As Irish companies look towards growth and recovery as they emerge from the pandemic, many of them are placing digitalisation high on their business agendas. Research carried out by Enterprise Ireland reveals that two out of three exporters accelerated their adoption of digital as a result of the pandemic. In addition, 80 per cent of Irish exporters are prioritising digitalisation over the next 18 months.
The research also found that customer engagement and selling online are the top two reasons behind adopting a digital strategy and are key drivers for reaching new customers and driving export success among Irish SMEs.
Those numbers are not surprising, according to Enterprise Ireland head of global marketing, corporate communications and digital, Conor O’Donovan. “Research by the OECD shows that adoption of digital technologies leads to higher levels of productivity growth, and we have seen many Irish companies successfully move their businesses online throughout the pandemic,” he says.
To help Irish companies formulate a digital strategy, Enterprise Ireland is offering a new ‘Digital Ready’ scorecard, a short self-assessment online tool enabling businesses to assess their current digital readiness.
“It involves a series of questions that companies can complete in about 15 minutes,” O’Donovan explains. “It then produces a digital readiness scorecard and signposts the supports available to them to move forward on their digital journey. They can use the result to have a discussion with Enterprise Ireland advisers about any gaps identified and how they can improve their business through digitalisation.”
Enterprise Ireland also offers eligible companies a €9,000 fully-funded Digitalisation Voucher for spending on independent advice when developing their digital strategies. This grant enables companies to look at their business, identify gaps and opportunities, particularly in areas such as process optimisation, customer experience, digital marketing and cybersecurity, and to develop a strategy.
According to O’Donovan, a coherent strategy is a prerequisite for successful digitalisation. “The companies that have done it really effectively had a digitalisation strategy that aligned with their overall business strategy. And they had the skills in place to optimise their processes. Digitising a process doesn’t make it efficient, you need to take a strategic approach. That’s the key thing Enterprise Ireland is advocating.”
One company which has benefited from Enterprise Ireland support on its digitalisation journey is Monaghan based Mullan Lighting. The specialist lighting manufacturer supplies hotels, restaurants, retailers and homeowners around the world with 80 per cent of products exported. “The variation in what we do is huge,” says director of design and operations, Mike Treanor. “We provide bespoke lighting solutions and work off sketches sent to us by designers all over the world. It could be 500 units for a hotel or a single chandelier for a domestic setting.”
That level of complexity was one reason for the company to embark on a digitalisation journey, growth was another. “It got to a stage where the company had grown quite significantly,” Treanor explains. “We had grown by 50 per cent from €4 million to €6 million turnover in quite a short space of time. With that comes more parts and products to be made. The whole thing becomes a lot harder. We have 65 people on the production floor now. It’s a fairly complex manufacturing process and everything is made to order in three weeks. At any one time we would have 400 orders on the go and we have to make sure they all get out on time.”
The company has used the Digitalisation Voucher to retain experts from the Irish Manufacturing Research Centre in Mullingar to assist with their digitalisation roadmap. “The assessment took place over a two-day period a few weeks ago,” says Treanor. “They looked at every aspect of the business, from admin through to production. They benchmarked our digitalisation status against other companies around the world. We came out reasonably strong on the admin and management side but have a way to go on the production side. They will recommend where we can get the biggest return on our investment and time.”
While still awaiting the results of the assessment, the company is already making progress in the production area. “We have changed over to Sage 200 manufacturing software and are developing our own in-house software in conjunction with that. We hope to go live with that in January. The overall aim is to have a lot more visibility of what’s happening in the production flow in real-time. We will have live data and will be able to make decisions much quicker when problems arise.”
Another company to benefit from Enterprise Ireland support is behaviour-based risk management solutions provider SeaChange. The company specialises in the implementation of bespoke risk management solutions to help organisations more easily and more consistently meet and exceed health and safety standards while growing their Safety Culture.
“It’s a family business started by my father back in 2005,” says managing director, Paul Cummins. “He had been operations director with a manufacturing company and left to start his own consultancy business. He saw that health and safety was largely a paper based box-ticking exercise, while the reality on the ground is that 85 per cent of workplace accidents are behaviour related. Our mission is to disrupt the traditional health and safety market by providing solutions to connect with people, win hearts and minds, and foster a safety culture to get real results.”
The company offers a range of solutions, services and digital applications designed to improve safety performance, reduce accidents, absences from work, claims and insurance costs. “We provide a real return on investment for our customers,” says Cummins.
The company’s digitalisation journey started in 2018 when it commenced development on the Caygo Slip, Trip & Fall Prevention software application. “Caygo – clean as you go – is a digital housekeeping application,” he explains. “It tracks all trip hazards that might arise in a premises and helps remove them before they materialise. We came up with the idea to design and develop an application for the high footfall market where slip, trip and fall incidents are quite common. They can lead to a lot of claims. We approached Enterprise Ireland at the time, and they supported us with it. We were advised to apply for a Research, Development and Innovation grant and we were successful in that. That funding helped us get the project off the ground quite rapidly.”
Since its launch in 2020 some 3.5 million slip, trip, and fall hazards have been addressed by more than 300 customers. Overall, the application has resulted in an average 50 per cent reduction in claims for those customers. It has also helped the company increase year-on-year revenue by 15 per cent and grow export sales by 12 per cent.
“It has outperformed our expectations,” Cummins adds. “Without the Research, Development and Innovation funding we wouldn’t have been able to do it and would have missed out on the opportunity. The other way Enterprise Ireland has helped us is with our internal digitalisation journey. We have just been approved for the Digitalisation Voucher to get in a consultant to conduct a review of our operations. That will help us improve efficiency, grow revenues, and grow export sales.”
Our aim is to ensure that digital is embedded across all Irish enterprise and that Irish companies become global digital leaders
“I would definitely recommend other companies to go to Enterprise Ireland for support with their digitalisation journeys,” he continues. “As a B2B services company we need a good digitalisation strategy and Enterprise Ireland is helping with that.”
O’Donovan says all companies should start thinking about digitalisation and to avail of Enterprise Ireland’s help. “Of course, many companies are apprehensive and not sure where to start. We can help them take the first step on the journey and to develop a roadmap. They can start with one area like customer experience or marketing and move on from there. Our aim is to ensure that digital is embedded across all Irish enterprise and that Irish companies become global digital leaders.”