Irish mobile and wireless tech innovators announced a number of new deals and partnerships at the most recent Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona in February.
“This is the leading event for mobile and wireless telecommunications and brings Irish innovation to a world audience,” said David Byrne, manager of the electronics division at Enterprise Ireland.
22 companies supported by Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, attended this year’s event, including innovators such as Cubic Telecom, Asavie, Openet and iKydz. 13 companies showcased solutions in the area of emerging technologies at the Irish Pavilion stand.
MWC is the largest mobile event in the world, bringing together the latest innovations and cutting-edge technology from more than 2,400 companies.
Global tech deals at Mobile World Congress 2019
Five Irish companies announced deals with global tech giants such as Microsoft and Samsung at the event.
Openet, who offers real-time software solutions and services, announced a partnership with Samsung, who will adopt their products in North America.
Leaders in connected intelligence, Cubic Telecom, will collaborate on the Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform, and also announced a deal with European car manufacturer Skoda.
Irish digital parenting company iKydz launched a sim card that allows parents to govern their children’s internet usage. Speaking at MWC, iKydz’s Paul Van Den Bergh said, “It’s proving very popular with operators around the world.”
Welcoming the announcements at Mobile World Congress was Seán Canney, TD, Minister of State for Natural Resources, Community Affairs and Digital Development, who said, “As a country that wants to be at the forefront of digital technology, this is where it is happening. It’s probably the world stage for technology companies.”
What defines companies that thrive when expanding to new markets? The key often lies in communicating a product’s differentiation and its unique value proposition, writes Sara Hill, SVP of Advanced Technologies, US, Enterprise Ireland.
What’s the difference?
With increasing volumes of new products released each year, international markets are becoming more and more crowded, making it harder for companies to produce a truly unique offering. Yet at the same time, not having a strong differentiator or features that are clearly unique from your competitors is simply not an option.
As consumers are faced with more choices than ever and increasing competition for their attention, clear differentiation is critical to the selection process. Often, the success of a product will be driven by the benefits versus price ratio — where benefits must outweigh price in order to offer enough value to the customer. Managing product differentiation is about appealing to your target customers in a way that will deliver the most value, ensuring that the core elements and main differentiators satisfy your customer’s expectations, ideally delighting them, and taking precautions to guard against feature fatigue.
Different is better
In my role as SVP of Advanced Technologies, US, with Enterprise Ireland, I work with Irish technology companies that are entering and expanding in the US West Coast market. A main focus is working with them to develop their presence in market, build key relationships, and establish partnerships.
A major target for many of the companies I work with is Silicon Valley, an epicentre of technological innovation, and also, an extremely crowded market. Strong competition makes it essential that companies entering and expanding here manage product differentiation to appeal to and serve their ideal customers, innovate without creating feature fatigue, and always deliver on their core offerings.
Many of the companies I’ve worked closely with have found success by sticking to these principles, and a large part of my role is recognising their differentiators and communicating them to potential partners and customers. One exemplary company that has managed product differentiation by continuously innovating yet still delivering on core elements, allowing them to win and keep customers, is Taoglas.
Headquartered in Wexford, Ireland, Taoglas is a growing, multinational company. It offers advanced antenna products and services for the telecommunications, Internet of Things (IoT), industrial and automotive sectors. Taoglas provides advanced antenna and custom RF innovation products to many of the world’s leading wireless and IoT companies. It has an extensive menu of product and service offerings and is consistently working to develop new innovations and features to stay competitive in these fast-paced markets. Retaining a balance between features and complexity through its product innovations has contributed to its growth and satisfied repeat customers. Producing quality products and focusing on providing great, personalised service have become its key differentiators.
Taoglas invests a lot of energy in developing good relationships with customers and making sure it delivers on promises, remaining open and collaborative, and providing hands-on service. It ensures that products and services are tailored to their target customers’ needs. Taoglas manages its product differentiation by choosing the right features and focusing on fulfilling the basic benefits these customers value most. Joint founder and CEO, Dermot O’Shea, explains, “We don’t just provide our customers with an antenna, we work to fully understand their unique challenges and applications, and the total value of their product and service.”
This becomes a powerful way in which they differentiate—by seamlessly extending exceptional service through to their products and services. Best-selling expert Seth Godin articulates this integration in Purple Cow, “Remarkable marketing is the art of building things worth noticing right into your product or service.” In a competitive market, service can be a crucial element of success, a way of cutting through the noise and a way for companies to differentiate without overcomplicating or adding too many unnecessary features to products. Taoglas has been able to continually deliver on their promise to customers.
A second Irish company I work with has a software product for commercial fleet operators to digitally manage driver safety and fleet risk data across its fleets. Using a combination of smart cameras, telemetry and autonomous/collision avoidance technologies, the software platform (CameraMatics) allows fleet managers to manage fleet risk and compliance in real time.
