Five takeaways from the Business & Finance Awards ‘New Horizons’ webinar, in association with KPMG

Business & Finance Awards, Irish News | Fri 15 Jan | Author – Business & Finance

The Business & Finance Awards ‘New Horizons’ webinar, in association with KPMG, took place yesterday, Thursday 14th January, and comprised of a moderated panel discussion featuring speakers Cian Ó Maidín, CEO of NearForm, Kari Daniels, CEO of Tesco Ireland, and Peter Hendrick, CEO of National Broadband, Ireland

The Business & Finance Awards ‘New Horizons’ webinar took place yesterday, Thursday 14th January, and comprised of a moderated panel discussion featuring speakers Cian Ó Maidín, CEO of NearForm, Kari Daniels, CEO of Tesco Ireland, and Peter Hendrick, CEO of National Broadband, Ireland. Our panel reflected on a most extraordinary year. They shared their insights and lessons learnt, and looked at the impact of the workforce evolution and new ways of doing business. This first webinar in the Business & Finance Awards programme was hosted by Sarah Freeman, Managing Editor of Business & Finance Media Group.

Below are five key takeaways from the event. To watch on demand content from this webinar, click here.


1. The production of the HSE’s COVID-19 tracker app had a fast turnaround

Cian Ó Maidín is CEO & Founder of Tramore-based software company NearForm. NearForm developed the HSE’s Covid tracker app now used widely around the world. During the webinar, Mr Ó Maidín detailed the process of developing the app: “It was a bit of a rollercoaster year last year,” he said. “I got a call St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Somebody from our company had been in touch with somebody from the HSE […] At the time, the world was in a bit of free fall and everybody was kind of in a place of existential dread, both from a personal perspective and a business perspective.

“The HSE wanted to make an app, something like the one in Taiwan. We got chatting on a Sunday night and we said we’d love to help if we could. So, we got a couple of designers from NearForm out of their Sunday slumber. They started working on the project on Sunday night. We had mock-ups ready by Wednesday … We had a fully working prototype system in about ten days.”

Mr Ó Maidín noted the data privacy concerns at work in the background of developing the project. The Irish Government, supported by NearForm, decided to open source the code. Open sourcing the code enabled other countries around the world to use it to build their own apps. “It launched on the 7th of July. It was crazy because I think the expectation was they were going to do a soft launch. It went viral on the first day,” he said.

“It was an outpouring of positivity across the country […] When the chips are down we tend to stand up and come together.”

2. Safety was a priority concern for retailers during the months of lockdown

Kari Daniels is the CEO of Tesco Ireland. She has had a career spanning over 30 years in FMCG manufacturing and retail in both Commercial, Marketing and General Management roles. Kari joined Tesco in 2002 as a Category Director in Health and Beauty and has held a number of senior commercial and marketing roles in the UK and in Europe including Director of Brand in Tesco UK.

When lockdown restrictions were announced, retailers were particularly affected. It was important to ensure customers that they could shop in safety. Ms Daniels elaborates: “Basically … from the outset, our purpose was to provide a safe and shopping experience for our colleagues and customers. This was the guiding principle to make our decisions. We realised we needed sanitiser and cleaning equipment in store, we needed perspex glass to protect our checkout colleagues. We changed our operational model overnight.”

In order to ensure the vulnerable could still access necessary supplies, options such as ‘click-and collected’ were emphasised. “We doubled our online business in a matter of months,” Ms Daniels said. “Our plan was to double it in a couple of years. We wanted to protect our home delivery. There’s a finite amount of slots that we have. As much as we doubled them, there is more demand than there is supply. We had a click-and-collect option where you could pop into your local store at a time convenient for you. To protect those slots for vulnerable customers – pull in, pick up your shopping.”

Tesco Ireland also implemented priority hours for over-65s and for HSE employees.

“It was an outpouring of positivity across the country […] When the chips are down we tend to stand up and come together.”

3. We have to become digitally proficient

Peter Hendrick is the Chief Executive Officer of National Broadband Ireland, taking charge of one of the most ambitious telecoms projects in the world, ending the digital divide in Ireland.  Having worked on the project since 2015, Peter successfully led NBI through the competitive bid for the National Broadband Plan as the Managing Bid Director, heading up a team of some of the best and brightest minds in telecoms.

Mr Hendrick discussed the changing nature of our attitude towards digital transformation. “When you look back over the last 10-15 years, we’ve been talking about digital transformation,” he said. “The iPhone and using apps … were probably the first stages of that.  But ultimately, connectivity is the critical part. As we move away from the idea of having a fixed telephone and fixed broadband and the speed of the broadband into mobile broadband, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity is critical.

“What we’ve learned over 2020 is that every business has gone online. In the past it was a case of, ‘you could adapt,’ or, ‘you could work the way you used to work with a little bit of remote working or online.’ Now it has changed totally. We’ve been forced to be more efficient in what we do in every aspect of our lives, whether it’s work, whether it’s education or exercise, shopping … Everything has gone online. We have to become digitally proficient.” 

Mr Hendrick compared the drive towards increased digitalisation to rural electrification 50 years ago, saying: “People thought rural electrification would bring light. They didn’t think about about the other applications and services in terms of dishwashers and washing machines … The same thing has happened with connectivity.”

4. Connecting with potential employees, partners and clients can occur through online channels

NearForm is a global-facing tech company with international clients operating from a small coastal town in Waterford. Mr Ó Maidín discussed their early adoption of remote working, stating: “We were always a little bit ahead of the our time. Up until the pandemic hit, we had been working entirely remotely for 7 or 8 years now.”

He continued by discussing the beneficial nature of this approach to business: “We’re very involved in open source software. We make big contributions to some really, really important projects that are used everywhere. As we started to grow as a company in the early days, because we were involved in the open source projects, and involved in community conferences and all that sort of thing, the types of people who applied for jobs at NearForm were open source developers, who tend to be vocational by nature because they do this in their spare time.

We’ve been forced to be more efficient in what we do in every aspect of our lives, whether it’s work, whether it’s education or exercise, shopping … Everything has gone online.

“In Waterford, if were to just look at the local talent pool, we’d be very stretched. We’d have stolen everybody, basically, from the local tech companies. The way we evolved is that we developed a very strong brand in the developer community. From a company perspective, we’re about 160 people now, spread across 20 countries, and we’re a magnet for talent, and talent is something that there is a finite amount of out there. The point about digital transformation, the elephant in the room, is that there is an exponential increase in demand for high-quality software and services. In terms of 2020, we were pretty much unaffected, from an operational perspective. Finance had to get their files and bring it home, but everyone else was working remote for a number of years.”

While their remote-first approach would have been seen as a drawback previously, “in 2020 […] no one wanted to see you in their offices,” he said. “They wanted to know that you could get something done at a really high quality level really, really quickly. Case in point: We’ve never met in person anybody from the HSE, the Scottish Government, Gibraltar, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware […] It’s possible to do everything remotely.”

5. Access to the customer and what the customer wants is easier than ever

COVID-19 has shown us the importance of fast and accessible broadband connectivity, and the increasing importance of digital transformation. One of the opportunities presented by the acceleration of digital transformation is access to the customer, according to Peter Hendrick. He said: “Access to the customer and what the customer wants [is important]. It’s great to listen to social media in terms of access to products and services. From an Ireland perspective, and whether you’re an existing business or starting a new business, I think the barriers are gone in terms of communicating with customers […] We’ve all adapted to video calling. In the past you had to fly and go meet with a customer, and the sales cycles were long. I think those barriers have been removed.”


To watch on demand content from this webinar, click here.