Access To Skills And IT Expertise Driving European Outsourcing

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I saw some research published on IT Pro Portal that compared the pros and cons of British companies outsourcing IT processes to India and Eastern Europe. As might be expected, the arguments are generally around the cost of doing business in each location and the available skills, but it was interesting to see some references to the AT Kearney 2016 Global Location Index.

This research focuses in detail on the best locations, focusing on cities and clusters of cities rather than just comparing one country with another. At a broad level the Eastern Europe destinations do extremely well when compared to all other locations globally. Five out of the top twenty best locations globally for IT services are located in Eastern Europe.

In my opinion this underlines an important point. Many journalists writing these comparison stories focus on cost, particularly when they explore the cost of doing business in Asia. However, as the AT Kearney research demonstrates there are many more reasons that these locations in Europe excel in IT services – to reduce everything to cost alone is far too simplistic.

At present I can’t see an update to the AT Kearney research for 2017, but I’m sure it’s coming soon. When I look at the data for 2016 though I can see three stories emerging:

1.    Companies are using outsourcing as a strategic tool specifically to access skills, not to reduce costs.
2.    Companies are using outsourcing and partnership with IT experts because they need to explore automation and industrial developments such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA).
3.    Companies are finding that they need to offer cloud-based services that are charged as they are used and this requires extensive IT expertise to deliver successfully.

The India vs Europe comparisons don’t generally appreciate that the way business is delivered has changed dramatically in the past decade. Working with IT experts today is essential if companies are going to be able to deliver successful digital transformation programmes – skills and expertise are driving outsourcing programmes today.

More IT Expertise In Eastern Europe Becoming Visible Globally

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Global freelancing platforms, like UpWork and JobRack, are becoming an increasingly important source of IT talent. These sites have been really popular with freelancers in many countries in Asia for some years now. It’s become quite normal to hire a contractor in India or Bangladesh to perform defined jobs, such as setting up a WordPress server, but JobRack has recently noticed something interesting about the people on their site.

Many of the new experts arriving on the site are from Eastern Europe. This is demonstrating that there is not only a large amount of technical expertise in Eastern Europe, but also that these people are available for short contracts.

On the surface this may not seem important at all – you can find IT expertise all over the world – however I think that we are observing some big changes in the way that IT services are deployed and managed and this growth in the availability of expertise in Eastern Europe is just one indication of that change. Summarised, I think there are three big changes taking place:

1. Big IT Brands Focused on Customisation and Configuration; rather than trying to deliver enormous bespoke software systems, the larger IT players are becoming experts at bolting together various Big Data or CRM platforms to create entire systems for customers based on existing systems or toolkits.
2. App platform is global; software companies releasing apps can go global instantly. There is no real focus on where a product was developed as the app store is global and customers rarely ask where a product was developed.
3. Global talent pool; as the JobRack numbers suggest, it is becoming easier to recruit globally for short or long-term projects and areas that are full of technical expertise, such as Eastern Europe, are included in this.

The JobRack data indicating a growth in Eastern Europe technology expertise is interesting, but is just one component of a wider picture in how technology services are being delivered today. It’s clear that Eastern Europe is becoming more highly regarded as a leading area for IT development projects – large and ongoing or small and temporary.

CEE Looks Strong For IT Outsourcing But The Market Is Changing

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.

Building The Next Generation of IT In Eastern Europe

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.

The Big Picture on Customer Service, CRM, and Big Data

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Last month I was in London, invited to speak at an event hosted by the IBA Group. The theme of the event was the resurgence of CRM and how it is being combined with Big Data and becoming an important part of corporate strategy today – particularly for companies planning how to improve their customer service.

The analyst Peter Ryan from Ovum was up before me. He talked about the strategic use of CRM and how the improved use of information feeds into a customer service strategy. Ovum has predicted that improving the customer experience will be even more important than improving revenues for companies in 2015 therefore this theme is taking on a new significance.

The director of Internet Solutions at IBA, Aliaksei Minkevich, was also speaking. He described some case studies and drove home the real importance of thinking about technology projects and how they can improve the way a business uses data. Aliaksei was particularly focused on describing how a technology solution is no longer as simple as it used to be. Much of the business benefit from processes and systems today comes from the opportunities to use information in a smarter way, rather than just reducing cost or aiming for efficiency.

I started talking about the connection – as I see it – between modern day CRM and Big Data. The way customers interact with companies in all industries has changed in the past decade and this wider social change in how people communicate has to be appreciated by corporate executives.

The two big drivers of this change were the launch of the iPhone in 2007 and the explosion in the use of social networks from 2008 – both very recent dates. Of course it was possible to use the mobile Internet before the iPhone, but Apple made it so much easier and easy access became the expectation from consumers.

