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.
RelateCare is a healthcare communications consultancy and outsourcing organisation providing patient access and engagement solutions to leading healthcare organisations around the world. In October, RelateCare will exhibit at Med in Ireland, a major international business event that gives visitors an opportunity to experience the future of the industry in a global medtech hub.
RelateCare’s solutions improve patient access, communications and engagement for healthcare organisations by simplifying and streamlining the ways in which patients communicate with their provider before entering and after leaving hospital. From appointment scheduling, to revenue cycle and post-discharge follow-up programs, its solutions ensure patients get the right care, at the right time, in the right place.
The company has over 380 employees across the US and Ireland, with an approximately 50/50 employment split between both countries. Its Irish headquarters also operates a best-in-class contact centre in Waterford, Ireland and it opened a second world-class Patient Coordination Centre in Cleveland, Ohio in 2016, to complement its Irish facilities.
How RelateCare solves clients’ challenges
Many of the organisations that partner with RelateCare operate in fiercely competitive regional marketplaces and aim to differentiate themselves from local competition by providing exceptional patient access and communication solutions. The improvements RelateCare implements often result in immediate gains in appointments scheduled and patient satisfaction. Some changes are operational, for example, allowing phone calls to be answered in a timely manner. Other solutions are more strategic and long term, such as rolling out digital health and omnichannel patient communication strategies to drive efficiencies across an entire health system.
RelateCare’s success and track record in managing small, niche projects has often led it to be retained to provide further support and solutions. This includes working on a consultative basis, such as completing a diagnostic assessment of an operation and then being engaged later to provide strategic outsourcing and remote support service management.
One notable project that followed this approach was with a large healthcare system in California. RelateCare initially supported the hospital’s appointment scheduling services, resulting in an 18% increase in scheduled appointments, thanks to process improvements and strategic investments in technology and people. The strength of this partnership has evolved to see RelateCare become a service provider of choice for other areas and requirements.
Meet RelateCare at Med in Ireland
RelateCare has attended Med in Ireland, an event organised by Enterprise Ireland – the trade and innovation agency – several times, and sees it as a must-attend event for those interested in the innovative healthcare technology solutions emerging from Ireland.
Conor O’Byrne, CEO, advises “We use Med in Ireland as the focal point for a number of client relationship events. We invite many of our US-based and international clients to Ireland for Med in Ireland to showcase what the country has to offer in medtech services and to bring them to our offices to introduce them to Irish culture.
The Med in Ireland team has always supported us in this initiative. It is great to show our clients how Ireland is at the cutting edge when it comes to healthcare technology. It demonstrates that we are part of a greater ecosystem of healthcare technology and services that can support their mission. We also view it as an opportunity to introduce other Irish organisations to our international buyers to explore synergies that exist.”
RelateCare believes the main value of Med in Ireland lies in the networking opportunities it creates. The calibre of speakers, opinion leaders and exhibitors is always extremely high, including representatives from the biggest and most innovative healthcare systems in the world. This provides an invaluable opportunity to learn from peers who are setting trends for the future of healthcare delivery, helping attendees ensure they have a finger on the pulse of what is coming down the line.
RelateCare also values the opportunity Med in Ireland presents to participate in one-to-one meetings, enabling the company to meet key decision makers, and to understand the precise nature of their challenges and the problems they face. The company uses the opportunity to discuss tailored solutions to the challenges of these potential partners.
While many industry events are so big that it becomes difficult to find relevant contacts, Med in Ireland’s invite-only system guarantees quality exposure to leaders and decision makers in global healthcare.
Conor O’Byrne advises those considering attending Med in Ireland to: “Take time to focus on and think about your patient access and patient communication operations. Often these can be left low down the priority list. This is understandable when there are so many competing issues for attention. We urge healthcare leaders to realise that the healthcare contact centre and patient communication operations of your health system are essential to delivering an excellent patient experience.
If you are about to embark on a journey of evolving how you communicate with your patients, please talk to us.”
Ireland’s leading role in driving the development of the travel industry forward has a long heritage. Learn more about the pedigree of excellence that has shaped the development of some of the world’s most innovative travel tech companies.
Scientific research in the area of deeptech is increasingly driving success for top fintech companies.
Deeptech is the term applied to technologies that result from the commercial application of cutting-edge scientific research. They are the technologies that create radically new solutions, the kind that can upend existing products, processes and even markets.
It is little wonder then that deep technology, the kind that emerges from scientific breakthroughs, is now driving innovation in Ireland’s fintech sector.
