Máire P. Walsh, SVP Digital Technologies at Enterprise Ireland, describes the big changes disrupting the future of travel tech this year.

As the travel industry moves through massive transformation, 2020 will be a year when the industry takes a giant step forward, as stakeholders get serious about innovation and firmly put the customer first. Here are my top five predications.


Rise of tech giants in travel

As Henry Harteveldt highlighted in Maximizing Revenue Across the Traveler’s Journey, a report commissioned by trade and innovation agency Enterprise Ireland, a large majority of customers are not satisfied with the travel booking process, as they feel they must shop across too many websites to find the travel services they want and need for their trip. Amazon and Google are two tech giants that could offer a customer-centric flow with all the trappings of personalized services and experiences.

Amazon is already testing travel sales in India through a partnership with Redbus, while Google continues to delve deeper into travel with their expanding suite of services to move customers from aspiration to action. It’s not unimaginable for either giant to firmly place a stake in the global travel market as the industry undergoes rapid transformation. The big question is do they do this through build, partner, or buy? One possible hindrance is the greater attention currently being paid to tech regulation.


Airbnb dives deeper into travel services

There is no doubt that 2020 will be a huge year for Airbnb with its projected IPO in Q3. While a successful IPO will dominate the headlines, so will their expansion into broader travel services including owning the sales funnel through offering flights and other services. Not only will this delight customers, it will demonstrate on their S1 filing that they are still innovating and thus drive broader appetite from the markets. Once they dive further into ancillary revenue opportunities, the company will witness explosive revenue growth and profitability. With the first two points, it will be interesting to see how OTAs – in particular Expedia and Booking – will innovate to drive loyalty and differentiation. One likely scenario is that one will get bought by a company eager to dominate in travel.

Máire P. Walsh, SVP Digital Technologies at Enterprise Ireland, describes the big changes disrupting the future of travel tech this year.

Máire P. Walsh, SVP Digital Technologies at Enterprise Ireland


Deep tech accelerates transformation

While it’s becoming more evident that stakeholders who innovate quickly are gaining more market share (for example, Delta Airlines), deep tech (AI, machine learning and deep learning) that can sit on legacy systems will help the industry further transform. Although it’s surprising to learn that even newer players in the industry have antiquated systems, it’s clear that many fail to innovate due to a fear of integrating these systems with new technology. The advent of companies who can bypass these systems makes it possible for stakeholders to finally take advantage of new core tech that will drive customer engagement, cost savings and profitability.


Ancillary everywhere

CarTrawler recently highlighted in their ancillary revenue yearbook that ancillary revenue has remade the business models of the global airline industry, representing 10.7% of all revenue. In 2020, it is time for other travel stakeholders to follow suit and take advantage of all the benefits ancillaries can offer. Not only will offering more products and services drive customer satisfaction, it could prove to be the mechanism for hotels and others to finally have tools in place to ensure they can drive direct bookings.


The customer finally becomes king

With so much competition and the ongoing threat of new entrants to the market, customers will finally reap the benefits of interactions vs. transactions. With heighted competition (expect more than just the above players to enter in a more significant way) and a race to earn customers and their loyalty, companies will need to innovate further around customer experiences. These experiences need to be more meaningful and encapsulate every stage of a trip from complimentary offerings, immediate customer service, fast-track services through loyalty programs, or otherwise. The companies that put the customer first, drive personalization, know what the customer wants before they know it themselves — truly be customer first — will ultimately win.

Enterprise Ireland hosts its annual Travel Tech Summit in Westport on 8th April 2020. To learn more about the event and express your interest in attending, email: Maire.Walsh@enterprise-ireland.com.



A version of this article was originally published in the Sunday Independent.


The future of the automotive industry is being written – and it’s being written in code. Software, rather than hardware, has become the focus of manufacturers as digital technology disrupts the status quo of the sector.

Under pressure over emissions and sustainability, manufacturers are focused on transitioning from the internal combustion engine to a future of connected, shared, autonomous and electric vehicles. Traditional supply chains are changing dramatically as new technology providers force manufacturers to rethink where value can be created and by whom.

To assess the level of opportunity this disruption offers OEMs and supply chain partners, Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, asked a panel of experts what they think lies on the road head.

Consumer trends in automotiveRethinking the car

Dr. Engelbert Wimmer, CEO and founder of German specialist automotive management consultancy and investment company E&Co (Entrepreneurs and Consultants), believes that traditional players will have to adapt and make room for the entrants from non-automotive backgrounds.

“We are reconsidering every piece of the traditional car,” Dr. Wimmer said. “That means a whole new supply chain because the concept and characteristics of a vehicle that you want to operate 90,000km a year on a shared mobility or on an autonomous platform will be completely different because the durability and ownership will be changing.

“This could be an ideal road for Ireland’s fantastic software capability because software will ultimately be the driver of all these new functions, and you need to have a tool chain that brings those software components together – integration, testing and then deploying and maintaining them in the field.”

“Every time you have a disruption of this size and with this technology scope, new entrants will have a super chance.”

Manufacturing intelligence

Hiren Desai, Head of Strategy and Innovation North America for Continental, believes that forming new partnerships with technology and software specialists is vital for OEMs (original equipment manufacturers).

Hiren said: “The supply chain is going to undergo disruption over the next 10 to 15 years significantly when it comes to software coming in and replacing all the hardware that companies are used to producing.

“Companies like Continental are experts in industrialisation, which essentially means manufacturing. Now, what we’re really talking about is having software factories able to produce intelligence, able to write code, able to produce artificial intelligence, that’s where it’s heading.”

Consumer trends in automotive

Barry Napier is the CEO of Cubic Telecom, an Irish company that provides global mobile connectivity solutions for automotive manufacturers including Audi, Skoda and Volkswagen. He said that changing consumer trends mean that manufacturers are focused on software that delivers technology, which is leading to a leaner supply chain.

“Increasingly when people are buying a car, they’re not asking what’s the horsepower and does it have a sunroof and air-conditioning? They want to know ‘is it connected and what’s the range I can get?’. The mindset has changed,” he explained.

Barry Napier, CEO, Cubic Telecom - Why the future of the automotive industry is being written in code

Barry Napier, CEO, Cubic Telecom

“Historically when you went to an OEM and you said to them, we want to do something, there was panic in their faces because they had to go and change the hardware and then there were multiple partners they had to talk to in order to do that.

“It’s easier to change software, so now they are looking to do as much as they can via software solutions, putting mainframe concepts into vehicles and then seeing how they can run that through the cloud. The mindset is there with the OEMs to make the car lighter, faster and doing it all via software.”

Driving the future

With two billion cars expected on the world’s roads by 2035, the need for more sustainable transport is greater than ever. The ability to develop innovative solutions that help OEMs meet the demands of consumers and regulators can help drive the future.

Irish companies are already providing applications for automotive OEMs in areas such as sensor technologies, motion and position control systems, artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud services, connectivity and cybersecurity.

Meanwhile, CAV Ireland is bringing together stakeholders from industry, academia, research, transport authorities and expert agencies including Enterprise Ireland to collaborate on opportunities in the connected and autonomous vehicle supply chain.

CAV Ireland’s members include Jaguar Land Rover, who has its Centre for Networked and Autonomous Vehicles in Shannon, and French vehicle technology giant Valeo, who has a large facility in Tuam in Galway, and there are even plans for the development of a future mobility campus near Shannon Airport where new technologies can be tested and proved.

Dr. Wimmer agreed that collaboration is the key: “It is not about one company producing all this,” he says. “It is about collaboration and partnership. The tool chain has many, many links that need to be linked together.”