And, of course, people were using social networks prior to 2008, but this was when it really went mainstream. Facebook started maturing and Twitter became commonly mentioned in broadcast media, such as radio and TV. 2008 was really the tipping point when social networks became normal for everyone.

These developments have changed the way customers interact with companies. It is now fairly normal for any customer to use at least six different channels when interacting with brands – email, voice, chat, Facebook, Twitter, and review or rating websites like Tripadvisor. There are more and this changes all the time, but this is already a very different environment when compared to those days before social networks and the mobile Internet were common.

So companies should no longer be exploring how to improve customer service as an activity, they need to be working harder at Customer Relationship Management – back to CRM again. This is because the real measure of success with customers in this multichannel environment is the quality of the engagement between the brand and the customer.

Getting this right demands the use of some serious technology. Running a customer service team no longer means just answering the phone, it needs data analysts, knowledge of Big Data, and a CRM system that allows the customer to engage and enjoy interacting with the brand.

Companies that can deliver this kind of technology in a way that improves the experience of your customers are going to lead the way. Tech players will become customer service experts as the use of technology underpins how companies interact with their customers.

Underneath all this remains the fact that how we all communicate has changed. If you want any executive to understand why this is important, then just ask them about the last time they needed to select a politician to vote for, a restaurant to eat in, or a hotel to stay in. If all these decisions are now being shaped by data, then don’t you think that the relationship between your own customers and your company are also about to be shaped the same way?

 

Belarus: Old Masters of IT in Europe

Mark Hillary

Last month, I visited Minsk in Belarus. It’s not a place that too many Europeans visit because a visa is required to enter the country and at this time of year it is bitterly cold. But I wanted to see what was happening in the technology industry in Belarus so I went as a guest of IBA Group along with Peter Ryan, an analyst from Ovum.

My first impression on arriving in Minsk was astonishment. I have been to many countries in Eastern Europe and several that were behind the old Soviet Iron Curtain, so I had a preconception of what I might see, but the first thing I noticed was that the road from the airport into the city was so smooth and new, it would be a skateboarders dream surface.

I had expected to see an environment similar to that in Moscow, plenty of historic buildings and many examples of the old communist architecture – big concrete blocks in my non-architect view. However, my first thoughts on seeing the buildings in Minsk were that it resembles East Berlin. The city is felt very European and very modern.

Minsk Independence Square
A local described to me how Minsk has been completely renovated over the past twenty years. Naturally this is the period since the end of the Soviet Union. Many churches that are hundreds of years old, but fell into disrepair during the Soviet era, have been beautifully restored and there is an enormous resurgence in worship. The Orthodox and Catholic churches that I took a look at were all busy even during daytime in mid-week.

During our stay, Peter and I visited one of the development centres of IBA Group. This company was born in Belarus in 1993 and now has almost 3,000 people all over the world and customers in 40 countries. They are now headquartered in the Czech Republic, which means that they are based inside the EU, but they maintained a software development facility in Minsk – a team that is growing so fast they have commissioned an entirely new building that is under construction now.

IBA Group is an interesting company because they are focused on complete solutions, rather than software development alone. A good example is the public transport ticketing system they developed for use in Minsk – it’s very similar to the Oyster card system in London. However, they put together all the card readers, terminals, and software needed to make it work. They are also able to earn from the knowledge the system provides on how people move around the city – sometimes this data can be more valuable that the IT system itself.
Minsk Central Post Office

Minsk does have some distinct advantages for the technology industry that are not obvious unless you have explored Belarus in person. During the Soviet era, Belarus was the IT and technology hub for the entire USSR. Belarus supplied over 60% of all the IT and technology systems used in the Soviet Union meaning that there is a long heritage of technology knowledge as well as deep expertise in a variety of technologies.

This heritage of working with technology may also explain an important cultural difference with other technology hubs, such as India. When teams of techies are assigned to a project in Belarus they usually feature a range of ages, experience, and knowledge of many technologies. The culture of being an engineer or technician remains strong in Belarus, so an expert programmer doesn’t feel shame in remaining ‘just’ a programmer and not pushing for promotion to systems analyst or project manager.

This is a big difference in my opinion. I have worked with many software development teams and trying to maintain some stability was always a challenge with people quitting for a few bucks extra at a competitor down the road or angling for promotion just because their family believe it’s time they had a ‘better’ job title.

The autocratic nature of the Belarus government counts against the international image of the country – this cannot be denied. However, I asked several people about the reality of living there and everyone I talked to dismissed the ‘last dictatorship of Europe’ mantra as a cliché.

The government doesn’t like political opposition very much, but is extremely supportive of international business and it struck me that it would be hard to criticise Belarus and then feel comfortable doing business in China, Singapore, or Vietnam. All countries where the government is far more controlling than Western Europeans are used to and yet it cannot be argued that the regular man on the street is oppressed in any way in Belarus.

