IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Europe is in a state of flux at present. British people recently decided that they should leave the European Union – now known as Brexit – and the latest book from Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz suggests that the Euro currency will tear the rest of the union apart.

In this uncertain environment, does the old idea of European nearshoring still work? There are many countries within the EU block and part of Western Europe that now have very high unemployment and low labour costs – look at Greece, Portugal, and Spain for examples. Is it still valid to think of Eastern Europe as a supplier of technology skills to the rest of Europe?

I was thinking about some of these uncertainties when I read an article on the GSA Sourcing Focus site. The article explores some of the issues around Brexit and how it might affect outsourcing relationships.

The three main issues mentioned by Sourcing Focus are:

1.    The cheap pound; it’s no longer so cheap to buy services from outside the UK so with the economic advantage eroded will more UK companies buy services locally or look beyond Europe for better value?
2.    Legal situation – data transfers; The UK enjoys the protection of the entire EU regarding company law and international agreements protecting issues such as data privacy across borders. How will this change if the country has to legislate for every possible situation individually?
3.    GDP collapse; if the UK becomes a much smaller economy as many economists suggest then how will this affect the relationship between UK companies and suppliers across Europe? It doesn’t look good.

The fears raised by Sourcing Focus are valid. It’s clear that the UK market in international services could change dramatically in the next few years, but I think that it is premature to start defining issues just yet. The UK government has not even triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty yet. This would indicate the formal request to leave the EU and begins a two-year process of negotiating how to leave.

At present the situation is that the UK population voted to leave the EU and the government has said that they will follow the wish of the people, however they are now engaged in a process of negotiation before any formal negotiation begins. Nobody really knows what will happen to the UK at present.

The issue for UK companies at present is this uncertainty. Any UK company bidding for business internationally cannot predict what kind of tariffs or taxes might be applied to their services in a few years and therefore they are at a disadvantage. This could lead to a reduction in international services being delivered from the UK and therefore it could be advantageous for Eastern Europe, but if UK customers suffer in this environment and they are already working with suppliers in the CEE region then this would not be such a great situation.

The real problem now is the uncertainty. The UK government should take action as quickly as possible so that however this story plays out, at least there is more certainty about how the UK will interact with the rest of Europe in future.

IBA Group
Irina Kiptikova

On October 6, the Global Sourcing Association (GSA), formerly known as the European Outsourcing Association (EOA), held the Global Sourcing Leadership Summit and announced the winners of the 2016 EOA Awards. IBA Group was selected the winner in the category Award for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The news is really exciting. The project that earned the award is really special.

IBA Institute, a member of IBA Group, trained 120 disabled people in system administration. Entitled Promotion of IT in Belarus among People with Disabilities, the award-winning project was the first IT education project for disabled people in Belarus.

As many people with disabilities were unable to attend in-class trainings, IBA Group conducted distance training. The students could see the teacher’s desktop, ask questions, make presentations, and prepare lab works on network behavior in Cisco Packet Tracer.

Following the training, IBA Group organized a contest among the graduates of the course to attract employers’ attention to the newly educated system administrators. The idea was to show that people with disabilities deserve praise and well-paid jobs.

The contestants were to troubleshoot network connection problems and to get access to web resources within two hours. The winner solved the task in one hour. Alexander Makarchuk, a completely paralyzed resident of Borisov, left behind the runner-up by 40 minutes. From an outsider’s viewpoint, it looked like he was singing canticles: e-e-e and the curser jumps up, a-a-a and it moves to the right…Technically speaking, Alexander manages the cursor using the software Vocal Joystick that ‘memorizes’ the entered words.

It was the first project in Belarus to socialize people with disabilities through IT education. As a result of the project, a community of learners with an immersive environment was created. Six project graduates, including the contest winner were offered IT jobs!

students

In addition to CSR, IBA Group submitted Belarus in the category Outsourcing Destination of the Year. Although Egypt was selected the winner, it is a big boost for Belarus to be shortlisted in this important competition.

As for the Global Sourcing Leadership Summit, it was held in Sophia, Bulgaria. Rosen Plevneliev, President of Bulgaria, opened the summit. After Bulgaria was selected the Outsourcing Destination of the Year in 2015, a letter of the Bulgarian President came to Kerry Hallard, NOA and EOA CEO. He invited the association to organize the 2016 summit and awards in Sofia. It goes without saying the invitation was accepted.

Bulgaria boasts the same competitive advantages as Belarus or Czech Republic. President Plevneliev mentioned qualified resources and political stability, calling Bulgaria “an island of stability” in Europe. People of different religions and politics co-exist in the country.

Kerry, now the CEO of GSA, announced that after 29 years the NOA brand stopped its existence and the NOA was transformed to the Global Sourcing Association (GSA). The new association signed cooperation agreements with Russian and Chinese outsourcing associations and adopted its Global Sourcing Standard.

The most popular discussion topics at the summit were gender equality, robotic process automation (RPA), digital technologies, and the meaning of Brexit for the European sourcing market.

See the full list of 2016 GSA European Award Winners

GSA Shortlists Belarus For Best Outsourcing Location Award

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

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.

IBA Gomel Celebrates 15 Years

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

IBA Group
Irina Kiptikova

On July 27, IBA Gomel, the second largest software development center of IBA Group celebrated its 15th anniversary.

The entire team and numerous guests gathered at the Locomotive Stadium in Gomel, the second biggest city of Belarus.

Igor Khobnya, IBA Gomel Director; Valentin Kazan, member of the IBA Group Board; Valery Tsepkalo, Director of Belarus’ High-Tech Park, Matthias Karius, Supplier Relationship Manager at IBM, and representatives of the Gomel city administration, universities, customers, and partners appeared before the audience.

They recalled the days when they began working with IBA Gomel, linking the company’s history with the history of the global IT industry, and thanked the company for excellent work.

The party was really cool! We all had fun greeting those who were honored for hard and brilliant work, listening to the hearty welcomes from partners and guests, watching the magic show, dancing, and simply enjoying the atmosphere.

Congratulations to IBA Gomel and its director Igor Khobnya! The company is truly happy to have Igor as an unchallenged leader and the IBA Gomel team as one of the best centers of excellence.

About IBA Gomel

IBA Gomel was registered as a legal entity on July 26, 2001, while the official opening was held on December 17, 2001. The founders were members of IBA Group, namely IBA Minsk, IBA IT GmbH, and IBA Intelligent Systems. The goal was to take advantage of highly-qualified human resources of Gomel Region with its long IT traditions and universities providing education in IT specialties. The first IBA Gomel’s project dealt with SAP development for IBM. Implemented in cooperation with IBA Minsk, the project involved ten programmers. Today, the team amounts to 350 IT specialists who work on different projects for local and international companies.

IMG_2161

Click here to see more photos from the party.

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Earlier this year the management consulting firm AT Kearney released their latest IT Global Services Location Index. This research shows where they believe are the best locations for IT outsourcing globally.

The first thing that is interesting about the report is that a quarter of the top 20 countries are all located in Central or Eastern Europe (CEE). It’s clear that locations such as India or China will offer lower cost IT services, but based on a wider variety of factors the CEE region performs extremely well.

The CEE countries featured in the AT Kearney top 20 are Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, and Russia. All these countries, except Latvia, improved their position in the top 20 year on year so there is not just a large proportion of CEE countries in the top 20, there is a trend towards this region becoming more attractive too.