From data collection to animal nutrition, a lot more is expected from farm machinery today. Lorcan Allen from the Irish Farmers Journal speaks to Robbie Walker and Matt Higgins from Keenan to learn how the company is adapting to modern farming.

When you talk of bundles or a bundle offering, the first thing that usually springs to mind is a sports and entertainment package, or the latest deal from a phone and internet provider. For one Irish farm machinery company, the bundled sale has always been at the core of how it does business with farmer customers. According to Matt Higgins, general manager of Carlow-based machinery manufacturer Keenan, the company has never just sold a steel machine to farmers. Instead, the company has sought to bundle services and nutrition advice with every sale.

Keenan has always been a concept sale. This goes right back to the 1980s, when we developed the Easy Feeder machine, which was the first of its kind in Europe,” says Higgins. “We began offering nutrition support and advice to farmers alongside this machine. So it was very much a bundled product from the very early days and this has continued right through to our InTouch technology today,” he adds.


In May 2016, the Keenan business was purchased by Alltech, the animal nutrition company privately owned by the Lyons family. Alltech’s acquisition of the business made sense as it brought a new level to the bundled offering that Keenan could sell to its customers.

According to Robbie Walker, chief executive of Keenan, there are four stages to the evolution of the Keenan business model.

“The first stage for Keenan was during the 1970s when the company sold an extremely well-engineered machine that farmers could rely on. The second stage for the company came in the 1980s, when Keenan began selling good nutritional advice alongside the machines,” says Walker.

“The third stage was combining the machine and the nutritional advice with digital technology. This gave the business much more control and improved our ability to offer advice to the farmer. Finally, the fourth stage for Keenan has been the acquisition by Alltech, which allowed us to combine the machine, the nutritional advice and digital technology with actual nutrition from Alltech,” he adds.

Looking at the wider industry, Walker says you can already see that manufacturers are needing to evolve their business model to offer customers a bundle of services alongside the physical machine.

“True innovation in a company is also about innovating your business model, which for Keenan is about combining the machine with digital and nutrition. That’s where I believe the future of Irish manufacturing is going. Irish manufacturers are going to need to bundle services along with their product in the future,” says Walker.

Keenan invests in R&D

Unsurprisingly, R&D and new product development are an important investment for Keenan. In 2017, the company announced it was appointing Michael Carbery as the its new head of innovation to focus on developing its R&D pipeline.

Keenan looks at its innovation pipeline from two sides: engineering and digital.

“On the engineering side, it’s vital we continue to innovate because any engineering company will not survive without innovation,” says Walker. “Farmers in technologically advanced countries like Germany and Denmark, where we have very strong sales, are starting to adopt robotics and technologically advanced ways of feeding. As a result, we’re having to imagine what the robotic future would look like,” he adds.

“We’re looking to collaborate with companies outside that have developed the technology we need and fast-track any new product development,” says Higgins.

“For example, the self-propelled feeder we launched in 2017 was a result of a collaboration with Storti, an Italian company. That collaboration allowed us to bring a proven product to market very quickly,” he adds.

On the digital side, it’s all about data, or more precisely, the analysis of data collected on farms. Keenan’s digital platform, InTouch, was first launched in 2015, and the company is now looking at the next stage for the software programme.

“InTouch recently went through the Pearse Lyons accelerator programme this year and that produced two new ideas for the platform,” says Walker. “This first is a second generation platform called InTouch 2.0, which is a software and hardware update for the InTouch system. The second idea is a new concept called InTouch Go, which will be an evolution of the current system,” he adds.

Lean at Keenan

Since acquiring the Keenan business in 2016, Alltech was quick to reaffirm its commitment to continuing manufacturing Keenan machines in Borris, Co. Carlow in Ireland. The company works with Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, to implement lean manufacturing principles across the business in order to improve efficiencies in the plant and eliminate waste.

“Lean is something that needs to be consistently worked on in a business. It’s about standardising what people are doing, reducing inventory levels and eliminating waste in your business,” says Higgins.

Interestingly, Keenan has begun to evolve its interpretation of lean principles to how it interacts with customers.

“Lean made a big impact on the Keenan business but it was initially done on just the manufacturing process. Now, we’re looking at the customer journey and inputs to the factory,” says Walker.

“That’s basically how we receive our orders from customers, how this information is then passed through to the factory and how we place orders for parts to meet the specifications of each machine. We’re evolving lean from the engineering process to include the customer experience,” he adds.


The growing focus on the carbon emissions produced from animal agriculture presents opportunities for companies like Keenan who are focussed on precision agriculture, or getting more from less. The company was recently carbon accredited by the Carbon Trust in the UK.

“Keenan machines are now recognised as a technology that can reduce carbon emissions on farms. This is certainly unique for a feeder wagon,” says Walker.

“Our technology can help farmers be more carbon efficient, meaning they can produce more milk for the same amount of feed or produce the same amount of milk but using less feed. And that includes our InTouch digital platform and our nutrition advice for animals. We’re taking a mechanical, digital and nutritional approach to reducing carbon emissions,” he adds.

At the Global Data Centre Forum, Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, brought international delegates together with local companies to uncover burgeoning opportunities in the country’s data centre sector.

The Irish construction sector continues to rise, propelled by blistering investment in the country’s data centre industry. In the decade ending in 2016, approximately €3 billion was invested in constructing data hosting facilities. In 2017, Host in Ireland, working with digital and energy research firm bitpower, calculated that an additional €3 billion would be invested by 2019, representing a 333% increase in annual investment. In the latest Host report for Q3 2019, per annum investment was revised upward to €1.3 billion for data centre build – an impressive acceleration.

A 2018 study of benefits delivered by the data centre industry estimated a contribution of €7.13 billion to the Irish economy since 2010. Based on a survey of industry players, it found that 93% expect to maintain or increase data centre investments over the coming decade. Measured as percentage of value add to the economy, Ireland’s ICT sector as a whole is the highest performer across developed countries, according to the latest OECD data, an important contributor to the country’s ongoing economic health, which has surprised those concerned about the Brexit impact.

What is the source of this vigour? And what accounts for Ireland’s ability to punch beyond its weight in the information technology sector?

At the Global Data Centre Forum, held in conjunction with the Data Centres Ireland trade show in Dublin, Enterprise Ireland brought delegates from the Canadian, US and European data centre industry together with Irish counterparts to explore this question – and the potential for new partnering opportunities in the space.

Irish data centre environment

A visit to Silicon Docks – the area around Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock that stretches to the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) special economic zone that was established in the late 1980s to stimulate economic development – tells part of the story.

The reference to California’s high-tech hub reflects the concentration of technology companies, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon, eBay, PayPal and Microsoft, present in the Docks area. Many of these hyperscalers have established European headquarters in Dublin and continue to expand data centre footprint in other regions of the country, while other centres such as Limerick and Cork host companies including Apple, EMC and Johnson Controls.

Other advantages that have attracted international organisations include a temperate climate that enables the energy efficiencies brought by free air cooling, relatively cheap real estate costs, a ready supply of educated, local workers to manage facilities, and a network of 11 submarine cables that connect Ireland to the US, and to other European countries, positioning Ireland as a data bridge between Europe and America.

This international investment has provided an important stimulus to the development of local Irish capability. As Stephen Hughes, department manager for construction at Enterprise Ireland, noted in his welcome to delegates at the Global Data Centre Forum, the speed of change in this sector has been rapid, and Ireland has “done well in building mission critical infrastructure, learning from international partners.”

According to Dermot Reidy, senior advisor for construction at Enterprise Ireland, advanced design capabilities mean that Irish general management and contracting companies are attracting orders in the range of €250,000 – €1 billion, the country having developed a niche in the construction of hyperscale and colocation facilities. Approximately 40% of global data is held in Ireland, Reidy claimed, in facilities designed and built in Ireland.

