You can’t see them, you can’t talk to them but you can tell them what to do and when it comes to repetitive tasks, they do them very well. The “they” in question are digital workers – or bots – and their role in life is to free us humans from tedious, non-creative work.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been around for a number of years and bots have been a boon to big business. However, they don’t come cheap and Richard Stafford, founder of Apridata, is on a mission to make RPA technology available to smaller companies.
“Existing solutions are prohibitively expensive for anyone other than very large organisations with thousands or tens of thousands of employees,” he says. “We are leveraging open source technology to bring this capability to mid-sized organisations. We manage the bots 24/7 on their behalf so they don’t need to recruit specialist skills to use them.”
Apridata’s target customers are companies with a substantial volume of repeat processes and its system, which has cost about €150,000 to develop, was launched in April 2020 with support from Cavan LEO. Apridata makes its money by charging implementation and management fees for the bots which are designed to slot easily into an organisation’s existing systems without the need for expensive IT integration.
“I’ve always felt that many businesses (particularly medium sized ones) lacked the skills to leverage data to improve their competitiveness,” Stafford says. “Initially, our focus was on providing them with analytical solutions to help them make better decisions faster, but during the Covid lockdown we could see from the data coming in that our customers were struggling with some processes as people worked from home. We developed our RPA solution to automate them and 12 months on we are managing bots performing hundreds of thousands of business critical tasks for our customers 24/7, 365 days a year.”
Apridata is based in the Cavan Digital Hub which was set up in June 2019 by the County Council to support digital businesses looking to set-up and scale. “Cavan is quite traditional in that the main businesses here are based around engineering, agriculture, building materials and tourism,” explains Marcella Rudden, head of enterprise at LEO Cavan. “By comparison the digital economy is quite weak and that’s what we’re hoping the Hub will change.”
A coup for the newly opened hi-spec facility was landing the US data analytics company, PublicRelay, as a tenant and the hub is now home to a mix of start-up and growing digital businesses. This includes ClubSpot, which has developed a cloud-based management system that reduces the administrative burden on volunteer run clubs by putting key task such as membership, communications, fundraising and accounting all in one place. ClubSpot was set up by John Hyland in April 2019 and went live in July last year following an investment of around €500,000.
Launching a business in the middle of a pandemic might seem like a gamble, but it paid off for Hyland as clubs everywhere were anxious to stay connected to their members. Hyland had initially expected the biggest interest to come from sports clubs but he has been approached by all sorts of organisations from Ferrari and Harley-Davidson owners to scout troops, schools and charities.
The company, which employs four, has raised €850,000 to date through HPSU support from Enterprise Ireland and backing from Cavan LEO. It is currently completing an additional €400k fundraising round to help launch the business in the UK and the US.
Hyland studied business and marketing at GMIT followed by a master’s in sport management at UCD. “The idea for ClubSpot came from my project,” he says. “Initially, the idea was to help counties boost the membership of their supporters’ clubs but I realised this was not scalable and continued to iterate as I have always believed that the best chance of success lies in solving an everyday problem with global reach.”
Hyland says one of the key differentiators between ClubSpot and its competitors is that it’s personal. The nuts and bolts are universal, but ClubSpot brands its service individually for each customer.
“The importance of the emotional connection between a club and its supporters became one of the key themes of my masters’ research,” he says. “When I applied this to my business I spotted a gap as my competitors use generic apps and this tends to result in low engagement rates. So far, our engagement rates and consequently the revenues being generated for clubs using our software, have been really good.”
Also based at the digital hub and trying to make life easier by centralising data is environmental compliance company, Edac, which was set up at the end of 2019 by mechanical engineer turned techie Garreth Tackney. Compliance is a hot topic across all sectors, yet many organisations struggle to tick the necessary boxes on time, every time and keep accessible, up to date compliance records.
Tackney experienced the problem first hand while working in the environmental services sector and spent a year developing his cloud-based platform which centralises compliance information and makes it accessible at anytime from anywhere. In particular, Edac’s niche is companies governed by environmental permits across the manufacturing, food and beverage, energy, power and waste sectors.
Like John Hyland, Tackney also launched mid-pandemic and it worked to his advantage too as the lockdown meant that a remotely accessible compliance system was of big interest to managers working off-site.
“Very often companies are over-reliant on contractors for historic information about compliance which is typically shared by email or written down and not stored centrally,” he says.
“There’s a cost involved in not knowing if you’re compliant, particularly if repair works and maintenance are not completed on time and we wanted our platform to eliminate these costs completely. Also, with our system records can be updated directly, notifications of breaches can be sent as can reminders about pending compliance tasks.”
Depending on the size of a facility, Edac’s customers could be dealing with between 500 and 2,000 individual compliance activities per year. “Environmental compliance can often be challenging for organisations that don’t have structured processes in place and the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges,” Tackney says.
Edac’s revenue model is SaaS and the company employs six people with a seventh hire pending. investment in the business to date has been about €500,000 between personal investment, angel investment and support from Cavan LEO.
The Irish market is Edac’s initial focus, but its platform travels and Tackney is hoping to be knocking on doors in the UK and the US by the end of the year.