen are by no means a contractual or adversarial company. Collen prides themselves in their ability to build strong relationships with all their clients which lends itself to lasting relationships. As a family company, Collen understands the importance of partnerships.
Collen hope to grow its market share of the Data Centre projects going forward and to expand across the Nordics in terms of support for Data Centre providers. By combining local knowledge and connections with Collen’s experience of working on Data Centres in Ireland, they can ensure their client base deploy successfully in Sweden.
For information on other suppliers active in the Nordic region please reach out to the Enterprise Ireland Nordics team
Bookings slowly increasing as vaccine wait continues, but international standards needed to get things moving properly
“What’s happened to the industry is just… horrible,” says Máire P. Walsh with a shake of the head. “On every level, nobody in the travel business has ever seen anything like it.”
It has indeed been tough. An immediate wave of cancellations hammered cash reserves across the sector, with travel restrictions prolonging the fear factor and hampering recovery. Six months on, where does the industry stand?
“Although the numbers still don’t look good, they are better than they were six months ago, with airlines and hotels reporting an increase in its US bookings,” says Máire P. Walsh, SVP of Digital Technologies with Enterprise Ireland. “At the Skift Global Forum, we heard Arne Sorenson (CEO of Marriott) report that their US bookings have improved from 10% of normal in March, back up to 35%.
“Delta Airlines is also coming back, mainly on foot of domestic travel,” says Walsh. “They are at 50% compared to this time last year and while that sounds bad, when you look at the wider context it does represent progress. There are reasons to be optimistic.”
She points to China, which “has a good story to tell” and where life is all but back to normal, with a QR code system allowing people to display their health status and go about their daily business. (“Bear in mind this is China, where Government has greater, and not always wanted, control,” she notes.)
“Marriott in China is back up to 90% in terms of bookings,” says Walsh. “Leisure was the first to come back, followed by business and now events, and that will largely be the case everywhere. Domestic air travel has now surpassed 2019 numbers.
“But international travel is at a standstill,” she says. “And that’s not going to improve until we have a global set of standards, with consensus over things like restrictions and quarantine. Different countries are doing different things and that uncertainty is holding back on international recovery.”
Walsh, one of the leading voices in travel tech, says that testing can help to get things moving.
“Absolutely it can, and we’re seeing that already,” she says. “Recently, San Francisco Airport (SFO) started rapid testing passengers on United flights to Hawaii, you can take a rapid test in SFO before your flight to Hawaii and bypass quarantine requirements, if you’re negative. United experienced a surge in demand and testing was oversubscribed. For the first three days, 18,000 people flew from SFO to Hawaii—a huge vote of confidence and an indication that it will work for longer distance international flights. Lufthansa is also set to begin testing and Emirates has been testing since April. Alitalia has two flights every day from Rome to Milan that will be strictly reserved for passengers who have tested negative for Covid-19 in the past 72 hours. This will become a new standard as we move forward and it will help drive confidence and recovery.
Even with increased testing, many people may simply be afraid to return to flying. How is consumer sentiment?
“We’ve seen two very encouraging pieces of research on that front,” Walsh says. “Southwest Airlines surveyed passengers and found that 50% of them ‘intended’ to fly. They followed up and found that, of the 50% that did take a flight, 80% of them said they would fly again. So, the appetite is there.
“There’s also been a study by Harvard that’s interesting,” she says. “They discovered that between HEPA filters [High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters; standard equipment on most commercial aircraft] and mask compliance, there’s only a 1% chance of contracting the virus on a plane.
“It’s promising,” she adds. “But I think most senior industry people would agree that, apart from a vaccine, a uniform set of guidelines is how travel is going to properly restart.”
Going forward, rapid testing, biometrics and contactless technology, and even an immunity passport will ensure a very different travel experience: flights just for people who have tested negative for Covid-19, fewer touchpoints, less human interaction, a more seamless experience. Here, Irish innovation is playing a leading role with airports, airlines and hotels.
“When we do come out the other side of this, travel as we have known it will be transformed due to innovation and the renewed drive and need for stakeholders to test new technologies,” says Walsh.
“We’re lucky in Ireland to have a thriving portfolio of companies with solutions to rebuild travel,” she goes on. Let’sGetChecked is a rapid PCR testing solution that was selected by American Airlines to restart their demand to Hawaii and The Caribbean. They have on average a 48 hour turnaround time and the test can be done at home or at the airport, all with FDA approval and an end-to-end solution.
“Daon just launched a really exciting partnership with Denver International Airport to reduce passengers’ anxieties about social distancing at the airport. VeriFLY allows passengers to make a reservation to access a dedicated TSA screening lane and a reserved limited-capacity train car to the concourse. Then we continue to build out this partnership to take advantage of their position as a leader in biometric and contactless technology.