In a preview of the latest Host report, David McAuley, founder and CEO of bitpower, provided additional detail on the Irish data centre industry. In addition to Microsoft, AWS, and the hyperscalers noted above, Ireland is also home to several key colocation providers. CyrusOne, Digital Realty, Equinix and EdgeConneX, for example, have located data centres in the “Digital Isle.”

It is also host to several smaller enterprise facilities, such as telco data centres at ½ MW of power. According to McAuley, there are now 54 data centres in Ireland with 600 MW capacity: of these, approximately 75% are hyperscale facilities, 12% are colocation, and the remainder are smaller enterprise.

On the island, Dublin is the predominant data centre hub, with three clusters around the airport, the west and south west regions, which benefit from connectivity provided by the 44-kilometer T 50 fibre network that rings the city. Based on permit approvals, McAuley estimates that there are an additional 31 data centres in the planning phase, which will add an additional 1500 MW of capacity.

Powering growth

A precondition of this growth is adequate energy supply. National grid operator EirGrid has stated that data centres could account for 31% of Ireland’s total energy demand by 2027. According to a report by the Irish Academy of Engineering, a €9 billion investment in Ireland’s power networks and infrastructure will be needed between now and 2027 to cope with the data centre community’s energy demand – particularly in the greater Dublin area, which services hyperscale facilities operated by AWS, Microsoft and Google.

As concerns over Ireland’s ability to meet its carbon reduction targets increase, a growing requirement is for clean energy that can be accessed via the utility grid. While there are currently no plans to call on major data centre players to contribute to grid renewal, there is evidence that large international firms such as Google are investing in their own sustainability programs, which may include direct access to wind farm resources from data centres.

Beyond building new capacity, another approach to ensuring adequate and sustainable energy supply lies in consumption reduction. At the Data Centre Forum, InsightaaS led a panel of international thought leaders as they explored opportunities to drive sustainability in the data centre industry.

Ruairi Barnwell, energy services leader with the DLR Group, Anand Mohammed, data centre operations manager with Cologix, Lane Anderson, EVP, development and strategic procurement for QTS Data Centres, and Michael Cohen, director of strategy and development for APL France, responded to business objectives, best practices and metrics questions on key issues in data centre management, including:

  • Ruairi: How can carbon neutrality and climate action goals figure in data centre planning, and how are sustainability investments justified? Can data centre providers leverage sustainability to differentiate in competitive North American markets? What is a reliable, broadly accepted indicator of success – PUE or LEED?
  • Michael: The simple equation, greater efficiency = energy savings = environmental benefit, is no longer adequate to describe all data centre scenarios. What other approaches to sustainability must be considered, and given multiple environmental impacts, how is it possible to create a consistent, unified sustainability strategy? When there are multiple KPIs, how can these map to a lifecycle approach that unifies disparate metrics?
  • Anand: What are the ‘twin ecos’ in data centre operation? What techniques or activities deliver the best payback in terms of time saved, cost savings or carbon benefit? And how does the operator know he/she is on track to meet sustainability targets?
  • Lane: How do older facilities fit into sustainability objectives that may be developed for a large data centre fleet? How can pathways to sustainable operations – using renewable energy, for example – be extended across the portfolio? Is it possible to use the same sustainability metrics in greenfield and brownfield opportunities?

Building export capability

Design, construction and operational learnings have helped to drive data centre build on a local level, but also enabled the development of international delivery capability. According to Hughes, the result is two-way trade that now encompasses the delivery by Irish companies into North American markets.

Elaborating on this theme, another InsightaaS-led panel helped the international audience to understand how, where and why Irish data centre suppliers develop business relationships with international partners. Mark Gillet, senior director, mission critical at PM Group, John Coroner, executive director of Ethos Engineering, and David Byrne, bid director at Mercury – three firms active in the construction, engineering, and project management space – described how they help overseas businesses navigate the Irish and European markets.

Panelists described several different ways that their firms have helped North American firms to succeed in the EU. Byrne noted that “customers are looking for cookie-cutter replicas of data centres” built in other regions, but that local regulations and requirements may make this impossible; even within the EU, countries have different safety standards and other requirements that must be accommodated. Additionally, labour markets vary from country to country, and a knowledgeable partner can help guide offshore firms to the right sources of tradespeople. Local firms also have a detailed understanding of how to navigate GDPR requirements in Ireland and on the continent. Lastly, Gillet explained, local firms with deep roots have built trust in market that helps to “take the pain away” – by providing Irish expertise on permitting and other issues to global firms.

Irish providers

A key goal of the Forum was to introduce Irish businesses in the construction and data centre industries to international delegates, catalyzing the discussions that can underpin mutually beneficial partnerships. The diversity and breadth of companies in the Irish data centre supply chain represented at the Forum bode well for the development of these kinds of relationships. A not exhaustive sample of these 25 firms includes:

Wisetek participates in the circular economy through lifecycle management of IT infrastructure and secure data elimination for data centres and OEM clients. According to CEO Sean Sheehan, Wisetek has developed a staged approach to IT asset disposition: it begins with data cleansing, next seeks opportunities for the reuse of IT equipment, for repurposing IT components, and ultimately, if no other option is available, will provide recycle services. The company guarantees responsible recycle according to the R2 and e-Stewards global standards. Wisetek has adopted a unique business model, charging a fee for data cleansing and recycle services, but offering payment for reused equipment and a profit-sharing arrangement for repurposed components. The company works with all kinds of data centres, including hyperscalers such as Google, as well as manufacturers such as Dell and EMC. It engages in reverse logistics, and for onsite disposal maintains a fleet of six trucks in the US, which Sheehan has identified as the company’s biggest opportunity going forward. Wisetek maintains operations in Ireland, the US and Thailand.

Integrated Facilities Solutions is celebrating its twenty-year anniversary as provider of a cloud-based, secure data environment that clients may use to manage building information as assets cycle through planning, design, construction, handover and closeout, maintenance and operations. CEO Kieran Beggan described IFS services as “risk mitigation,” pointing to challenges that building projects (clients build public infrastructure, healthcare, and data centre facilities) may encounter when information is not handled properly or is simply unavailable. This issue is especially prevalent in handover and closeout, he explained. However, IFS can provide an “overall index” of documents that may include a works package, CE certification, redline drawings, training materials, as well as a safety folio that is required by regulators. IFS has helped many companies transition from paper to digital document management, and has developed its Asset Information Model – an easy access 3D BIM that provides multiple views into building documentation.

Hanley Energy – A consulting services firm, Hanley Energy covers the design, development, supply, installation and commission of turnkey critical power and energy management solutions. As head of global sales, Andrew Dobson explained: “Our value is developing solutions and our offering is about solving engineering issues in industrial manufacturing and data centre environments. We offer time, methodology, focus and skills.” Hanley Energy’s approach is total lifecycle – the company provides design, manufacture, installation and maintenance services to optimize capital costs and ensure uninterrupted power supply. “We’re not just a design house, we’re not just an electrical contractor, we’re not just an integrator,” he said. Rather, Hanley focuses on the creation of end-to-end solutions that serve as insurance policies, stretching from the power grid to the IT rack in data centre facilities. Hanley manufactures power management solutions, acting as a channel partner for several OEMs, many of these European companies looking to penetrate the North American market through Hanley’s integrated, preconfigured, modular power skid solutions. Preconfigured, these solutions simplify and speed implementation, while removing risk associated with human error, two key value propositions that address issues for customers across industries. With talent strength in industrial design, Hanley has translated much of its control switch gear and heavy consumption knowledge and expertise to the data centre world. Due to data growth, the hyperscale market is currently the more important one for Hanley.