I went to Belarus to learn more about the IT industry there, and I learned far more than I expected to. It is certainly a place worth considering for any organisation that needs expertise with a few knowledgeable “grey beards” on the same team as the young technology wizards.

I also reinforced the experience I have had in the past of prejudice and preconception about places. Places that I have worked in the past include Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka. Countries that often suffer negative stereotyping and yet were ready for business when I visited.

Belarus is the same. I’d love to return and perhaps take the train from Minsk to Moscow. I believe that anyone involved in IT, or the services supported by technology, should take a look. But maybe go and visit in the summer because that cold wind doesn’t care how many jackets you are wearing!
Minsk Yakub Kolas Monument
Minsk, November 25, 2014

Mobile Applications As You Do Not Know Them

Vitězslav Košina
IBA Group

Mobile devices, mobile technology and mobile applications are widely different. Every now and then, we see Android smartphones of various designs and sizes that are extensively used mainly for communication, entertainment, and sharing in social networks. In business, we come across legendary iPhones and iPads with advanced applications often tailored to the needs of a particular company. Windows Phones are gradually creating their segment in the mobile market. The spectrum of mobile platforms is even wider and a variety of using mobile devices is broad as well.

Entertainment and business are only two out of many aspects of mobility. Mobile devices are also of considerable practical importance. They are able to meet specific user requirements at the right time and place. Thus, mobile applications become the right hand in finance (smart banking) and insurance.
Think, for instance, of the mobile application Pojišťovna for an insurance company. It is a case of value added insurance services, a new channel to customers, an interactive communication tool, and a useful helper in crisis situations such as traffic accidents. The hybrid extension of the Pojišťovna application allows for the search of contracted services. The developers applied an innovative approach focusing on user-friendliness while minimizing the need of additional adjustments and costs associated with future updates. This part of the application for a Czech insurance company is developed by the IBA CZ team.

Usable application may be of help to everyone
Application Pojišťovna (Insurance Company) is available not only for the clients of Česká Pojišťovna. Anyone interested in practical assistance in crisis situations is able to download it. The number of downloads is the best evidence that it makes good sense to have the application and that it brings real benefits to its users. Currently, more than a hundred thousand users run the application on their mobile phones. And the download continues, as well as the app’s gradual improvement and its enhancement with new features.

Certainly, the application is available for download from the App Store and Google Play. It is possible to get the app for Android, iOS, and Windows.

Relevant help, no need to click to another application
Mobile application Pojišťovna provides much more than just a quick and easy access to information about products and services of Česká pojišťovna. As a bonus for current and future clients, the application offers assistance when in a car accident, when looking for contractual services or places of interest (including contacts and opening hours). Technical solution involves a combination of generally known mobile applications and a website built on the Liferay technology. The result is a hybrid application that is used as an easy-to-manage web application. The user does not need to visit the website because all the functions are controlled directly from the mobile application.

To view a website through the mobile application, the so-called Webview components are used. All standard operating systems are nowadays equipped with them. The benefit of this solution for the application owner is a significant reduction of time-to-market when deploying new or editing existing content in the mobile application and thus potential cost savings. In fact, the deployment is not subject to a regular release cycle of mobile applications (up to several days for iOS), yet it is subject to a regular web publication activity. In extreme cases, it can take a couple of minutes. At the same time, the website owner doesn’t have to maintain and publish several versions of the app (iOS, Android, Windows Mobile) when making changes in the content.

This technological approach may not be suitable for all mobile scenarios. However, for a selected set of scenarios it can significantly save costs and time of publishing new content in mobile applications.

Mobile web: advantages in many situations
Depending on the position context, a mobile application can provide relevant information associated with the situation. In case of Pojišťovna, it will specify the closest branch offices or available points of service. In case of the Bene+ loyalty program, it is the list of current rewards and discounts offered by GE Money Bank to its loyal customers.

Bene+ is a GE credit card loyalty program and is another example of using mobile web to increase customer comfort. In addition to general information about the loyalty program, the participants of Bene+ immediately get the list of places where their discounts and bonuses can be used and see their locations on the active Google maps.

Unlike the Pojišťovna application, Bene+ is not a genuine mobile application, it is a full responsive website. It is available for mobiles and desktops, although technically it is a different solution. The thing they have in common is that both the part of mentioned Pojišťovna application and Bene+ website are created by the IBA CZ development team and are built on Liferay technologies.

See also earlier publications on mobile technologies:
Development and testing of mobile sites and applications
Mobile applications: HTML 5 versus native solution

Mobile applications: HTML 5 versus native solution

Jana Albrechtová
Vítězslav Košina
IBA CZ

With the rise of the mass use of mobile devices the importance of mobile applications has grown dynamically. They are applied in a variety of areas, such as trade, finance, travel, transportation, media, and education, and go far beyond being just about fun or communication in social networks. When used for remote work, they are helpful in solving different operational problems and in receiving information in real time.