“Another great example of Irish tech is the hygiene and accessibility solution from Mobility Mojo, which is now being used by Virgin Hotels,” says Walsh. “Richard Branson actually dedicated a LinkedIn post to how their solutions are helping to restore traveller confidence… a huge feather in their cap. Other companies like P3 Hotel Software are offering an interconnected and seamless online guest journey. This ensures an experience with limited or no interaction if desired by the traveller”.
Some of Enterprise Ireland’s most promising start-ups – as well as more established brands such as CarTrawler and Datalex – took part in the (virtual) World Aviation Festival recently, offering a glimpse of what we can expect from the of future travel.
“There was VRAI, a really interesting company that specializes virtual and augmented reality,” says Walsh. “VRAI already ran a successful test with IAG Cargo but their sweet spot is remotely verifying training, which is not only safer but can help airlines reduce costs.
“We also had Urban Fox, which is helping companies to deal with synthetic fraud,” she says. “And there’s the whole area of customer care where firms like Cation Consulting and EdgeTier are using AI, machine learning and human power to help brands engage with customers at the right time through the right channel.”
Other Enterprise Ireland clients that were selected to take part include Noa, which translates written journalism into audio formats, as well as Coras and TripAdmit, both events-based ticketing firms.
“Now is the time for travel brands to look for ways to create additional revenue streams, particularly through new forms of ancillary like entertainment and ticketing,” says Walsh. “Travel will return, and operators need to be planning for the future.”
In terms of a recovery timeframe, she is understandably circumspect.
“It’s a tough one. IATA (International Air Transport Association) is projecting that we’ll be back to 2019 levels in 2024,” she says. “I think we’re going to see a number of jumps in demand and even further innovations that will hopefully get us back where we were.
“We’re all waiting for science to make the primary breakthrough,” she goes on. “In the meantime, once people take that first trip and see for themselves how brands are innovating to protect their customers, I think the reassurance will start to come back.
“Travel is a lot safer than many things people around the world are continuing to do,” says Walsh. “And technology is working overtime to help make it even safer.”
To learn more about Irish travel tech innovators contact Maire.Walsh@enterprise-ireland.com.
One in every two Irish cows consumes at least one of the products supplied by Cork-based animal nutrition producer, Nutribio.
It’s fair to say its track record is proven after decades in the market. So when Nutribio decided to tap into the global rise of the dairy milk pool by exploring new markets, it found fertile ground when it decided to tap into East Africa.
Kenya may be as far removed from Kerry or Kilkenny as can be imagined but for dairy farmers of all hues, their concerns are universal – to keep a herd healthy, and to get the best yield possible.
Dairy comprises some 4 per cent of Kenyan GDP and accounts for 14 per cent of total agricultural GDP so it was a natural target market for Cork-based Nutribio looking to break out from well-trod UK and EU markets to the likes of Pakistan and East Africa.
Formed as a joint venture by Glanbia and DairyGold more than 25 years ago, Nutribio produces animal nutrition products focussed on the dairy herd. Typical products include complementary feeds such as Crytopguard to help calves fight off cryptosporidium.
‘Our expertise in this area actually goes back to the 1970s,’ said CEO Donal O’Sullivan. ‘We started with Co-Operative Animal Health as an active animal medicine business and Nutribio was formed in the 90s.’
‘Around 50 per cent of Irish cows eat something from our product range so we have a deep understanding of the nutritional requirements of dairy cows,’ he added.
It’s given the firm a deep understanding of what works in animal nutrition and the allied animal medicine sector and, in parallel, a significant wealth of knowledge in the regulatory and compliance environment in which these products have to operate. Working in the EU has its own advantages, says O’Sullivan, because clients from outside of the Eurozone seek out Nutribio as a partner on market entry under its contract manufacturing arm.
‘It’s a mature market with a lot of red tape and we’ve been able to help customers redesign their products so their products are still compliant with EU regulations and can guide them on packaging and so forth. We’ll then go on to manufacture for them and that’s how some firms can springboard into the EU market which has been very useful to us.’
But while the EU and the UK was a sizeable market for Nutribio the lifting of EU milk quotas in the past decade spawn internal conversations on gaining business in new markets. It was then that the firm’s valuable relationships with clients and partners began to pay dividends.
Nutribio had a strong relationship with Norbrook, the Northern Irish animal veterinary pharmaceutical company, and this partnership was to prove pivotal to gaining access to Kenya in East Africa.
‘We looked at all the different geographies that were of interest, the likes of India, China, South America and so on, and Kenya figured strongly. Norbrook were already in the capital, Nairobi and as a small company, we felt a collaboration was the best way forward. You really need to know what works on the ground in a new market.
