A woman stands at a desk in an office reception. The MSD logo is on a wall behind her.
Catherine Heffernan. Image: MSD

‘The animal health sector has a very bright future ahead’

14 Apr 2023

Catherine Heffernan talks to SiliconRepublic.com about her role in MSD’s Animal Health Intelligence division and the rapid growth of the animal health sector.

Catherine Heffernan is a customer and technical support manager with MSD Animal Health Intelligence. In this role, Heffernan works with a range of cutting-edge technologies, including a new monitoring technology for cows called Sensehub, which monitors animals’ reproduction and health status (using a collar), drafting gates to sort animals easily and milking equipment to monitor milk quality in real time.

“This technology allows farmers and vets to make proactive and informed decisions to improve animal health, welfare and performance every day, leveraging real-time data to achieve the best results.”

Heffernan also trains and supports the end users to ensure ease of use and that the data is utilised to its maximum potential.

‘Farmers are now depending on technology to bridge the gap due to the lack of skilled labour’

If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day on the job?

No one day in the job is the same, which for me is part of what makes it so enjoyable. For example, if I am setting up a new customer, I travel to the farm, import the farmer’s herd profile into the Sensehub app, ensure all data is correct and demonstrate to the farmer how to safely and correctly put on a number of collars.

About a week after the technology is installed, I organise a detailed hour-long training session with the farmer to demonstrate the actual data and highlight all of its benefits. This is a critical step as it allows the farmer to understand the extent of what they can do with our technology and how much of an impact it can make on a day-to-day basis. Whilst on the go, I usually receive many day-to-day queries from existing customers via phone and text. I am also often involved in presenting at open days and events, and supporting the sales team with their activities. So, overall, every single week and every single day can feel quite different.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

Beyond the technical skills and knowledge, I think my role is a perfect example of how important soft skills can be as well. Though sometimes overlooked when working in STEM and related fields, the importance of skills such as communication, teaching, presenting, active listening, observing, assisting, troubleshooting, planning, and patience cannot be overstated.

What is the hardest part of your working day?

In Irish dairy and beef systems, the breeding season is very condensed which means we need to fast-track the sale and installation processes to all take place within a short window. It can be challenging to get new customers up and running whilst also supporting existing customers’ technical faults and queries, as this can be a terribly busy time of the year. Our ways of working at MSD Animal Health help us thrive in these busy periods, leveraging our collaborative and supportive culture to bring our best every single day. The team I work with are always there to lend a helping hand, which is great.

Do you have any productivity tips that help you through the working day?

Whilst on the go, it can sometimes be challenging to multitask – especially when I receive several calls and questions which often need me to look at my laptop while going from one location to the other. I have found that being able to efficiently work from several different devices can be helpful, being able to leverage whatever technology format is best based on the situation, but always remaining connected and with the tools I need comfortable to hand.

Simple things like taking notes on my phone, for example, allow me to keep on top of any items that may come up during the day, and from there I can then prioritise the queries. I also try to take an office day on a Friday to allow me to catch up on my week and I find it allows me to plan my week to be most efficient.

When you first started this job, what were you most surprised to learn was important in the role?

When I first started my role, I was most surprised by the level and quantity of technical information and knowledge we were given during our induction training on our products and wider portfolio. It is so important to have an in-depth understanding of how our technologies and products work to be able to deliver best-in-class advice and support to our clients, finding the best solutions to meet their unique needs. Although I was surprised at first, I was delighted to learn and be exposed to such information on all our products. It is fascinating to be able to build so much technical expertise while on the job.

How has this role changed as this sector has grown and evolved?

Technology in all industries is rapidly growing. Farmers are now depending on technology to bridge the gap due to the lack of skilled labour. The speed at which technology is being adapted in our industry in recent years has been incredible and has made my role evolve. Sales of monitoring collars in Ireland for example have increased tenfold in the last five years. In Ireland, 10pc of animals today wear monitoring technology and this is predicted to reach 50pc by 2025. As customers are at various stages of their technology journey, it makes my role and day-to-day support quite different from when I started.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

The team I work with is incredible! The support, leadership and communication are excellent across the board and make the work so enjoyable. Everyone is there to always help and have your back. Particularly when on the road so often, it can sometimes be difficult to get a true sense of culture – but our team is so well connected that this is not a problem. Colleagues are always there to support and collaborate, which is fantastic.

I also really enjoy that no one day is the same which suits my type of personality. The animal health sector has a very bright future ahead, and I am excited to be part of the innovation to come.

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