But there is also a big shift taking place in IT outsourcing. The AT Kearney research also describes how Business Processing As A Service (BPaaS) is poised to reshape how outsourcing works. Outsourcing is not just about a client commissioning IT work from a supplier in another country – the entire process of buying IT systems is changing.

This is an important point and echoes what we have seen in the consumer market. Think about how you use software on your own computer or phone. Either there is an easy to install app available from the app store or you can use a service within a browser. There is no installation or configuration required to use your own personal technology systems and enterprises are mirroring this behaviour.

The cloud was originally popular with companies that wanted flexible access to computing power or storage, but it has matured into a strategy that allows systems to be centrally installed and configured and accessed remotely. The client can then only pay for the time they are using the system, blending IT systems with BPaaS.

The real winners in IT outsourcing in future will not necessarily be the companies in the lowest cost location or with the most technically gifted employees, it will be the companies that can plan for cloud-based services with pricing plans that make sense for companies that do not want to pay up front for technology services.

In Conversation With Sergei Levteev, IBA Group Chairman

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

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

During my recent visit to Minsk to see the launch of the new IBA Group campus I managed to find some time in the diary of Sergei Levteev, the IBA Group Chairman. We sat and talked about some of the issues facing technology companies and in particular how strategies such as nearshoring are changing.

I first asked Sergei about the way that IBA, and similar companies, present themselves to their prospective clients. Do they need to focus on the qualities of the company itself or sell the location where they are based?

He said: “There is a combination because if we are selling IBA then we also need to sell development expertise in Belarus, but we invite people to come and see what we do in Belarus and we are happy to introduce them to reference clients.”

He added that reputation and longevity is also important: “A key point is stability. We have been delivering from here for over 20 years. People are worried about various situations, such as politics, but it has been very stable here. Customers think about cost and quality, but they also want stability.”

The reality is that both the location of a technology supplier and the experience of the company are both equally important, as Sergei summarises: “Companies have to be located somewhere so we always invite clients to come and see where and how we work. It’s important to talk about both – give references for the company and show that the country is stable too.”

I was interested in any recent changes to the nearshoring market and as IBA has a particular expertise customising tools such as SAP, I asked how this market has changed. Sergei explained: “Customers always wanted to change products and this needed a lot of programming and changes. Now they often realise that they are buying a good product used by hundreds of thousands of customers so they change their business processes to fit the software. In this case we work more on a consulting basis, to help tune processes to the software product, rather than reprogramming it.”

This is an interesting observation because the customers have led it. As tools like SAP have improved, most customers no longer ask for development work to change the system, they ask companies like IBA to help them change their processes to fit the software system.

Sergei added: “If you compare the situation today to 5 to 7 years ago then it’s true, the customer would say that we know best and you should just do what we ask – the customer is always right. Today there is less programming and more of a focus on the vertical expertise, such as banking or retail.”

But in addition to this change in the nearshoring marketplace there is also the move towards business solutions being delivered via the cloud, rather than customers paying for entire bespoke solutions to be built. How has this trend affected IBA? Sergei said: “The customer no longer wants to pay for the future. They will not pay for infrastructure years in advance. They want to check if you can deliver a business solution and then agree on a monthly payment. They are not asking for a completely new system to be designed and built, they want to subscribe to an existing business service.”

He added: “This is one of the reasons why we invested in our new data centre. It’s not that we just want to have a data centre, it’s because we want to offer services to customers and for them to feel confident that they can pay for a service just like they pay for electricity now. IBM was talking about Software as a Service (SaaS) more than 10 years ago, but it was mostly theory then – now it’s a reality.”

So there are various trends reshaping the nearshoring market, such as the cloud, pay as you go business solutions, and a move to consulting rather than just software development, but has the nearshoring and offshoring debated changed completely?

Not so much. Sergei explained: “Software development is still a focus area for IBA Group. As for sourcing, the customer is always looking for the right mix of on-site, nearshore and offshore IT. We are working on a project in Lithuania and that’s really nearshore because people can come and go easily, but nearshore is more expensive than a completely offshore project. In the past few years we have seen many companies exploring in-sourcing, where they create new internal technology teams, but this is rarely economical and I think that it is a temporary idea.”

He summarised the big change ahead for the rest of 2016: “The cloud is still quite new, but it will be the future. The mentality of the customer has to change to use more cloud-based services. In Western Europe the cloud is mature, but here in Minsk there are many managers who would like to keep the technology in their office. However, I believe it will be the main form of IT service delivery in the next 2-3 years.”

The nearshoring market used to be focused on lower cost software development, but this is changing in several ways. Customers are looking for solutions they can rent more than building their own systems and when they do decide to buy a software solution, they are using IT companies for business process alignment, rather than making changes to the software.

All these changes suggest that cloud-based services really are the future for IT service providers, but not all of them will be able to build off-the-shelf solutions they can rent. Those who cannot win this new type of business will face ever-decreasing rates, as the customers look more to service quality without a big financial risk, rather than slashing the cost of developing new systems.

Click here to see images and videos from my visit to IBA Group in Minsk this month…

Launching The New IBA Group Campus in Minsk

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on June 20, 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I flew to Belarus recently to be at the launch event of the new IBA Group campus on June 8th. The new campus includes a large new office building housing over 900 team members, a data center, a fitness center, parking, and accommodation.

Of course, travelling from Brazil to Belarus is a long way to go just for a party, but there were some special guests at this event including Sergei Levteev, IBA Group Chairman, Sergei Nalivaiko, Minister of Taxes and Duties for the Republic of Belarus, Cesare Baroni, Vice President for Transformation and Operations, Systems & Supply Chain at IBM, and Valery Tsepkalo, Hi-Tech Park Director.

The IBA Group leaders and VIP guests all participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the entrance of the new campus, which was also captured by a drone buzzing over the head of the crowd. When Sergei Levteev lifted up a symbolic key to the building over 300 balloons soared into the sky.

The new campus comprises these different areas:

1.    A 6-storey building with around 900 workplaces equipped with the latest engineering and telecommunication infrastructure
2.    A fitness center with a gym, a large game room, fitness rooms, and a table tennis room
3.    A data center built in accordance with modern international standards of reliability and performance and using modern energy-saving technologies of operating energy-intensive equipment. The heat generated by computer technologies of the data center is recovered and used to heat the fitness center
4.    Three-level parking lot for 400 cars.

The fitness center was impressive, with several basketball courts and facilities for 5-a-side football as well as other games such as pool and table tennis. All modern offices are now finding it essential to offer these spaces where tired techies can escape from their code for a while.

The office was modern and featured elegant transparent elevators that allow passengers to watch the horizon as they ascend to the top floor. It’s also possible to access the roof, where artificial grass creates another area for relaxation.

What I found most impressive on the tour of the new facilities though was the data center. I haven’t been to a data center for some time because most companies I know now outsource this requirement. However this is exactly what IBA Group is offering to their clients, a secure data center facility.

The data center had two completely separate power supplies from different substations on the power grid and they charged up two separate battery units. This allows the mains power to be used even if one section of the city grid fails and if there is a complete failure of the grid then the significant battery power storage allows the entire campus to keep on running for many hours – so the servers can be shut down in a controlled way if there is no chance of the mains power returning.

In most older data centers I have visited, the entire room is cooled, but in the IBA Group’s new data center every rack has fridge-style cooling in addition to the room being cooled. This kept the room impressively cool, even with a large party of guests opening and closing doors. Huge pipes pumped coolant around the facility with the excess heat being transferred to the fitness center.

