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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
Effectively 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.
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.
How 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.
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.
“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
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.”
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.”
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.
Ireland is famous for its ‘gift of the gab’. Strong communications skills and interpersonal strengths helped to establish it as one of the world’s first call centre hubs back in the 1980s.
Since then, such centres have grown in scale and scope, today providing a wide range of inbound and outbound contacts across customer service, support and sales. They provide contact not just through phone calls but via an array of channels from social media to web chat.
That’s why this omnichannel customer engagement practice is now referred to as simply ‘customer experience’ – or CX.
In an increasingly data-driven world, CX is a resource that feeds into every aspect of an organisation’s operations, from engineering to sales. As a result, it has become an invaluable engine with which to drive continuous improvement.
Ireland’s long heritage in call centres, its position as a global technology hub, and its highly supportive CX ecosystem, places it at the leading edge of a rapidly transforming sector.
It’s a sector that is characterised in Ireland both by the large cohort of multinational companies that have a presence here, as well as the strength of its indigenous CX sector.
Innovative ecosystem invests in CX
Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, and IDA Ireland, which supports international companies locating in the country, together with the highly proactive Customer Contact Management Association (CCMA) – which draws its membership from both – all work in partnership to ensure Ireland leads the way in CX development.
A recent report co-published by the three, entitled Strategy, Vision and Roadmap 2019, looks at the impact new and disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and advanced data analytics are having on traditional CX activities around the world, and highlights Ireland’s capability to deliver them.
Ireland, it found, has a unique opportunity to strengthen its position as the global location of choice for companies looking either to expand existing CX operations, or to establish new ones.
The country’s highly skilled, multilingual workforce already powers a number of highly innovative indigenous players.
These include Voxpro, an international business process outsourcing (BPO) specialist with Irish operations in Dublin and Cork, as well as centres of excellence in North and Central America, Europe and Asia. Founded in Cork, this highly innovative company was acquired by TELUS International in 2017, which today employs over 34,000 people.
CarTrawler, the Irish travel technology platform, is the world’s largest online marketplace for car hire, processing over 900 million hires per year across the globe. It employs 450 people, including 42 different nationalities, and covers 20 languages. In the past two years, it has transformed itself from call centres to digital contact centres.
In doing so, it was enabled by Edgetier, the software company behind Arthur, a customer service system for CX centres. It combines AI and human interaction to optimise contact centre agent service and efficiency. Built by “data-first” engineers, it also provides a full suite of reporting tools providing unparalleled data access for contact centre managers.
How Irish CX expertise delivers for worldwide partners
The need for businesses in all sectors to respond to fast-changing customer expectations is one that Irish CX companies are well placed to deliver.
Indeed, no other sector is required to be as responsive, transformative and adaptive to new generational demands. Consumers worldwide increasingly gravitate towards brands that meet, exceed and, increasingly, predict, their needs and expectations. Irish CX expertise is delivering on just that for customers worldwide.
“The CX sector is a significant employer in Ireland and we have a unique opportunity to harness our agile workforce and research capability to continue to develop innovative technologies and deliver the next generation of high quality customer solutions that have the potential to transform how markets and businesses work,” said Julie Sinnamon, chief executive of Enterprise Ireland.
Ireland is one of the CX capitals of the world with more than 250 companies that operate CX activities employing 56,000 people and serving multiple markets in multiple languages.
Their work is supported by key technology supports, including the country’s strong research capability. Ireland has dedicated research institutes and centres of excellence – including ADAPT and INSIGHT – which work with businesses across AI, machine learning and analytics.
In particular, CeaDAR works with CX companies in areas such as customer analytics, contact centre analytics, text analytics, analytics in real time, social media analytics, location-based analytics and sentiment analysis.
It’s just one example of the ways in which Ireland fosters excellent collaboration between research and industry. Of course it helps that Ireland’s IT specialists are among the best educated in the EU, with 82% having a third level qualification – compared with an EU average of 62%.
These workplace skills are augmented by national agencies such as Skillnet Ireland, a specialist in workforce learning, which tailors industry-led programmes of interest to the CX sector right up to Masters Degree level.
The strength of this unique ecosystem is why the Global Innovation Index ranks Ireland 10th in the world. Put simply, no country has more experience in customer experience.
