CPM in­vests €3m to har­ness ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence

Af­ter earn­ing her stripes at Eir Lor­raine But­ler is lead­ing from the front at out­sourced sales provider CPM, writes Ail­ish O’Hora

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Sunday Business -

CPM Ire­land manag­ing di­rec­tor Lor­raine But­ler said that the com­pany has in­vested €3m in the de­vel­op­ment of its data­science ca­pa­bil­i­ties. It now plans to roll out pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics ca­pa­bil­i­ties to a range of its client firms that in­clude house­hold names such as GSK, Har­vey Nor­man and Eir. She said CPM would use ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to help its clients nav­i­gate the in­creas­ingly-dis­rupted world of re­tail.

FIRSTS seem to come easy to Lor­raine But­ler, the straight-talk­ing manag­ing di­rec­tor of CPM Ire­land, one of the coun­try’s lead­ers in out­sourced sales and mar­ket­ing ser­vices where key cus­tomers in­clude the likes of GSK, Har­vey Nor­man and Eir.

She was the only woman out of 13 on Eir’s busi­ness board be­fore be­com­ing the first woman manag­ing di­rec­tor at CPM Ire­land. And now she is over­see­ing an­other first. CPM Ire­land is bring­ing data so­lu­tions in the form of pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics to its client firms for the first time and has in­vested €1m a year over each of the past three years in the de­vel­op­ment of its data-sci­ence ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

“Tech­nol­ogy is be­com­ing more and more so­phis­ti­cated and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence [AI] is now be­ing built into sys­tems.

“We are go­ing to launch pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics to the Ir­ish mar­ket and we’ll be the first to do it in our in­dus­try.

“You have to have a dif­fer­en­tia­tor. When a per­son is out in the field, pre­sent­ing a brand and be­ing the face of that brand they have to know what to do so pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics helps them.

“There’s in­for­ma­tion avail­able as to what worked for them and the cus­tomer and what might work bet­ter.”

She added that the sys­tem is based on big data where the com­pany har­nesses the power of AI through ma­chine-learn­ing al­go­rithms to pre­dict fu­ture events.

So just as she is bring­ing her tech­nol­ogy back­ground to CPM af­ter over a decade at Eir, CPM is mar­ry­ing its tech­nol­ogy ca­pa­bil­i­ties to im­prove its peo­ple-based of­fer­ings for its clients in the in­creas­ingly dis­rupted world of re­tail.

“We are a peo­ple busi­ness sup­ported by tech­nol­ogy. I do love tech­nol­ogy, but it’s the peo­ple part that has helped me to make a dif­fer­ence at CPM. It’s the com­bi­na­tion of the two that counts.

“Our data and re­search is be­ing used by mar­ket­ing teams at our client com­pa­nies to make busi­ness plans with their own cus­tomers. Our clients tell us these new facts and fig­ures have made a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence to how they do busi­ness.

“We use data sci­en­tists to cre­ate in­for­ma­tion that are used by hu­mans, and by bring­ing the two to­gether you have a pow­er­ful tool which is con­stantly evolv­ing.”

CPM Ire­land, which is part of the larger group Om­ni­com, in the main is a provider of field mar­ket­ing and sales ser­vices to play­ers in the re­tail mar­ket.

The Ir­ish field mar­ket­ing mar­ket is worth about €100m and the com­pany has an es­ti­mated turnover of €20m a year.

While tech­nol­ogy is clearly an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant as­pect of CPM’s busi­ness, find­ing the right peo­ple for its clients is the top pri­or­ity.

How­ever, given the low unem­ploy­ment rates here against the back­drop of a boom­ing econ­omy, find­ing the right peo­ple for her clients has be­come a chal­lenge over the past few years.

Po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees have high ex­pec­ta­tions and are of­ten not will­ing to put in the ground­work, she told the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent.

“Peo­ple are be­gin­ning to lose their so­cial skills so peo­ple en­gage­ment is an is­sue. Tech­nol­ogy is in­ter­ven­ing too much and peo­ple are be­com­ing more used to en­gag­ing with their de­vices more than other in­di­vid­u­als.

“This comes across very strongly in in­ter­views. So the per­sonal touch, the per­sonal en­gage­ment is not there as much it would have been be­fore.

“For me I have to de­ci­pher the per­son and see what peo­ple can bring to us and the brands we work with ver­sus the value and the value they’ll bring ver­sus the cost to us and our clients.

“In the last three years I’ve seen an in­fla­tion ask from can­di­dates of be­tween 25pc and 45pc — and they are get­ting it.

“Then peo­ple be­gin to believe their own hype, and I’m find­ing it at the lower end of the mar­ket too, so as an out­sourc­ing agency we can pro­vide a lot of dif­fer­ent ser­vices. But a big part of our busi­ness is mer­chan­dis­ing and peo­ple com­ing in at the lower end work their way up the lad­der and that pays off for them. But it’s very hard to find those gems.”

There are other chal­lenges, too, in a mar­ket where some­times the em­ployer is bat­tling against a wel­fare sys­tem which is prov­ing to be an at­trac­tive al­ter­na­tive for some po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees, But­ler added.

“I also believe we have a prob­lem with our so­cial wel­fare sys­tem. There are so many op­por­tu­ni­ties at en­try level in our busi­ness, but some of the feed­back we get is that it just isn’t worth it be­cause po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees can get more on so­cial wel­fare.

