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Sunday 11 December 2016

The Galway man using gaming tech to liven up business data

Kevin McCaffrey has found a way for businesses to bring complex data to life visually - so that the message can be more easily understood

Published 01/05/2016 | 02:30

'Attention spans are getting shorter,' says Kevin McCaffrey of Tr3Dent, 'so we provide information in an interesting way.' Photo: Andrew Downes
'Attention spans are getting shorter,' says Kevin McCaffrey of Tr3Dent, 'so we provide information in an interesting way.' Photo: Andrew Downes

It was while Galway man Kevin McCaffrey was struggling to stay awake during a dull business meeting that he came up with the idea for his new company, Tr3Dent.

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McCaffrey was living in the South African city of Cape Town at the time.

"I had a start-up doing a lot of consulting projects there," says McCaffrey. "One day I was in a senior meeting with one of the technical architects working on a project. He was doing a presentation about a software system. He was explaining how a company's IT architecture would change as a result of putting in new software.

"He put up a slide with a bunch of boxes and lines everywhere. He had spent ages preparing this - but once he put up that slide, he lost his audience completely. I thought to myself at the time that there must be a better way of presenting things like that."

It was a few weeks after that meeting, when watching his son playing his Xbox, that the answer dawned on McCaffrey.

"I thought, 'Why does what we do in business have to be so boring when this Xbox is so intuitive and so interactive?'" says McCaffrey. "I asked myself if it was possible to use gaming technology to help people understand complex business data.

"If you put up a spreadsheet or a complex diagram, the first thing people have to do is interpret it. People are lazy and attention spans are getting shorter. So you need to provide that information in an interesting way - and by doing so, people will have a better chance of understanding it."

McCaffrey was so sure there was an appetite for someone to bring boring business data to life that he decided to set up a company doing just that. While still in Cape Town, he hired a gaming developer to figure out how exactly business information could be presented in ways it had never been presented before.

McCaffrey had done a lot of consulting work for mobile phone companies before setting up Tr3Dent. During that time, he had come across a complicated poster used by many companies that was essentially a blueprint of how mobile phone businesses should operate.

He approached TM Forum - a global industry association for the digital business that was behind the poster - and asked it if Tr3Dent could try to turn the poster into something more engaging and easier to understand.

"We brought the poster to life," says McCaffrey. "We converted it into a 3D model which a person could explore. So instead of simply looking at the poster, the person now had an online tool which they could dip into."

TM Forum launched Tr3Dent's 3D Frameworx Viewer at a congress in California in December 2015. Already, more than 500 companies use it across more than 100 countries, according to McCaffrey.

Although his Cape Town base was initially an advantage when putting in the groundwork for Tr3Dent, McCaffrey decided to move back to Ireland to set the company up here.

"Being based in Cape Town gave us a channel to present our 3D model at different conferences around the world - and to have discussions with various telcos," says McCaffrey. "However, to take it further, I realised it wasn't practical to run a business from Africa when so many of its clients were in Europe."

So in late 2014, McCaffrey moved back to Ireland. He initially set the company up in Dublin - but unhappy with the high costs of running a business in the nation's capital, he upped sticks and moved to his native Galway.

McCaffrey works closely with the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) and has recruited a number of its graduates.

"I need resources and resources are at a premium in Ireland. Being able to find graduates who have the right attitude and who are interested in gaming and technology is great. You still have to groom them and develop them - but they have the right skills and it's a way for me to build a team without having to spend a fortune."

He describes the support available to start-ups from the likes of Enterprise Ireland as "incredible".

"Ireland punches well above its weight when it comes to creating an environment that enables start-ups to succeed," he says. "Comparing the support here to what's available in South Africa, it's like chalk and cheese."

He also believes that Ireland has much to be proud of when it comes to technology.

"For example, the Viper Pod - which was developed by an Irish company - has been a great Irish success story," says McCaffrey. "This is the wearable device worn in the back of a jersey used to track player performance."

Tr3Dent can work with business information stored in various places - from Excel files to company databases and so on.

This information is then brought to life in a Sim City-like 3D environment, according to McCaffrey. (Sim City is a well known computer game in which the player is given the task of building a city). So instead of scrolling through reams and reams of boring Excel files or database tables, businesses and people can engage with that data in a much more interactive and interesting way.

"Inside our 'engine', we have a way of transforming regular lists of data into something more visual," says McCaffrey.

"It could be something on fire or a building crumbling down - to show that a particular building in a company could have a problem with it and so on. This is the Sim City part of what we do.

"We also work with more abstract imagery. So instead of using images like buildings, we could use a cellular structure - with cells and lines. It all depends on what the client wants. For example, one of our clients does a lot of work with cloud technology, so you're getting across the idea of virtual machines on clouds - that's a lot more abstract."

McCaffrey has more than 20 years of experience in information and communications technology (ICT). He is also well travelled, having worked in Canada, the US, Europe and Africa.

"I was in Canada for 13 years, where I worked for Reuters for nine years and then co-owned a software development and training company," he says.

He then worked in Cape Town for nine years, where he built a consulting and software development company.

His favourite city is Stockholm in Sweden, because he loves the architecture there. "My favourite country is Namibia. The vast openness and the incredible desert scenery is amazing," he adds.

There are currently five people working with Tr3Dent.

The company does a lot of work for the Chinese telco Huawei as well as for TM Forum. Early next year, McCaffrey hopes to launch a product that will enable businesses to bring their data to life themselves - rather than hiring Tr3Dent to do it for them.

"We're moving from project work to product work over the next 12 to 18 months," says McCaffrey.

"We hope to sell the product to large enterprises. Ideally we'd like to have between 20 and 30 big customers next year. We'll be targeting the likes of Vodafone, AT&T and Verizon."

McCaffrey is clearly fascinated with technology. He describes the Leap Motion controller as one of the most interesting gadgets he has ever come across.

"This is a small sensor about the size of a USB drive that enables the user to interact with any PC using their hands or fingers," he explains. "It really provides people with that 'wow factor'. We are integrating this into our 3D products so that people will be able to interact with their data in a 3D environment using their hands."

He believes there is much to come in the area of 3D technology.

"The next wave of evolution in 3D is probably in the area of virtual reality and gaming," says McCaffrey. "A large amount of the effort and focus in 3D is still very much on gaming. From our perspective, there will be a crossover from gaming into the business world - in the bringing of data to life. That's where there will be some incredible advances over the next few years."

Should McCaffrey be right, his company could well be at the forefront of such advances.

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