Fabien Peyaud, CEO and founder of Herdwatch, describes how the use of data is helping farmers to drive more sustainable agricultural practices from field to fork.
In an increasingly globalised food chain, where quality and sustainability of food is as big an issue for many consumers as price, and a world of information is available at our fingertips, we should expect to know a lot about the food on our plate.
Where did it come from? Was it farmed sustainably? What were the conditions like for the animal? Was it grass fed? Did it receive antibiotics or other medications?
Given the agritech solutions already being developed, there is no reason why in perhaps five years that consumers won’t be able to use their mobile phone to scan a code on food packaging and access a full report on whatever product they’re buying.
They wouldn’t just be looking at a label, they would be viewing records that have been approved by the entire food industry – the farmer, food processor and retailer – not just the supplier of the end product as is currently the case. It might include information such as whether the animal received antibiotics, or that it was fed grass 70% of the time.
Moving data from field to fork
The technology to achieve this already exists. Farmers are using mobile devices to digitally record in real-time important health, welfare, nutritional and regulatory compliance information about their livestock. However, rather than this information flowing through to consumers ‘from field to fork’, the recording system is split and operates from field to farm gate with producers, and then from farm gate to plate with processors and retailers.
The true benefits of technology for both farmers and consumers will only be realised when the various apps and platforms that farmers use to improve their efficiency work seamlessly together in a system that can be tracked across every link in the food chain.
My own company, Herdwatch, is involved in projects that are moving in that direction, and would enable farmers to record all the information they need from one app. We’re building integrations for the National Milk Records and Cattle Information Service in the UK which would allow farmers to share and receive data seamlessly with these organisation. We’re also putting together an open API which will allow farmers to connect to other systems from Herdwatch, like using your Facebook or Google account to connect to other systems.
These projects haven’t been completed yet but there does now seem to be a willingness to cooperate and share among farmers, farming organisations and agritech suppliers. Several years ago, there was talk of convergence but too many people were afraid of it – they feared that by providing access to their particular silos of data and expertise they would potentially devalue it. People are now coming around to the concept that farmer-led sharing of information is the only way forward.
How data can help farmers to be sustainable
It could also be key to the issue of sustainability. For example, the data could be used to make sense of trends such as in terms of anti-microbial resistance, which has massive implications not just for animal health but in the context of how it impacts on the food chain and human health. If farmers are recording the use of medicines digitally, then their aggregated anonymised data could be used as an early warning system for disease.
The first step towards convergence is to digitise the information flow, to convince all farmers and other players in the value chain to start recording the necessary information electronically and share it in a trusted way back to industry. For the system to work, you need a critical mass of farmers in any country to adopt the process and digitise the information at source. It’s simply too expensive to do it after the fact.
The incentives exist. Agritech solutions are already helping farmers to manage their time more efficiently and lower their labour costs, and could also help them to deliver their product at a time which maximises their revenue. As any farmer asks when confronted with a salesman: “Does it save me time or make me money?”
Ultimately, however, digital convergence will be led by consumers demanding better traceability, higher quality, and improved sustainability in their food chain. Up to this point, consumers haven’t really seen the impact of digital technology on the farm. That will change over the next five years as the adoption of new technologies and data-driven farming transforms agriculture. Farmers who add value by adopting better and more accurate ways of improving traceability, sustainability and animal health should benefit through increased profits.
The provenance of our food has always been a big deal and consumers and farmers will soon start to see tangible benefits from digital convergence on the farm.
For more than 100 years, Connolly’s Red Mills has built on a global reputation for converting natural ingredients into the most trusted feed for supporting animal performance.
Based in Kilkenny in Ireland, Connolly’s Red Mills makes advanced nutrition and healthcare solutions for animal health, performance and well-being. The fifth-generation family-owned firm was established in 1908. Currently, two generations of the family work in the business, which employs 320 people. It is focused on three main strands, a vertically integrated domestic feed and grain business; the manufacture and sales of pet foods to over 40 countries; and the manufacture and sale of premium horse feed to over 80 countries.