Nutribio had already availed of strategic business supports from Enterprise Ireland which would help the transition such as Innovation for Growth and Leadership for Growth.
‘These were brilliant, actually,’ said O’Sullivan. ‘Because they gave us the tools and common language within our organization to be able to tackle this market entry. It creates an internal company culture that is not only common to us and our own goals but translates to a recognisable vocabulary when dealing with partners and targets in our new market.’
It meant the firm, with Norbrook’s local knowledge, was able to start the long process in 2015 of preparing to go to market in Kenya and the wider East African region.
‘We did all the usual stuff,’ said O’Sullivan. ‘Market research, product testing, trials, feedback, working out if there was value, not just for us and our customer, but for all the partners in the chain. It looked good so we went to market.’
‘It’s never a one-size-fits-all and when you go to market in this way it’s not an instant prescription with a result; you have to think of these as a set of tools in your toolbox.’
The work on the ground in Kenya led to the firm developing milk booster Nutrilick to improve milk production. Nutrilick has successfully increased the daily yield per cow at a cost-effective return for the farmer, and, on average farmers achieved an increase of 2 litres per cow per day. This increase equates to approximately 600 litres more milk per cow per annum, a sizeable gain for the Kenyan farmer.
Entry was successful and O’Sullivan was taken aback by the appetite of the African dairy farmer’s willingness to engage with new technology.
‘There were, obviously, some different nutritional requirements but what struck me was the thirst for knowledge among the customers. They are direct and rigorous in their questioning and it can come as a bit of a shock but they really wanted to get to the heart of all the science and make sure we could back up our claims. It was refreshing.’
Mawalimu Lawrence Njuguna Munyua, a farmer from Kiambu County, said he saw returns within three months. ‘In that time fertility was super, all my animals came on heat, the high levels of energy in the block has given me 2-3 litres of milk extra. The product is extremely palatable and my animals look shiny and happy. I have also seen a reduction in the amount of concentrates I was using from 12kg to 5-6kg saving money while improving profit.”
By 2019, Nutribio was able to go to full launch into Kenya and the air miles for the senior management team and O’Sullivan was worth it.
‘People talk about shoe leather in the context of sales and, you know, its not a cliche to say that you’ll wear out your shoes doing all of this. But, you have to, really. The end result is worth it,’ he added.
And O’Sullivan is glad they acted when they did. When they set out on the route to the new market they had no idea that within less than 12 months of finally securing entry, Covid would strike.
‘For us, the hard miles had already been done, and we can Zoom or Microsoft Team-it with clients and partners now. But nothing beats face-to-face. It’s certainly unsettling times, but at least we know we’re all in the same boat. We can still service existing relationships but for us, as we grow, what about the start of the pipeline? What about new customers? New partners? That’s the challenge.
‘We’re going to have to adapt and we’re going to have to learn.’
Adapt and learn.
It could almost be Nutribio’s own company motto.
By Jack Callaghan, Senior Vice President (Digital Technology) Enterprise Ireland
Digital Transformation of the modern workplace remains a crucial factor in preserving company culture, staying competitive, and enhancing customer connection.
The Covid-19 health crisis has resulted in extreme changes throughout the workplace which will have a lasting impact on various issues including how teams collaborate and interact, what tools and resources are available and what methods organisations engage to connect with customers.
And while there is no doubt that the pandemic posed many challenges across every sector, the mass transition to a more digital workplace has provided businesses with a taste of some of the productivity gains which can be achieved by the adoption of modern workplace applications and future workplace practices.
In this article, we will delve into the future of the workplace, the primary drivers of digital transformation and the advantages of becoming an intelligent enterprise by investing in digital modern workplace solutions.
What is a Digital Modern Workplace?
The Digital Modern Workplace consists of digital processes and platforms which address the way organisational teams interact, drive insights, automate business processes, and sell effectively.
Every company’s digital workplace is customised by a toolbox of solutions chosen to best support their employees’ work practices, to preserve company culture, and also to strengthen their connection to the customer.
And the four key pillars which must be considered when organisations first implement their internal digital strategy are as follows:
- Collaboration: This refers to the tools, software applications and systems designed to promote workplace collaboration, workflow productivity, and the sharing of project and task related information across teams
- Automation: The processes which reduce the amount of time spent handling mundane and repetitive tasks which will free employees up to work on more creative briefs. Automation includes artificial intelligence solutions, robotic process automation, bots, and virtual assistants
- Sales Enablement: These are the solutions which support sales and marketing teams to engage customers more efficiently, sell more effectively, and keep connected
- Security: This is a major consideration when it comes to digital modern workplace applications, so it is vital to have adequate controls to protect the business
The marketplace for digital modern workplace applications has also undergone significant change. Most notably, the Cloud continues to redefine the channels which connect digital modern workplace solutions to end users by making solutions more accessible (i.e. multi-cloud services & commercial cloud marketplaces) and enabling more functional integrations across applications.