Anord Mardix – One of Ireland’s largest and most successful data centre suppliers, Anord Mardix is a global provider of power distribution and protection equipment. Anord was a supplier of control systems based in Dundalk, which began focusing on mission critical systems in the mid-2000s. With support from a private equity backer, Anord acquired UK-based Mardix – at the time, Anord’s primary competitor – in 2018. The merged company has become a manufacturing powerhouse, with two plants in Ireland, six sites in the UK, and two others in Richmond, Virginia. Anord Mardix acts as an OEM, which the company feels makes it “a little more flexible in design and services” than some of its larger power distribution competitors. Its approach allows it to be agnostic with respect to components: Anord Mardix has worked, for example, with equipment from ABB and Eaton, responding to customer needs rather than imposing its own product specifications on integrated solutions. Anord Mardix provides skid and modular solutions, relying on offsite manufacturing and assembly to maintain high quality standards and meet demanding delivery deadlines.

GoContractor provides an innovative SaaS solution to the construction industry. Contractors struggle to ensure that all on-site workers are appropriately trained and certified, and often, critical hours are lost to on-site orientations, and compliance officers are unable to demonstrate that all job site workers have appropriate clearance for work with tools and materials. GoContractor provides a system to ensure that training, safety and compliance requirements are met in advance of the workday. GoContractor has two primary objectives. The first is to obtain and document information from workers. The GoContractor SaaS solution captures data provided by construction professionals: text fields that indicate experience, training and certification, backed by photos of training records. This information is consolidated in databases that flag exceptions: for example, a worker with an expiring credential on (for example) scaffolding will be notified that they need to update their credentials. If they fail to do so before the expiration date, the crew management will be alerted to the need to keep the worker off site until they re-certify. The second major objective is to deliver needed training before the worker arrives at a job site, and to track training delivery. This has two main benefits: it allows workers to save time and expand their personal opportunities, while enabling general contractors to demonstrate their compliance with applicable regulations. As might be expected in the diverse EU, GoContractor can accommodate multiple languages for information capture and training delivery, making it an ideal solution in environments – like the Irish/EU data centre industry – that require stringent attention to regulation and integration of a multinational, multilingual workforce.

RKD Architects has a deep heritage and focus in architecture. Founded in 1913, the company has seen more than a century’s worth of change in infrastructure requirements. With tight focus on architecture, RKD has a unique perspective on the mission-critical market. RKD promotes a “cradle to grave” design approach that is informed by (as the company website notes) “design principles relating to simplicity, sustainability, efficiency, aesthetics and innovation.” RKD has worked with clients in many countries, and on a wide range or major facilities. Projects include Microsoft and LinkedIn regional headquarters, projects for HP and PayPal, and university, biotech and data centre campuses.

The original version of this article was published by InsightaaS.

Michael O’Grady, business development manager at Abbey Machinery, tells Lorcan Allen from the Irish Farmers Journal how the company’s investments in R&D are helping farmers to meet environmental regulations and stay sustainable.

In 2016, Abbey Machinery opened its doors on a new purpose-built manufacturing facility that would set the company up for continued expansion over the coming years. Situated on a 30-acre site in Ireland’s County Tipperary, the 100,000 square foot facility represented a €10 million investment, a remarkable achievement for a family run business that has been manufacturing agricultural machinery for more than 70 years.

Today, the company is led by Clodagh Cavanagh, who is the fifth generation of the Cavanagh family to work in the agricultural machinery space. The Cavanagh family’s links to making agricultural machinery can be traced as far back as the 19th century.

Abbey Machinery’s investment in the manufacturing facility provided it with several new production lines but was also fitted with class leading manufacturing equipment, such as enhanced laser and plasma-cutting facilities, semi-automated robotic welding and a state-of-the-art sand blasting and paint plant. It also provided an extra 35% in warehouse capacity for Abbey’s Q Parts business, enabling increased levels of service to its global customer base.

The company’s product range is aimed to cater for the ‘total cow’, starting at the front of the cow where Abbey manufactures precision diet feeders, grass toppers and fertiliser spreaders.

For the back end of the cow, the company also produces a range of environmentally focused slurry spreading systems including tankers, muck spreaders and slurry agitators.

How Abbey Machinery stays lean

Building a new manufacturing facility allowed Abbey to intensify its focus on lean manufacturing. According to O’Grady, lean manufacturing techniques allow the company’s senior management team to critically analyse all areas of the business.

“Lean is at the core of what we do in Abbey. It has improved process flow, manufacturing time, production costs and overall manufacturing efficiencies in the business,” he says. “We’re now continuously measuring what we do in many areas of the business. If it’s not being measured, it cannot be managed,” he adds.

The longevity of Abbey Machinery is testament to its ability to remain relevant to its farmer customers but also its continued investment in developing new technologies for the farmer. Every year, the company sinks up to €0.5 million into research and development (R&D) work in order to have a continuous pipeline of new products.

Earlier this year at the FTMTA farm machinery show, Abbey showcased its new ‘Plus’ range of diet feeders, which are aimed at larger scale dairy and beef farmers, and have a capacity range of 24m3 to 30m3.

In 2017, the company launched a new door mounted band spreader, which can be retrofitted to existing slurry tankers. This new band spreader places the slurry directly onto the soil, which the company says reduces ammonia emissions, improves nitrogen retention and reduces odours during the application process.

Building strong relationships with local partners

With almost two thirds of sales coming from export markets, maintaining competitiveness in the international marketplace is essential for Abbey. The company first began exporting machinery to Northern Ireland and the UK over 30 years ago but has since developed markets in Scandinavia, Central Europe, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and South Africa.

When exploring opportunities in new markets, Abbey works closely with Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, to help to develop market entry strategies with the right local partners.

“We build strong relationships with the key players in markets by looking at local needs and establishing a footprint on the ground,” says O’Grady.

The company is seeing increased demand from farmers for precision feeding technology and low emission slurry applicators because of ever increasing environmental regulations and a drive to lower carbon emissions from farming.

“Our feeding systems can help reduce ammonia and methane emissions from the cow by mixing and chopping feed mixes in a way that allows the animal to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients from the feed, which minimises negative emissions,” says O’Grady.

“On the slurry side, our low emission slurry applicators can inject slurry into the soil and significantly reduce ammonia emissions. Recent trial work carried out earlier this year by Teagasc [the Irish agriculture and food development authority] highlighted a near 80% higher growth rate in grass from our vertical trailing shoe tanker versus a splash plate. This highlights a win-win for both the farmer and the environment,” he adds.

At a time when climate change is leading to major changes for farming in Europe, Abbey’s investment in developing its range of low emissions slurry applicators and diet feeders is almost certain to pay dividends in the years ahead as agricultural compliance rules and regulations evolve.

This article originally appeared in a special publication by the Irish Farmers Journal in partnership with Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency.

To successfully deploy CX technology, the contact centres sector must first perfect its processes.

The benefits of lean systems are highly applicable to contact centre operations, Alessandro Laureani, director support processes at Google Cloud, told an Enterprise Ireland Customer Experience (CX) event in Dublin.

Laureani’s presentation focused not on technology but on the overlooked process side of CX operations. Strong, clearly defined processes and standard operating procedures are fundamental to any contact centre; they are also the basis on which to build automation, delegates heard.

Fundamentals of effective contact centres

Over the course of a 20-year career, Laureani, a published author on the subject of Lean Six Sigma, has worked in B2C and B2B, and currently, on Google Cloud enterprise support.

While customers differ according to the stream, and the technology changes, the fundamentals of contact centre work remain the same – it’s about seeing a need and solving a problem.