Building on Irish horseracing excellence
Connolly’s Red Mills has developed a range of premium horse feed, which is used by some of the world’s most successful racehorses, show jumpers, and dressage performers. Its success has been supported by the global reputation for excellence that Irish horseracing enjoys, explains the company’s Business Development Manager for Exports, Michael Connolly: “Racehorses are the best paid athletes in the world. We were able to piggyback on the success of Irish breeders and trainers to follow our customers, and their customers, around the world.
“We are considered a global leader in this field, and we sell across the northern hemisphere, and as far as Australia. In order to achieve this success, we received funding from Enterprise Ireland [the Government trade and innovation agency] for market research and product development for some of these markets.”
Connolly’s Red Mills’s premium horse feed a hit in Japan
Since the 1980s, Connolly’s Red Mills has been expanding across the world. The UK was their first export market, and throughout the 1990s they grew sales across Europe.
The company entered the Asia-Pacific region in 2004 with exports to Japan. Although it had initially planned to only sell pet food into Japan, it subsequently experienced greater demand for horse feed due to the importance of the racing industry.
Connolly’s Red Mills is now the largest importer of premium horse feeds in Japan, with a 30% share of the market. Connolly attributes this success to the strength of its capability in the market’s most important markers, which he describes as “sustainability, profitability and growth”.
The support of the Enterprise Ireland Government agency has also been invaluable for helping the company to develop strong links with the Irish business community in Tokyo.
Over the last seven years, Kitman Labs has fundamentally changed how the sports industry uses data to improve performance. Now it’s working with some of Japan’s biggest teams.
Established in 2012 by Stephen Smith, Kitman Labs is an Irish sportstech company that has become the leading performance and health analytics provider to the world sports industry.
Smith, a former injury rehabilitation and conditioning coach for Leinster Rugby, developed a performance and data analytics system that combines training, game and medical information, all of which had previously been managed separately at the Irish club.
The power to combine analysis from these areas has enabled clients to increase athlete availability and boost team performance, giving the industry an innovative new solution for improving the likelihood of sporting success.
Innovation drives Kitman Labs to the top of sportstech
“We were always very focused on innovation,” says Smith, explaining how, before the launch of Kitman Labs, no system in the sector combined medical and performance data to deliver more powerful insights.
Smith notes that the global market is still fragmented: “Some companies collect athletes’ data, some provide performance analytics or medical information, but no one combines all three.”
The product’s potential was clear from the beginning, and the company signed its first client, Everton FC, the UK football club, in 2014. Their first US contract was signed the following year, after the company raised investment in the US to fund further growth.
Today, Kitman Labs is used by 250 teams, covering sports from Mixed Martial Arts to rugby, and from soccer to baseball. The product has been translated into 29 languages and sells across all five continents, while the company has offices in Dublin, Silicon Valley, and Sydney.
Kitman Labs wins in Japan
The company is now focused on expanding its presence in Japan, as it has grown significantly in the Asia Pacific region, counting clients in China, New Zealand, and Australia. Smith describes Kitman Labs’s entry into the market: “Initially we had interest from Toyota Verblitz, the rugby team in Japan’s Top League, as they had seen coverage of Kitman Labs in the media and made contact with us.”
In 2018, Smith came to Japan to speak at the Sports Tech Tokyo conference. From that trip, he secured two new clients: the NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes rugby team and Yokohama BayStars baseball team.
NTT DoCoMo chose Kitman Labs’s Athlete Optimisation System in order to enhance its performance and medical programmes. The system aims to reduce days lost to injury, lessen the chance of severe injuries, and results in fewer season-ending injuries. It does so by issuing individual alerts in real time, which supports managers and coaches to make informed decisions based on data analysis.
Government backing for Kitman Labs
Enterprise Ireland, the Government’s trade and innovation agency, has supported Kitman Labs, which Smith describes as a “game changer” for the company.
As for the immediate future, Japan continues to be a highly significant market for them, with Smith describing important opportunities in the areas of insurance, corporate health and digital health. “There is no other country on earth which offers the same level of opportunity from a corporate health perspective,” he concludes.
Bright ideas may come in a flash of inspiration but bringing them to market takes time. Ask any founder with an innovative idea and the story will usually be the same – a long journey that includes setbacks and pivots.