This means that the process of deploying workplace software solutions has been made easier for organisations, allowing them to become more agile and flexible with the types of technologies they have in use while simultaneously saving significant expense and time – something which is necessary to onboard and scale new technologies as they become available.
Key Drivers of Digital Modern Workplace
While Covid-19 has had a severe impact on industry across all sectors globally, it is also true to say that even without it, we were heading into one of the most defining half-decade periods for major changes to the workplace.
How businesses prioritize digital transformation after the current crisis will play a major role in their ability to compete in the not-so-distant future. And a long-existing driver of this transformation has come from how we are evolving socially. So while undoubtedly, digital transformation has been accelerated by the pandemic, it hasn’t actually been the primary driver.
Currently, millennials make up less than 50% of the workplace, but by 2025, 75% of the workforce will be made up by this age bracket – the majority of whom believe in having the option to work from anywhere and also to focus on working intelligently rather than harder.
So as more and more millennials take over decision making roles, the direction of the workplace will change to favour digital tools and processes which facilitate remote working, improve communication, and increase both accessibility to information and digital task management for teams.
Also, the next wave of disruptive technology will be another impacting factor. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will not only improve business efficiency, it will also reduce the number of mundane tasks employees are currently having to perform, freeing them to focus on more meaningful and creative briefs, and further speeding up the innovation cycle.
We have already seen early examples of workplace AI including chatbots, virtual assistants, intelligent analytics, and robotic process automation. But over the next five years, the reliance on solutions utilising AI will become much more instrumental in all competitive workplaces.
Lastly, as customer expectations continue to rise, so too does the need for businesses to embrace solutions which more effectively connect sales and marketing teams to meet the needs of the customers.
Digital workplace applications have opened more and more channels which connect organisations to customers, and they continue to transform how we approach sales, marketing, and customer experience. Commonly known examples may include Sales Force Automation (SFA) technology and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions, which improve selling efficiency by allowing organisations to collect huge amounts of highly useful data which will continue to have an impact on future selling strategies.
Ireland as a Hub for Digital Modern Workplace Solutions
Irish companies are at the forefront of innovation in the digital workplace and are well-positioned to compete globally as companies seek new solutions to support employees digitally, preserve culture, automate process, and connect with their customer.
And below is a snapshot of some of the Irish innovators aligned to Collaboration Tech, Workplace AI Solutions, Sales Enablement and Customer Experience.
Collaboration & Workflow Management Solutions
Teamwork is a work and project management tool which helps both in-house and remote teams to improve collaboration, visibility, accountability and ultimately end results. Founded in Cork in 2007, Teamwork has continued to expand globally and currently they have seven offices worldwide, serving over 22,000 customers in 184 countries.
Workvivo is an internal communication and employee engagement platform which has been designed to connect employees with the goals and values of their organisation, build a strong culture of recognition, and promote collaboration across teams. Workvivo serves as the primary intranet for many of its customers, with companies ranging in size from 200 people to 85,000 people globally. In February 2020 it announced the opening of its first overseas office in San Francisco, and shortly afterwards closed its series A round with Tiger Global Management and Frontline Ventures.
Poppulo is a global leader in employee communications technology offering pioneering software and expert advisory services to enable organisations to plan, target, publish, and measure the impact of their communications across multiple digital channels, all in one place.
Workplace AI Solutions
Boxever is a personalisation platform which uses data and AI to help the world’s biggest brands make every customer interaction smarter and deliver game-changing customer experience. Boxever’s platform capabilities include omnichannel personalisation, customer segmentation, customer journey automation, optimisation and testing, and also analytics.
Webio, the Conversational Middleware Company, is on a mission to automate the world’s business to consumer conversations. Webio has built an interface platform which enables enterprises to automatically conduct all its existing customer interactions over any messaging platform. It is channel agnostic and is a fantastic solution which links information and services APIs to deliver the conversational interface.
Channel Mechanics transforms channel offerings through their Cloud based channel enablement PRM Platform, allowing vendors to rapidly deploy programmes with precision targeting and have real-time visibility into ROI. Ultimately this creates competitive advantage as it enables sales ideas to be quickly transformed into targeted and focused offers giving partners the offer they need, when they need them and eliminating the old ‘Spay and Pray’ approach.