Ireland is an established fintech hub. It’s also a country where government policy actively supports the fostering of links between industry and academia.
What deeptech offers top fintech companies
Right now deeptech such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning are being used to drive business performance and to create and capture new commercial opportunities across a range of sectors.
But deeptech is having particular resonance for top fintech companies, as both new and existing financial services players respond to the challenges and opportunities emerging from the increased digitisation of banking, the advent of new payment platforms and ever-changing compliance requirements.
Fintech is an area in which Ireland excels
“Ireland is really good at fintech. Enterprise Ireland [the trade and innovation agency] has a really strong portfolio of top fintech companies in this space and, indeed, is one of the largest investors in fintech start-ups in the world,” says Eoin Fitzgerald, Enterprise Ireland’s senior advisor for fintech.
Enterprise Ireland has invested in over 80 fintech start-ups since 2014. Its portfolio of more than 200 financial services and fintech clients generated over €1 billion in revenue in 2017.
“Ireland is now showing strength in deeptech for the same reasons that it developed its strength in fintech – because it has both a strong international financial services sector and a strong technology sector,” he says.
Ireland is the fourth-largest exporter of financial services in the EU. More than 250 of the world’s leading financial services firms operate in the country. Almost half of all global hedge fund assets are serviced from Ireland.
It is also home to the operations of nine of the world’s top 10 technology companies, including Facebook, Google and Amazon.
But while Ireland plays host to the world’s leading technology and financial services companies, none of them competes for customers there, a fact that has allowed for an extraordinary culture of collaboration to grow here.
Research excellence driving deeptech developments
This culture extends to the third and perhaps most important driver of Ireland’s strength in deeptech – its strong academic research base.
“Ireland’s most successful deeptech start-ups are either university spin-outs or are created through the commercialisation of the really good fundamental research being carried out here,” says Fitzgerald.
Right now much of this academic research is going into fintech, an area that enjoys enormous support in Ireland.
This was evidenced most recently by the announcement that ADAPT, the Science Foundation Ireland centre for research in digital content, has launched a new financial technology research programme, called Fintech Fusion.
The four-year programme is headquartered at Trinity College Dublin. It involves researchers from Ireland’s Insight Centre for Data Analytics, itself a joint initiative between researchers at Dublin City University, NUI Galway, University College Cork, and University College Dublin. It also involves researchers from Lero, the Irish Software Research Centre.
Its researchers are working with more than a dozen companies to drive breakthroughs in payments, regulation and insurance technologies. The goal is to create fintech innovations with the potential to impact economies, markets, companies, and individuals.
It’s just one example of the way in which Ireland’s collaborative culture is enabling deeptech to drive fintech innovation.
Enterprise Ireland supports fintechs
Enterprise Ireland is to the fore in this process, having recently launched a major new fund to support those fintech and deeptech start-ups that it believes has the capacity to succeed in global markets, in a bid to further innovation in the area.
The new fund is aimed at companies working in areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented and virtual reality, the internet of things (IoT), and blockchain, with a view to helping them achieve key technical and commercial milestones.
It was launched by Ireland’s Minister of State for Financial Services, Michael D’Arcy TD, who affirmed that “developing and supporting the fintech sector is a national priority”.
All this work to support the commercialisation of research is coming to fruition through the success of Enterprise Ireland’s deeptech clients.
“There is a lot of innovation going on, a lot of really interesting technologies emerging and a lot of really good research being commercialised,” says Fitzgerald.
This includes the success of award-winning start-up RecommenderX, who uses machine learning to guide enterprise teams to better data-driven decision-making, and which has worked with companies such as Mastercard.
It includes start-ups such as DataChemist, a Trinity College Dublin spin-out that helps organisations to find new insights that up until now were hidden in their existing data. It is currently building enterprise knowledge graphs for some of Europe’s largest financial organisations.
It also includes groundbreaking companies such as AID:Tech, who uses a combination of blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning to create a decentralised digital identity platform that empowers people to manage their own data securely and privately.
Today it brings transparency to the distribution of aid, welfare, remittances and donations around the world, being nominated as one of Europe’s 100 Digital Champions by the Financial Times in the process.
It’s just one of a growing number of Irish fintech start-ups that have been sparked into life by scientific breakthroughs. It’s also just one more example of how, in Ireland, fintech’s foundations run deep.
Ireland may not be the centre of the universe but when it comes to travel tech, it should be.
