IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I blogged several encouraging reports from my visit to Belarus a couple of months ago including an interview with Valery Tsepkalo from the Minsk Hi-Tech Park (HTP) and Sergei Levteev, the IBA Group Chairman, however there is now some exciting news that verifies what these experts have been saying for years – Belarus has been noticed and recognised by the Global Sourcing Association (GSA), previously known as the European Outsourcing Association (EOA).

GSA Awards

Specifically, Belarus has been shortlisted as one of the best outsourcing destinations in Europe and IBA Group is shortlisted for the best European Corporate Social Responsibility programme.

The final decision will be announced at the awards ceremony in Bulgaria tonight. Whatever happens at the awards ceremony it’s a big boost for Belarus to be noticed in two important awards categories in this way. The best location and the company that is most responsible – all important, but given the information supplied by Valery and Sergei in those earlier interviews I’m sure that Belarus has a serious chance of winning the best location in Europe category.

Belarus has big local companies offering complete end-to-end solutions and expertise in systems integration, but the local startup scene is also extremely strong too. Companies like Viber and Wargaming are innovative and are defining the markets where they operate. Many services are now distributed via the app store for Apple and Android users and therefore the country of origin is noticed less than before – local players can quickly become global in this environment.

Government tax breaks and services such as the HTP are showing that even smaller nations can make a big impact in the global technology marketplace. Shortlisting Belarus as the best place in Europe for IT outsourcing is just one more step towards a more general recognition that this is a great place for running technology projects – good luck to everyone in the Global Leagership Summit & Awards tonight!

New Reality: Technology Trends for Belarus to Apply

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on October 5, 2016

IBA Group
Daria Kovalevskaya

On September 30 and October 1, the IPM Business School organized a technology conference in Minsk, Belarus. The conference titled A New Reality: Challenges for Belarus explored the modern trends in technology and how they are applied in the world and, particularly, in Belarus.

The first part of the conference was dedicated to crowdfunding. Speakers highlighted the advantages of crowd economy not only for small businesses and startups but for bigger companies and enterprises as well.

Crowdfunding allows for shaping the entire industries according to what consumers want to see and buy. If they want to read a book by a particular author, see a play with a particular cast of actors, or even buy a chewable ice maker, it’s up to them now to finance it. At the same time, campaign creators are able to validate their ideas (to see if the world is actually interested in what they have to offer) and create relationship with potential clients.

Indiegogo Co-Founder Slava Rubin Talks About Crowdfunding

At the second part of the conference, speakers presented the Internet of Things, drones, and chat bots. The most exciting part was the presentation of Smart Cities, a project by Philips, which uses recent advances in communication and data analysis to make big cities more livable and sustainable. Small sensors and devices work together to collect information that can be used later to save energy and help citizens feel safer.

Advantages of drones and chat bots were also mentioned. The potential of drones cannot be underestimated, as the drone market has recently hit $127 billion. While mostly used in the entertainment area (photography and video shooting), drones operate in construction, agriculture, transport, and security. They can cover areas that are either unreachable or unsafe for humans and substantially reduce the human factor risks. The only stepping stumbling block for drones is the government and rigid drone registration policies.

Chat bots are presented as alternatives to mobile apps. Similar to AI assistants like Siri or Allo, bots provide instant information. The main advantages of bots are multiplatform usage (opposed to mobile apps, bots don’t require different coding for each operating system) and low prices for their development.

The last trend discussed at the conference was Blockchain, a technology that allows for making and verifying transactions instantaneously without a central authority. A great example of Mycella, a company created by singer Imogene Heap, shows benefits of using the blockchain technology. Artists could release their music themselves, gaining control over their earnings and additional information about their songs.

Countries like Belarus may easily adapt to these technologies if they accept them and introduce changes to their institutes.  Crowdfunding is already a triumph here, with the biggest Belarusian platform, Ulej, funding over 40% of successful campaigns since its launch in 2015.

New reality has already made its way into the modern life. Customers, creators, and mechanisms of interaction between them are changing, and those who will be the first to embrace these changes will gain the biggest benefit.