As ProVision prepares to enter the US market, managing product differentiation will play a large role in determining customer adoption, satisfaction and loyalty. Its new product has added features to differentiate against competitors with other camera bases solutions. These features were added to make the product more relevant and appealing and gain new customers in a new market.
ProVision’s innovative solution augments on existing products available in the market to provide the most relevant solution to its target customer. In order to keep customers satisfied in the long term, it must ensure new features don’t add too much complexity, maintain high utility, and that its core offering is successfully delivered on.
Two examples of how ProVision manages product differentiation to keep this balance include customer feedback for product enhancement by relevance, and focusing the product to execute best in class user experience, in other words, ‘making risk management easy’.
ProVision has engaged in a trial experience with a various fleet types to gain market research and valuable customer feedback on the utility of its product. As Rust, Thompson and Hamilton noted, without market research and customer feedback, “too much weight will be given to capability, and the result will likely be products with too many features.”
The insight it will gain through this trial engagements will help the company tailor its product features to what customers value most. Secondly, ProVision has chosen to focus its product around a clear message, “Transforming Fleet Risk Management”. This is its product promise and key differentiator.
ProVision takes precautions against perplexing customers by not attempting to present or overwhelm all aspects of fleet management in the product at once. It leads with the core of their offering, what its target customers value most — reducing risk and improving driver safety, with the complex matter as an underlay, therefore making it easy for customers to implement and get buy in from the potential user within each customer organisation.
As part of my role, I help Irish companies entering the US market create a simplified product message where target customers can easily understand the value of the offering. By managing their product differentiation and prioritising the balance between staying innovative, adding new and unique features, and complexity, ProVision is well positioned for a successful market entry.
It’s important to always remember who you’re creating a product for, and that the true promise of the product is delivered. By delivering on the basics, solving the main customer needs, companies can better insure repeat business and prevent against losing their market share. Too often companies are distracted by adding peripheral and augmented features, and forget what customers care about most; that there is an increase in benefits relative to cost and that the core and expected features of the product are upheld. This is when a product differentiation strategy will produce the best results with the highest chances of market success.
CES is recognised as the world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies. The show has served as a proving ground for innovators and breakthrough technologies for 50 years — the global stage where next-generation innovations are introduced to the marketplace. This year, CES is showcasing more than 4,500 exhibiting companies, including manufacturers, developers, and suppliers of consumer technology hardware, content, technology delivery systems and more — a conference program with 250 conference sessions and more than 180,000 attendees from 150 countries.
Home to global technology leaders, electronics companies and research institutes, Ireland’s tightly-knit ecosystem enables technology providers to develop solutions that collect and transform data into value. And it’s no doubt Irish tech innovation and CES are a great fit.
The Irish tech community includes global technology leaders, electronics companies and research institutions — and being recognised as the third-most resilient supply chain in the world — Irish companies enable some of the world’s most advanced applications. To best leverage the many learning and networking experiences that CES 2019 has to offer, a number of leading Enterprise Ireland-supported technology firms are attending the show this year.
Irish companies attending CES 2019:
Decawave (https://www.decawave.com/) Decawave is a developer of semiconductor solutions, software, modules and reference designs that enable real-time, ultra-accurate, ultra-reliable local area micro-location services. The company’s UWB wireless technology enables a new class of easy-to-implement, highly secure, intelligent location functionality and services for IoT and smart consumer products and applications.
Cubic Telecom (http://www.cubictelecom.com/) Cubic Telecom is a global connectivity platform company offering solutions for IoT, M2M, and device manufacturing companies. Cubic Telecom is built on a diverse and fast-growing team of 120, located across their headquarters in Dublin, Ireland and at six other facilities around the globe.
Taoglas (https://www.taoglas.com/) Ireland-headquartered Taoglas provides a comprehensive range of external, embedded and base station antenna solutions for M2M applications such as automotive, smart grid, metering/telemetry, home automation, remote monitoring, and medical applications and more. The company’s surface-mount antenna range and flexible embedded products are unique in the industry.
Drop (https://www.kitchenos.com/ Recognised as a world-class connected kitchen platform for brands, the world’s leading appliance makers use Drop’s Kitchen OS to create an intuitive smart kitchen experience. From user identity management to machine-readable recipe formats, and an acclaimed mobile app, Drop provides the tools needed to create a great user experience.
Xunisun (https://xunison.com/) Xunison Ltd is a software and hardware development company based in Ireland, offering a wide array of services including smart home automation, streaming devices, IPTV/OTT services, and home entertainment. Xunison is a young and vibrant company striving to create innovative, creative ideas in the ever-changing world of technology.