Mobiles Spread

The spectrum of mobile technologies is as wide as that of mobile devices. On the one hand, there are purely native applications built specifically for an operating system of a specific mobile device. On the other hand, there is a universal HTML. In terms of user-friendliness, HTML 5 is catching up with native applications. In terms of cost-effectiveness, it often surpasses native applications. Each technology has its advantages and disadvantages.

In this article, I would like to familiarize you with the current issues of mobility and give a high-level comparison of native applications and HTML 5.

Mobility rules the world
According to statistical data, about one third of the Czech population uses smartphones, a phone with its own operating system. Mobile operators report that up to 80% of phones sold today are smartphones.

According to estimates, the penetration of mobile devices in the Czech Republic will double in the near future. However, we are still a few years behind the most advanced countries of the world. In Sweden the world’s leader in the use of smartphones, the penetration is already more than 70%.
Globally, about 37% of users have moved their normal activities from a desktop to a mobile device – a mobile phone or tablet.

In addition to smartphones, tablets hold a significant and steadily growing share of the mobile market. Their penetration in the Czech market climbed to 8% in 2013. It is also worth mentioning eReader or Smart TV that follow smartphones and tablets in the list. However, in terms of interactivity they ‘stand in the shadow’ of smartphones and tablets.

The agency ZenithOptimedia has carried out a research on the spread of mobile technologies in 19 countries, namely: Australia, Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Ireland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Great Britain, and USA. The following chart shows some of its findings and shows the situation in the Czech Republic.

Penetration of mobile devices by country
Hand in hand with mobile devices, the mobile internet comes. According to Cisco estimates, the mobile internet traffic will grow by a factor of 26 by 2020. We also anticipate a significant increase in the speed of the mobile internet.

Emphasis on UX and mobile context
Mobile devices differ from desktop computers mainly in terms of user interface. Their screen is smaller and the control is less accurate because of touchscreen. The size and mobility also entail a limited battery life. Another feature is unstable internet access because connection is made from different places with different coverage and speed.

With the development of mobile platforms, User Experience (UX) is growing in importance. UX causes the need for the device to have an intuitive interface, be easy to use, provide high quality interactivity, and offer different effects.

A key aspect of mobile devices is mobile context that is the context of place, time, and user. The phone knows its location through GPS. It can adapt to specific conditions. It offers interaction with the environment, is good for remote operation, both online and offline. Mobile devices are used during natural disasters, serves not only for emergency services, but also for example for insurance companies to reimburse damage.

Specifics of mobile devices
• Smaller screen compared to PCs or notebooks
• Touchscreen with less precise control
• Limited battery life
• Unstable or slow access to mobile networks
• Emphasis on usability
• Mobile context

Native applications
Native applications are built to suit mobile devices or to be more exact, for a specific operating system (Android, Windows, iOS, etc.), offering a high degree of interactivity, sophisticated design, and user friendliness. Running in native code, this system is fast, reliable, and able to work with all features of the phone.

Use of native applications, however, faces the problems of diversity of the mobile market and of fragmentation of its users. For each platform and hardware, you need to create and test its own native solution. The application must also adapt to the constant updates of the operating system. This the advantage of native applications becomes also their fundamental shortcoming.

HTML applications
Universal HTML offers web solutions as an alternative to native applications. Although designed primarily for a desktop, HTML 5 is able to meet the specifics of mobile devices. HTML 5 overcomes the disadvantages of an original website. It can work offline and is able to control the basic functions of mobile phone’s hardware.

An important difference between native applications and web solutions is the way users access them. While a web application is accessible to anyone, has its URL, and takes into account search engine optimization, a native application is available at special stores (Google Play, AppStore). They are accessible to potential users but should be downloaded first.

Users can see native applications as an icon on the desktop. They can also interact with the user via push notifications. Web applications are normally started via web browser.

The following diagram illustrates the benefits of native and web applications in several key areas (the better the solution, the higher the proportion of the total scale is).

Native vs. HTML5 apps

Be mobile
Given the universal spread of mobile devices, the question is not whether to be mobile, but how to be mobile. Before choosing between a web or native application, a thorough analysis of the target market and user behavior should be conducted, as well as financial objectives and expected benefits be assessed. For ease of presentation, web solutions are suitable. Complex applications with a high degree of interaction usually require native applications.
It is also necessary to take into account the development and testing costs for different platforms. Based on the experience from the projects implemented by IBA CZ, testing of mobile applications is up to three times more expensive than testing of desktop applications.

“In practice, the use of HTML 5 became very quickly a universal rule. In many cases, it is the fastest and most effective solution. There are also ways to turn it into a native app”, explains Pavel Šafář, consultant at IBA CZ.