IBA Invites Children to City of Professions

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on September 28, 2016

On September 25, IBA organized an interactive family festival entitled City of Professions for its employees and their children to celebrate the beginning of the new school year. The festival was held at the Dream Land amusement park in Minsk.

Young visitors had a chance to learn about different professions. At the entrance to the festival, a special Job Center offered children various career opportunities.

The city comprised 15 educational stations where each child could try out a profession of his or her choice. Future workers received their employment record books, a bag of delicious treats, and ibucks – a special currency created for the participants of the festival. Children could exchange their ibucks for hot chocolate and rides.

Everything was ‘real’ in the City of Professions. To start working, youngsters had to wear special uniform and listen to safety instructions. Future firefighters trained in fire extinguishing using hoses, doctors learned to perform closed-chest massage and artificial respiration, pastry chefs baked muffins and cooked pancakes, artists painted their masterpieces, and detectives had to solve crimes. For their work children received ibucks.

Alongside with employees and their kids, IBA Group also invited children from the Social Pedagogical Center of Minsk’s Soviet District, the 410th daycare center, the 2nd gymnasium of Novopolotsk, and home for senior and disabled people of Logoisk.

Last year, IBA held another festival to celebrate Knowledge Day – Eco City.

To see pictures from City of Professions 2016, visit our Facebook page.

city of professions 2016

Why Using Cell Phones at Work Can Be a Good Thing

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on September 21, 2016

The recent Innovation issue of PULSE Magazine, a bi-monthly e-zine created by and for IAOP’s members, published an article by Sergei Zhmako, IBA USA General Manager. The publication titled Why Using Cell Phones at Work Can Be a Good Thing focuses on social and mobile tools and their place in the corporate strategy of an enterprise.

According to the article, mobile and social technologies, being a strong trend in the consumer market, have become a top priority for most enterprises. With two billion people across the globe using social media and half of the web traffic coming from mobile devices, organizations actively employ these technologies in their work environment.

Mobile and social technologies enable easier communication and collaboration between employees and provide an instant access to business information and learning materials.

Despite bringing exciting opportunities, social and mobile technologies may also bring a number of challenges, as transition to them requires additional skills and effort.  The article gives ten recommendations to consider in a mobile or social engagement. Here are top three of them:

1. Engage Users Early – companies must strive to engage users at the early stages of the project lifestyle, including prototyping and receiving quick feedback from focus groups.

2. Consider Added Features – new features, such as a GPS location sensor, camera, or mike, could be added to solution if such need arises.

3. Change Your Culture and Make It Fun with Games – gamification can contribute to easier transition to enterprise mobility.

You can read the full article here.

CEE Trends For An Emerging Europe

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on September 13, 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

An interesting video series on the website of Emerging Europe magazine recently explored some of the new trends and opportunities for IT and outsourcing in the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region.

The 8-part video series looks at various aspects of outsourcing in Eastern Europe, but I found it particularly interesting to see that there was a strong focus on emerging locations and current Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) trends in the CEE region.

Many new locations are developing as the larger CEE cities find that their BPO industry matures. With strong competition between service providers it makes sense to explore smaller cities, especially those where universities provide a strong flow of talented people ready to work in the BPO industry.

BPO itself is also undergoing a change of attitude. Previously BPO was associated only with contact centres and many graduates are no longer interested in those jobs, however the more complex BPO being undertaken in CEE today comprises a wide range of business services – this is much more attractive than contact centres alone.

Complex industries, like financial services, being supported by suppliers in the CEE region are finding that they are developing new solutions and systems rather than taking existing processes from another region and copying them offshore. This is because many entire industries are changing fast and sourcing services from the CEE region helps them to perform in a more agile and competitive way.

This also creates a learning culture in the CEE companies where people are not just expected to copy processes from western Europe and the client companies. They are expected to anticipate how industries are shifting and to then meet the new needs of their clients – a much bigger and more exciting challenge.

The huge mega-deal of the past is less common today thanks to smaller teams of best-of-breed suppliers that can work together on deals.