Sweepr (https://sweepr.com) Sweepr was developed to provide a platform of autonomous care capabilities for the connected home. The Sweepr platform consists of agent components deployed in the home to gather context and to support homeowner interactions. The platform employs a suite of best-in-class technologies to provide a high-quality user experience and interactivity.
Firmwave (http://www.firmwave.com/) Firmwave develops innovative technologies for repaid IoT product prototyping and product design, iterative development and customer feedback cycles, validation and continual improvement. Firmwave® Edge software provides a pay-as-you-go platform for customers to connect, manage and maintain their edge devices in an efficient and secure way.
Overhaul (https://over-haul.com/) Committed to improving customers’ global supply chain, security operations and day-to-day operations, Overhaul develops end-to-end visibility and risk management software solutions to completely automate the monitoring process and ensure compliance requirements are met — the Overhaul platform is anything but typical.
Design Partners (https://www.designpartners.com/) Design Partners is a product design and interaction design agency that has been designing best-selling and award-winning product experiences for brands around the world for more than 30 years. Focused on three categories: consumer, healthcare and professional, Design Partners believes that all great projects begin with a clear sense of purpose.
MOBY (https://mobymove.com) MOBY is committed to designing and developing inspiring electric vehicles aimed at the micro mobility sector include both elegant form and unprecedented function so that commuters have better choices when it comes to getting around towns and cities.
Established in 2004, Ireland-based Taoglas is a leading designer and manufacturer of communication antennas for the Global IoT (Internet of Things) market. Taoglas provides advanced antenna and RF innovation to many of the world’s leading wireless and IoT companies.
With eight world-class design, support and test centers globally, Taoglas works with its customers to provide the best solutions for their unique device challenges. The company’s in-house manufacturing capabilities enable Taoglas to deliver the highest-quality products on time, every time.
The Taoglas team provides expertise across many different wireless and IoT use cases, including transportation, metering, smart grid, medical devices, remote monitoring, and business continuity. The company’s success crosses a variety of tech applications, including cellular, Wi-Fi, GNSS, LoRa, NFC, LPWA, ISM and beyond to 5G.
“In today’s global business economy, companies must build strong, personal relationships with their clients, no matter where they are located,” said Dermot O’Shea, Joint CEO, and Co-founder, Taoglas Group. “We don’t just provide our customers with an antenna, we work to fully understand their unique challenges and applications, and the total value of their product and service.”
O’Shea explained that only when they completely understand what problem they are trying to solve can they help come up with a better solution. Quiet often a deep dive into a project is required to achieve this understanding, and when the customer has better device performance they will be more successful — and so will Taoglas.
The Taoglas team works closely with customers to specify and integrate the best antenna and RF products to deliver reliably and consistently throughout the device lifecycle. The company’s US customers often need assistance with carrier approvals and cellular certification, and the antenna is a critical part of meeting those requirements.
“We are about to help launch a new generation of eScooters with CalAmp at 2019’s CES show,” said O’Shea. “CalAmp has been a great customer and partner for over 10 years, and we’ve scaled our business right along with their growth in this fast-paced, competitive new market.”
Powered by CalAmp’s intelligent telematics devices and cloud services from PWS, the vehicle-sharing model delivers on-demand access to environmentally-friendly vehicle alternatives. CalAmp telematics devices send data to the cloud platform that analyzes valuable utilization data and displays real-time location on the ride-sharing application. With this information, riders can locate a nearby scooter and access mileage, usage and payment information. Undoubtedly, antenna performance and reliability are key concerns for such a connected product and service.
The Taoglas Irish advantage
Irish companies have a unique approach to partnering with global customers. The Irish workforce is one of the most flexible and educated in the world and a forward-looking mindset means that product, service and process innovation is a key driving factor. Coupled with a proven track record of meeting global market leader needs, the Irish Advantage is obvious.
“I think Irish companies are seen as world class because of our open and friendly culture, our determination to succeed, and a dedication to quality and customer service,” said O’Shea. “We’re very good at understanding different cultures and are comfortable no matter what the location or situation.”
“The flexibility of Irish firms is helped by a young, motivated workforce,” added O’Shea. “We’ve relied on the talents, education, and adaptability of our Irish-based workforce for many years. I’m very proud of what we have achieved, and the successes we’ve been able to deliver for our many clients.”
By Padraic Geraghty, UK market advisor in digital technology.
Internet of Things (IoT) solutions are set to benefit companies in both Ireland and the UK in the coming years. This is largely due to the impact of a key cohort of companies with expertise in core telecoms and the information and communication technologies that underpin them.