“That is an is­sue we deal with ev­ery day. And believe it or not, it’s not just the younger peo­ple, it’s their par­ents get­ting in­volved.

“Par­ents are con­tact­ing us as part of the in­ter­view process and are also ask­ing their chil­dren why would they go into a role at en­try level when they can get more on so­cial wel­fare or job­seeker’s un­less you can com­mand a salary of €40,000 or more?

“These young peo­ple are miss­ing out on the learn­ing as­pect of em­ploy­ment and the ben­e­fits of con­tribut­ing to so­ci­ety.

“Out­side of my ca­reer, I do a lot of men­tor­ing work. As busi­ness lead­ers we need to be aligned and we need gen­eral rules of en­gage­ment in terms of what is ac­cept­able in busi­ness with so many chal­lenges ahead.”

Ac­cord­ing to But­ler, the com­pany has had to adapt its ap­proach to hir­ing for its clients be­cause of the chal­lenges in the mar­ket.

“We can’t com­pro­mise on this be­cause it is our brand and our rep­u­ta­tion and our clients’ rep­u­ta­tion. We are now in­vest­ing about three times more in hu­man re­sources than we were three years ago.

“In any given week we have about 40 va­can­cies so you are con­stantly re­cruit­ing and in­ter­view­ing peo­ple and it is tak­ing us three times more in terms of re­sources etc in find­ing those peo­ple,” she said.

Chal­lenges aside, But­ler said that the Ir­ish cando at­ti­tude gives us a dis­tinct ad­van­tage, al­though there are on­go­ing chal­lenges for a small coun­try try­ing to fight for in­vest­ment in an in­creas­ingly global mar­ket and against the back­drop of Brexit.

“We are a smaller coun­try, but per capita our con­tri­bu­tion is high. One of our ad­van­tages is our cul­ture and our peo­ple.

“It is a coun­try that is built on re­la­tion­ships and while this is chang­ing, our psy­che is dif­fer­ent. We strive to make things work, we’ ll find a way to do it.

“But I would worry that we are be­gin­ning to lose that. As busi­ness lead­ers we need to com­mu­ni­cate what is and is not ac­cept­able. And what doesn’t work is short-ter­mism.”

And her mes­sage to the re­tail in­dus­try is clear. There’s no deny­ing the tra­di­tional high-street model no longer works, she ad­mit­ted.

“You have to em­brace the change. We need to fo­cus on what con­sumers are look­ing for and giv­ing that to them, a rea­son to go to the store.

“If you are go­ing in for a higher level pur­chase, for ex­am­ple, you want an ex­pe­ri­ence, a mem­ory, a feel­ing and we need to in­vest in cre­at­ing that in­store ex­pe­ri­ence.

“The chal­lenge I see in Ire­land from a brand point of view is that you’ve got a sales func­tion and a mar­ket­ing func­tion with dif­fer­ent P&Ls, dif­fer­ent own­ers, but they need to merge in the fu­ture.

“If they don’t, peo­ple and brands will fail, but peo­ple who en­gage with the con­sumer have to be part of the same team in the fu­ture.

“Dig­i­tal is key — 70pc of peo­ple who are go­ing to buy some­thing go on­line first and into the store to pick it up. But what we find is that the on­line ex­pe­ri­ence and the one at the store are dif­fer­ent and not joined up.

“You need to make sure that where you are start­ing and end­ing is seam­less.

“You go on­line to buy a PC at a re­tailer site, but you go to the shop and it isn’t in stock or it is more ex­pen­sive or hard to find. That drives the con­sumer mad and they leave with a bad taste in their mouth.

“In or­der for re­tail to sur­vive, you need to en­sure the store ex­pe­ri­ence is spe­cial, but you also need to en­sure you’re not mes­sag­ing cus­tomers too much ei­ther.”

For But­ler, bring­ing new data to CPM’s clients is an ex­cit­ing new de­vel­op­ment for the com­pany. But it’s the bread and but­ter ben­e­fits of the out­sourc­ing model with its cost ben­e­fits that will con­tinue to be a unique sell­ing point.

“Of­ten our clients will say if they are fo­cus­ing on skills and their own peo­ple, peo­ple can get left be­hind. And there are sav­ings. So with an av­er­age of 10pc from out­sourc­ing and the ef­fi­cien­cies you get from in­creased sales of about 10pc, so you get a 20pc dif­fer­en­tia­tor nor­mally and we work with our clients typ­i­cally for about 12 years.

“Again, peo­ple don’t re­alise the Eir team they are deal­ing with, say in a store, are CPM staff, but if our teams doesn’t believe in what they’re do­ing it comes across very quickly,” she added.

But­ler takes no prison­ers, that is clear, but she is as tough on her­self as she would be on any po­ten­tial em­ployer.

“At Eir, if I wanted to make strate­gic de­ci­sions I could con­trib­ute but not ex­e­cute and it was never go­ing to be my com­pany and ob­vi­ously the own­ers were go­ing to make those de­ci­sions.

“At CPM, I have con­trol at end-to-end and al­though we are part of a big­ger or­gan­i­sa­tion with of­fices in 35 mar­kets, Ire­land con­tin­ues to punch above its weight,” she said be­fore head­ing off on an­other round of in­ter­views.

Lor­raine But­ler, manag­ing di­rec­tor of CPM Ire­land, at the com­pany’s new head­quar­ters in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin

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