Solgari is the enterprise solution for organizations with demanding, multi-channel needs, who are looking to increase efficiency and effectiveness, meet all related compliance requirements, and to delight customers. Their solution has made a global impact and is being used in over 40 countries to-date, serving customers across financial services, fintech, retail, e-commerce and many more, all on a per user per month SaaS model.
Cybersecurity threats were growing long before the advent of Covid-19 but the migration to remote working has seen that risk grow, like the virus itself, exponentially.
For businesses, it has resulted in a crisis of existential proportions.
“Businesses worldwide are facing an increasing number of cybersecurity threats. Attacks are getting more sophisticated and their impact more severe,” says Matthijs Egger, Enterprise Ireland’s senior market advisor Benelux.
Research backs this up. A survey of more than 5,000 private and public sector organisations across the US, UK and Europe shows 61% of respondents had experienced a cyber-attack in 2019, up from 45% the previous year.
Studies from KPMG find 29% of CEOs now list cybersecurity as the issue having the biggest impact on their company. With good reason – technology company IBM suggests the average data breach in 2020 costs an organisation USD 3.86 million.
Few companies can afford to take such a hit and SMEs are hardest hit. According to the National Cyber-security Alliance, a US non-profit, 60% of small companies that suffer a breach are out of business within six months.
The situation is even graver now, with Covid exposing employers to unprecedented levels of cyber risk as staff work from home, often on their own devices and always on their home networks.
Ireland, the solution to cyber-risk
In today’s challenging environment, chief information security officers are turning to Ireland for cyber-security solutions. There are three very good reasons why. These are talent, innovation and trust, says Pat O’Grady Global Lead for Cyber-security at Enterprise Ireland.
“Ireland is a major global hub for cyber-security. It is home to more than 50 world-leading cyber-security companies, and, as a result, has become an international hotbed of cyber talent,” he explains.
This cyber-security strength is the result of what he calls the country’s “successful triple helix ecosystem” which is based on bringing business, academia and government together to collaborate on focused objectives.
In Ireland, establishing a world-class cyber-security cluster was one such objective.
It led to the formation of Cyber Ireland, an overarching body that brings together industry, academia and government to represent the needs of the cybersecurity ecosystem in Ireland, funded by Enterprise Ireland and industry.
Ireland’s education system helps too, providing second and third level training in computer science and cybersecurity. As well as dedicated cybersecurity degrees at graduate and postgraduate level, the subject is also embedded as a module in a wide range of other programmes.
Science Foundation Ireland, Ireland’s national foundation for investment in scientific and engineering research, funds cybersecurity research.
All this activity helped bring the top five security software companies in the world to Ireland, attracted by its status as an innovation hotspot with globally renowned deeptech clusters in fields such as machine learning, IoT and cloud technology.
“These areas complement a forward-looking cyber-security industry that is pioneering the use of AI to defend against the latest threats,” says O’Grady.
“R&D centres in Irish universities, and national research centres, are fuelling this innovation in areas such as data, machine-to-machine security, and cybercrime.”
Today more than 6,000 people work in Ireland’s cyber-security industry, a strong talent pool with a highly-skilled, multi-lingual workforce. The country is home to more than 40 multinational companies with cyber-security operations, and more than 60 indigenous cyber-security companies and startups. Exports in the sector grew 25% in 2019, an upward trend that is set to continue.
Trusted talent, trusted technologies
Ireland is also a deeply trusted country, with an international reputation for military neutrality and a respected track record in promoting international peace and cooperation, says O’Grady. That helped establish it as a leading destination for data hosting facilities in Europe.
“The most demanding global customers entrust Irish consulting, managed services and technology companies with their cyber-security,” he points out.
Right now, the world needs trusted solutions from trusted providers.
The Covid-driven rush to remote working means organisations are more vulnerable to cyber threats than ever before, a fact that has pushed cyber-security, for once and for all, out of IT departments and into boardrooms.
Organisations are now in a race against time to ensure devices are safe, that home WiFi connections are secure, and that employees are equipped to combat the risk of phishing and cyber-attacks.
“Cyber-criminals and hackers aren’t taking a break to let us all adjust, so more businesses are more vulnerable than ever,” warns O’Grady.
Reducing the threat of threats
They are turning to award-winning Irish companies such as Edgescan which provides vulnerability management and penetration testing globally. Its web application, network and cloud security solutions help cybersecurity teams reduce risk and cost for Enterprise and SME clients.
Demand is also growing at Siren Solutions developer of an investigative intelligence platform that sits on top of existing big data infrastructure.
Avoiding pandemic pandemonium
The pandemic forced companies to introduce remote work at speed. “From start-ups to SMEs and multinational corporations, companies across the board are facing an operational crunch,” says Egger.
While some made the transition with ease, others are struggling to cope with a lack of funds, clients, and possibly a reduced workforce too.