As an island nation, travel – and travel technology in all its forms – has always been of vital importance to Ireland. It’s why St. Brendan pipped Christopher Columbus in voyaging to America by a mere 900 years.
Being an island on Europe’s western periphery ensured Ireland played a central role in the history of aviation too. Iconic aviators from Alcock and Brown to Charles Lindbergh all made a beeline for these shores.
Antrim’s Lilian Bland was the world’s first female aviation engineer and when the Atlantic was first crossed from east to west in 1928, an Irishman, James Fitzmaurice, was on board. For a time, the modest Limerick port of Foynes, still famous for its flying boats, was the actual epicentre of commercial aviation.
Ireland’s journey to becoming one of the world’s great travel tech hubs
This aviation heritage helped inspire further successes, from creating the modern duty free shopping concept to developing aircraft leasing as a standalone business. Today, well over 50% of the world’s leased commercial airlines are managed from Ireland.
“It’s why, if you look around at the key figures who dominate air travel, you’ll see people such as Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, Alan Joyce at Qantas, and Willie Walsh at IAG,” says John Magill, senior development advisor with Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency.
Certainly, as a country with a widespread diaspora, the Irish are well used to travelling. And as the land of the “Hundred Thousand Welcomes”, it is renowned for its hospitality too.
All of this helps explain why Ireland is today one of the world’s great travel tech hubs.
Meet Ireland’s travel tech innovators
In recent years, it has given rise to world-beating innovators, such as Hostelworld, the world’s leading hostel-focused online booking platform.
It has helped spawn CarTrawler too, the world’s leading B2B travel technology platform providing transport solutions to almost one billion passengers annually, and Roomex, a leading hotel booking platform for business travel.
“We have a cohort of people who love this industry and who have a passion for it,” explains Magill.
It’s why Ireland is home to one of the most active Travel Massive chapters in the world, he reckons. Travel Massive is the community for travel industry founders, leaders, and creators. “In Ireland it’s all about getting people to events so that they can help each other out.”
Ireland’s traditional strength in ICT feeds into travel technology too. “When you tell the world you are writing your software in Ireland, nobody blinks. For the last 40 years we have been the second largest exporter of software in the world,” he says.
The fact that artificial intelligence is increasingly driving the travel industry plays to Ireland’s strengths, giving rise to a new crop of high flyers.
These include companies such as Boxever, developer of a personalisation platform that uses data and AI to make customer interactions smarter. It works with airlines around the world, including Ryanair, Viva Air Group, and Hong Kong Express.
Specialist room revenue agency Revanista provides AI-supported yield optimisation and channel management to hoteliers.
Aerospace Software Developments (ASD) develops applications based on RFID identity chip technology for the aviation and aerospace sectors.
“From engineering and technology right through to innovative tour operators such as Topflight, who have expanded into new markets such as UK school tours, travel is something we are really good at,” says Magill.
Global reach of Irish travel tech companies
The fact that major travel tech companies such as Airbnb, Google, Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor all have their European hubs, and in many cases EMEA HQs, in Ireland also feeds into its unique travel tech ecosystem, points out Máire P. Walsh, SVP Digital Technologies at Enterprise Ireland.
Irish travel tech companies have global reach too. CarTrawler is working with Alaska Airlines and Likewhere, which provides travellers with a personalised content experience, is working with the Hilton Hotels group.
“In essence, Irish travel tech companies have core technologies to empower stakeholders to transform the customer journey, drive operational efficiencies, and unlock greater profitability through dynamic pricing, ancillary revenues, and personalization,” says Walsh.
“Ireland is a travel tech hub with very many leading companies in the market – across ancillary revenues, dynamic pricing and booking technology – taking you along the entire customer journey, from pre-ticket booking to post-trip.”
Ireland’s travel heritage enables it to see clearly the problems travel companies have, while its tech heritage helps it to develop innovative solutions.
“It’s not just transforming the customer journey but driving operational efficiencies and building new revenue streams – brand new opportunities are opening up that really have an impact on the bottom line,” says Walsh.
The advent of Online Travel Agents (OTAs) has long since shaken up the travel industry, disintermediating the traditional connection between providers and customers.
The right travel tech can bridge this gap. “The travel industry has realised that the most important part of their business is their customer. They recognise the need to own the customer journey. To do that they have to make sure that the journey is seamless, that they are able to meet customers across every device, in their own time zones, reaching out to them at the right time, with the right offer,” says Walsh.
Irish travel tech companies are helping them do just that. “Airlines have figured out the value of ancillary revenues but hotels and cruise ships have not. There is now a massive opportunity for them to do so, and to further extend that relationship so that the customer doesn’t have to go to loads of different places to get things done.”
