How lean helps firms mean business and be com­pet­i­tive

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE - Richard Kee­gan

WORK­ING from an is­land, as ex­porters do in Ire­land, forces us to be more com­pet­i­tive than com­pa­nies in mar­kets we sell to. Prod­ucts and ser­vices that busi­nesses de­velop here must of­fer cus­tomers more value than those of com­peti­tors. Ir­ish ex­porters can’t just be good, they must be bet­ter.

Last month, a mile­stone in achiev­ing that am­bi­tion was re­alised. More than 1,000 com­pa­nies have used En­ter­prise Ire­land ‘lean business’ sup­ports to take prac­ti­cal steps to be­come more com­pet­i­tive and im­prove as ex­porters.

Im­prov­ing com­pet­i­tive­ness can be a mat­ter of sur­vival in times of cri­sis, but all com­pa­nies ben­e­fit from learn­ing how to in­crease profit mar­gins, build skills, re­duce waste and in­crease ca­pac­ity. En­ter­prise Ire­land’s Lean Start, Plus and Trans­form pro­grammes help com­pa­nies at all lev­els of fa­mil­iar­ity to find im­prove­ments, from de­sign to man­u­fac­tur­ing and ser­vice de­liv­ery, down to get­ting money lodged in the bank, through lo­gis­tics and sup­ply chain.

The re­sults these first 1,000 com­pa­nies have re­ported show that ap­ply­ing lean is a prac­ti­cal way to im­prove com­pet­i­tive­ness quickly. €1.5bn in cost sav­ings have been recorded. Lean is also good for the do­mes­tic econ­omy, with par­tic­i­pat­ing com­pa­nies re­port­ing a 10pc in­crease in em­ploy­ment.

Thermo Air, a man­u­fac­turer and dis­trib­u­tor of air and heat­ing sys­tems, re­duced costs by 8pc after com­plet­ing Lean Start. “The im­ple­men­ta­tion of lean has been a very pos­i­tive be­gin­ning to a change in the mind-set of our tra­di­tional man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany. The fu­ture suc­cess of the business is on the right tra­jec­tory,” it re­ported.

Lean en­abled the com­pany to re­duce lead times from six to three weeks, mul­ti­ply­ing the num­ber of or­ders han­dled.

Nutri­science, a man­u­fac­turer and dis­trib­u­tor of an­i­mal sup­ple­ments, said: “This ini­tia­tive was a real game changer. We went from be­ing a re­ac­tive fol­lower to be­ing a proac­tive driver.” The com­pany achieved €176k in sav­ings, at 8.6pc of turnover. In ad­di­tion to a more en­gaged work­force and a safer work en­vi­ron­ment, lead time was re­duced from an av­er­age of eight to a guar­an­teed three weeks.

What­clinic.com, a web­site that helps pa­tients find clin­ics and book ap­point­ments, used Lean Start to im­ple­ment a pre-sales process that boosted new business by 15pc and in­creased their re­newal rate to over 85pc.

The range of com­pa­nies ap­ply­ing lean was clear at an event En­ter­prise Ire­land co-hosted with the IDA in Maynooth last month. Speak­ers in­cluded rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the small­est com­pa­nies to in­ter­na­tion­ally award-win­ning prac­ti­tion­ers. The depth of un­der­stand­ing at­ten­dees dis­played shows that lean has been fully ab­sorbed in Ire­land. Ex­perts now travel to Ire­land to learn about ini­tia­tives SMES here are im­ple­ment­ing. This De­cem­ber, two Ir­ish com­pa­nies, Phono­va­tion and Topflight, will host vis­i­tors from the Eu-ja­pan Cen­tre for In­dus­trial Co-op­er­a­tion as part of a Lean in Europe se­ries of best prac­tice vis­its.

Reach­ing 1,000 projects is a high level of adop­tion but En­ter­prise Ire­land aims to see that fig­ure quadru­pled. The take-up rate of Lean Start, Plus and Trans­form is ris­ing as com­pa­nies that see ini­tial re­sults progress fur­ther and com­pa­nies yet to start feel the ur­gency of not be­ing left be­hind. Other Ir­ish agen­cies are keen to repli­cate the suc­cess En­ter­prise Ire­land-backed com­pa­nies have achieved. The IDA and Lo­cal En­ter­prise Of­fices im­ple­mented pro­grammes that show how lean can be ap­plied to make ma­jor com­pet­i­tive­ness im­prove­ments for both multi­na­tion­als and smaller re­gional com­pa­nies. Tea­gasc and Bord Bia are plan­ning sim­i­lar ini­tia­tives.

Com­pa­nies in­ter­ested in join­ing a pro­gramme should visit the Lean Business Ire­land web­site to find de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about sup­ports and get in­spired by nearly 100 case stud­ies that show the sav­ings and sales lean is al­ready help­ing com­peti­tors to achieve.

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