A character from the future called “I” came and joined the launch event, bringing a celebration cake and a string quartet entertained the guests as they painted their own vision for the campus.

The launch event was both entertaining and informative. I have worked with IBA Group for several years now, but I was impressed to see that their abilities and scale keep on improving. This campus has only just opened and they already have another that will accommodate another 1,000 people being planned and ready to be launched as quickly as that one can be constructed.

I’m grateful that IBA Group allowed me to attend their launch event. It gave an incredible insight into the ambition of this company. Congratulations for this new campus launch and I wish them all the best for the new launch – when the campus that is still being planned is ready to launch then I’d love to return to see how much further the company has travelled.

Click here to see images and videos from my visit to IBA Group in Minsk this month…

SSON Celebrates Ten Years of Focusing On Eastern Europe

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on May 19, 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

It’s great to see that the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network (SSON) is now celebrating ten years of activity in Eastern Europe. SSON has long been a source of useful research and information on outsourcing and over the past decade their research has formed a useful body of knowledge on nearshoring in Europe.

To celebrate the tenth year of activity there will be a conference in Hungary in October featuring over 65 speakers all focused on the opportunities available within the European nearshoring environment.

Typically with these regional-focused conferences there is a competitive element to the talks, where one region will compete with another to describe how they have more graduates each year, or more skilled IT personnel. This approach is rather tired and ignores the wider benefits of working across many European countries as a whole so it’s great to see that the SSON conference is looking at the big picture for nearshoring in Europe and how it affects different industries, such as finance and HR.

I was particularly interested to see that there is also a focus on how the millennial demographic is changing business in Europe today. This is something I have often spoken about in recent years. The millennials (those born from 1980-2000) have a very different attitude to work and technology because most of them grew up in a post-Internet era – they have only ever known a connected society so they are different as both employees and customers.

Many of the people in this age group are now in managerial positions and are determining where their company should invest. It is therefore extremely important for companies aiming to work with other companies B2B to understand this changing dynamic.

It’s great to see that the SSON understands this change in the outsourcing client and supplier relationship and in particular how this can affect European nearshoring. I look forward to hearing more from the event in October.

Building The Next Generation of IT In Eastern Europe

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on May 4, 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

ZDNet published a recent focus on Eastern European technology outsourcing because the recently published AT Kearney 2016 Global Services Location Index suggests that 5 of the top 20 countries of the world for IT services are now inside Eastern Europe.

The top three countries globally are India, China, and Malaysia, but Eastern European countries doing well in the report include Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, and Latvia. Prague also stands out as one of the cities in Eastern Europe singled out for praise.

There are a couple of very interesting features in this report. First is that the countries and cities mentioned are clearly competing on what they can offer to clients. The focus is on cost-effectiveness and proximity to customers, so these regions are far more worried about how they can add value than offer a low price service.

Second is the awareness from many of these regions that nearshoring may not be enough to sustain a long-term IT industry. There is a clear focus in countries such as Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria that they need to build a complete start-up infrastructure if they are to create long-term success.

This approach acknowledges that new IT companies need to be nurtured and many delivery mechanisms today – such as the app store – bypass the traditional way that IT companies have operated. IT companies can often become product companies rather than just offering a pure IT service.

It’s exciting to see the European technology marketplace maturing and to see that Eastern Europe is doing so well even when compared to global competition.

How Could Big Data Let Us Down?

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on April 18, 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I have often written here about the potential for Big Data to fundamentally change the way that many companies do business. It cuts across industries and is not just a single strategy, it can change the way that existing companies perform and create opportunities for new market entrants.

This cross-industry application of Big Data is where I think there is the most potential for it to become a game-changer. IT experts rarely got to delve so deep into their industry of choice in the past; they focused on the technology and systems that assisted a company.

Now, with Big Data analysis helping doctors to diagnose patients and helping bankers to fight fraud there is a much greater connection between the industrial application of technology and the technology itself. The technology teams need to really understand the business they are working in.

But this is where the peril also can be found. As companies depend more and more on huge data resources and the ability to intelligently analyse this data we are entering a world where data has an enormous value.

Just look at the Panama Papers data leak. A huge amount of secret customer data from the law firm Mossack Fonseca was leaked by a secret source to journalists and it appears to show many wealthy and powerful people using companies in Panama to hide their wealth – and therefore avoid taxes.

Of course, it could be argued that it’s a good thing that this data was leaked. All those powerful people should pay their tax correctly rather than hiding their money, but imagine Facebook was hacked and every online conversation was leaked, or Google and every private gmail message were posted online? Imagine if another law firm were hacked and details of every divorce settlement they have handled were posted openly online?

It’s almost impossible for most customers to now avoid giving out their personal information when dealing with companies and the data is being collected into enormous databases profiling purchases, preferences, and behaviour. Companies in all industries are now wedded to the possibilities presented by the use of this data, but so few are acknowledging that if they ever lost control of the data it could be an existential threat for their business.

Big Data certainly has benefits, but it’s time for companies to acknowledge that with these big data sets come big responsibilities. The companies that fail to protect their customers will not survive.

Are The Robots Taking Over?

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

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Science fiction authors have long predicted a world in which intelligent robots take over the world. Classic authors such as Isaac Asimov even created ways in which humans should interact with robots, predicting that there will eventually be a problem defining the difference between a human and robot. After all, if a robot can learn, is self-aware, and grows in intelligence and human empathy as it ages then how can you define it as “not alive”?

This has created our fear of robots. They are fine if they are just performing repetitive tasks on a car assembly line, but if they can learn and improve then one day they might be better than humans.

But we are not close to that time yet. Anyone who has used the Apple Siri device knows that it can be extremely useful if you ask a question like: “where is the nearest Italian restaurant?” but ask it to define the meaning of life and it will be lost.

However, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is becoming a real thing in the Business Process Outsourcing area of services. RPA allows the concept of robots to be applied to services – so it may often just be a piece of software rather than a physical robot, but if it performs a specific service then it gets the robot name.

A good example in contact centres. A vast number of calls to contact centres are repetitive and don’t require a human. For example if you are calling your bank to change address or you just need a balance on your account or you are asking your telephone company to recharge your account with some extra data. Basic interactions like these can be diverted to software systems that understand the voice of the customer and react as a normal agent would, except it’s the robot system performing actions, not a real live agent.

What is interesting though is that some companies with a large volume of interactions – like telcos – are finding that they can allow the system to learn. The robot can be given basic instructions, but can learn from every customer interaction, so the robot learns how to fix problems it was not originally programmed to fix and it can identify trends and patterns in the customer enquiries.

The fear for many humans working in areas such as contact centres is that these robots will entirely replace them, but as this Chicago Inno article shows, the robots are actually supporting the human jobs. Humans are performing more valued-added tasks that require insight and an ability to analyse the data being created. The robots can remove much of the repetitive work and can do it faster.

RPA is going to be the next step for Big Data. How can companies learn from all the information they have and then create processes that can intelligently interact with their customers?

It’s still at the early stages. Some companies are using RPA to improve their customer experience, but the likelihood of RPA learning how to run the company and replacing the humans is remote at present.

However, they are getting better. Just imagine where we might be in a decade from now? Eventually we might need to start reading Asimov once again so we can figure out how to integrate the robots into society!