A problem for call centre management is that “every week, someone is trying to sell you something,” he said, be that software or consultancy, AI or machine learning.

The call centre manager’s role is to keep “mental order”, staying focused on what he or she is actually trying to achieve in their organisation, and the customer success metrics they are responsible for.

Understanding the team’s priorities is vital, with clear standard operating procedures and processes the essential foundation.

Origins of lean

Although process improvements have been the subject of waxing and waning trends, Lean Six Sigma, which has its origins in post WWII Japan, has stood the test of time.

Often referred to simply as ‘continuous improvement’, its principles have never changed, even as it made the migration from manufacturing to services.

What is evident, however, is that lean processes are often looked to in times of recession, and neglected when times are good. In a downturn, “most companies are looking to save costs, so they say we need to optimise,” he said.

In fact, it’s a framework that should underpin a business regardless of economic cycles.

In order to allow continuous improvement, it’s important to first clearly identify and define the problems in need of improvement. The only way to do that is to establish current performance and measure it. If it falls short of where it needs to be, investigate the root causes and make the changes necessary to secure improvement.

Benefits of lean in the contact centre

When a lean culture is fully embedded in a contact centre, the small improvements that occur, when made at scale, by everyone in the organisation, are a powerful tool with which to drive operational efficiency.

Customer experience is at the core of contact centre operations. Key performance indicators typically include everything from sharing knowledge to reducing staff attrition rates. But the key is to improve the customer experience, he said.

Establishing the root cause for a customer to contact its contact centre is very important to his work at Google, because he uses feedback from it to inform product teams.

Agents are asked to categorise a complaint based on their knowledge as to what its actual root cause is. This process improvement can reduce staff attrition because it helps agents feel more empowered.

“Giving empowerment to your staff for being able to make some small changes to their work, in order to make some improvements, can really improve their satisfaction,” he said.

Contributing to progress in this way helps staff avoid feeling that simply do the same things – and handle the same complaints – day in, day out.

“The best service is no service,” he points out. “As a customer, I really hate to contact a call centre because it means there is a problem.”

Reducing the need for customer contact

It’s why so much of his work in recent years has been about spending more and more time trying to eliminate the need for the customer to contact his team at all.

“Very often, the frustration for us is that we are the last chain of our company. When people come to us they have a problem that 99% of the time has been created somewhere else. How can I provide structural feedback and make (that party) responsible and accountable to address that?” he asked.

Part of continuous improvement is also being proactive, not waiting for a problem to happen and customers to contact you but to proactively address it and inform customers in advance.

This, too, is about processes, not just technologies.

“How can our organisation make sales, or marketing, or any other team that we work with more accountable and share some of this experience? For me, the most productive, the biggest success we had in customer support, is when we manage to get that shared objective with our sales and marketing people, so that they know, ‘if the customer contact increase, it is going to be your problem as well’.”

When that happens, the result is typically less people calling you.

For successful automation, you first need a very clearly defined process and a specific process map that collects the voice of the customer, “so that if there is an issue, it is for all of the organisation, everyone is accountable.”

For sustained success, continuous improvement must be just that, continuous, he cautioned. Despite its proven effectiveness, in fact 70% of continuous improvement programmes ultimately fail. This is typically because, once out of recession, the impetus behind them wanes, personnel change and leadership priorities shift.

All of a sudden, management starts to chase the next big tech buzzword. “So, we really focus a lot of time on technology processes, the stuff that we see, but we don’t spend enough time on leadership and behaviour and that’s why we are basically making the same mistakes, just much faster now, thanks to technology.”

By all means introduce robotic process automation, he said, just make sure you have a good, documented process map first.

“Before you do anything, establish what you want to achieve. Is it operational efficiency, customer satisfaction, staff retention? Then decide what to do next, instead of just chasing the next product or trend.”

Lorcan Allen of the Irish Farmers Journal speaks to Dr. Sinéad Bleiel of AnaBio Technologies about how the company transforms cutting-edge research into global sales.

The pace of change in the global food industry has never been so fast. Food companies around the world must increasingly react to fast-changing consumer trends and disruptive new technologies.

Yet, at the heart of most trends in the food sector is consumer demand for improved nutrition and healthier food without compromising on taste. While the trend has presented headaches for some of the world’s largest food multinationals, it has created opportunities for new entrants and start-ups.

Ireland has produced its fair share of these start-ups, bringing new technologies to the global food industry. One example is AnaBio Technologies, a Cork-based start-up that is making waves in the precision nutrition space thanks to its innovative encapsulation technologies.

Dr. Sinéad Bleiel, founder and CEO of AnaBio, established the company in 2011 on the back of PhD research at Teagasc Moorepark and University College Cork (UCC), where she began using whey proteins derived from milk to encapsulate and protect probiotic bacteria.

In simple terms, Dr. Bleiel developed a technology that encapsulates nutrients, minerals, probiotics and other important ingredients, and can then protect them from high heat during food processing, degradation in storage and also from acids in the stomach or intestine after consumption.

“In essence, we take different proteins from milk and whey and use them as a protective coating for probiotics, amino acids and other nutrients. Think of it like a coated shell you see around certain sweets, or the multiple layers of an onion,” she says.

According to Dr. Bleiel, the major selling point of Anabio’s encapsulating technology is the functionality and stability it offers food manufacturers looking to add new ingredients to recipes, which can cause problems.

Coating an ingredient with Anabio’s encapsulating technology can stabilise the ingredient and make it more functional during processing. It can also help stabilise the shelf life of a product, as well as allowing the nutrient or probiotic in the food to pass through the human digestive system and be delivered to the gut. The company has also adapted its technology to be used in animal nutrition.

Standing start

From a standing start, the company has built an international customer base and has not looked back.

“We started exporting to international customers from the start. It was only after we established ourselves with these customers that several of the key players in the Irish food industry came on board,” says Dr. Bleiel.

“Our largest export market is the US followed by sales to the Gulf region. Our next largest export market is Europe, followed by Australia,” she adds.

In 2016, Anabio carried out a small round of fund raising where it received matched finance from Enterprise Ireland’s high potential start-up (HPSU) fund.

“If your company shows potential to employ more people and that it is set for export growth then Enterprise Ireland [the trade and innovation agency] will really have your back,” says Dr Bleiel. “Since we became a client of Enterprise Ireland we’ve received supports for marketing, introductions to potential new customers, new market development and of course some funding under their HPSU fund,” she adds.

Anabio now employs 34 people and has recently completed a significant investment to retrofit a production facility in Carrigtwohill, County Cork to meet growing demand. Retrofitting the Carrigtwohill facility meant the construction of three new laboratories for the company’s team of researchers and the installation of custom-fitted production lines for its manufacturing process.

“We commissioned the Carrigtwohill facility last year and it’s going really well,” says Bleiel. “This was a sizeable investment for a company our size but we needed to make it to make sure we could meet growing demand.”

Science at AnaBio

Despite a growing customer base and expansion in international markets, Dr. Bleiel is adamant that the company will remain focused on its core business – science.

“What we’re selling here is science. We research the science, we validate the science and then we sell the science,” she says. “When I look at our sales markets, I don’t want to sell to every company in the market. Instead, I’d rather work with a small number of companies who understand the value of Anabio’s science and are prepared to pay for it. We want a quality customer who understands our science and can sell that science to their customers in turn,” she adds.

Right now, the company has 13 global patents on its encapsulating technologies that have been designed in-house by the company’s R&D team.

“Our focus has to remain clear. Anabio is a research driven company and it must be focused on research at all times,” says Dr Bleiel.

