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Sunday Business Post, Sunday 20th December 2009

A Scientific Approach to saving money on staff

Laid up in hospital after breaking both his knees, IT consultant Ciaran McGowan had time to think about his career.

‘‘I fell off a ladder while trying to replace a slate on a roof. In hospital for six weeks, I had thinking time – a lot of it,” said McGowan. Seeing an opportunity to use technology to help companies figure out the best way to cut costs, he formed Staff Balance.

Based in the docklands area in Dublin, the firm takes ‘‘a scientific approach to staff “, and claims to have saved its clients more than €1 million in costs through the use of high tech simulation modelling. Its customers are mainly large financial services firm and utilities, including Bord Gáis, KBC Bank and Zurich Life Assurance.

‘‘The greatest pressure on executives in business today is to cut costs,” said McGowan, who is founder and chief executive of Staff Balance. ‘‘Psychologically, this focus on cost cutting has been very hard on everyone – managers, employees and customers.

‘‘You have to know exactly where to cut costs and how to improve efficiency, or you could potentially destroy your business, your customer relations, and the trust your staff have in you.”

Having held senior positions with financial software firms Fineos and Eontec, McGowan felt that there was a gap in the market for a new product. ‘‘I found that the accounting and finance systems that our clients used couldn’t provide the level of information they needed to help them understand what drives profit,” he said. ‘‘That explains why cost-cutting measures are often implemented without a clear rationale to back them up.”

McGowan had started to research simulation modelling when studying for his computer degree at Trinity College Dublin. In 2005, he built a simulation model for KBC Bank, with positive results.

‘‘The simulation feature helped us to map out scenarios,” he said. ‘‘If we cut costs here, what is the impact? If we increase employee numbers there, how much more profit can we make? If we automate this task, how much more efficient can we be?

‘‘In most large businesses, you are dealing with multiple channels, complicated product sets, legacy data systems and even a widely-dispersed organisation.

Simulation modelling helps to pull the complex and diverse data together to make sense of that information, and to use it intelligently to identify opportunities for profitability and for improved efficiency.

We help companies to seize profit opportunities.”

McGowan and his business partners, Fiona Flynn and Rachel Killeen, are finalising first-round investment funding of €400,000 for Staff Balance.

He said that the firm was meeting the demand for its service in Ireland, while at the same time eyeing up the international market, which is worth more than €2.4 billion globally.

Staff Balance has been designated as a high-potential start up by Enterprise Ireland, and has won a special merit award in the M50 programme for young businesses.

View the online Sunday Business Post article .