The relevance and importance of this expertise should not be underestimated. Despite some of the big claims made for it, IoT is actually a recent iteration of traditional telecoms technology and the benefits for both UK and Irish companies could be huge if harnessed correctly. While, in the past, this technology was used to connect people, it is now increasingly being used to connect things as well.
There is also a significant focus on using IoT throughout the UK to change and improve people’s everyday lives. An example of this is Cityverve, a smart city project in Manchester which has a large IoT focus. The aim is to make Manchester smarter, connecting people and things within the city to help drive innovation and commercial opportunity. Then, over time, using the insight generated by IoT devices to deliver a citizen experience that both inspires and empowers them to experience a better quality of life. This aim is achieved by partnerships between Irish and UK companies as they work together to deliver solutions.
The role of Internet of Things in business
The arrival of 4G and 5G communications technologies will enable the connection of vast numbers of devices with built-in sensors to gather data, that was previously difficult and costly to obtain.
One issue to consider is that much of that data will be of little, or no use, to UK companies and organisations collecting it. Just because a technology exists doesn’t mean a company has to use it. There should be a defined role for the application of IoT in a business. In many ways, the decision can be redefined by a rule termed the ‘internet of important things’. If the data being gathered, or connections being made, add value to the business, the technology should be used. Otherwise it should not.
Sectors already employing IoT
World-class Irish companies are developing international reputations, largely focused on the industrial space and, as a result, UK companies are taking note. These companies are moving in a small and highly specialised niche, providing solutions to a range of sectors, including transport, logistics, manufacturing, engineering, and utilities. Irish IoT companies rarely operate in the relatively low-value consumer space.
The IoT ambition is focused on all aspects of the transportation sector; trains, boats and planes. Developments in IoT are enabling entire trains to be connected, beyond just passenger wifi and movies streamed in displays in seat backs. IoT technology is also being used to connect mechanical aspects of the train, too. Data is collected from the motors, contact with the track, various sensors in the carriages and the locomotive, to help improve safety and efficiency. Wifi is also now available in the sky for aircraft. While aircraft manufacturers have been connecting up avionics for quite a while, wifi services for passengers are new.
Companies to watch in the IoT space
While both delivering impressive innovations and progress within the IoT space, the UK can benefit from the solutions Irish companies are developing in the area.
Dublin-based Magnet Networks has a UK presence and is currently involved in a smart city IoT project in Wembley. It provides all the connectivity to the 85-acre Wembley Park smart city project which aims to reinvent renting and show how technology can infinitely help the way we live and work. Wembley Park, which encircles Wembley Stadium, will feature 5,000 new homes and 1 metre sq ft of commercial space – all connected to Magnet Network’s high-speed 20GB broadband network controlling a range of IoT devices. It was created in a joint venture with developers Quintain, which has already proved to be a potent lure for potential tenants in what is seen as the exemplar for future smart cities in Europe.
Over-C enables end-to-end visibility to service-centric operations while optimising compliance, reducing risk, and delivering smart paperless reporting. Over-C recently announced a partnership with O2 and ScotRail, Scotland’s national rail service provider. The technology partnership will enable O2 to offer Over-C’s digital transformation solution to new and existing clients in the UK, under the name O2 Smart Compliance.
ScotRail, which manages more than 350 stations across Scotland and employs over 5,000 people, has signed a five-year agreement to use O2 Smart Compliance, as part of their commitment to increase safety and facilitate compliance.
Vinnett Taylor, Head of IoT sales for O2, added: “At O2, we are constantly on the lookout for strategic partners that offer disruptive solutions that allow us to deliver quantifiable transformative impacts for our enterprise customers. Our goal was to offer an Internet of Things solution that combined innovative connected devices with scalable, customisable solutions, bringing together sensor data, cloud storage, machine learning and enhanced connectivity. Over-C’s platform delivers on all counts.”
These companies are supported by an exceptionally strong academic research base in Ireland, as well as world-class research centres.
These research efforts, combined with the existing cohort of established and emerging companies with expertise in the technology, have helped create a vibrant IoT ecosystem in Ireland – an ecosystem which UK companies should absolutely be benefiting from.
Founded in 1998 by CEO Frank Madden, Crest Solutions has grown to become a leading provider of machine vision, serialisation and managed services to the European life sciences industry. The company specialises in assisting companies in the sector to implement digital technologies and services that will enable them to become more compliant and competitive.
Crest Solutions numbers some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies among its blue chip customer base. From vials, blister packs and cartons to labels, packs and pallets, Crest systems inspect, mark, verify, track and trace components and their associated packaging through the entire supply and distribution chains.