Anabio’s encapsulation technology has allowed it to eke out a niche position for itself in the global precision nutrition market. However, as consumer trends in the food industry accelerate demand for precision nutrition is only going to increase. The company looks well positioned to capitalise on this growth.

This article originally appeared in a special publication by Irish Farmers Journal in partnership with Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency.

How collaboration can transform the future of healthcare and manufacturing.

“What is incredible about Ireland’s medtech industry, is that the whole ecosystem works together and supports each other,” said Galway native Liam Kelly, who is President and CEO of Teleflex, a global manufacturer and supplier of medical technology products. “Even though the companies might be competitors on one level.”

Kelly was speaking as part of a discussion panel led by Chris Coburn, Chief Innovation Officer at Partners HealthCare System in Boston, to an audience at Enterprise Ireland’s Med in Ireland 2019 conference, Ireland’s largest medical technologies event.

Liam Kelly, President and CEO of Teleflex

Ireland’s unique collaborative ecosystem has given rise to one of the world’s most innovative, integrated and globalised medtech hubs. According to Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, the country is home to development, manufacturing and service operations for 18 of the top 25 global medical device companies. University research, Government-supported R&D centres, and business collaboration are driving medtech innovation in Ireland.

“We introduced an R&D centre into our facility in Athlone where we had a number of technologies we were working on,” explains Kelly. “We needed some expertise within the clinical world and were able to engage with NUI Hospital Galway for this. That’s a huge advantage Ireland has, their medtech companies are able to work with both competitor companies and hospitals, which means businesses can move much faster with production and development.”

Collaborating to add value

Tanja Valentin, Director of Governor Affairs and Policy for MedTech Europe, said collaboration between various industries is on the rise. Also on the rise is collaboration between different healthcare players. “For example, buyer entities and hospital consortiums work together with the industry to define how the delivery of healthcare can be done differently and effectively.”

Stakeholders across the health ecosystem recognise the need to move away from historic payment models based on product utilisation, to value-based models that tie a product’s performance with emerging evidence of improved patient outcomes.

“We see outcome-based models being shaped together. MedTech Europe has developed innovative procurement mechanisms which identify value factors such as safety and effectiveness of products, not just the purchasing price. Healthcare delivery institutions see that holistic solutions and different value elements will deliver better outcomes.

“However, the next challenge is how to measure these outcomes, because you have to find ways to first define what you want to measure and then be able to act on what you’ve measured. This needs to be figured out together.”

Tanja Valentin, Director of Governor Affairs and Policy for MedTech EuropeIn the medtech industry, economic uncertainty – from Brexit to the US-China trade war – also brings challenges. Can innovation and technology outperform these challenges?

“I’m very optimistic for the future of the medical device market,” says Kelly. “For the next 30 years, demand for medical devices will rise and it’s a wonderful time to bring new technologies to market. But companies need to have patient outcomes data documented in the clinical trial to be successful. Particularly when entering the US market, as hospitals in the States have Value Analysis Committees to evaluate new product purchases.”

Paudie O’Connor, Multi-Site Vice President of Manufacturing Operations at Boston Scientific, supporting Endoscopy and Urology Divisions, adds, “At Boston Scientific, we have done acquisitions and learned some hard lessons around data. Collecting data is essential for reimbursement, to show medical benefit and added value of a new technology.”

Major trends drive new healthcare opportunities

How can medtech companies support healthcare in the Middle East?

Dr Ibtesam Al Bastaki, Director of Investment and Partnership at Dubai Health Authority (DHA), said, “People in the Middle East, especially Dubai and UAE, want their services to be very fast. I think technology will take a central role in this. Dubai is not producing any equipment and there is not much technology manufacturing but Dubai has a lot of pharma plants. We want to encourage all accredited start-ups to help the healthcare system.”

Dr Ibtesam Al Bastaki, Director of Investment and Partnership at Dubai Health AuthorityEffectively managing large populations has become a key imperative in healthcare systems around the world, highlighted Chris Coburn, asking “What will that yield from your part of the industry in the next five or so years?” he asks.

Dr Al Bastaki said, “My concerns for the future, especially in terms of the population, would be that because Dubai as a nation is very young, aging will become a big issue. Therefore, we need to be prepared and act on how to reduce the cost to the Government. We need to improve the whole healthcare system in Dubai, by improving accessibility for the patients. Especially when they reach the age of 60 and above. There is a gap in Dubai in terms of rehabilitation in the long-term and elderly care, like homecare. I think medtech will play a huge part in this space.”

Liam Kelly said, “As medtech leaders, we need to be aware of how healthcare will be in the future with regards to access to information. Millennials don’t care that they went to Dr Jones all their life, they will do their research and go to a different doctor if they’ve discovered this doctor produced better outcomes. Information is so transparent now.”

Paudie O’Connor added, “Patients are becoming more educated about their conditions and making their own decisions now. So, medtech companies should engage with patients in their outreach efforts. That’s something we need to be very conscious of in the marketplace.”

Fast changing consumer tastes are forcing food businesses to be more agile than ever, writes Lorcan Allen of the Irish Farmers Journal. Drover Foods is relishing the challenge.

On the outskirts of Wexford town in Ireland you will find Drover Foods, a family run business that’s been making pork sausages since the early 1980s. Yet despite its long heritage in the pork sector, Drover Foods is a business that finds itself moving further away from meat processing as it responds to rapidly changing consumer trends.

Right now, the biggest driver of sales growth in Drover’s business are its new lines of vegetarian products, such as falafels, fritters and Indian pakoras. According to Anne Smyth, managing director of Drover Foods, the company is simply adapting its business to meet changing consumer trends in the food industry. However, the root of the company’s decision to start making veggie products was Brexit.

Building on a strong UK-focused food business

“In 2016, when the Brexit vote happened, all we made at Drover was cooked sausages and stuffing, with 83% of our sales coming from the UK markets,” says Smyth. “I knew we needed to get into new markets in mainland Europe but I had no way of getting into those markets with the products we were making. We had to diversify our product range.”

At the time, Smyth was taking part in Enterprise Ireland’s ‘Leadership 4 Growth’ programme, which is the trade and innovation agency’s flagship programme for managing directors and CEOs aiming to develop their business.

As part of the course, executives receive training at the IESE business school in Barcelona, which has been ranked first in the world for customised executive education by the Financial Times for the last number of years.

“We were having a discussion group and I was asked, ‘What does Drover Foods actually do?’ I replied that we make cooked sausages for the B2B market in the UK but the more I thought about it I realised I wasn’t sure exactly what the company did. I knew we needed to be clearer on what this business is really about,” she adds.

After further thought, Smyth and her team got to the core of what Drover Foods is about – a food business that makes pre-portioned, fully cooked food ingredients that are sold B2B to food companies.

“Everything we make ends up as an ingredient in sandwiches and ready meals sold by supermarkets. We supply the ingredients for the own-label sandwiches you get in Tesco, Waitrose, Asda, Costa, and Boots,” says Smyth.

Greencore, the UK-listed convenience foods manufacturer, is Drover’s largest customer, while the company’s second largest customer is Samworth Brothers, a privately owned company with 15 factories in the UK making private-label convenience foods. Domino’s Pizza is also a large customer with Drover supplying sausage toppings for its meat pizzas.

Opportunities beyond pork

Viewing her family business as a supplier of pre-portioned cooked food ingredients allowed Smyth and her management team to see that the company’s position within the food supply chain was not simply confined to pork.

While she had some awareness at the time of the growth in plant-based foods and flexitarian diets, Smyth says it was not intentional to move into the space. However, when Drover approached its customers with its new range of veggie ingredients it became clear there were opportunities to grow this product range.