That journey requires resilience and a culture that fosters and supports innovators and disruptors so that they can bring strong ideas to market. While not all good ideas make for good business models, without an innovation ecosystem in which ideas can flourish, the chances of a new solution making it to market can be slim.
Ireland has a world-leading reputation for innovation, which is respected internationally in areas as diverse as medtech, fintech, and agritech. In medtech alone, Ireland has become a global hub. It is home to some of the world’s most ambitious and dynamic medtech companies, a trusted and advanced manufacturing base, and 18 of the world’s top 25 medical device manufacturers. Hubs and knowledge clusters have grown up organically around the supply chain, notably in the cities of Galway and Cork, over the last 15 years.
How Ireland finds commercial applications for cutting-edge research
Enterprise Ireland, the country’s trade and innovation agency, provides a Commercialisation Fund that supports the creation of technology-based start-up companies, and the transfer of innovations developed in Ireland’s Higher Education Institutes and other research organisations to industry, as well as grant, seed and venture capital funding, and direct assistance through networking and mentoring.
Unlocking innovation at the earliest stage has seen Enterprise Ireland and Ireland’s universities and colleges partner in innovative ways, to not only unlock R&D but to centre it on a pathway to commercialising new products, services and companies.
By 2007, the Irish Government had funding in place to enable knowledge transfer at third-level institutions to partner with business. Since 2013, Knowledge Transfer Ireland has acted as the hub for this ecosystem supported by some €52m in state funding in its first three years alone.
University College Dublin was one of the first universities to realise the value of innovation and the commercial value of intellectual property created by research within its walls. As early as 2003, it opened its own centre for innovation and knowledge transfer by partnering with private sector sponsors such as Xilinx, Ericsson, AIB, Arthur Cox, and Enterprise Ireland.
It created NovaUCD as its own incubator, and current Director of Enterprise and Commercialisation Tom Flanagan called the decision to back early-stage innovation one of “incredible foresight”.
“The intent was to coalesce out of research opportunities innovations that could be commercial and build new start-ups around them.”
Now in its second decade, NovaUCD has seen real results. From its bespoke building on campus it has supported around 360 start-ups and early-stage ventures, which have raised around €760 million in venture capital funding, delivering jobs and exports across a range of disciplines, including data and analytics, cleantech, personal medicine, and cancer screening.
As a typical hub, NovaUCD is a physical home to start-ups, mentors, investors as well as key personnel who drill down early on into research to identify prospects and valuable IP.
“We have many programmes to capture this knowledge even at undergraduate level,” said Flanagan.
The hub supports knowledge transfer in pragmatic ways, such as market research, prototype and product testing, to help hone product fit and bootstrap the business.
“The innovation space is a great space to be in. It’s a great opportunity to witness the birth of something new and the opportunity to shape it for commercial success.” The entrepreneurs that work out of NovaUCD have had notable success but that is no surprise to Flanagan.
“The companies that start here all have global ambitions. They are high potential start-ups. The companies that bring in the inward capital are what I would call ‘rockets’, ones that are on the fast track to high growth. That would not be unusual.” That includes the likes of energy efficiency company Vivid Edge, Output Sports, which is developing sports performance analytics wearables, and Manna, which is planning to deploy custom-developed aerospace grade drones to deliver fast food to consumers’ homes, he added.
The global ambition of all of these companies that are harnessed by the innovation ecosystem across Ireland is clear. Meanwhile, NovaUCD continues its own expansion with its newly renovated and extended eastern courtyard allowing it to increase its capacity to house start-ups by over 50%.
Incubation and innovation will continue, according to Flanagan, with the rewards being real recognition of Ireland’s role as an innovation nation. “It’s a real joy to meet researchers, smart people who are onto something, and when you look at their work you realise ‘That could be something. They are onto something, something big.’’”
Something big, for Ireland and the world, indeed.
Irish start-up accelerator Propeller Shannon draws entrepreneurs from across the world, delivering more business and insights to an already thriving industry.
“Ireland has a deep airline history, and the leaders of the Propeller Shannon accelerator, Brian and Clyde, are very well connected within the global airlines industry,” says entrepreneur, David Hailey.