How important is visual information in your business?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

How important is visual information in your business? What do you think of as visual anyway – a chart on Excel or some other reporting system?
The most recent funding round for Pinterest boosted its valuation to around $3.8bn, which sounds like a lot of money for something that just looks like a visual scrapbook on the web.

When Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 for $1bn many commentators thought that it was outrageous – Facebook had overpaid for a phone based photo-sharing service that didn’t even have a website.

Facebook eclipsed that deal recently when they purchased Whatsapp for $19bn. Whatsapp is a text messaging tool that is popular all over the world, but particularly in fast-growing developing nations such as India and Brazil. But what is really different about Whatsapp is that it allows easy photo and video sharing – it is not just a tool for texting, it offers a complete visual experience too.

Take a look around the Internet. It is becoming more visual. Many bloggers are choosing to just create a video instead, or to create a blog that only contains photographs.

Photo network, such as Flickr, offer free space to users that measures in the terabyte – unthinkable amounts of space just a few years ago, yet now it’s almost essential because the Internet is becoming more visual and more focused on mobile devices as the tool that is used to consume content.
This means that companies using the Internet need to consider how their own information can be reflected. How do you publish corporate reports and information when the trend for information use is becoming more visual?

Consumers are getting used to ‘reading’ Instagram and Pinterest in the same way they used to read the newspaper and this is affecting corporate life. A manager today will not want to read a dense report packed with numbers. Visual information has always been useful, but now it’s essential if you want to convey a message within your organisation.

German Outsourcing Association Research Promotes Eastern Europe

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

The Outsourcing Journal published a research paper last year focused entirely on the merits of ITO and BPO in central and Eastern Europe.

Organised by the German Outsourcing Association this is an interesting paper with contributions from across the CEE region, including those of particular interest to IBA, such as Belarus and the Czech Republic.

Stephan Fricke, CEO of the German Outsourcing Association wrote about the future for outsourcing in the introduction to the paper: “The future looks bright for CEE IT and business process service providers. Why? Because, speaking for our home market Germany, the demand for IT skills and business process knowledge will not decrease. Quite the opposite is predicted, which is not difficult to explain. The current situation in Germany, where companies are unable to fill desperately needed positions in IT and higher qualified jobs as engineering is caused by failed educational policy and there are no signs that the government has efficient tools to manoeuvre against.”

Fricke went on to add: “So German companies will be forced to look outside their borders for IT-project support and the most accessible destination for that is the CEE region.”

Once again a major trade association has pointed out that far from sourcing being just a low-cost way of doing business, companies in Western Europe need to look beyond their own borders to grow quickly and expand. CEE-based companies like IBA are well placed to work with companies in countries such as Germany – to help them succeed as Europe enjoys economic growth once again.

Eastern Europe is becoming a tech hub

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

Several business magazines and journals have been focused on growth in Central and Eastern Europe over the past few months. The main angle of the observations is that the CEE region has moved far beyond the traditional role as a lower cost alternative to undertaking technology work in Western Europe and is now fostering a hub of talent that should be sought after by the world.

There are now a number of successful startup companies from the region that are dominating their own niche. Ustream from Hungary is a great example. People all over the world are using the Ustream app to live stream events direct from their phone to the Internet without ever questioning where the app came from.

And even in the more traditional IT service sector, the talent available is some of the best in the world. The CEE region regularly ranks at the top of the world for educational achievements in maths, science, and technology. In the 2013 Google Code Jam competition, 16 or the 24 finalists were from Eastern Europe.

The IT service sector is already strong and mature and the startup sector is growing. All the major European accelerators are now regularly visiting the CEE region and looking for companies to invest in. This growth in the innovative startup sector will only make the wider IT community stronger as the CEE region becomes a place that people want to include on their CV. Have you explored some of the opportunities available from companies working in the CEE region yet?

Rightshoring Decision-Making Process

On October 4, 2013, Professional Outsourcing published a video interview with Sergei Levteev, IBA Group Chairman. In the interview entitled Rightshoring Decision-Making Process, Levteev shared his perspective of rightshoring.