Big Data and the IoT Are Worth Billions to the UK Economy

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

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) recently published new research exploring the size of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data markets in the UK economy with predictions running from 2015 to 2020. These two technologies are expected to add £322 billion to the British economy during this period and although the research is focused only on the UK it can be safely assumed that the effect will be similar in other developed European markets making the effect of these two technologies enormous.

In the UK, the scale of this effect is worth 2.7% of the national GDP and is therefore not just of interest to technology firms, and companies that require technology solutions, these technologies are literally going to change the economy in regions where they are deployed. The opportunities are increasing on a daily basis.

The research indicates that telecoms firms are already strongly adopting both Big Data and IoT solutions, but other industries are catching up and expressing a strong interest in how these technologies can help. Retail banking is expected to overtake telecoms soon for Big Data analytics and it’s no surprise because this is an industry that is being shaken to the core.

The big advantage of improving the use of data analytics is that companies can get to know their customer behaviour better. This means they can adjust their offer to the customer and personalise the service received, all leading to improved revenue and happier customers.

In a business like banking, new start-ups are finding that they can pick a small part of the business, like remittances or lending, and focus on that one service. If they can launch an app offering the service and it is cheaper and better than a traditional bank then they can start growing their market share.

The banks cannot stop this happening, but they can start adjusting their own customer experience so that their existing customers do not desert them for rivals. To make this happen needs information about customer behaviour and that’s where Big Data fits into the story. Knowing your customer needs better insights and technology tools like Big Data analytics and the IoT are what will help you to design how your business is going to work after 2020.

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The analyst firm Gartner recently published their latest evaluation on offshore outsourcing for the EMEA region in 2016. The report paints a positive picture of nearshoring within Europe with labour rates substantially lower than most western European countries.

Gartner found that the Eastern European countries can also compete on their geographic and time zone proximity to other nations within Europe, and on the availability of language skills beyond just English. Countries such as Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria also offer political and economic stability through EU membership and close cultural affinity with Western Europe and the U.S.

What is interesting for companies such as IBA Group is that Gartner did explore the options further east. When commenting on countries such as Russia, Belarus, and Egypt the report says: “[these countries] offer lower labour rates, but entail higher risks concerning legal maturity, intellectual property protection, security and ease of doing business.”

Belarus scores well on several measures that Gartner mention in their analysis, particularly the high level of government support for business and the low local labour cost. The Belarus government has invested in education to create a workforce skilled in IT – it has been growing at 35% per year since 2006. Some of the government incentives include a 0% corporate tax rate and a flat 9% income tax rate – for companies using the Hi-Tech Park Initiatives.

Gartner cites the Payscale index and suggests that a software developer in Belarus earned $14,000 to $16,000 per year based on data from last year. The labour inflation in Belarus is 5% per year and employee attrition/turnover rates are also around 5% per year – both figures are relatively low compared to other European countries.

Most IT activity in Belarus is focused on Minsk, but other locations are rapidly growing and also featuring technology parks, such as in Gomel, Grodno, Brest, Vitebsk, and Mogilev.

The Eastern European nearshoring is well known already, but it’s exciting to see that companies such as Gartner are now seriously covering locations such as Belarus.

How Robots Will Change the Way We Work

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

IBA Group
Daria Kovalevskaya

The writing’s on the wall: robots are coming. The latest report issued by the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers shows that if you earn between 20$ and 40$ an hour, there’s a 31% chance you’ll be replaced by a robot in the near future. If you earn less than 20$ an hour, the probability is as high as 83%.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is unstoppable. But is it time to start packing and looking for a new job? The abovementioned report states that throughout the years in the past, many workers had been replaced by technological innovations, but this had led them to find jobs with higher salaries, consume more, create a number of new workplaces. This pattern might be applicable to the situation in the future.

Automation is not a completely new trend. The first robots made their way to the United States in 1961, and since then they’ve been increasing productivity and making people’s work easier. Right now, a lot of IT processes are performed by algorithms.

Robots can be both complements and substitutes, and cooperation between robots and humans allows for discoveries that neither can achieve on their own. RPA in biology and medicine is believed to have tremendous potential. RPA in IT provides opportunity to pass all routine work to robots and let humans do the work that require creativity and imagination. Thus, the situation is not as black-and-white as it may seem.

Those employees who find themselves in the ‘risk group’ require additional training to be able to quickly and smoothly move to new jobs. New generations of workers are already aware of the importance of RPA and other emerging technologies, and they are more likely to be adapted for the upcoming tech revolution.

It’s still unclear whether the pace at which the innovation happens will leave a lot of people unemployed in the next year or two, or it will happen gradually to give people time to regroup and retrain. But being aware of the trend might be the best solution at the moment.

Companies Are Using Big Data Without Realising It

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

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Big Data is one of those buzzwords everyone is talking about, but as I have been saying for some time now, most companies are performing some kind of data analysis on their customers or suppliers and have been doing so for years without ever calling it Big Data.

There does come a time when the data being analysed is so huge and fast changing that specific Big Data tools are required, but the reality is that many organisations are already performing some kind of data analysis that could be termed Big Data – without them even realising it.

A new study from Dresdner Advisory Services backs up my observations. When asked specifically if they use Big Data, just 17% of companies responded yes on this survey. 47% said that it might be used in future. However, 59% of the respondents also claimed that Big Data is “critically important” to their business. Something is wrong?

The survey shows that the definition of Big Data is perhaps one of the problems here. Most companies don’t have petabytes of data to analyse and they therefore are performing data analysis, but not thinking of it as Big Data analysis. If the manager doesn’t think of the problem as big enough then they don’t use the term Big Data.

However there are many areas of industry where this is about to change, largely driven by technologies such as mobile and the Internet of Things. Think of an example such as a retailer needing to create the same customer experience for an in-store customer, as that same customer would receive online.

These problems require data. They also need it to be analysed fast. While a customer is in-store and tracked using their mobile device, decisions can be taken about whether to give the customer a discount code based on their profile. During payment, recommendations for other products can be made based on sales history.

All these processes are easy to imagine, some retailers are getting this sophisticated now, but to make it happen it needs the IT system to be joined-up with data that can be analysed in real-time – allowing the system to take decisions itself.

Another easy to imagine examine is with automobiles. Cars are increasingly connected to the Internet via smart phones and wi-fi. They will increasingly diagnose problems and communicate with the manufacturer without the driver being aware that the car is fixing itself. The amount of data captured and exchanged for this to work is enormous, yet in most cases the customer is entirely unaware of the processes taking place.

So how big is big might still be a question for many, but I think that we are on the cusp of an explosion in data use – analysing this much information will certainly be a part of the bigger picture for Big Data.

Nearshoring Back On The European Outsourcing Agenda

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on February 10, 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The debate over nearshoring and more remote offshore outsourcing has rumbled on for years in Europe. The debate over voice contact centres was fairly conclusively resolved a while back, with it becoming clear that most clients prefer their contact centre to be closer to home, but the broader IT and IT services market has still embraced all kinds of outsourced model.

However in all the outsourcing predictions for 2016 I have seen the resurgence of the European offshoring model several times. For example, a recent report by the analyst Global Remote Services says:

“Nearshoring will continue to gain momentum in Eastern Europe – nearshoring is fast becoming an option which is seen as being more skill specific for businesses with a mixture of complex, high-end projects as they realise the value in keeping outsourced work close to where the business generally is. Nearshoring in Eastern Europe will continue to grow as it becomes attractive and competitive to the UK market, and also much ‘nearer-to-final-customer’ and ‘easier-to-manage’ versus far-shoring.”