Hailey co-founded travel tech start-up Countalytics in Atlanta, Georgia, before travelling to Ireland to develop the business under the Ryan Academy accelerator programme. Now his business has earned a place on the prestigious list of Top Travel Startups to Watch in 2019 by global travel industry intelligence service Skift, who describes it as “an inventory management platform with verve”.
Countalytics is just one of Propeller Shannon’s many success stories. Three of its start-ups — Airside Management, OneAire, and Block Aviation — are all finalists for the Rolls Royce Innovation Challenge. Another, Trustabit, was selected by Plug And Play to present to Star Alliance at their Innovation Day.
So how does an Irish-based programme like this draw applications from across the globe and propel its start-ups to the fore of the travel tech world?
Cycle of success
“If you provide good mentors and great programmes, you get a good reputation and attract really good start-ups,” says Donal Brady, who was the Ryan Academy’s chief executive until August this year. “Fundamentally, what they are looking for is very early stage companies with innovative services solving a definite problem. The success of this approach speaks to the quality of start-ups we’re getting.”
The Ryan Academy was founded in May 2005 as a partnership between Dublin City University and entrepreneur Tony Ryan. Ryan, who died two years after the programme’s inception, was the Irish billionaire, philanthropist and businessman who founded Guinness Peat Aviation (GPA) and co-founded Ryanair. His accelerator programme was one of the first in Ireland. In 2011, it provided the country with its first ever angel fund. The partnership model is now recognised by the European Commission as a best practice case study in supporting entrepreneurs.
Brady believes that these roots play a part in making Propeller a very special accelerator. “One difference is the coalition with the university. There are a few critical elements to that — it means it was founded by a deep knowledge base, while the relationship with the Ryan family means we carry a deep entrepreneurship culture and we can leverage good industry connections.”
Propeller Shannon connects the dots
The Academy’s Propeller programme commenced in 2011 with support from Enterprise Ireland. In 2018, it joined forces with the Shannon Group’s International Aviation Services Centre to create Propeller Shannon, an International aviation and travel tech accelerator programme.
Already, the programme has helped numerous start-ups to achieve international success in areas as diverse as B2B travel tech, cybersecurity, and aerospace components.
An Irish speciality
Ireland is the birthplace of duty-free shops and a leader in aircraft leasing. Today it is home to a collaborative ecosystem comprising over 100 travel tech companies. Brady says:
“Ireland’s culture places us in a unique position to address gaps in the travel tech industry. Our history of emigration and the fact that, as a small island we immediately think of the bigger, multinational market in business, gives us a particular approach to business and travel.”
Accelerators like Propeller Shannon are essential to this thriving industry. “A lot of travel techs start off as one-man bands,” says Brady, “and need support to develop and expand.”
The right thinking
The travel industry is rapidly evolving, with new priorities and customer expectations. “Today’s customers expect something more tailored, more personalised,” says Brady. “They don’t want to be just another tourist; they want authenticity and a unique experience.”
The kind of thinking required for a successful start-up – innovative, resourceful and adaptable thinking — is now more essential than ever for travel businesses. He add:
“The accelerator helps speed things up, so that companies aren’t making the same mistakes as those that went before them. It speeds up the learning so the whole sector benefits.”
“For Countalytics, the main benefit of the program was industry contacts,” adds Hailey, “The Propeller team was able to introduce us to industry leaders from many of the top airlines in the world, access we would not have received without it”.
Last June, Propeller Shannon start-ups attended the Future Travel Experience show in Istanbul, which attracted its largest attendance in Europe to date. Airlines, airports, suppliers, start-ups, technology giants and disruptors gathered to discuss the future of the travel industry and explore solutions.
The event was a unique opportunity for Propeller Shannon participants to showcase their solutions. Ten Cohort 2 startups — Countalytics, Drone Consultants Ireland, Flightbuddy, Navifly, OneAire, SAR, Trift, TrustaBit, WalkABit and Wanda — exhibited their products and services and had the opportunity to participate in a dedicated pitch session, followed by a discussion with a panel of high-level experts.
With events like this, Propeller Shannon is a chance for the start-ups, not only to learn, but to showcase their solutions and connect with the right networks. Many of Hailey’s fellow cohort participants have now moved their companies to Ireland, “mainly because of their experience and the way the country embraces the start-up culture,” he says. No wonder, then, that the cycle of success continues.