A common goal for any business is to save time and money. Digital transformation is often touted as a way to achieve this, with artificial intelligence (AI) solutions promising more efficient supply chains, greater security and higher-value data. It’s easy to see why businesses are choosing to embrace this technological shift: Accenture forecasts that by 2035, AI could boost business productivity by 35 per cent. The prospect of such leverage is unarguably intriguing. Naturally, Canadian businesses are responding, searching for ways to use technology to enhance and streamline operations. However, it’s not always easy or possible to do this in-house—often, finding the right partners is critical for ensuring the success of a technical transformation.
Across the pond, a cluster of tech innovators has established Northern Ireland—one of the four regions of the UK—as a centre for excellence in AI, data analytics and software development. The region’s success can be attributed to a blend of high-quality technical talent, a concentration of technology research centres, and attractive R&D incentives that encourage companies to continually develop and refine new offerings. For these reasons, Northern Ireland AI companies have caught the eye of Canadian business decision-makers looking to build out their technology partnerships.
In Belfast, the region’s capital, a highly developed entrepreneurial ecosystem and a vibrant networking scene have allowed the sector to thrive. Among the city’s impressive roster of tech talent are three companies spearheading Northern Ireland’s global impact on the AI boom.
Brands like Slack, Unilever and Allstate have all turned to Adoreboard for its unique approach to root cause analysis. Adoreboard uses emotion AI in its emotics software, which distills customer and employee emotion into a single metric, which is then interpreted into decision-ready insights for businesses. The value of these insights has been recognized by Gartner, which named Adoreboard a Cool Vendor in Customer Analytics using AI.
Through the assessment of any unstructured text captured from surveys or other feedback platforms such as Qualtrics, this Software as a Service (SaaS) company delivers highly valuable prescriptive insight to its clients replacing painful manual analysis.
“80 per cent of the decisions we make every day are driven by how we feel,” says Chris Johnston, Founder and CEO of Adoreboard. “We provide businesses with the often unknowns of customer and employee emotions so that they can address points of friction and optimize their business outcome.” Adoreboard’s AI facilitates three main principles: speed to insight, insight to action and continued learning. Working in real-time, this software could allow you to see the success of a marketing campaign as it plays out. The company’s value proposition recognizes the goldmine of data many businesses are unknowingly sitting on, and turns it into detailed, decision-ready insights at the touch of a button.
Adoreboard delivers business impact across the real estate, healthcare, insurance and manufacturing industries. Forrester cited that Adoreboard improved a major insurance firm’s employee experience by reducing onboarding time by 20 per cent, while hospitals seeking to improve patient experience during COVID relied on Adoreboard to drive improvements in their Net Promoter Score (NPS).
Lightyear’s intelligent accounts payable software has revolutionized an archaic business process for financial districts and departments alike.
Chris Gregg and his brother Roger co-founded Lightyear, a SaaS fintech company that helps businesses across the globe such as Goli Nutrition, Future Transfer and Birchwood Homes spend less time on tedious finance-related tasks. They have recently won accounts payable category leader awards from Gartner, GetApp and Software Advice. The company’s software solution reflects the appeal of using AI to eliminate laborious tasks for employees who could better spend their time focusing on more creative or higher-value work. “We typically engage with small and medium-sized enterprises and mid-market businesses with big, and often traditional, paper-based processes,” says Chris.
Lightyear’s continuously evolving process automation software primarily focuses on purchasing through to accounts payable processes and is suitable for both office-based and remote environments. By using intelligent data extraction on invoices and receipts, formulating purchase orders, line-item coding automation and integrating data with accounting and inventory software, Lightyear can save businesses up to 80 per cent of their time and serious money. One of the main driving forces for the company is ensuring digital transformation empowers employees by enhancing, not replacing, their skills and capabilities. “As an economy, we need to leverage the tools that are available,” continues Chris, adding that “Lightyear is about augmenting human interaction alongside technology so that businesses and their employees can make a bigger impact.”
Part of what makes Northern Ireland’s tech industry unique is its commitment to continually up-skilling its technical workforce, ensuring the region’s talent is fit for purpose for a rapidly growing sector. The region’s universities have adapted their offerings to offer technical degrees—Ulster University launched a new FinTech bachelor’s degree in 2020, for example—and the government’s Assured Skills program works with companies to train and recruit talent in areas like software development, data analytics and cybersecurity.
Brendan McCarthy, Chief Commercial Officer at Analytics Engines, agrees that Northern Ireland’s educational institutions have played a key role in developing the sector. “There is an understanding within the broader tech community here that our relationship with the universities is a really positive thing,” says McCarthy. “It’s a snowball effect that attracts more talent.” Named one of Tech Nation’s 16 innovative AI companies to watch in 2020, it’s an affiliation that has certainly paid off for them.
Like many of Belfast’s tech start-ups, Analytics Engines was born out of Queen’s University Belfast, whose Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) Research Institute is an incubator for tech innovation. The bespoke data company uses a low-code/no-code development platform to make their custom software accessible to the business professionals who use it. In conjunction with data analytics and data strategy, Analytics Engines offers AI and machine learning capabilities to businesses of many sizes in ways that match their unique needs. As an example, the company developed grant management software for Innovate UK—the UK government’s innovation agency—which allowed them to file and organize their grant applications, the quantity of which significantly increased amidst the pandemic.
Digital transformation looks different for every business, and technology solutions should match a company’s needs. Recognizing this, and the ever more complex relationships that exist in business, Analytics Engines has developed Minerva, which is focused on empowering domain experts to identify relationships, links and insights across an enterprise’s data silos.
“Minerva accelerates business transformation as it rapidly allows the enterprise to see and understand its data to drive focused transformational outcomes,” says McCarthy.
Invest Northern Ireland is an economic development agency that supports trade and investment between Northern Ireland and the Americas. To learn more about Northern Ireland’s innovative, trusted IT solutions and how we can help connect your business to world-class technology companies, visit InvestNI.com.