Madden recalls starting up the firm with more than a hint of humour. “I set up Crest with another guy,” he says. “We were both operations managers with Apple, which was closing part of the factory in Cork at the time. We had been writing software to make the factory more efficient. We sold our Apple shares because we figured the company was going nowhere. We set up back then providing solutions to the manufacturing industry, focusing mainly on the pharmaceutical industry. Our aim now is to build the world’s leading provider of Industry 4.0 solutions to the life sciences industry – we are digitalising the life sciences industry.”
Crest counts 40 of the world’s top 50 pharma companies as customers
A conscious decision to focus on the life sciences sector was taken early on. “We don’t go outside the industry,” says Madden. “It’s a very highly regulated sector. Once you start working with the industry you become very specialised. Our key customers include 40 of the world’s top 50 pharmaceutical companies and we now have offices across Europe – in Ireland, the UK, Benelux and Sweden. Our group sales stand at more than €35 million and we employ 200 highly trained and experienced people. At the moment, we are a pan-European company at the point of moving into the US market.”
The highly regulated nature of the life sciences sector has meant that it has traditionally been quite slow to adopt new technologies, but this is changing, Madden explains. “The industry was almost forced to be deliberative and slow, but a major change has come about in the FDA. It is now encouraging companies in the sector to be more innovative and to move to Industry 4.0.”
Crest is well positioned to provide the innovative solutions required in this new reality. “We have been in the industry for 20 years now and have been the largest industry vision supplier for the past 15 years. We are in there already, helping the industry comply with things like serialisation requirements.”
Tracking life sciences products through the entire supply chain
This is the assignment of unique, traceable numbers to individual items produced by the life sciences industry. “It’s putting a number plate on every product, so that you can track it through the entire supply chain,” he explains. “The legislation requiring this is coming into force in Europe in February 2019. It’s the biggest transformation in the industry in 30 years. Industry 4.0 is the next wave, it’s a logical progression.”
Interestingly, cost is not the key driver here. “The motivation in the life sciences industry is improved compliance. It’s not about cutting jobs or costs. There is an awful lot more plant and equipment than people in the industry in any case. Industry 4.0 is about augmenting human capabilities, helping people make better decisions. It will also take away the boring repetitive jobs and allow employees do higher-value work and it will enable the industry to become even more compliant and produce better-quality products.”
The firm’s strategy is to combine its own technologies with the best in class from around the world. “We spend €1.2 million a year on R&D,” says Madden. “We have a hugely talented team of software developers and we hire about 20 graduates each year. We have very close relationships with the colleges and have been very well supported by Enterprise Ireland, especially in our expansion on international markets.”
Investment in innovation is crucial
This investment is crucial if Crest is to stay ahead of its competitors, he continues. “We have a suite of Industry 4.0 products that we are either already providing or which are at various stages of development. We also put a lot of work into finding new technologies. We always go out in search of the best of breed. If the technology is way ahead of where we are, we will seek to represent the company involved.”
This strategy has paid dividends for Crest. “We have been growing at a compound rate of 35% per annum,” says Madden.
The majority of this growth tends to come from existing customers. “We build very close relationships with our customers. We don’t add a lot of customers each year. It’s more a case of supplying more services to our existing base.”
Madden credits Enterprise Ireland with a key role in Crest’s success over the years. “Enterprise Ireland has been a partner from the very beginning. The first week we left Apple we went on an Enterprise Ireland programme. We have used every programme they have. It’s not just financial support, their advice and programmes have been hugely important to us. Enterprise Ireland has always helped us in the right way at the right time.”
Ryan Shaughnessy describes how he helps US companies to source innovative solutions for their challenges in his work as a market advisor for the industrial technology sector, based in Enterprise Ireland’s Chicago office.
What are the main trends shaping industrial technology in your region?
Manufacturing output is up 4% in the US this year, which is driving general growth in the area. More specifically, we are seeing a lot of IT-related growth, as a result of widespread demand for innovative solutions that address major challenges.
In farming, we are seeing the development of new agritech solutions, as technology is used to increase yield and help those in the area to maximise efficiencies and be more productive.
How do you work with Irish and US companies?
Advisors use regional and local expertise to help Irish companies to adapt solutions for partners in markets like the US. We also hold events to introduce potential US partners to Irish companies that can help them with their specific challenges – which is really a form of matchmaking!
Who are you working with at the moment?
I am working with a number of great Irish companies, including Ventac, a noise specialist who sells into the automotive sector. Another Irish company is Cubic Telecom, who are very strong in the Internet of Things (IoT) and connectivity solutions. They are are strong examples of what innovative Irish companies offer the US car manufacturing industry.
Why should US companies want to work with Enterprise Ireland?
We offer in-market and international experience, knowledge and networks.