We all know the typical arguments when comparing Eastern Europe to a more remote location, such as India, but I think it’s important than advisors are now focusing heavily on skills availability.

Outsourcing has long been considered a “lift and drop” business strategy, which is how it got the reputation for being all about saving cash. Let’s take a process, lift it out of the business and drop it completely into a supplier and get the same work done for less. That’s the old approach, but times have changed.

The boundary of organisations has become more blurred, particularly when expert skills are needed. Organisations are hired to provide those skills, but they work in the office of the client, with the client team. The client and supplier merge together to create a solution today, rather than the client firing an entire department and dropping those processes offshore.

Outsourcing has become a more mature business strategy and with a greater value placed today on skills and partnership, it’s no surprise that nearshoring is returning to the boardroom agenda.

Trends in Data for 2016

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on January 20, 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

One of the trends for 2016 that is certain to only increase in importance is the use of data analysis across many different types of organisation. Big Data and the real-time analysis of data in general is reshaping many industries, redefining how companies build a relationship with their customers.

The fact that this change is applicable across all industries is the most important aspect of this trend. Almost every company in every industry is exploring how a better use of data can give them the edge in 2016. Three specific areas I see as being really important for the year ahead are:

1. The Internet of Things (IoT); tech commentators like talking about the smart fridge that knows you need more eggs, but this is going to be a much more serious trend. If every electric device you own is networked then some incredible new possibilities are created from cars that can self-diagnose and fix problems without you even being aware of it to being able to control anything in your home remotely.

2. Machine Learning; many contact centres have been exploring how robots equipped with product knowledge can handle simple customer service enquiries. As they learn more about what customers want they will get far better and eventually even be able to anticipate what the customer needs. This ability to learn and apply knowledge with physical or virtual robots will be really important. It’s 5 years now since the IBM Watson system beat the TV game show Jeopardy, now doctors are training Watson in how to recognise and diagnose illnesses.

3. Data Security; the weak spot in all systems that need customer data is that the customers become too scared to share their information – scared of data leaks and hacker attacks. The Ashley Madison attack in 2015 was an example of how hackers can even threaten the existence of a company, just by stealing data.

Big Data, and data analysis in general, will certainly be more important in 2016 because it is now affecting so many companies, but this final point is important. As customers share more data there is the danger of more leaks and more attacks. The only thing that will prevent the benefits of enhanced data analysis becoming a reality is if people become wary of sharing information.

How Outsourcing Will Change in 2016

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on January 13, 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Technology outsourcing has changed dramatically in the past few years, but what are the key changes ahead in 2016? A new report in CIO magazine lists their view on the ten key trends to watch for. In my view, from those ten, these three are really worth your attention:

1. Cloud and as-a-service infrastructure; services are being built in a far more flexible way allowing software and infrastructure to all be located in the cloud and to scale up or down as required. Companies only pay for the systems and software they use today, not licenses for software that needs to be installed or rooms full of servers.

2. Vendors get more flexible; contract times are getting shorter and payment schedules are changing, but this is mostly because the idea of the client and supplier is changing. IT experts are becoming true partners, becoming a part of the team and contracts are starting to reflect this change in the relationship.

3. Automation; a lot of what we considered to be processes that needed to be performed by humans can be learned by robots now. Robotic Process Automation will allow robots (can be just software rather than physical robots) to learn processes and repeat them, then to learn with experience.

Despite all these suggestions from CIO magazine, one of the most critical changes is the way that IT services are purchased. With more systems available as a service or via apps there is a greater disconnect between the CIO and the business managers. Many IT projects can be commissioned directly by the business team without any need to interact with the CIO of a company. That’s a big change as the CIO used to retain control over all technology systems.

What outsourcing trends do you think will be really important this year?

Engaging Customers in 2020

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on December 16, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Last month I was in London giving a keynote address to the Engage Customer audience focused on the customer experience in 2020. This event is focused on the entire industry that surrounds customer service and how it can be delivered.

You can see my slides here, but I thought it was worth mentioning this presentation to a more IT-focused audience because the biggest change that is taking place in the customer service industry is the introduction of various technologies that are improving how customers can be managed.

Look at the list of six technologies that I believe will be making a big change to the customer experience in the near future:

· Virtual reality; with Facebook investing heavily in Oculus and their Rift system, this will be a far more common technology in the near future.

· Augmented reality; as Google creates a version of Glass that does not look like a computer on your face this will return.

· Wearables; already common for fitness and health, they will eventually replace the telephone.

· Internet of Things; tech that can diagnose and fix problems without the human being involved – imagine if your car could fix itself?

· Automation / Robots; replacing mundane tasks with robots, even in contact centres.

· Location Awareness; retailers able to send you a one-hour offer because they know you are near to a store.

Many of these technologies are in the process of being adopted and others will become more important in daily life in the near future, however, as you can see from the presentation slides, I mention various other technologies that will soon change how customers interact with brands.

· Omnichannel; companies are connecting together all those channels that customers are using and creating new opportunities to win business. The L’Oreal virtual make-up app is a great example of changing the way that beauty products are sold.

· Fintech; banks are finding that new start-ups are picking individual banking services, creating them online or on an app, and winning customers. Entire full-service banks are now being launched using the app as the central point of interaction.

· Communication; every communication from shopping to politics to finding a new partner is changing and becoming electronic – how does this change in the way people communicate everyday change the way your business operates?

What is clear to me is that the customer experience is a great consumer of new and innovative technologies. More people in IT and IT services need to consider how they can work with experts in the field of customer experience because managing customer interactions is about far more than managing a contact centre today – it’s a business area that is entirely driven by technological change.

Big Data Is Now A Corporate Asset

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on December 8, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Big Data is growing up – finally. That’s the conclusion of new research published recently by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The research details how corporate attitudes to data have changed in the past four years – with many organisations now seeing data itself as a corporate asset.

Instead of constantly seeking more data, companies are asking the right questions. They are seeking the right data that can help decision support, rather than measuring and capturing everything regardless of use.

This strategic alignment with a more intelligent approach to data often comes with the elevation of a data manager to the executive board. Either the role sits with the CIO/CTO or a new Chief Data Officer role is created to ensure that there is always a view on data value at the top table.

What is particularly interesting for managers who are asked to invest in Big Data projects is that there is a link between a well-defined data policy and financial success. Not only does a well-defined data policy correlate with business success, but also the effectiveness of being able to resolve real business problems through more effective data use.

Commenting on the EIU research in Forbes magazine, Bernard Marr, author of the book “Big Data”, said:

“As technology continues to improve, the ‘bigness’ of big data will become less and less of a factor. Companies are becoming more comfortable with the idea that they will need to scale up to allow the value of data initiatives to reach all sectors of the business, and so they are becoming more comfortable with approximation, agility and experimentation.”

I agree with Marr. We can see from this EIU research that more companies are exploring how to use Big Data, but importantly more are finding a genuine business reason or use. As more companies find these reasons to get more engaged the use of Big Data will explode in size – all over the world.

IBA Group Wins IT Spartakiada

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on December 1, 2015

On November 15, the IBA Group team won the first place at the 12th IT Spartakiada sport competition. The multi-day event included matches in basketball, volleyball, karting, bowling, table tennis, and kicker.