PO: Hello, Sergei. Could you introduce yourself please and your title and role at IBA?
SL: I’m Sergei Levteev. My position in the company is Chairman of the Supervisory Board. It is clear that I’m responsible for all strategic questions in our company, namely finance, investment, and marketing policy.
PO: Could you tell us a little bit about the services that IBA provides?
SL: We are an IT company and our main direction is to provide outsourcing for different projects in different countries. And these are various services: from programming development to support of these programs, migration, and consulting. This is our main activity.
PO: Ok. What is IBA expertise in outsourcing?
SL: First of all, it is necessary to say that IBA was a pioneer of this business in Eastern Europe and now we fulfill projects on five continents in more than 40 countries already. The size of these projects that we are doing starts from a few people and is up to thousands of men/months. And duration is also sometimes quite big: from a few weeks up to a few years. We are covering by our services various platforms. During these years, we have really created partner relations with our major customers.
PO: We are here to discuss rightshoring. What’s IBA definition of righshoring and why is it important for organizations?
SL: In my point of view, mainly you should make a choice between different destinations. In the past, outsourcing was practically equal to Indians. Now, more and more understanding is coming that companies from Eastern Europe where we are present and have our main development centers can fulfill these tasks, probably with a bigger advantage for the customer. Also, it is necessary to add that different expertise and a high level of this expertise is present in Eastern Europe just now. And it is one of the advantages of this direction when you are looking for rightsourcing.
PO: How should an organization approach the idea of rightshoring if they’re looking to outsource?
SL: First of all, to look for references about an organization with whom you are in contact. IT outsourcing is not so easy, it is not so easy to describe what’s necessary to do. There should be some level of trust and this trust is coming from the reference of organizations that already have experience of working with such company. Second point is that it’s necessary to find the right expertise. You know, it’s not possible to cover all expertise that is present in information technology. Some companies specialize in one direction, some are active in another. And it is the right expertise that should be found in various proposals. Once again, I would like to add that some level of common understanding should be found between an outsourcing company and a company which is looking for outsourcing. It means that the same words, the same descriptions should be understood absolutely similarly. This is very important.
PO: So, it’s quite a complex decision–making process then. It’s not just deciding on cost or vertical expertise or a region, is that right?
SL: Sure. Of course, cost is very important because we are on the market and should be competitive. But it’s also necessary to understand what is behind this cost. And very important here is the reference that a service provider can present to the outsourcers. Also, it’s very important to understand that nobody can provide a full range of services and every company has some specialization. It’s necessary to find the right service provider who had expertise for years in a particular technology.
PO: Finally what are the pitfalls around right shoring — what should organisations avoid?
SL: First of all, outsourcers should understand that relations with a service provider will be different than with their own staff, especially when it is an offshoring service, which is the most economical type of outsourcing. An outsourcer feels that it will be absolutely similar, if he has no experience so far. It will be necessary to create such relations from the beginning. Second point is the necessity to pay attention to the items which are not written in the contract. For example, attrition rate of the service provider. We’re proud that in our case we have one of the lowest attrition rates among IT service providers. It’s also an important point that it is necessary to create common understanding for the terminology, for any words you are putting in the contract or any agreement. Sometimes outsourcers and service providers understand the same words differently. I think these are three major points in this case.
PO: Thank you, Sergei.

How is outsourcing changing the IT market today?

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

Outsourcing is changing fast. Cloud computing, the consumerisation of IT, and trends such as BYOD have all changed the way the CIO plans for IT needs and engages with IT partners.

Outsourcing used to be about literally dealing with ‘my mess for less’. A company with an internal business or IT process would hire an expert service provider who just performed the same function – hopefully making it better or cheaper over time.

Now that IT has become so integral to the function of modern companies, the IT suppliers have become trusted delivery partners. The client company simply cannot deliver without the expertise of their IT partner.

But IT can be procured in many ways today. The iPhone has taught consumers that apps can be installed when needed and deleted when they are not. Services like Gmail have taught consumers that very important systems can be web-based – there is no need for expensive locally installed software.

All these lessons are flowing back into the enterprise and changing how companies want to procure technology. But with the supplier community so well entrenched, how is this going to change the outsourcing market?

This Computer Weekly feature explores some of the questions, but one thing is clear, expert suppliers of solutions are still needed. As these changes flow from the consumer market to the enterprise it is likely that companies will need partners to be closer and more reactive than ever – this looks good for suppliers based in Eastern Europe rather than far from their clients.

Is It Time to Stop Using the Word ‘Outsourcing’?

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

Technology industry analyst HfS Research has launched a survey asking whether they should stop using the word ‘outsourcing’ in their coverage of the industry – and even whether the technology services industry should entirely stop using the word. Is it a dirty, tainted word?

Most involved in technology outsourcing have moved on from the old days of labour arbitrage or augmentation. Service providers like IBA don’t just pitch themselves as the cheapest offshore service providers; they position themselves as the experts in whatever they do. They promote specific areas of business and expertise.

The buy-side clients commissioning work (or outsourcing the work) from the service providers know that they are buying in expert services, usually services they could not perform in-house. They don’t want the cheapest provider – they want the best for their business.

But the political rhetoric has barely changed. As the US presidential election approaches, outsourcing is still considered a dirty word for politicians and a way to score a few cheap votes by patriotically insisting that they would ban it forever. But we all know that US politicians say this at every election.

These same politicians probably calculate their budgets using Microsoft Excel and broadcast information using Cisco services. They fail to see that any large technology company is already working with global resource and any company starting today with a need for some technology development will consider hiring suppliers from all over the world.