As someone from an Irish business said to me recently, we are essentially an extension of the companies we back. We support and develop the most innovative Irish companies with funding and mentoring to become a well-resourced extra arm of the company. We work with them through their entire journey, from starting out to scaling up, and our resources help them to deliver the best solutions for clients in international markets.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I can honestly say that there is no typical day. For example, yesterday I had a meeting with an Irish company who has a business plan for the North American market. Earlier in the week, I was in the Carolinas helping a client who is in the process of setting up an office, which is due to open next year. During that week, we met local developmental associations, attended a trade fair, and also met potential customers to discuss their needs.
What I love most about my job is being able to use my past experience in distribution, sales and marketing, and business development to help the companies I support. It’s really rewarding when a client comes to me with a plan for the US market and asks me to analyse it. After a period of time, their plan is underway and they are growing sales while solving problems for US customers.
I love the travel element too and feel very lucky to work with some of the most cutting-edge technologies from Ireland and helping to introduce it to the US.
We are now on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution, barely three decades after the dawning of the third in the late 1960s. It took fully two centuries to progress from the first industrial revolution to the third, and the arrival of the fourth, or Industry 4.0, will likely bring about changes every bit as profound for economies and society as the first did in the 18th century.
Technologies like artificial intelligence, big data analytics, machine learning, and robotics have the potential to revolutionise the way we live and work, while consumer trends such as mass customisation will lead to fundamental changes in the manufacturing business model.
The challenge for manufacturers in this new world is how to avoid being swept away by new, more nimble competitors who are able to make bespoke products for customers faster and cheaper than they can.
Smart manufacturing revolution in the age of IIoT
The response will be built around smart manufacturing. According to Brendan Sheppard, CEO of Limerick-based SmartFactory, smart manufacturing puts intelligence in the system, rather than relying on manual processes. “A revolution in manufacturing is firmly under way,” he says. “The next five years will see smart factories drive performance improvements that significantly exceed previous efforts.
“At its heart, smart manufacturing is about getting people away from paper and spreadsheets, guiding them digitally through their work processes and giving them real-time actionable data, to optimise operational performance,” he adds.
The message has been slow to get through to some manufacturers. According to Sheppard, this is mainly due to a mix of fear and inertia, but inaction is a luxury which many will soon be unable to afford.
“Part of what we have seen is a lot of high-value manufacturing but little automation,” he adds. “There are Shingo prize-winning firms whose complete manufacturing process is manual. All the innovation is around the products. Some companies are comfortable with the traditional way of doing things and have overlooked advances. Their focus is on making quality products. Some people also feel threatened by digital transformation and what it means for their roles and ways of doing things.”
Benefits of digital transformation can no longer be ignored
But the benefits of transformation cannot be ignored for much longer. Sheppard’s firm specialises in helping manufacturers digitalise their work processes. “We use wireless sensors and cutting-edge industrial internet of things (IIoT) technology to capture, analyse and visualise KPIs in real time, so that our customers can spend more time fixing losses than finding them.”
At its simplest, this means placing sensors at various points in a production line to provide real-time data on workflows. When analytics are applied, this IIoT data becomes a powerful tool to optimise production.
This power was illustrated in a pilot project run by SmartFactory with a medtech client. “We put in a system on one line on a pilot basis,” says Sheppard. “We were expecting a 3% improvement, and hoping for 5%, but we actually achieved a 13% improvement in productivity. We are now rolling the solution out across the entire site.”
Sheppard says he is on a mission to educate industry about the benefits of smart manufacturing, and he has been joined in this endeavour by Swiss author and digital transformer Ralf Günthner. The pair met at an IIoT event organised by Enterprise Ireland, the national export agency, in Zurich earlier this year and agreed to join forces to help the Irish manufacturing industry avail of the potential of Industry 4.0.
Günthner has co-written a book with his wife, Brain 1.0 meets Technology 4.0, which will be published by Springer next year. The title gives a clue to his views on Industry 4.0 and IIoT and the challenges manufacturing organisations face in implementing them.
Quick wins for an incremental approach to technology on the factory floor
“Enterprise Ireland asked me to give a presentation on IIoT at the event in Zurich,” he recalls. “There were a number of Irish firms there. Brendan gave a presentation on his company and its solutions and we talked later about it. We agreed that you don’t need a highly sophisticated digital strategy at the start. You should take an incremental approach to using technology on the factory floor. It’s not using every possible technology in the production process. If you make parts of a process more efficient, people in the factory can touch the technology and see it working. This makes it tangible and not just theory.”
Making these early quick wins is essential to getting buy-in from people at all levels of the organisation for the new way of working, he contends. And this cuts to the heart of his concept of successful Industry 4.0 adoption – that technology is only a small part, with people and organisation being equally if not more important components.
“If you want Enterprise 4.0 then you need to have all three at 4.0 – organisational structure, the technology, and the mindset of your people,” he contends. “If you just focus on technology, and not organisation and not people, you will end up with Enterprise 3.1.”