Irish travel tech companies already have a wealth of experience in the core areas “where there is an urgency for revenues”, she says.
“Enterprise Ireland can connect you with these market leaders and the advanced technologies they have developed that are driving profitability across the travel industry.”
For travel tech, Ireland is the premier destination.
Consolidation will continue in the global airline sector, as full service carriers are increasingly forced to compete with low cost competitors, Irish aviation expert Patrick Murphy told delegates at a recent Travel Massive event in Dublin.
Murphy is a former chairman of Ryanair, began his aviation career at flag carrier Aer Lingus, and worked for IATA before providing consultancy to clients such as Gulf Air and All Nippon Airways. He currently works with Peach Aviation, the Japanese low cost airline.
He was interviewed at Travel Massive Dublin in a packed auditorium containing representatives of Ireland’s travel tech industry.
Ireland is an established travel tech hub that includes companies such as Arvoia, which provides AI driven technology to travel companies, ASD (Aerospace Software Development), and Flightman, developer of a suite of software products that synchronise data exchanges between aircraft and airline ground systems.
How low cost carriers have disrupted the global airline sector
The dominant trend is now the efforts established airlines are being forced to make to compete with low cost carriers. “They have to, their profitability depends on it,” said Murphy.
That’s a process that’s not going to stop. Low cost carriers have already disrupted full service airlines in Europe and the US, and are now doing the same in Asia, he said.
Consolidation will remain the order of the day. “There were 12 major carriers in the United States in 1990. There are now effectively three, plus three low cost airlines,” he said.
“Consolidation is part of the inevitable effect of trying to get more competitive as a full service airline. In Asia, we are seeing exactly the same phenomenon. Meanwhile, low cost carriers can continue to do things differently.”
Will an ‘Amazon of travel’ emerge?
They are developing their offering and attracting passengers. Peach has been in business for seven years and is one of the few airlines that has been consistently profitable in Asia.
But while it may appear as if low cost and full service airlines are fated to “meet in the middle”, homogeneity is in fact unlikely.
“There has to be differentiation. If you want to succeed in business, you have to differentiate in terms of your quality or your services or what you’re offering,” he said.
In what Hoban refers to as today’s “platform economy”, which is leaving businesses in all sectors grappling with the effects of the rise of businesses such as Uber and Amazon, which can deliver products and services with precision, how feasible is it for airlines to have a vision “of becoming the Amazon of travel?” she asked.
“The principle of doing that is absolutely right but the ability of becoming an Amazon is very doubtful because of the range and scope of what is involved,” he said.
That said, what is open to every carrier, whether low cost or full service, is the ability to offer “the complete package, including the transport to the airport from down town, the changed bookings, the advertising, the promotion of other services, the hotel,” he said.
The days of consumers going to their airline website to book and then heading off to another site to book their hotel are now coming to an end.
While the likes of Google and Amazon are competitors coming at airline passengers with a comprehensive range of services, the airlines in fact still have a golden opportunity, “because you have the customer, you’re in direct contact with them, they are your customers,” said Murphy.
Opportunities for travel tech start-ups in Asia and beyond
He is optimistic about the opportunities currently open to travel technology companies. Even Google can’t move into travel by itself, he points out, it will need acquisitions to do so.
The market opportunities are enormous. Taking China as an example, whereas people previously travelled just once a year to visit parents, today they fly for holidays, parties and events. “It’s like the old days when the only reason Irish people travelled on ferries was price. Lower the price of air travel and they’d fly, and that’s exactly what happened,” said Murphy.
All airlines have begun driving non-ticket revenue growth, but are still only at the tip of the iceberg, he reckons. This too creates opportunity for travel tech companies.
“We’re dependent on technology companies to help us provide all the personalisation, the retailing platform, the integration with passenger booking systems, and all that essentially needs to be pulled together,” he said.
Airlines, which have traditionally been characterised by silos, will need help doing that so that the data can be comprehensively brought together. By their nature, airlines are not good at retailing either, he said, which creates further opportunities for travel tech.
Those airlines that don’t innovate “are out of the game,” he said.
“We are going to see more and more consolidation. So the prospects are good for everyone who is profitable and can continue to grow profitably. But anyone who slips up, slows down or doesn’t put the investment in – they’ll be out and there’ll be more for the rest. I’m confident the big low cost airlines will be the survivors but the traditional FSAs still need to adapt and change to the competitive environment.”