It’s not that outsourcing is about shipping work off to cheap economies; it is that the Internet has created a global marketplace. If the marketplace is global then that can create both problems and opportunities back at home, but how come the politicians rarely focus on the opportunity of small niche companies being able to reach a bigger market?

So do you agree with HfS? Is it time the industry stopped using the term outsourcing and if so, what would be better word to replace it?

IBA outsourcing and the crisis in Europe

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

Back when the global economic crisis started, many industry commentators declared that this would be a boost for the international IT outsourcing market. With companies in Europe and the US struggling to ride out the downturn, there would be strong growth in offshore outsourcing.

But things never really played out like that. Outsourcing usually needs a big upfront investment in training, knowledge transfer, and additional management to make the transition run smoothly. Many companies just decided to avoid that short-term investment even if it was clear that there would be benefits in the long-term.

We are not out of the woods yet, but there is more stability. The US is growing slowly now and many countries in Europe are seeing promising growth – though the uncertainty of the Euro is still causing many to fear for the immediate future of the Mediterranean economy.

Research and consulting company, Everest Group, in a recently published research suggested that outsourcing in Europe was worth €180-200bn in 2010. Their latest research for 2011 is not published yet, but estimates suggest that this figure will have increased to about €220bn. This is about a 10 per cent increase in demand even in quite an uncertain economic climate.

Industry observers suggest that much of this new demand is because companies in France and Germany are starting to explore a more global delivery model. In the past they were far more resistant to offshoring, but today it has become a strategic necessity, regardless of the global economic situation it is just how technology is delivered today.

All this is good news for those of us who have been delivering remotely all along, right through the economic crisis. Whether companies are exploring offshore outsourcing because they need to reduce their cost, or they just need to find more expertise and faster, we know exactly how to help.

CEE is more attractive than ever as uncertainty looms

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

When the global financial crisis struck the world in 2008, many predicted that there would be a boom in offshore outsourcing. It didn’t really happen.

Why? Because at that time most companies slashed all project budgets and retrenched employees. It was a time when nobody was certain of what the future would bring and it costs money to run outsourcing projects – even if they can create longer-term savings. Nobody wanted to invest all that money in setting up in a remote location hoping for gains in the future.

We are once again in an uncertain time, but this time there is a far more mature option for sourcing in the central and eastern European (CEE) region. The setup costs for running a project in the CEE region are far lower than for a full-blown offshoring programme where work needs to be transferred to India or China.

So there is a much more credible alternative available if companies in western Europe are seeking to stabilise costs in the short-term and build a pan-European delivery model for the long-term.

The CEE region has never tried to compete head on with countries like India in terms of absolute labour cost, the advantage has always been the cultural compatibility with Europe, the expertise, and the ability to be close to the customer – it’s possible to make a day trip to a development team from any other place in Europe.

And now, with the economy looking uncertain once again in both the US and Europe it seems that the nearshoring option is looking far more attractive than the full offshore model, because much less initial investment is needed to make it happen.

We have been talking about the advantages of CEE for a long time on this blog, but it is interesting to see that the issues in the wider European economy are making it even more attractive to work with the region. Have you taken another look at how nearshoring compares recently?

IBA Gomel celebrates 10 years

On July 27, 2011, IBA Gomel, the second largest software development center of IBA Group, celebrated its 10th anniversary. Numerous guests gathered in the Belarus Railway Sports & Cultural Center to wish all the best to IBA Gomel management and employees.

Igor Khobnya, Director of IBA Gomel, opened the event, saying: “We are celebrating our anniversary with a big family. Today, they are all here – our employees, their families, our clients, and our partners. All of them together have been creating our company during these ten years.”

See video (Russian only)

Sergei Levteev, IBA Group President, went on to say: “We are all a unified team that works for the common cause to implement projects for our customers. That is why the today’s anniversary is not only a holiday for IBA Gomel. It is a holiday for all of us. I would like to congratulate you – us – on this anniversary and to wish your commander the same confidence that he had all these years and I am sure will have in the future, and to all of you, to your families health and prosperity.”

See video (Russian only)

Valentin Kazan, IBA Group Vice President, added: “In my view, to open a development center in Gomel was a great idea. It decorated the region, and made Gomel an interesting and attractive city for young people to work here, to get pleasure, to work with their families. We receive lots of positive references from customers and I see that there is a sort of competition between Gomel and Minsk teams, and Gomel never loses and in some cases performs even better than Minsk.”

See video (Russian only)

Matthias Karius, Supplier Relationship Manager at IBM Germany, recalled a project that was implemented for a Swiss customer. IBA Gomel was able to deploy a team of 50 people in a very short time. “Ten years? Looks like it was yesterday,” he said.