Organisations must move away from the hierarchical structures of the past, he adds. “Companies told people what to do and asked them to stop thinking. This is the mindset of the past when managers managed and workers did what they were told. We can’t afford these structures any longer. Companies need to use the full potential of their employees. Every company needs to understand what frameworks are available to it and what best fits its needs. It’s not one size fits all.”
In terms of people, he refers to Douglas McGregor and his X and Y theory of employees. Theory X held that employees dislike work, lack ambition, avoid responsibility, and must be directed and coerced to perform. Theory Y, on the other hand, assumes that employees like work, seek responsibility, are capable of making decisions, and exercise self-direction and self-control when committed to a goal.
Moving to Industry 4.0
“The X theory is Industry 3.0; we need to shift to Y if we are to move to Industry 4.0,” he says. “The biggest challenge is the fear to jump into a new world. It starts at top of the company. New organisational structures mean less hierarchy and more power with the people. Ideally, you do it in parallel. You convince management it is the right way to go while starting at the bottom and demonstrating the benefits of change. It’s a step-by-step approach, not a big bang. It takes time and the changes may take two to three years to implement, not weeks. The key is not to be fearful, be curious, and be open.”
The coming months will see Sheppard and Günthner working together on smart manufacturing projects in both Ireland and Switzerland. “I hope to visit Ireland in the future to work on projects with Brendan,” says Günthner. “I have just founded a new company in Switzerland and I also hope to use SmartFactory solutions for some clients.”
If you were asked to put a pin in the map of Ireland to find a supplier that helps some of the world’s biggest companies keep their customers happy, chances are Skibbereen would not be where your hand first hovered.
But it is to this West Cork fishing village that the likes of Mastercard, Google and Microsoft have turned for telecoms expertise that even Silicon Valley can’t match.
Like many ‘overnight successes’, Spearline has dedicated 15 years of hard graft and remaining agile to building a customer portfolio that sees its automated line software service used in more than 60 countries around the world.
Why Fortune 500 companies are ringing Spearline
One Fortune 500 VP who picks up the phone when Spearline calls is Tom Hinds, Mastercard’s Vice President of Global Contact Centre Infrastructure Management. With more than 65 customer contact centres in 165 countries handling millions of queries, Mastercard’s footprint is truly global.
If customers can’t get through to speak to customer services, Hinds wants to know about it. And Spearline’s automated testing does that in real time.
“The peace of mind it gives me is tremendous. I’m not waiting for a phone call from a country president to tell me that the level of service is not good, because I’m aware of the service ahead of time. I know when the service is degraded and I know when to move it, so I don’t get those calls anymore,” says Hinds.
The risks of missed calls
Spearline began by selling open software for the Irish business telephony market. The market disruption caused by the global recession catalysed Spearline to evolve and develop the innovative product that has driven its rapid global growth.
Managing Director Matt Lawlor explains, “When the recession came, we looked at the business and decided that we couldn’t stay focused solely on the Irish market, we needed to focus on exports. We had bigger ambitions.
“We looked at the international problems we felt we could solve with our experience. We realised that large multinational organisations really had no visibility on the performance or uptime of their telephone numbers across the world.
“These companies had telephone numbers all round the world but had no idea if that number was going to work when a customer picked up the phone.”
“It was a complete blind spot for them.”
“The only way to find out that it wasn’t working was if customer complaints racked up and the business was negatively affected through missed calls and lost sales.”
“It was more than a blind spot, it was a real risk factor.”
Solving international problems drives growth
It turned out to be a real problem Spearline could solve. Loss of connection, poor audio or voice recognition on calls are some of the reasons why customers switch brands, with at least $1 trillion in business moved around the world annually as a result.
Bluechip companies operating at global scale jumped at the chance to implement Spearline testing software, as well as agile start-ups aiming to offer a seamless customer experience.
The ability to bring a strong product to market quickly received a boost with R&D funding from Enterprise Ireland, the national export agency, who earmarked Spearline as a High Performing Start-Up.
“It was massive help. R&D funding helped us to scale up and develop the product much faster,” says Lawlor.
The journey of iterating product development
Product development has been a journey rather than a destination, as Spearline constantly iterates based on feedback and problems customers want solved.
Hinds couldn’t be happier.
“It is a unique product as far as I’m concerned. It allows us to manage a network on a global basis. It was easy to test and deploy and didn’t need a lot of customisation. So from an implementation perspective, it was not expensive at all.
“It is a unique offering. Carriers do have an offering but none of the ones I’ve seen can measure from in-country, where the call is originating, to the country of destination, across multiple carrier hops.”