Demand for the new range of veggie food ingredients has grown rapidly. If you buy a hummus and falafel wrap in Tesco supermarket anywhere in the UK today, the falafel ingredient will have been made by Drover.

“Right now, all our sales growth is coming from veggie products. There was a 4% decline in sausage consumption in the UK last year, which is a huge number when you think of how big sausage consumption is in the UK,” says Smyth. “Today most our growth is in our veggie products and we see this continuing into the future.”

The transition to making falafels and other vegetarian food ingredients has opened up new possibilities for Drover Foods beyond the UK. The company recently attended the Internorga show in Hamburg – Europe’s largest trade fair for the foodservice sector.

The company has just completed a €4 million investment that will add capacity and allow Drover to produce oven-baked products and has recently employed a European business development manager to grow sales into Germany and other northern European markets.

However, the company remains invested in the UK market with  long established and deep relationships with customers like Greencore and Samworth Brothers. In addition, a recent YouGov study found that almost 15% of the UK population identify themselves as having flexitarian diets. The study also found that more than a quarter (26%) of UK meat eaters said they plan to reduce their level of meat consumption in the next year, with health concerns the primary reason provided.

As such, it will be interesting to see where the next 10 years takes the Drover Foods business. Anne Smyth and her senior management team have redefined the business as a supplier of fully cooked pre-portioned food ingredients, which means the company has the adaptability and agility to follow consumer trends long into the future.

This article originally appeared in a special publication by Irish Farmers Journal in partnership with Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency.

Advanced analytics are enabling contact centres to deliver by making the most of the combination of human and artificial intelligence-driven automation.

The implementation and impact of advanced analytics in contact centre operations was explored by leading global consulting firm McKinsey at an event organised by Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency.

Customer Experience (CX) centres use data analytics to improve productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction.

Right now, the sector is undergoing significant change, with automation quickly moving to take on relatively advanced tasks, said Julian Raabe, who heads up McKinsey’s customer experience practice for EMEA.

Finding the right fit for automation

Raabe used a major US bank as a case in point. It has stripped 360,000 lawyer hours from its overhead by using automated processes to parse contracts to highlight only those that needed further – human – analysis.

Some 50% of all tasks done at work today could potentially be automated, although it may not make sense to do so in terms of value, said Raabe, who reckoned that, in fact, just 5% of jobs are likely fully automatable. Despite the rapid technological advancements of the past half century, the only job that has disappeared completely is that of ‘lift boy’, he suggested.

What contact centres are ripe for is not automation to remove jobs, but automation to strip out non-value adding elements of a job, enabling agents to be more efficient and freeing them up to add more value to their role.

Julian Raabe, Expert Partner in CX and automation, McKinsey

Julian Raabe, Expert Partner, McKinsey

The power of predictive analytics

From Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to guided workflows and advanced analytics, right up to artificial intelligence, the opportunity to transform daily tasks in contact centres is therefore growing rapidly, with data collection and processing at the core.

One of the biggest transformations is the growth in proactivity, whereby businesses will increasingly use the data they have available about customers to predict why those customers might contact them, to try and resolve the issue in advance, he said, using a utility firm facing an outage as a case in point.

“Predictive maintenance is already there. They can fix a lot of these things before the customer even realises it has happened. And if it’s not resolvable, at least when the customer calls, they can say, ‘Look, are you calling because of this particular issue?’ with successful prediction rates of over 70%.”

CX journeys are increasingly digital

CX journeys are increasingly starting in digital channels. In the service space, between 30% and 60% of issues that start digital are resolved there – and growing, he said.

Where digital-only is not sufficient, the move to omnichannel options is significant. “Customers increasingly expect companies to offer multiple channels,” he said, pointing to a two-year old McKinsey survey, which found that 75% of people want to contact a company through at least two channels, and 25% want at least three.

The rise in social media should be of particular interest to the CX sector because not alone do customers like it, but – schooled by their experience in personal networks – they don’t expect an immediate response. This stands in contrast to a customer on the phone, who wants an answer now.

A second advantage is that social media enables both the customer and the contact centre agent to have a full history of the conversation, enabling an agent to get up to speed quickly. What’s more, in social media, the person you are talking to is identified.

It’s why social media is something companies are now accelerating, said Raabe, “and it’s a little bit of a myth that the adoption of a channel depends only on your customers. It’s a combination of what your customers want and what you drive as primary channels.”

Frontline robotics will grow, helped by the increased success rate of interactive voice response (IVR) in resolving issues. The issue-resolution rate with IVR, without recourse to an agent, is as high as 65% among some McKinsey clients, without any drop in customer satisfaction.

Chatbots work well too, helped by the fact that people write shorter and more clearly than they speak, and accents are not an issue. Simply by automating those parts of a contact centre call where a customer identifies themselves, and their issue, can save up to 30% of a human conversation.

CX journeys are increasingly digitalHow analytics are impacting recruitment and retention

The result is a shift in the type of people being hired by contact centres. More investment is going into attracting and retaining the right people. This is important because while automation can boost efficiency, it is the human that provides the ‘X factor’, he said.

New technologies increasingly play a part in upskilling agents, including solutions that use speech analytics to monitor non-contextual elements, such as energy and empathy in an agent’s voice, to guide them to better performance – in real time.

Next-best-action engines, driven by analytics, are growing in use too, helping the agent to fulfil requests more quickly. All of these initiatives are reducing dropped calls and transfers, empowering agents to resolve more issues themselves.

At the front end, it’s about prediction; at the backend, it’s about agent enablement, he said.

Advanced analytics can also help from a macro management perspective, for example enabling employers to see which agents are most likely to leave in the next three months, and to optimise shift combinations, said Vinay Gupta from McKinsey Boston, a technical expert in data analytics. Employee analytics can also help you to select the right candidate profile for your call centre.

Increasingly, McKinsey sees that organisations are starting to try and capture the employee life cycle value, increasing the productivity as well as the length of time employees stay.

It is enabling this by transforming the way training and development is conducted, resulting in a move away from one-to-one coaching towards peer learning. Equally, it is unearthing the real satisfaction drivers for employees, as opposed to those simply assumed by management.

Vinay Gupta, Expert, McKinsey

Vinay Gupta, Expert, McKinsey

An agile move beyond metrics

Advanced data analytics is facilitating a move beyond dashboards – which simply report metrics – to ‘action boards’.

The move to agile work practices, a concept traditionally held not to work in call centres, is in fact helping boost customer satisfaction by enabling more customers to have issues resolved in first contact, rather than having them routed through the organisation.

Regrouping personnel into clusters ensures greater agent identification with clients, delegates heard. It also incentivises earlier resolution because agents know if a problem is simply passed on and not resolved somewhere else, it will come back to them.

Moreover, metrics are shifting from per-call costs to the total-customer cost, in line with agile principles such as empowerment, transparency, and responsibility.

Agile is often thought of as an “innovation engine” but Raabe sees it as an “execution engine”, which changes how people think and behave in call centres. By putting all these elements together “we can help to deliver a completely different customer experience,” he said.

“Ireland is one of Europe’s largest medical device hubs and a globally recognised centre of excellence, with over 300 homegrown medtech companies,” Pat Breen, Minister of State for Trade, Employment and Business, told delegates at Med in Ireland, Ireland’s largest medical technologies event, “With a strong focus on cross-industry collaboration, Ireland is the second-largest exporter of medical devices in Europe.”

Minister Breen highlighted some incredible facts:

  • 25% of the world’s diabetic population rely on injection devices made in Ireland
  • 33% of the world’s contact lenses are manufactured in Ireland
  • 50% of the ventilators in acute hospitals are manufactured in Ireland
  • 80% of the stents production in the world is in Ireland.

