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“We’ve grown massively and have taken on new clients and staff. And part of that is down to the underlying improvement in our ability to deliver quickly.”
– Ger O’Shaughnessy, Head of Propositions, NearForm
Case Study: NearForm
Every growing company juggles day-to-day demands with the need to innovate. NearForm, a Waterford-based global software consultancy with 200 staff in 29 countries, had the vision and ability to scale, but they needed help and found it in Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Innovation Fund.
Ger O’Shaughnessy, Head of Propositions at NearForm explains: “The potential for us was to develop software tools to help us deliver more solutions at higher speed and scale in a repeatable way. While we had all the skills and leadership to do this, we needed some commercial space to be able to take staff off client work and dedicate them to research and development.”
Seeing the potential
In 2019, the team at NearForm started to look at how they could evolve their services, but they needed to innovate quickly to make their growth plans a reality. In Q4, they applied, and were approved, for Enterprise Ireland’s (Business Innovation Initiative) under the Agile Innovation Fund. Nearform’s Development Advisor guided them through the application and approval process.
The company has a global client list: London banks, US pharmaceutical companies, retail chains in South America, as well as blue chip brands like American Express, The New York Times and closer to home, the Health Service Executive (HSE). But despite the wide variety of fields, all these organisations face the same challenge.
Facing the challenge
Ger says: “All of our clients want to be modern digital enterprises with market leading digital services. It’s the number one challenge in our market, not just for growth but for survival, as the world is dominated by fast-moving digital companies.”
“We’ve always been able to deliver change for clients with great digital solutions. What we came to realise – in the age of Amazon – was that delivering a great solution was not enough. We wanted to create digital platforms to deliver new features and services continuously for clients, so they could move as fast or faster than the digital native disruptors that might take their market,” he adds.
What NearForm hoped to achieve was ambitious. A lot of their work was, and still is, delivered from the open web platform – a global shared ecosystem for coders – using open source components. The team at NearForm realised that if they wanted faster, reliable solutions for their clients, they needed to move the existing open source technology forward. By doing so, the technology would be more ‘enterprise ready’.
NearForm wanted to “advance the whole open source platform and make it available to everybody, not just our clients,” Ger says.
“Because we’re a tech services company, there’s always a pressure to be billable. We were able to do it because of the commercial cover afforded by the fund,” he says.
Learning from the process
The speedy application process for the Business Innovation Initiative (Agile Innovation Fund) had an unexpected benefit. “It made us think about our own approach and outcomes carefully,” Ger says. “It was literally applied for in October and approved in December of the same year.”
The project kicked off in December 2019 – the timing proved to be serendipitous. Amongst the many benefits envisioned, the project aimed to accelerate their solutions. Once Covid hit, speed became even more important for their clients. And new clients soon came their way.
NearForm were approached by the HSE to create the Covid tracking app for Ireland and went on to create similar apps for nine jurisdictions. Ger says: “Everywhere from Jersey to New Jersey. We created the software, but we also donated it to the Linux Foundation so that every country could have the Covid tracking app as open source code.”
Overall, across all sectors, the impact of the innovation fund was faster delivery of high quality solutions and of course, increased revenue. “We’ve grown massively and have taken on new clients and staff. And part of that is down to the underlying improvement in our ability to deliver quickly,” Ger says.
Their unique understanding of the open source code they advanced has caught the attention of global investors. They recently secured funding from a US venture capital firm. “One of the reasons we got investment is that they were so interested in our expertise in open source. Being able to show that we were investing in that was definitely a contributing factor to getting funding.”
What advice would he give to anyone thinking of applying for the Agile Innovation Fund and pursuing an innovation project? “It’s an opportunity to create longer-term value,” Ger says. “Our view is that if you’re not innovating then your competitors will be. Innovation is not just a nice to have, but a necessity for growth.”