The entire CEE area and the type of services being provided is dramatically evolving. I recommended watching the entire video series from Emerging Europe to get some great advice on what’s really happening.

IBA Group Employees Successfully Run Minsk Half Marathon

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on September 6, 2016

On September 4, IBA Group participated in Minsk Half Marathon 2016, an event dedicated to the Minsk City Day. Over 20 thousand people, both professional and amateur runners, took part in the marathon.

This year, the marathon gathered participants from 42 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Costa Rica, Kenya, and Japan.

IBA Group didn’t remain indifferent to the event and joined Minsk Half Marathon. Fifteen employees of the company participated in the marathon, choosing one of three available distances (5.5km, 10.55km, and 21,097km) and successfully completing them. Congratulations to our colleagues on their achievements!

Healthy lifestyle is encouraged at IBA Group. The purpose-built fitness center offers classes in aerobics, pilates, and yoga. Employees can visit a gym, play mini-football, basketball, volleyball, and tennis.  Rooms for billiards and table tennis are also available in the fitness center.

IBA Group frequently participates in various sport events, including IT Spartakiada, IT Karting, and other championships. The company organizes Tourist Rally, an annual two-day camping trip for employees, which includes sport activities and teambuilding.

In 2015, IBA Group took the first place at the 12th IT Spartakiada sport competition, winning gold medals in karting and bowling, as well as bronze medals in kicker and volleyball. The table tennis and basketball teams finished fourth and fifth respectively.

IBA Group Employees Successfully Run Minsk Half Marathon

Click here to see more photos from Minsk Half Marathon.

The Changing Nature of Global Outsourcing

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on August 25, 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The traditional drivers or outsourcing are factors such as availability of talent, flexibility of a supplier to provide expertise, and a reduced operating cost, but a recent feature in CIO magazine showed that the situation around the world is changing. Many regions are seeing unusual changes that are sometimes beneficial and sometimes problematic.

IBA is focused on the Central and Eastern Europe region (CEE) and there are changes taking place in many of these countries that are not usually picked up by commentators who merely talk about rates being lower than western Europe. The conflict in Ukraine is a good example.

All organisations want to operate in a stable political environment. Armed conflict is not going to help any business function smoothly and it is interesting to observe how the CEE neighbours of Ukraine have all benefited from the conflict. Many IT and BPO companies with operations in Ukraine have shifted their teams west into neighbouring countries and many individuals with skills have just moved, seeking work nearby. In some cases (like Lithuania) the local government has made it easier for foreigners with IT skills to come and find a job.

These unusual changes in outsourcing attractiveness are repeated in several other places around the world. Brazil and Colombia have both seen currency depreciation over the past year that makes their services at least 20% cheaper than a year before – for companies using US dollars.

Even inside the US there are changes that are not reported so often. The government offers many incentives for companies that hire military veterans and as the USA winds down various overseas operations there are many veterans starting service companies and using their veteran status to win contracts with companies that want to hire locally, but also see that they get tax benefits in doing so.

What’s interesting about all these cases is that they show how complex the outsourcing decision process is becoming. This is no longer about selecting a nation or individual company, many other factors are in play and can affect how a corporate relationship works.

Mark Hillary

I recently visited Minsk in Belarus as a guest of IBA Group. They were opening a major new facility in the city to expand their capacity and to boost their cloud capabilities globally. The new IBA Group facility is located inside the Belarus Hi-Tech Park (HTP), a venture partially funded by both the public and private sector to help boost the wider IT industry in Belarus.

I met up with the HTP director Valery Tsepkalo to ask him about the technology industry in Belarus and how the park fits into the wider development of an industry that is rapidly changing and expanding. Initially I asked about the park itself and what can be found at the HTP in Minsk. He explained: “We have been operating for a decade now, but it’s not just IT park facilities, it is also a wider concept of the companies and the park – like a representation of the entire IT industry. It’s like a club. Belarus is quite a small country and Minsk has most of the national IT industry so this park pulls everyone together and offers some physical infrastructure. We have the administration of the park here and our offices, but also a business incubator, education centre, and the individual company offices.”