These are just some of the figures highlighting Ireland’s successful medtech ecosystem.

Chris Coburn, Chief Innovation Officer at Partners HealthCare System in Boston (the largest academic research enterprise in the US) said that Ireland is a significant contributor to medtech innovation in the region.

Healthcare in the US is at a time of intense transformation,” said Coburn opening the Med in Ireland keynote speeches on ‘Advancements of Medical Technologies, a global perspective’.

“In Ireland, I’m seeing very important new technology that is transforming the medical workplace in important ways globally. It’s a defining element in the US, there are so many new players and so many new approaches.”

Medtech innovation: the view from Dubai

It’s not just the US which is a good match for Irish innovation, more and more Middle East-based healthcare organisations are turning to Ireland as a trusted source of innovative medical solutions.

Dr Ibtesam Al Bastaki, Director of Investment and Partnership at Dubai Health Authority (DHA), is responsible for development of various public and private health projects within Dubai. She says, “In 2012-2017, we’ve seen huge growth in terms of inpatients and outpatients in the private sector, the number of opened facilities and hospitals, as well as professionals licensed.”

Medtech innovation: the view from Dubai

Dr Ibtesam Al Bastaki, Director of Investment and Partnership at Dubai Health Authority (DHA)

Expenditure in Dubai has increased to 12% – and that’s due to the mandate of health insurance, continues Al Bastaki. “In Dubai, almost 99% is health insured, whether through a premium or basic plan. All of them have access to the healthcare system.

“But although Dubai is a vibrant modern city, unfortunately we are behind when it comes to telehealth (the use of digital information and communication technologies, such as mobile devices, to access healthcare and manage services remotely). Therefore, we are doing a lot of work to emphasise the role of telehealth, and how technology can speed up to cater to the population.”

In the next few years, Al Bastaki, who graduated as a medical physician and secured her Masters in Health Care Management from Ireland’s Royal College of Surgeons, says the aims are to focus on areas where there are gaps in the market. These include primary healthcare innovation, mental health, rehabilitation, precision medicine, and nursing homes. These are the drivers for healthcare investment in Dubai, because of a rising aging population, chronic disease, mandatory health insurance, and evolving technologies.

Irish innovation could solve global medtech challenges

“There are various projects we are working on, where Irish innovators could be part of the consortium. We have developed the Dubai Health Investment Guide 2018-25. This has comprehensive information and insights for investors and private sector providers on investment opportunities, to help address health system gaps and priorities over the coming years.”

When it comes to looking ahead to the future, Tanja Valentin, Director of Governor Affairs and Policy for Medtech Europe, says all medtech companies should bear in mind the five main drivers that will shape the trade and medtech sector. These are digitalisation, business, society, health and politics.

Valentin expands on some of the drivers, “Digitalisation is already in place in some shape or form, but a big part of the future of medtech development will depend upon the analysis of big data. This will go beyond sources from medical devices and to other sources, such as how contact lenses can measure the chemicals from eye drops for eye health in patients. It’s also about how data can be used to make professional changes, such as making decisions, or changes in healthcare settings based on data. Future digitisation will bring transparency, and will be able to provide a more patient-centric model.”

Tanja Valentin, Director of Governor Affairs and Policy for Medtech Europe

Tanja Valentin, Director of Governor Affairs and Policy for Medtech Europe

Valentin, who once studied in Dublin, says with business models, product development will adapt from one-dimensional, non-collaborative product production to more collaborative holistic solutions. “For example, today you see a whole class of new diabetes management systems, where there’s a lot of collaboration of different players providing holistic management conditions that automise and connect many steps that the patients initially had to do themselves. This caused a lot of stress and human error.

“What we will see coming in the next few years will be drastically different from what we have seen in the past. Therefore, we need more investment in Europe and in medtech, so we can retain medtech companies as European success stories, which continue to play a strong part in future health delivery.”

To conclude, Stephen Creaner, Executive Director, Enterprise Ireland, says, “Irish companies are at the forefront of market diversification. We see Irish companies as a gateway to Europe, for our international partners who want to engage the vibrant European economy. The strategic partnerships we have established over the last four years, have made this environment very attractive for the healthcare sector to engage with this particular cohort.

“Multinationals have given our companies access to the supply chain challenges that they’re experiencing, as they try to improve their service level. The opportunity for strategic partnerships and collaboration to be developed highlights the integrated nature of the sector and positions a prosperous future.”

Robert Walker, CEO of KEENAN (Alltech Farming Solutions Ltd), outlines how farmers can best respond to quickly changing consumer expectations.

In an era in which consumers are becoming as focused on environmental responsibility as on price, can small become the new big in agriculture?

Doing so would mean reversing established trends towards increasingly large farm operations and bigger machinery. As tighter regulations are implemented around sustainable farming, and consumers are becoming more conscious of their own carbon footprint, the need to reduce the impact of farm operations on the environment has emerged as the most significant challenge facing the agricultural sector.

Sustainability is about efficiency for farmers today

Consumers want their food to be produced sustainably. They want it to be clean and green, traceable, to ensure standards and animal health are met, and they want it to be affordable.

For the first time in one of the most advanced European nations, we are seeing farm sizes going down in the Netherlands because of environmental caps that are being put on it. Farmers can only produce as much as legislation allows them with regard to pollutants such as nitrates, phosphates and other gases.

This doesn’t mean that output has to go down. There can often be a misunderstanding that going smaller means you must have fewer animals or lower production. That’s not the case. Sustainable farming is about efficiency – the ability to realise more from less through increased productivity while also maintaining profitability.

Innovation must help solve agriculture’s efficiency challenges

Innovation must drive the process of meeting this challenge. Improved automated machinery and data processes will allow farms themselves to become smaller, so we can in effect get more from less. This also means you can have more space for forestry and rewilding to improve the environment and still not damage farmers’ livelihoods, or the health, sustainability and security of the food supply chain.

Machines that have become bigger and bigger to facilitate ever-increasing herds will start getting smaller. Instead of having one mix a day in large feeding machines for herds, for example, robotics will allow for multiple mixes a day done automatically in smaller machines, with the mix determined by algorithms, which are acting on real-time data supplied by wearable devices detailing how the animal is performing.

The use of data is already widespread in modern farming operations. However, increasing automation of these processes using artificial intelligence and blockchain-type technology will allow analysis across the entire food chain and a joined-up approach to addressing the challenge of sustainability.

The benefits of this could be exponential. A more efficient farm means producing more milk and meat with fewer resources and fewer nitrates or gases going into the atmosphere, so it improves greenhouse gas emissions and also run off from other heavy metals going back into the soil. It is a multipronged approach and also ties into farm profitability because a more efficient farm is a more profitable one.

Products and services must be measured, not by their impact and effectiveness individually, but as a part of the whole. For example, a farmer can buy products that reduce methane but which will also reduce efficiency, which means you need more cows to produce the same amount of milk. This means more cows consuming more feed, which means more fertiliser to produce the feed, which might also be excreting more nitrogen.

What is needed is to achieve carbon reduction, not just by having one product that reduces methane, but rather by having a myriad of products and services that can improve farm efficiency collectively.

Farmers and agricultural suppliers must recognise the relationship they have with consumers as part of the food chain rather than just as providers of commodities to food processors and retailers.

Both Alltech and KEENAN would previously have had a one-on-one relationship with the farmer. Now we are generating data that is relevant to a feed mill, to the farmer, to the processer that buys the milk from the farmer, and even to the supermarkets buying the milk. This means we have a relationship with everyone in the food chain and are more relevant to consumers in the end.

By utilising this data across the entire food chain, the needs of both consumers and farmers can be met. Profitability at farm level, sustainability at the global level.