Nineteen teams from various IT companies participated in IT Spartakiada, with the first competitions starting in September. IBA Group won gold in karting and bowling, as well as bronze in kicker and volleyball. The table tennis and basketball teams finished fourth and fifth respectively.

Winners of IT Spartakiada are determined by the minimal sum of points scored by teams in their top five sports.

Later on November 28, Miss IT 2015 was held a part of the IT Spartakiada. Evgenia Sudakova, a software engineer from IBA Gomel represented IBA Group. Her choreographic piece impressed the audience and jury by its plasticity and artistry.

The originality of Evgenia’s image, her erudution, and ability to present herself were praised by the jury, which named her the winner of Miss IT 2015 and awarded the young woman a well-deserved crown. It was the first crown for a contestant from Gomel.

We congratulate the IBA Group team and Evgenia on their titles and wish them more success in the future.

IBA Group Team Wins Bowling Competition at IT Spartakiada
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Portals of Digital Cultural Heritage

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on November 26, 2015

IBA Group
Jan Schuma

This year, IBA CZ has successfully delivered two projects that became another step forward in the area of portals. The projects were implemented for the government sector and included solutions to manage the objects of cultural heritage.

Although library portals are our new skills, we are not first-timers in the area of digital cultural heritage. Since many years, we have gained a profound experience of working with records of digital cultural heritage, for example, during the project implemented for the Police of the Czech Republic. It was the portal of the artworks’ registry system and implied the processing of information about stolen and found objects of cultural value. So we had a good knowledge of cultural valuables and a deep knowledge of police systems. The extension to another specific area was just the next logical step.

Motivation

Currently, only a few companies work in the area of library systems. The information systems they were deploying for quite a long time in all institutions, libraries, and museums are rather static and are viewed as legacy systems today. Considering our deep knowledge of portals and previous experience in similar systems we brought some fresh air into the world of library information systems. And we succeeded.

Solution

In a situation when we were providing proof of our experience in the sector, it was important to understand what the library systems are. Therefore, within the partnership with Masaryk University in Brno we worked with external experts to understand better the specific requirements and characteristics of these systems.

In fact, every institution that owns a collection of books, museum showpieces or any other collection is trying to catalog them. But everyone is doing it in its own way. Figuratively, we can say that at first there was a clay tablet, then came a papyrus followed by a parchment, paper, and finally by a digitized information system.

There is no need to say that the uniformity of data is at a “very low level”. Special purposed protocols and standards were supposed to improve the situation but they are past their prime.

For now, nothing better is available yet. (Please forget about web services). In addition, the institutions want to exchange the information about their collections.

As soon as we understood and learnt by experience what library systems were about, it was enough to cope with the existing implementations of these non-traditional technologies and to integrate the whole thing with the portal. It was not easy but thanks to the dedication of the whole team we came to a successful end.

Results

The web portal of historical collections is currently running on the Liferay platform providing the search through 50 castle libraries and ten other large-scale library institutions.

The portal of digitizing the cultural heritage literally displays the collection of books and collection of items from the Vysocina region.

For example, the above mentioned project is called PSEUD and is based on the IBM WebSphere technology.

These two projects were for all members of the team of a great benefit both from the technological and project point of view. We proved ourselves and demonstrated to our customers that we are able to work with the records practically about anything from books, paintings, sculptures, and clocks to weapons and jewelry.

We were able to create and configure the portal so as to provide easy search not only for scholars and museum keepers but for police, ministry officials, and general public as well. And certainly, no one can get illegal access to the information belonging to others. In addition, we were able to integrate the portal with the databases of ministries, Interpol, the National Library, as well as the municipal museum “somewhere in the mountains.”

If you are interested to obtain more information on the portals of digital cultural heritage, please contact Jan Schuma (jan.schuma@ibacz.eu).

IDC: Big Data Spending To Soar Over Next 5 Years

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on November 10, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Concerns have been mounting in the Internet of Things (IoT) recently. Equipment manufacturers have been tussling over standards prompting some to believe that a ‘Betamax’ situation may be created where some devices cannot connect to the IoT grid.

If such a situation occurs it could seriously impact the adoption of Big Data projects. Big Data does not depend on the IoT – there are many other types of large database – but the constant flow of IoT data means that most IoT projects will also require a Big Data element.

However there is some good news from the analyst community. New data from IDC suggests that the growth rate for spending on Big Data between 2014 and 2019 will be just under $50bn – that’s compounded growth of 23.1% each year.

The real elephant in the room for the Big Data market is the security of collected data. There have been several damaging data leaks by major organisation in recent months. The danger for companies that are collecting large amounts of data is that leaks of private data will cause brand damage so serious that companies could even face an existential threat.

IDC believe that large companies are aware of this danger and are planning their Big Data infrastructure with security in mind.

“The ability to leverage big data and analytics to develop an integrated view of customer activities and business operations will provide competitive differentiation to companies across industries,” said IDC programme director Jessica Goepfert.

“However, in addition to the huge opportunities, big data presents some significant risks and liabilities to organisations. Line of business and IT executives will need to approach these ongoing challenges with awareness, flexibility, adaptability, and responsibility.”

This is an area of the technology business that is growing by around one quarter every year right now. There will need to be some big mistakes to derail this market, but it is possible. The constant stream of security stories in the media shows that the public are more aware than ever of the dangers ahead. Companies adopting Big Data need to ensure they are always one step ahead of the data thieves.

Gartner Predictions for Tech in 2016

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on November 4, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The industry analyst Gartner Group has issued a list of ten technologies to watch for 2016. These are the trends that the analyst firm believes will be shaping the digital agenda next year.

You can go to the Gartner newsroom where they list all of their predictions, but here I want to comment on what I see as their top three.

Adaptive Security Architecture
If a CEO today is not aware of the importance of security then their board should be asking how they got the job. Major companies are now facing existential threats because technology systems were hacked. Consumer companies with personal data on millions of customers are particularly at risk and one hack can destroy many years of trust in a brand. Making security smarter, tighter, and more able to adapt to changing attack methods will be an enormous trend in 2016.

The Internet of Things (IoT)
Despite recent suggestions the IoT is stalling because there is still no single agreed standard, I believe that there is enough momentum in this trend to start creating a significant amount of work. Naturally this connects to an increased need for expertise in Big Data analysis if IoT is creating enormous amounts of data.

Autonomous Agents
Machine learning is getting smarter. People laughed at Apple Siri when it was first launched, but have you tried it recently? Intelligent agents have improved enormously. The Amazon Echo system replicates Siri in the home, allowing a user to ask questions from anywhere in the home. Similarly machine intelligence is set to revolutionise customer service operations as the most common enquiries are recognised and handled by robots – Robotic Process Automation.

As always, the Gartner predictions are interesting, but after checking the complete list of ten, which would you pick as your top three?

European Financial Regulators Investigating Big Data

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on October 20, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

One of the key advantages for brands mining Big Data is the information it can reveal about their customers. Trends can be spotted and in many cases actions by customers can be predicted before they take place.

This is particularly applicable to financial services because records of financial transactions are thorough. Financial service companies can use customer behaviour to predict the best time to offer a new product – such as a loan – or even when a customer might be struggling and about to default on financial commitments.

But European regulators are pushing back, concerned that if companies can analyse data and create predictions that can be used to sell additional products then it may be seen as an invasion of privacy by some customers.

