Tuesday 23 October 2018

Operational excellence helps SMEs compete at next level

Enterprise Ireland has long worked with, and supported, companies that are trying to stay ahead of the competition. (Stock image)
Enterprise Ireland has long worked with, and supported, companies that are trying to stay ahead of the competition. (Stock image)

Ruairí Ó hAilín

the need to be competitive has never been more urgent for Irish companies with ambitions to grow through international export.

At Enterprise Ireland, we see that a sustained focus on operational excellence - improving the processes and systems by which products and services are delivered - helps firms stay ahead of competition.

This summer, we introduced a new Operational Excellence Offer that supports internationally trading Irish companies to develop or transform their wider business.

Enterprise Ireland has long worked with, and supported, companies that are trying to stay ahead of the competition. That support takes many forms, from mentorship and strategic guidance to a range of funding mechanisms that enable eligible companies to access financial support to go to the next level.

While we already deliver a range of funds aimed at companies that need new equipment, systems or staff training, we haven't had a single offer that combines all of those needs - until now.

The new Operational Excellence Offer builds on Enterprise Ireland's highly-successful Lean transformation programme, but with a wider focus. Our objective is to incentivise companies to invest in a 'whole of business' transformation project that could include new systems, new processes, as well as investment in related staff training.

We see Lean principles as an ideal starting point, but want to move beyond the perception that it is only relevant to manufacturing industries. In fact, we see successful applications of Lean thinking in many services businesses and in all sectors of the Irish economy.

This new offer is inspired by the competitive edge we have seen companies achieve by focusing on their operational excellence journey.

Founded 18 years ago, Critical Healthcare supplies Ireland's emergency medical sector. When the recession made it difficult to compete on price alone, the company realised it was time for a rethink.

"Back in 2012, we were only supplying products to our customers and felt that we needed to move beyond that," said Anne Cusack, managing director. "We needed to find a way to add value to our customer offering, which would not only assist with their procurement processes, but also enable us to become part of their procurement solution."

Critical Healthcare researched a new offering to add value while simultaneously embedding them into their clients' procurement solutions.

Enterprise Ireland awarded the company a Business Innovation Grant to help implement a major operational transformation. The system went live in 2017 and has already seen the company compete for - and win - international contracts.

Dundalk-based Bellurgan used support from Enterprise Ireland to invest in new technology and training designed to accelerate its production of component solutions for the engineering sector. And experiential tech business vStream worked with us to develop a new operational strategy based on maximising efficiency.

These companies showed they were ready to progress, that they had the financial ability to take on the project, and the vision and determination to see it delivered.

The companies we work with strive for operational excellence. But our offer is designed to facilitate significant transformation and that, in itself, represents a big commitment.

Companies that commit to transformation on that scale deserves the best support they can get. That's where we come in. We are in the business of helping Irish companies to innovate, diversify and compete in a very tough global marketplace. This new funding is another way for us to do that.

Through an integrated application process, the offer allows eligible companies to access financial support for business or operational change projects. The ultimate goal is to incentivise and support the key elements of a larger transformation project, leading to significantly increased competitiveness, which supports the whole economy.

Ruairí Ó hAilín is a senior technologist at Enterprise Ireland.

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