After we talked, Valery gave me a tour of the incubator. It was an impressive area where the HTP offers office infrastructure to startups at a very low rate to help get them started and potentially become full-price HTP customers.

“We have 153 companies in the HTP with 24,000 software engineers. All of the companies are independent and all are privately owned, the government has no stake in them. We [the HTP] are an agency of the government and have an agreement with the member companies so they can take advantage of a special tax regime. We do demand an annual audit and an update on the companies every three months so our members are very open with their information. It’s important for potential clients to see this level of transparency in the IT industry. Big companies like Epam or IBA have their own international reputation, but being here helps the smaller member companies to build trust,” Valery explained.

So the HTP offers physical infrastructure, but also offers a chance for many people in the same industry to work in close proximity, creating opportunities for networking and sharing information on business trends. I asked Valery if the HTP is involved in the global promotion of the technology industry. He said: “Yes, but we don’t usually promote the HTP alone, we create delegations with our companies so other business owners can see the companies that are using the HTP. Often we work with chambers of commerce or our embassies internationally to create events that promote cooperation. When you are one part of the wider industry it gives everyone more clout than just promoting the HTP alone.”

This is an interesting point because many IT associations find it hard to get companies to cooperate when promoting their national industry overseas. Naturally every individual company is pitching for business, so the harmony they need to promote a region together can be hard to find.

Valery explained that when they talk to overseas customers there is a requirement to sell both the capabilities of the IT companies and Belarus itself: “We need to sell both the country and company. When we had quite strained relations with the US and Europe we asked clients to come and visit. Even if their view is not favourable based on the media then they quickly found that the reality is very different. It’s a normal country with no real difference to Greece or Slovakia. Clients that come here see a normal European country with hard working people. The best marketing is just to do a good job for your customers.”

The political image problem is something that cannot be ignored in Belarus. The nation has famously been called “the last dictatorship in Europe” by many commentators in the European and American media, so how can the companies in Belarus deal with such a negative media portrayal? I asked Valery if the general problem of how Belarus is perceived has been reduced now there are several important companies from Belarus working internationally. He said: “It’s one reason yes, but politically most western countries realise that this political situation is better than our neighbours, like Ukraine. At the end of the day whatever you like or dislike about the way that countries are run, at least if you have people there that you can negotiate with and you know that there will be good outcomes then it is better [for everyone]. In our part of the world the legal system is not quite like it is in the UK; it was basically just criminal law after the Soviet Union ended, but we are well on the way to improving this.”

It’s true that the IT market in Belarus is growing fast. Valery described some of the latest statistics from the HTP: “[In recent years] we were growing 30-40% a year, but it’s a bit less at present with about 20% growth in revenue. The latest figure was about $800m (USD) which is 46 times the entire IT industry here in 2005. So after just nine years of activity we have made an enormous difference – we plan to pass the $1bn figure this year.” He added: “The park is growing at about 3,000 new people each year and this has been a consistent level of growth for about the past five years. It’s a really good growth rate because [the industry analyst] Gartner suggests that most IT markets are growing 3,4, or 5% and in the last year the global IT industry actually declined by about 1.5%, yet here we are still growing at over 20%.”

Traditionally the IT outsourcing market in Central and Eastern Europe was all about serving companies in Western Europe, such as the UK and Germany, and being able to offer lower prices, but with a highly-skilled workforce. However the entire IT and IT services market is changing at present. I asked Valery what changes he is seeing from Belarus: “The service companies are moving to offer sophisticated complete business solutions. One of our companies is building the front office for eCommerce companies because many traditional retailers need to fight experts like Amazon – if you can’t match this kind of online service then you are lost.” He added: “The startup culture is an interesting trend too, like Viber [phone app similar to Whatsapp] for example or World of Tanks [battle game produced by Wargaming], one of the most popular games in the world right now. These companies start up and build a product rather than working for clients. Many companies like IBA Group have created start-up garages so their own employees can test out new ideas too. I remember when some of these products launched and they were very local, but many of these products have gone completely global.”

