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.