That’s a problem because research has already shown a high correlation between remote working and vulnerability to attacks.
According to Egger “the measures taken to ensure business continuity are often not assessed well enough against the associated cybersecurity risks, which is a problem because research has already shown a high correlation between remote working and vulnerability to attacks.’’
In one survey, taken since the start of the pandemic, 20% of respondents said they faced a security breach as a result of a remote worker.
An Irish firm that expertly addresses the issue of remote working is enterprise mobility expert CWSI, which helps organisations cope with the risk from ‘bring your own device’ work practices, ensuring businesses stay secure in a mobile-first world. It has clients across 38 countries. Another remote security specialist is Enterprise Ireland client company TitanHQ, which provides web and email filtering, as well as secure email archiving. It protects over 7,500 businesses from malware, ransomware, phishing, viruses, botnets and other cyber threats.
Coping with compliance
Compliance with new and various cyber-security regulations is a major challenge too, and one which must be faced at a time when many organisations are trying to weather the storm, drive revenue growth and keep costs down, points out Egger.
The regulatory burden can feel like a series of moving targets that are increasingly hard to hit but increasingly expensive to miss.
Here too Enterprise Ireland client companies have solutions to help.
Guardyoo delivers automated cyber-security audit services. Within a week it can determine if a company’s network has been compromised without its knowledge and establish if it is at risk from poor cyber practices or non-compliance.
Of course, the greatest cybersecurity risk to any company comes not from technology but from humans. As well as helping organisations to meet their compliance requirements, it helps them measure and improve employee cybersecurity behaviours and attitudes. It recently launched what it believes is the world’s most comprehensive security behaviour database, a brand-new tool for security professionals.
To find out more about the key cyber-security challenges facing organisations globally, and how Irish companies are helping to combat them, don’t miss Enterprise Ireland Cybersecurity Innovation Series (10 to 13 November).
Combilift’s innovative approach to developing customised solutions’ for companies has recently secured it significant new business in Poland, building on an already strong presence there.
Irish engineering firm Combilift is a world leader in the materials handling market, specialising in solutions for challenging situations such as long or awkward loads, or where space is limited.
The multi-award-winning company takes a bespoke approach to each customer, beginning by looking at the challenges they face and working closely with them to develop products that completely meet their specific needs.
Helping Pekabex increase productivity
Pekabex S.A. is the leading manufacturer of prefabricated structures in Poland producing traditional reinforced as well as modern pre-stressed elements. With four plants each producing different pre-cast concrete elements, the company was keen to increase productivity, improve workflow and reduce product damage. It turned to Combilift for a solution.
“Combilift’s concept is built around the efficient use of space. Our multi-directional and articulated technology can double the capacity of any warehouse – but with our bespoke service, you can tailor your Combilift for the performance and precision that you need,” explains Martin McVicar, co-founder and managing director of Combilift.
“After analysing Pekabex’s requirements we customised our Combi-SC and Combi-LC carriers to help the company meet its objectives.”
The Combi-SC is a straddle carrier that offers excellent manoeuvrability. Pekabex is now using a 50to Combi-SC in its Bielsko-Biala plant handling very heavy, long pre-cast concrete elements.
“The Combi-SC can be operated by remote control which maximises operator safety and still enables millimetre-precise and easy manoeuvrability. It is a low maintenance, flexible and cost-effective solution and, with a wide range of attachments, it is completely customizable to suit specific handling requirements.”
The Bielsko-Biala plant is also using a 60to Combi-LC handling 60m-long concrete elements.
“This Load Carrier is also operated by remote control and is equipped with a 360° turntable with a 0-axle function meaning the product will always be horizontal even if the floor is uneven.”
A special Combi-SC has also been customised for Pekabex’s plant in Gdansk where it is handling filigree slabs and wall elements. Further projects with the company are underway and will come to fruition later in the year.
The recent success in Poland has significantly contributed to Combilift’s target of doubling turnover every five years and looks set to accelerate the company’s growth.
Combilift employs more than 600 people at its purpose-built facility in Monaghan and its products can be found in over 85 countries. The company invests some 7% of revenue in research and development, putting innovation squarely at the heart of its business.
In the past 18 months alone Combilift has vbrought three new products to market but it has also applied its engineering expertise and ‘thinking outside the box’ approach to the Covid-19 crisis.
In response to the shortage of ventilators worldwide Combilift set up a project team and within five weeks had developed the Combi-Ventilate, a splitter device that turns one ventilator into multiple ventilator stations.
Developed in collaboration with Ireland’s public health service, the HSE, the device uses standard pipes and fittings for easy assembly. Its individual patient filters prevent cross-contamination and each patient has a dedicated digital screen which allows medical professionals to individually monitor their vital information.