Spearline’s approach is working. Turnover has risen 70% for the past two years and the company now has more than 60 employees based in the Skibbereen HQ with a global sales office in Mooncoin, Kilkenny, plus other office locations in India, and Romania. Its servers are used as test lines in 66 countries.
Liam Dunne Chief Commercial Officer cites the advantage of being based in rural locations as one of the key reasons for growth, “We tend to draw on very experienced people who are looking to move back to rural Ireland. People who previously worked abroad, or in Dublin, and want to come back to Cork or Kilkenny looking for a different lifestyle but still work with the largest companies in the world can get this elusive balance with Spearline. Our Spearliners don’t have to take a career hit, they can continue on their executive path while having a very short commute time in rural Ireland. We’ve been lucky to attract a great range of people.
“Retention is where we have seen the biggest advantage. We focus on health and wellbeing, flexible working hours, being responsive to family needs.”
Still, Spearline refuses to stand still. It expects to reach 100 jobs by 2019, projects further growth and increased demand for its new product that solves the headache of being GDPR compliant for firms.
Another blind spot, another solution, from Spearline.
Vennetics has teamed up with US cellular network provider Cellular One to launch a unique new App called Chill VoD, which dramatically improves how users can search and discover their preferred VoD content, ensuring that they always get the lowest possible price for premium shows. With so much VoD content now available, it can be difficult and time-consuming for users to discover relevant movies and TV shows. Accessing each available service or app in turn and browsing the separate catalogs, can be a frustrating process.
Recent research conducted by Cellular One among its customer base showed that more than half of all consumers (58%) have been frustrated by renting a movie only to discover later that the same movie was available to view for free on a subscription service (such as Netflix, Amazon or Hulu).
“It’s a pain when it happens, and unfortunately it occurs far too often, and in many cases, the customer doesn’t realize there are options,” said Drew Logsdon, Marketing Manager at Cellular One. “Our research shows that almost two out of every three users on our network are already aware that the price of renting the same movie can vary a lot between different VoD providers, but searching for the best option is frustrating.”
Logsdon explained that it’s just not practical for customers to search all providers to find the best price. The good news is that Cellular One working with Vennetics, have launched Chill VOD to address these specific issues. The Chill VoD App provides users with a universal search capability. This means that users can carry out one search across all the leading online video and TV providers simultaneously, to instantly compare prices.
“Consumers have been eagerly looking for an aggregated service that can bring all of their VoD content into one experience,” said John Barron, VP Sales & Marketing at Vennetics. “By working with the team at Cellular One, we’ve responded to this consumer need with the ground-breaking Chill VoD App.”
Vennetics Mobile Video Platform provides a cross-catalog search capability that spans all of the major internet-based video on demand (VoD) catalogs. It uniquely curates content into one easy-to-use App, allowing users to search and discover movies and TV shows across multiple VoD services simultaneously. It also provides immediate price comparisons, ensuring that end users never pay too much for a movie.
“Vennetics is a unique and innovative platform in the tech entertainment space, and Enterprise Ireland is pleased to support the company’s expansion into the US market,” said Oran Bambrick, Enterprise Ireland’s SVP of Digital Technologies. “The US represents an exciting opportunity for growth, and we’re thrilled to be a part of the company’s success.”
Ireland is well placed to benefit from the anticipated growth in internet of things (IoT) solutions in the coming years, principally due to the impact of a powerful cohort of dynamic companies with expertise in the key core telecoms and information and communication technologies which underpin them.
Ireland’s IoT industry is one of the most dynamic in the world. A world-class sector of technically specialist Irish companies has developed in this concentrated and tightly-knit ecosystem, which also includes global technology leaders, electronics companies, and research institutions.
Headquartered in Dundalk, Ireland, Vennetics is committed to helping providers launch relevant and engaging services that delight their users and meet their evolving entertainment and communication needs.
Faster networks and increased demand for large-screen devices are helping fuel the mobile video explosion. Today, the majority of data on operators’ networks consists of video. At the same time operators’ revenues are stagnating, even as operating and capital expenditures are increasing.
Meanwhile, the “over-the-top” (OTT) players — services such as Netflix and Amazon for example that piggyback free on data networks — are gaining in number and popularity.
“The key challenge for providers like Cellular One is to better manage the delivery of these OTT video services, which have become essential to the daily lives of their customers,” said Barron. “Vennetics solutions address this challenge by delivering unique search tools for the end user, and powerful management tools for the provider.”
Enterprise Ireland is Ireland’s national export agency. With over 30 offices worldwide, our local sectoral specialists work with customers to understand their unique challenges and match them with Irish suppliers that can deliver leading edge products and services.
Our goal is to simplify and enhance the purchase process for customers and build successful, long-term business relationships between international companies and Irish suppliers.