The three EU financial regulators – the European Banking Authority, European Securities and Markets Authority, and European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority – have joined together to study the effect of Big Data on customers in Europe. There is no formal data announced for their report, but they have indicated that they will be studying Big Data closely for about the next year.

Banks and insurance companies have many legitimate uses for Big Data that go beyond just marketing alone, fraud prevention for example, so it will be important for companies using Big Data to explain the benefits to the regulators over this coming year.

If the regulators conclude that analysing data in this way is invasive, it could create a problem for many banks that are now investing heavily in this technology. It’s up to the industry to demonstrate their need.

Could The IoT End Up Like Betamax?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on October 13, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

We have all seen the numbers related to the Internet of Things (IoT). 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020 with $19 trillion of business opportunity. It’s a big deal.

But, there is a hidden side to the numbers that a new feature in Forbes magazine has explored. Ten different industry groups are trying to define standards and frameworks for the IoT. Six companies that employ 780,000 people, and have net annual sales of $428 billion, are almost entirely controlling the entire industry.

Forbes suggests that it’s like a giant casino. Each of these big technology companies is presented a united front to their clients, but behind the scenes everyone is fighting to create a dominant position on the bodies that are defining standards.

Wars over standards always break out when new technologies come along. Who can forget the old days of VHS vs. Betamax video? However, this time the prize for being a dominant player is enormous.

The problem here is that the Internet of Things is a concept or strategy. It requires the creation of an entire ecosystem that involves both hardware and software. If every device needs to be connected to every other device then manufacturers across several different industries need to start working together.

The IoT isn’t a foregone conclusion. It will only work with devices that can interact with each other. If large technology companies only see the market opportunity and start battling for turf before even agreeing on how the IoT can and should work then it may never work.

We may end up in a situation where only certain products can link up to others, or worse still, you need to buy everything from a single manufacturer to be able to create a connected environment. It’s time for the big companies in this market to really start working together, rather than just joining trade bodies and pretending there is unity.

As the Forbes features says: “Who will win with this strategy? It won’t be us.”

New Challenges of E-Documents in ECM

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on October 5, 2015

IBA Group
Aleš Hojka

28. 08. 2015
Finally, legislation is catching up with technology. Nevertheless, it is still very important to provide the safety of storage and to secure the validity of electronic documents. The article by Aleš Hojka, IBA CZ General Director, reviews what the possibilities in the market are and what should be considered before purchasing a DMS (document management system).

In recent years, we often use the term “e-document” when talking about document creation and storage, as well as about document lifecycle management. No doubt that in the ECM / DMS area, it is a quickly emerging trend.

The fundamental element of this problem is the shift of legislation, not only our Czech, but European as well. For example, the Regulation on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market (eIDAS) clearly states that an electronic document has the same legal force as a paper document and that no authority in any of the EU Member States can decline a document just because it is not a paper one.

Providers of ECM / DMS systems and process consulting should also keep up with the times, as customers mainly appeal to document archiving or so-called reliable archive. Most frequently, we come across e-documents in banks and insurance companies, when the “hallmark” of safe storage, archiving and document inalterability is supplemented by, for example, a digital signature, certificate or biometric signature.

So how to efficiently not only carry out document processing and long-term archiving, but also to ensure their legal validity, so that formally and meaningfully they have an equal permanent and evidential value as their paper counterparts? First you need to look at the specific requirements of the customer and then to offer a suitable software, or an integration of multiple systems. A wide range of options pops up in mind from so-called enterprise solutions through other cheaper alternatives and up to open source solutions.

You need to approach every customer, either new or already existing customer, individually and offer him/her an optimal solution. Unfortunately, we come across more and more customers who were recommended an unreasonably large (enterprise) system and who are now facing the deployment of other agendas, which development and integration is much more complicated and expensive than it could be in case of simpler DMS system alternatives. Not every customer needs a robust solution, but the reverse is also true when certain requirements cannot be completely covered by the open source solution. While implementing the system, it is always necessary to bear in mind the total cost of ownership.

If customer requirements are well-defined we should rely on our experience when recommending the appropriate DMS system. The storage may be used for archiving documents, and unless there is no requirement for workflow processes or internal robust integration with other systems, we shouldn’t be afraid of using proven technologies such as MS SharePoint Foundation, Alfresco CE, ELO, as well as other open source solutions that are able to cover these requirements completely.

Another category is the implementation of a system where the customer expects the emphasis on speed, personal processing engine, ability to integrate with other systems, power, scalability, etc. In this case, we choose enterprise systems like IBM FileNet, EMC Documentum, Microsoft SharePoint or OpenText.

The shift in the legislation is good news for the market. Only time will tell how we can manage it, both DMS solution implementers and our customers.

Could Big Data Help Improve Your Journey To Work?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on September 23, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

In November 2014 I was lucky enough to be invited to Minsk to visit the IBA development centre. I visited with the Ovum analyst Peter Ryan, who was over from Canada and possibly not feeling quite as cold as I was, after arriving from the Brazilian summer.

One of the projects I remember most from that visit was the ticketing system for the Minsk public transport system. IBA designed a complete solution for the bus and metro network that would comprise the cards, the card readers, the recharging systems, and all the software needed to make the system function. It was far more than just a software project and really showed how companies need to approach business solutions rather than technical challenges.

But the most interesting thing about the public transport system was not how it was delivered; rather it was what could be learned after implementation. Suddenly Minsk City Authorities had access to information on every bus of metro ride taking place across the entire city. When, where, and how journeys were being made was suddenly all being recorded and could be analysed.

The reality was that the data created by the software and hardware system was probably worth more than the system itself.

I was reminded of this when I saw in Forbes that commuters in Stockholm, Sweden, will soon be able to access similar data on the travel patterns in their own city. With the data on Stockholm travel passing through a Big Data analysis engine, it should be possible for commuters to see what will be happening on the public transport system two hours in the future.

This ability to predict the future will allow customers to change behaviour and avoid hot spots. Naturally this will change the predictions, but the system will be able to revise predictions in real-time.

Some commuters have complained about the move away from paper tickets and cash payments, but when anonymised commuter data can be collected and analysed in this way, new benefits become clear. I know that I would love to be able to see how the transport system will look where I live, even just one hour in the future.

Companies with Big Data expertise and city governments have the power to make the life of commuters so much easier – let’s hope more cities copy the example of Stockholm and Minsk.

Is This A Resurgence In Status For Nearshoring?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on September 3, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

New data published this month in Logistics Manager magazine has indicated that nearshoring is a strategy that is gaining in popularity – particularly in Europe. In their data, 56% of respondents indicate that they favour “rightshoring” over offshoring to the lowest possible cost location.

The Logistics Manager data is focused mainly on manufacturing businesses ensuring that their manufacturing facilities are as close as possible to the end customers while also balancing production costs, but the strategy can be applied equally to other industries. The reason for this is that what is actually changing is the way we manage supply chains.

Any hand-off of a process between different departments, or from one company to another, takes time and involves risk. This is true of services and manufacturing. When a process is passed between teams internally there is a risk of failure during the transition. This risk is multiplied when offshore outsourcing means that a process has to be handed to another organisation in another location – often far away on a different time zone.

The traditional metrics that decided how to organise an outsourcing strategy focus on three areas; what is the cost? Can the quality be maintained or improved? Can the time required to deliver be reduced so factors such as time-to-market can be improved?

Nearshoring has always had an advantage over more general offshoring in all of these metrics, except for the cost. But with a renewed emphasis on the supply chain, it may well be that the correct focus is the quality of the team, or service, anyway.