“This is very much designed as an attachment which can be added to any brand of ventilator. It costs a fraction of a standard ventilator and can be installed very easily into an intensive care unit environment. This is a not-for-profit activity which we hope will open up more opportunities for Combilift in the medical device area in future,” says Martin McVicar, co-founder and managing director of Combilift.
Standing still during the lockdown earlier this year was neither an option nor a reality for XOCEAN. Remote teams dotted around the world came together to organise the logistics and operation of Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs) to complete projects.
Since 2017, ocean data collection company, XOCEAN, has grown rapidly and excelled in delivering expert solutions within specialised sectors. The Louth-based outfit offers a range of turnkey data collection services to surveyors, companies and agencies.
“We’re an ocean data company,” XOCEAN CEO, James Ives says. “We’ve developed unmanned technology and systems to collect different types of ocean data. Everything from mapping the seabed to inspecting subsea assets like cables and foundations for wind farms. We also collect environmental data for several sectors like offshore renewables, particularly offshore wind. And we operate globally.”
XOCEAN’s mission is to transform ocean data collection by bridging the knowledge gap that lies in 95% of the world’s oceans being unmapped. In doing so, they aim to support the sustainable and economic growth of our oceans. With goals like these, there’s no time to slow down, and the company has been busy fulfilling multiple projects for clients lately. They are supporting clients with asset integrity inspections, deep-sea sensor data transfer missions in the UK and Norway, and seabed mapping to improve nautical chart accuracy, safety, and marine environment understanding. Ives tells us they have also delivered projects in an area that he finds particularly exciting: offshore wind.
One such project involved remotely delivering and launching a USV to the sea off Suffolk to undertake survey work for the Greater Gabbard Offshore Wind Farm, a joint venture between SSE Renewables and innogy SE. The vessel carried out seabed surveys on multiple turbines at the 140-turbine wind farm, located 23 kilometres off the UK coast.
Ives believes that the use of unmanned systems holds three key advantages that will be even more relevant in a post-COVID world. “First of all, safety. If nobody needs to go offshore, that removes people from harm’s way. Second is carbon emissions. We generate about a 1,000th of the emissions of a conventional survey ship, and we offset all of those emissions. The data we collect is fully carbon neutral. Finally, we believe we can deliver the data at a lower cost.”
Offshore wind reaping the benefits of data experts
As an industry that requires vast amounts of data, offshore wind is an area where XOCEAN can offer real value. Throughout a typical offshore wind project, Ives tells us, ocean data collection and analysis is essential.
“Before an offshore wind farm is built, it needs many years of environmental data and detailed studies of the seabed to determine where to place foundations and cables. Then throughout construction, there’s a need for multiple surveys. After it’s built and is operational, there’s a 25-year period of maintaining those assets.”
Offshore wind is a crucial technology leading the charge in the face of an energy system undergoing rapid change. Globally, investment in the area quadrupled in the first half of 2020 as governments look towards sustainable futures and meeting international energy targets in an economically viable way.
“The offshore wind sector has transitioned from perhaps being a more expensive form of energy than traditional forms of fossil fuel generation, to become a hugely economic way of generating electricity at large volumes,” Ives says. The growth of the industry is a testament to this: Offshore wind is anticipated to grow from 22 Gigawatts (GW) in 2018 to 177 GW by 2030.
The Irish offshore wind potential
Ireland has the potential to power itself, surrounded by a resource yet to be fully harnessed. Irish companies are perfectly positioned to offer specialised services and capabilities such as IoT, robotics and wireless communications to the industry. Enterprise Ireland’s offshore wind industry cluster aims to empower Irish capabilities within the space, partnering to deliver global projects, and bring the expertise back to develop the domestic industry in Ireland.
Ives believes the Irish potential to become leaders in the field is strong. “Ireland is very fortunate that it has a lot of the ingredients needed for a very significant offshore wind market, particularly in the Irish Sea, where the water depths and wind resources are good. It’s an ideal place for very significant developments offshore.”
XOCEAN is building towards international success
Keeping cogs turning during a global pandemic is a sure sign of a bright future for XOCEAN. As well as having a keen eye on the offshore wind sector, Ives tells us that their focus is on fleet growth and entering new markets. “We’re working on the 10th and 11th vessels at the moment, and we continue to plan to build more units. We’re working further and further afield; in North America, throughout Europe, and we’re looking at several projects in the Asia Pacific region. We’re very excited about the future.”
Partnering with Enterprise Ireland
XOCEAN has maintained a close relationship with Enterprise Ireland since Ives flicked the switch in 2017. Through financial and market-entry supports, he says that the help they have received has been crucial and hopes to continue the relationship.
