Business Irish

Thursday 28 August 2014

Are Irish companies setting the technology trends

...Or lagging behind the hi-tech curve?

Lora O'Brien

Published 29/06/2014 | 02:30

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Are Irish companies lagging behind the hi-tech curve?
Are Irish companies lagging behind the hi-tech curve?

WHAT are the big trends in business? In early 2014, a poll of 8,000 industrial-organisational psychologists by the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology predicted the key trends for companies and start-ups.

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So are Irish businesses ahead of the curve? Or are we lagging behind global changes? We crank up the trend-o-meter to see how Irish companies are doing.

Big Data

Niall Milton is the CTO of DigBigData Ltd, based in Dublin. It is the first Irish company to offer certified Apache Cassandra training here, and one of the only home-grown companies in the Big Data consultancy space.

It has worked with Enterprise Ireland, AOL, and the Department of the Environment, among others, and is an advocate of Agile Big Data, a new way of thinking about ETL where the Big Data Information System must be able to change with the business fast.

Niall says: "Gut decision-making is still prevalent in many businesses, and decisions are often made with only the barest notion of their impact. Moving beyond gut decision-making can increase profitability, ensure more reliable returns and reveal untapped business opportunities."

Other areas where we can see invaluable Big Data insights are fraud detection, customer experience improvement, predictive analysis and cost optimisation. As de-mystification of Big Data continues, the next step will be a move away from expensive relational systems, towards enterprise-supported, commodity-based systems using software such as Apache Hadoop or Cassandra.

Use of Tech in HR

Ian McGowan Smith is the managing director of HR Ireland, a Dublin firm specialising in HR services, performance management, third-party representations and mediation. It works with client companies using databases like PeopleSoft and creates bespoke systems to monitor and manage HR indices. Technology in HR management ensures hard data is readily available, so decisions are made on fact, not conjecture.

It comes with a warning though. Ian says: "Sometimes there is an over-reliance on technology. HR is an art not a science, so human discretion has to be used, but it can be difficult to differentiate when some companies are becoming too process driven, and this can affect morale. Employees feel like automatons."

HR Ireland ensures practical, meaningful results from the use of technology by questioning the veracity of the information, and taking a more holistic approach, while utilising their experience and informed discretion.

Ian believes there has to be a healthy balance and that people-decisions need to be considered by people.

It's worth remembering that technology and systems are tools, not drivers of management – particularly in the realm of human resources, but there's an opportunity to enable people to do more quality work, and be less task-driven, with the proper use of technology.

This leads to better retention of talent, optimisation of staff performance and definitive business results.

Gamification

Fiachra O Comhrai has the interesting job title of 'Player 1' at Gordon Games, the "recognised leaders in sales gamification in Ireland". It drives profitable business decisions by ensuring honesty in sales forecasting, using a betting game. This gets a company's resources behind the right opportunities, territories and sales people.

"Companies need to make sure they are tapping different motivations for customers wanting to do something," says Fiachra. "Some people hate badges, some people hate competitions. You've got to understand that there are different player types."

And also, different customer types, and different ways to drive those sales.

While there can be problems with Irish companies applying game mechanics meaningfully, gamification links directly to sales behaviours that in turn win deals.

There is definite scope for development of more meaningful use of these techniques, making gamification something that truly helps Irish business, rather than just engaging customers temporarily.

Social Media in HR

Andrea Martin is the principal at Media Lawyer Solicitors, a firm specialising in media and entertainment law.

She sees a glaring need in Irish business for internal risk management protocols in relation to the use of social media. Without clear internal policies for social media use by employees and contractors, the risk of misuse of an organisation's social media – that is, by disgruntled former employees – is very real. When internal grievances relating to the workplace are aired on employees' personal social media accounts, the reputational damage to an organisation is probably even more serious than the legal implications.

Then there is the issue of responsibility and control of a business' social media accounts.

"It's critical for organisations to have clear protocols in place for opening and managing these accounts.

"I've come across situations where opening and managing an organisation's social media accounts has been left to a younger staff member on the basis that 'the younger ones understand these things'. If that individual leaves, entire control of the accounts can be lost," Andrea points out.

Irish business must accept that an entire generation of workers socialise and interact, professionally and personally, on social media.

Andrea says: "Don't try to stop the process, but manage it. Be aware of risk and put in place prudent, but not unrealistically restrictive, social media policies for your workplace, no matter how small or large your organisation". On the Media Lawyers website is a useful free checklist to help work out what a business needs to consider when developing a social media policy.

Work-Life Balance

Susan Clark is the senior EAP consultant and organisational psychologist at Workplace Options, a company that focuses on improving employee satisfaction and performance, preserving personal health and well-being, and enabling work-life balance.

With a growing interest in employee wellness from companies all around the world – especially here in Ireland, businesses are finding that if they can provide (and encourage employees to use) programmes that keep them healthy, in body and in mind, both the business and its employees win.

In Susan's experience: "As a business owner, you get much more out of a satisfied, happy, healthy and engaged employee than you do out of one who is none of these things".

The tools to help people find better work-life balance are available, but the staff don't always use them. Part of that is not knowing how to use them or because people don't want to ask for help.

The quicker Irish businesses can help their employees move past these hurdles, the better it will be for the economy, for their employees, and for their profits.

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