Low cost services are no good to any company if they don’t work. Imagine a luxury goods retailer using the cheapest possible contact centre company for the customer service? How would that reflect on the brand? Likewise, an innovative drug company would not want the cheapest, least innovative, technology service. What companies really need when they outsource today is a partner.

Partnership is what sales teams used to talk about before the sale, but it’s become a reality because what has actually happened is that companies providing different services into a supply chain have really become a part of the team. Outsourcing has become a standard strategy and companies have got so good at doing it they slot in and work as if they were a part of the client.

This means that nearshoring – as opposed to focusing on the cost only and offshoring – takes on a renewed importance. If you want a better price for services, but not necessarily the lowest, because the quality and time factors are most important then European companies working with partners in Europe becomes the ideal business solution.

What has really happened as outsourcing has matured is that the boundary of the organisation has become flexible. Instead of thinking of the client with a supplier, it’s better to now just think of the client having flexible organisational boundaries that include some of their own team and some suppliers – but whoever actually does the work, they all exist within the organisational boundary of the client.

This is a big change and it certainly makes nearshoring an attractive option. Have you considered the differences between nearshoring and offshoring in the context of the way that company supply chains have changed in the past few years? Please do leave a comment with your own ideas here.

Is There A Downside to The Internet of Things?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on August 18, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I have often written here about the Internet of Things (IoT) and the promise it holds for various industries. Moving on from the cliché of the fridge that knows when you are running out of food, the IoT holds enormous promise for offering the ability for objects and systems to make pre-emptive decisions.

The car is a great example. We have long had warning lights on cars to indicate particular problems such as low oil or a high engine temperature, but by gathering data and having the ability to analyse it as a whole, cars are getting far more intelligent and able to self-diagnose before problems become serious. This becomes even more critical when public or commercial vehicles can perform this kind of self-diagnosis. For example a Boeing 777 can generate twenty terabytes of data per engine per hour – a fantastic resource for monitoring that all systems are functioning normally.

Personal fitness is another excellent example, and being a runner I really like the ability to be able to look back at previous runs. I can see not only the distance covered, but also the weather, the location, and the hills I tackled. I can use this information without additional processing just to plan new runs or I can crunch the data to get a great insight on my own performance.

But is there a downside to all this data collection and could it cause individuals to reject certain products or services?

Facebook Local Awareness advertising allows businesses – especially retailers – to advertise to Facebook users that are geographically close. The business creates an advert and targets it to a particular demographic – a specific age group or people who like certain products – then Facebook takes care of ensuring that when suitable people are geographically close to the business they are served an ad on their phone.

To some people this sounds great. If I’m the kind of person who likes shopping for fashionable clothes and as I walk past a boutique they send a 25% off voucher, but only with validity for the next hour, then I might stop by and buy something. To other people this is going to feel like an enormous invasion of privacy. Not only is a social network – in this case Facebook – monitoring what I like and dislike to build up a profile of me as a consumer, but now they are monitoring where I am too.

A recent feature by Irish technology expert Maria Farrell in The Guardian argued that by 2020 over 100 billion individual devices would be connected to the Internet. With around 7 billion people on the planet that’s around 14 online devices for every person. If anything, I believe that is a conservative estimate given the rate of change.

The implications for this are clear. Even if you don’t agree with the way that an organisation is using your data – perhaps like the retailer example – most people believe that there is nothing they can do. We have accepted so many services as ‘free’ knowing that we pay for them with our data and now that we have come this far there is almost nothing that can be done to reverse the situation.

In The Guardian, Farrell argues:

“The unholy alliance of CCTV, face recognition, mobile phones, fitness trackers and other wearable technologies, data brokerage and analytics, private ownership and control of previously public spaces like city squares, and increasingly wide-ranging policing powers mean we live in an urban world of ambient surveillance we never voted for. We are no longer citizens enjoying civic space; we are crops to be harvested, we are potential risks to be controlled. The internet of things does all that for us and more.”

The implication is that data will not always be used in the way we assume it might be. Health trackers that monitor runs might be informing health insurers about how you are looking after yourself. Cars might not just be self-diagnosing problems, but also telling your insurer if you drive aggressively. Credit scoring agencies might be building up a picture of your likes, dislikes, and habits in addition to spending patterns. Employers may be monitoring your every arrival, departure, and keystroke at the office.

Only the powerful can argue against this. The people who need a job or need to drive a regular or need a health insurer cannot refuse the terms and conditions that are demanded. If a health insurer demands that you offer information on your health habits in return for insurance cover then what can the average person possibly do to protest?

The Internet of Things has many clear benefits to society, but it is this question of data use and privacy that will cause many doubts to surface. Some have rejected social networks because they want to avoid sharing too much information about their life, but when information sharing becomes a condition of employment or insurance, it will be impossible to avoid.

Can we handle the implications of a world where everything is known about you as a person or is there still time to preserve some privacy?

Healthcare Is the Big Data Growth Engine

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on August 10, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

In July this year, I ran 153km. My doctor would probably be pleased to see this, as it’s quite a good average of about one marathon every week. I was hoping to do even better in August, but I’ve not been very well so my figures are lower.

I know the distance covered because my iPhone has the Nike+ app. Not only is it recording the distance each time I run, but I can see where I went, the hills covered, the split times, average pace, the weather, and the type of terrain covered. Add an extra accessory, like the Apple Watch, and I could be tracking and recording my heart rate too.

Tools like this are the reality of concepts that we all see in technology journals – Big Data and the Internet of Things are two concepts that we read about all the time and yet they are often undefined or unclear.

Take another example related to health. The games company Nintendo is in the process of launching an entire suite of products related to “Quality of Life”. The first one is a box you can place by your bed as you sleep. It does not need to touch you, it just needs to be close, maybe by your bedside light and book.

The device monitors you as you sleep. It gathers data over time and compares it to other people and can recommend how you can improve your health. The device can give concrete advice (usually related to exercise or food) based on knowledge of the way people sleep and it does not even need to be worn.

All these devices are capturing enormous amounts of data that we never used to capture. In theory, open sharing of health-related data with health professionals should make their life easier and improve diagnosis for patients.

But it’s not always as easy as the technology suggests. A new paper in the IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics explores Big Data use in healthcare and why it is taking longer than expected to achieve the promised benefits.

The real challenges are:

1. There is just so much data that is being stored. Most individual healthcare providers don’t know what to do with all the data they have – at that is just at individual company levels.
2. Finding a way to use the data is difficult. Most healthcare managers are not experts in the concepts of IoT being used to create data and Big Data expertise allowing the study of enormous databases.

The “Holy Grail” for healthcare providers is to be able to create an “Electronic Health Record”… a single key that then allows every possible piece of information on a single patient to be indexed. This would include traditional patient notes, but also any X-rays, MRI scans, performed over a lifetime. It would also include extra information, such as sleep patterns from a Nintendo device, exercise records from a Nike device, and a record of your pulse from the moment you are born to when you die.

Technologically we are there already. Mainstream equipment such as smart phones and smart watches are already making the data collection possible, but can the healthcare companies actually make sense of all the information they can access?

At present no, but it goes to show that healthcare is about to be one of the growth industries of the century. Populations are getting older and information technology is blending with normal life in a way that nobody could have imagined a decade ago.

Big Data and the IoT have a real and definable purpose in healthcare. Where do you think the next big healthcare innovation will take place?