“We work very closely with Enterprise Ireland on a lot of activities, such as exhibitions and trade missions. And they’re very helpful for us in terms of introducing us to new clients in new markets. The international offices are fantastic at being able to provide that introductory service. We’re very grateful for the support we receive, and we look forward to continuing the relationship.”
XOCEAN is one of the 50 Irish companies currently involved with the EI offshore wind industry cluster, aiding in the development of expertise, the sharing of sector knowledge, and the introductions between new global partners.
“The Enterprise Ireland team is very focused on the offshore wind market. We’ve participated in offshore wind seminars, trade shows, and trade events. It’s an important market for Enterprise Ireland, and we agree. We feel that it has huge potential, so we would look forward to continuing that.”
Dublin based insurtech start-up Describe Data helps insurance underwriters develop a better understanding of risk, enabling them to price it properly and avoid the bad deals. “In the insurance industry there is a saying that there is no such thing as bad risk, just a bad price,” says Describe Data Chief Operating Officer Gerard de Vere.
The company uses data analytics to provide insights into financial lines risks such as directors and officers, employers practice liability, intellectual property, and mergers and acquisitions. “Our particular focus is on the directors and officers line,” says Chief Executive Michael Crawford. “This is insurance against companies being sued and provides protection for their directors and officers. Fifty per cent of the world market for that cover is in the US, due to the existence of class action suits there as well as the country’s highly litigious culture. We gather data on companies and their sectors and analyse it to help insurance underwriters assess the risks.”
This particular type of insurance is very specific to large corporations. “We are talking about very big risks,” Crawford adds. “The policies are being written by underwriters who analyse the risk in a qualitative way. We are putting in a quantitive overlay which helps them price the risk better and do it quicker.”
The insurance industry is not noted for its early embrace of technology, however. “That can be a challenge,” says Crawford. “The industry has been around for 300 years and it never really felt that it needed technology while there was still plenty of money to be made.”
But it couldn’t resist forever. “It has been happening in capital markets for the past 30 years,” says Crawford. “And we have seen technology and data analytics being applied to catastrophe insurance for quite a long time. A lot of those tools and techniques have matured and the cost of computational power has fallen through the floor. We now have access to computing power that would have been the preserve of large academic institutions or governments 15 years ago and we can deploy these advanced techniques and tools at an affordable cost. At the same time, open-source software has been developed that allows people to share the latest solutions. It’s been a perfect storm.”
The Describe Data product is a risk engine which produces insights across four levels. The first is the financial level where it gives financial information on the company and its sector. The next is litigation and the likelihood of lawsuits against the company or within the sector.
The risk evaluation level looks at what happens if different aspects of the risk are adjusted. “The underlying market for risk is highly sophisticated,” de Vere explains. “People in the industry trade bits of risk with each other all the time and it is possible to reduce exposure in this way.”
The final level is portfolio analysis. A company may have written hundreds of these policies and the system can slice and dice the portfolio to find risk hotspots. For example, companies in the same sector, or sectors with high levels of litigation, or companies with a poor track record, can be identified for the insurer either to increase premiums or cease cover at the next renewal date.
“It’s quite a dynamic market,” says de Vere. “We have met a lot of people in London who are very savvy at this sort of thing. They have an innate skill and are very good at it. We put technology in to make it better, quicker, stronger. We call it bionic underwriting.”
That emphasis on supporting the people in the industry is very important. “People come in with robotic process automation and try to say it will replace underwriters,” Crawford notes. “But you can’t replace 300 years of underwriting experience and the instincts and innate knowledge that comes with that. What we are offering is intelligent decision support tools which help people make better decisions faster.”
Crawford explains the value of these tools. “If a company takes 100 risks, four or five might claim. Three of those will be quite minor, one will be quite large, and one will be huge. We offer the ability to understand the risks and identify the bad ones. Avoiding the one with the very large claim can transform a portfolio from a margin of 5% or 6% to 20% or 25%.”
The company is now marketing the product following a delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. “We spent a couple of years developing the product after we started up in 2018,” says de Vere. “Towards the end of last year, we were looking for a large insurance company to partner with to take the product and prove it. We had a couple of promising leads and then the pandemic hit and the appetite for a pilot disappeared. We decided to double down and continue product development, and we completed that work during the lockdown. We now have a product ready to go to market and we are talking to a number of potential clients.”
Looking ahead, Crawford says the company will probably go to the market for a funding round next year. “We have been self-funded so far and will probably take on investment at the beginning of next year to sustain our growth. Enterprise Ireland has been amazing in helping us. We want to continue research and development and move into other lines of insurance. It’s a very interesting time to be doing this.”