Sustainable finance requires sustainable solutions. Read how Irish fintechs are delivering them.
Sustainable finance covers everything from environmental issues and climate change, to anti-money laundering (AML) and cyber protection measures. It is an increasingly critical agenda item for institutional investors, asset managers, banks, and the insurance sector.
Ireland’s innovative fintech start-ups are playing their part, helping to ensure the world benefits from sustainable finance.
Ireland’s Year of Sustainable Finance
Fittingly, 2019 is Ireland’s Year of Sustainable Finance. This has seen a rolling series of domestic and international events taking place, highlighting and developing Ireland’s growth as a global centre of excellence in sustainable finance.
Ireland’s Financial Services Minister Michael D’Arcy has made sustainable finance a key theme in the Irish government’s IFS 2020 Strategy action plan for 2019.
Its objectives include the development of a national roadmap to support the continued growth of sustainable finance activities in Ireland, organising Climate Finance Week in November and exploring the development of a sustainable finance innovation programme of activities, including in the area of green fintech.
Ireland is increasingly seen as a centre of excellence in the area of sustainable finance, with regard to the huge sums of capital required to finance projects to tackle climate change in Ireland and globally.
But sustainable finance isn’t only about environmental issues. It is also about ensuring financial services companies engage in good corporate governance, ensure regulatory compliance, safeguard cyber security and customer privacy and mitigate fraud.
This is a space in which Irish fintech innovators are particularly proactive, creating innovative and robust new tools for Know Your Customer and AML.
Green fintechs leading from Ireland
Irish company Sedicii’s AML monitoring solution enables banks to collaborate without sharing data, helping to reduce false positives and identify risks in real time, as well as enabling real-time digital customer onboarding.
Banks can also verify customers in minutes with Sedicii’s fully compliant consent-driven KYC solution.
Daon is a leader in biometric authentication and identity assurance solutions worldwide. It has pioneered methods for securely and conveniently combining biometric and identity capabilities across multiple channels.
Daon has activated large-scale deployments spanning payments verification, digital banking and wealth management for financial services customers that include BNP Paribas Wealth Management in Luxembourg.
Irish fintech giant Fexco has developed ENCASH (Electronic Network Cash Tellers), the world’s first ever mobile cash withdrawal solution. It has been launched in the Philippines, a country in which more than 95% of all transactions are completed in cash and yet is poorly served by ATMs.
Fexco EasyDebit is a unique service that uses a mobile Point of Sale (or mPOS pin entry device) and a mobile phone to allow customers to withdraw cash using their ATM card at any number of local accredited merchants including payment and remittance centres, retailers, rural banks and cooperatives, instead of needing to travel to an ATM.
PiP iT, a fintech start-up, has developed a unique B2B platform that powers international cash transactions so that its partners and their customers can accept cash for cross-border bill payments, load cash onto eWallets, accept cash for ecommerce orders and lodge cash into bank accounts across borders.
PiP iT’s platform clients use it to generate and issue bills or vouchers to their customers, who receive them on their mobile phone – or can print them out – and then take them to PiP iT collection agents worldwide, such as retailers and post offices, to make their payments. These are then settled to PiP iT, and on to the client’s bank.
Payments are made offline, so there are fewer security risks. It is designed to be easy to use, operating via the sending of a barcode. But crucially, the end user doesn’t need banks or cards to make payments. This makes it of particular value in those parts of the world where significant numbers of people remain unbanked.
Irish start-up AID:Tech uses a combination of blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning to create a decentralised digital identity platform, which empowers people to manage their own data securely and privately.
It was the first company in the world to deliver international aid using blockchain technology, when it did so for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, on behalf of the Irish Red Cross.
Today it brings transparency to the distribution of aid, welfare, remittances and donations around the world, and has been nominated as one of Europe’s 100 Digital Champions by the Financial Times.
Priviti helps companies to manage individuals’ consent for data sharing and transactions, to reduce data privacy and regulatory compliance risk.
It ensures organisations have a regulatory compliant audit trail with irrefutable evidence that their customer had provided explicit consent when sharing customer data. It also ensures customers have full control over which private information is to be shared with whom, while Priviti never sees, stores or monetises customer identifiable data.
Award winning start-up DX Compliance Solutions offers artificially intelligent, efficiency-enhancing software solutions for AML, anti-financial crime and anti-terrorist financing compliance and has customers that include banks, fintechs and insurance companies.
These, like so many other Irish fintechs, are creating the sustainable solutions that help to power sustainable finance worldwide.