I asked if the app store business model had changed how IT companies in Belarus are delivering their services. Naturally the Apple and Android app stores have created an opportunity for IT companies to develop services anywhere and immediately have a global distribution platform available.

Valery said: “The app store model has definitely changed the market and allowed some of these companies to go global quickly. Even ten years ago I couldn’t expect results like this. When Wargaming entered the HTP they had about 30 developers and now they have over 2000. But now they are not just located here, they have teams all over the world.”

The HTP in Minsk, Belarus is a mix of trade association with physical infrastructure and some government support, but it is clearly supporting a young, vibrant, and fast growing industry in Belarus. What is really interesting though is that companies you might just think of as ‘European’, like Wargaming or Viber, have their origins in Belarus. It’s certainly a market that’s still growing because there is a local culture that is supportive of seeing every ship rise on the same tide.

Big Data Is Becoming Big Marketing

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on August 15, 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

It’s fascinating to see how quickly different technologies can move from the world of the technology expert to the mainstream. Think back ten years and it was quite rare to be using the mobile Internet. Some people were struggling along with a very slow connection and an old Nokia handset, but it really wasn’t until the iPhone came out in 2007 that it started becoming easy to use the Internet when on the move.

More recently look at how everyone suddenly understands Augmented Reality (AR) because of the Pokémon Go game. AR has been around for years as a way of overlaying information onto live images, but it has never caught on in a mainstream way until now.

I think we are about to see a similar shift in the way that Big Data is accepted in the enterprise environment too, because it is moving on from just being important to the technologists.

Companies are finding that their customer journey is changing dramatically. This is the route that customers use to find out about products and then buy them. Instead of seeing adverts or marketing materials and then making a purchase, there is a much more complex two-way information flow that can be spread across many channels.

Many organisations are finding that they need to blend all their customer-facing activities together so they can be coordinated. This means that the Public Relations, Advertising, Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service teams all need to be working together because all of them are involved in the customer journey to some degree.

Making sense of all this change requires data and analysis. Smart companies are finding that they can develop better strategies by analysing patterns of customer behaviour, but this requires the analysis of very large data sets. Suddenly Big Data is moving into the world of the marketing team and becoming a valuable tool.

So for any company to succeed in this more complex customer environment, more knowledge about customers is essential and I believe that strong data analysis skills will be needed more than ever. Watch out for this as Big Data skills are going to become a mainstream part of organisational strategy in the very near future.

Enterprise IT Is Changing Fast

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on August 3, 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I saw an interesting Tech Target blog on the storage requirements associated with Big Data projects recently. It’s interesting to see just how many technology concepts are now either blurring together or becoming interdependent.

Consider this as an example. A shipping company installs tracking devices on every vehicle and container they use – it might be tens of thousands of individual items that can now be tracked and monitored and more effectively moved into position. Clearly that increased efficiency is great for the company, but what does it mean in terms of additional IT infrastructure?

First there is a need for an IoT strategy – the Internet of Things – where all these individual items can be tagged and monitored in some way. Either they can independently broadcast their location or they can be monitored using devices that pass in close proximity to them.

So the sheer amount of information that is being captured requires a Big Data strategy because instead of just having an inventory of items, now you need to model the items and their location in real-time. Your database has to become a reflection of the business.

Then a data analysis strategy is required because you need to build models that can maximise the efficiency of the data model and improve on what humans can do manually. As the machines learn the optimum processes, much of the system will be able to run automatically.

But underpinning all of this will be a storage strategy because the amount of data that is created, stored, and manipulated will be huge compared to earlier inventory-based systems. In some cases the data capture will appear to be extraneous – capturing the movement around a port of a single container might not by itself add a lot of value to your business, but when aggregated with the location and movement of every container and analysed, efficiencies can be created.

And this leads back to the use of a cloud strategy to ensure that all these systems always have the storage and computing power available whenever needed.

It’s becoming hard to consider any of these strategies as distinct from each other because the way that IT projects work today has moved far from the world of PC-based applications. Enterprise systems are getting bigger and better, but they need more consideration and strategic planning to succeed.