See video

Winners of the online Quiz (Викторина) received prizes.

IBA Gomel celebrates 10 years IBA Gomel celebrates 10 years
IBA Gomel celebrates 10 years IBA Gomel celebrates 10 years

Miss IBA was announced.

Miss IBA

We are about to enter a new era of mainframes?

IBA Group

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

Ask a computer science student in the US or Western Europe what technologies they are studying, and what they want to work with in future, and it is almost one hundred per cent certain they won’t say mainframes.

The mainframe computer – bedrock of the computing industry – has been apparently in decline since the IBM PC invaded desks with DOS, and subsequently Windows, from Microsoft. Yet, though consumers don’t use mainframes and students have no interest in them, it does not mean their use has ceased entirely.

Mainly large organisations with complex legacy systems, such as retail banking or life insurance, have extensive mainframe estates. And even where the hardware itself has remained unchanged for many years, the software continues to require updates due to product changes, new regulations, and changes in the law.

So if nobody is studying how to maintain these systems, or the programming languages used to modify them, then how can those important industries still rely on the mainframe?

There are several strong pockets of mainframe resource located around the world. Eastern Europe, and particularly the former Soviet bloc, has a deep pool of expertise in both the ongoing maintenance of these systems – and developing new software for them.

This is a classic example of how outsourcing to an offshore service provider can be about more than just the cost of service. If your legacy systems are running in COBOL on an IBM mainframe, yet the people cannot be found locally to modify the code, then outsourcing is the natural solution. Forget cost; go offshore for access to the skills you need just to keep your business running.

Mainframes are not going to die just yet. Many large organisations have systems that cannot be wound-up quickly, and as applications move further into the cloud, perhaps we are about to enter a new era of mainframes?

South Africa to rival Eastern Europe in outsourcing?

IBA Group

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

I was down in Cape Town, South Africa, last week. This is a market that was very strong about five years ago – they really were the place that everyone was exploring for European call centres, but then for some reason they went off the radar.

That was partly through a combination of the government reviewing how much money they spend on promoting the region, and a dearth of really good local players that could promote their offering without government money. But regardless of what happened then, it seems they are back with a bang.

South Africa is positioning itself, once again, as a key player in the BPO market with a focus on customer service, but this time exploring new areas that are different to more traditional outsourcing – social media support and agents that are working entirely off-script, with autonomy to just do what is needed to keep the customer happy.

You might ask what this has to do with Central and Eastern Europe, the general focus of this blog?

The key target for the South Africans is directly to their north, Europe. They are on the same time zone as continental Europe, and have a strong cultural and business affinity with several western European countries. They also use English as standard for education, so kids grow up using English, but other European languages are not hard to find.

So if they re-emerge from the shadows and start winning a number of BPO and IT deals that support business processes in Western Europe, it will remind many that they are still around. Some big names, such as Amazon, have shifted German and British customer support down to South Africa only recently when this might have been expected to stay in the CEE region.

It looks like the football world cup in 2010 has woken the business community to the opportunities in South Africa and the CEE customer service players are going to have to fight a little bit harder to compete.

Danish Journalist Speaks about Belarus

From February 17 to February 18, 2011 Karim Pedersen, Technical Editor of the Danish IT newspaper ComOn, visited IBA Minsk.

Karim was in Belarus for the first time in 2006. The visit resulted in a series of articles, including IT Giant in Belarus. This year, he came again to see what has changed and what is going on.

Karim concludes: ”The big lesson from my visit here is that we are very much the same and we are very much alike. We have the same dreams, we have the same aspirations and working hard is the way to get to that future”.

Karim shares his impressions in the video clip below:

View also at IBA Group’s Youtube channel.

We look forward to a new series of articles about Belarus by Karim and to his future visits to IBA.

About Karim Pedersen

Karim Pedersen is the founder of the largest IT news website in Denmark, ComON.dk, writing about technology and telecommunications for readers in Denmark. Founded 14 years ago, ComON has grown through a range of partnerships with other Danish news media, and today the articles are syndicated to a number of other media, reaching a broad segment of the Danish population. ComON has also for four years published a print newspaper for IT managers and is closely linked with other properties at the publishing house, Mediaprovider, such as the monthly gadget magazine Gear and the photography magazine Zoom. Before starting ComON, Karim has published more than 30 books on IT in Danish and worked freelance as a software developer and web designer. Karim has travelled extensively, both in his professional and private life. Writing about IT outsourcing and globalization for ComON, he visited India, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Belarus, and Russia.

IBA Group wins European IT Excellence Award 2011

On February 11, 2011 IT Europa, a leading European IT publisher and market intelligence organization, announced the winners of the European IT Excellence Awards 2011 – the pan-European awards event for IT and Telecoms channels. The winners and finalists were honoured at a celebration dinner at The London Marriott Hotel, Grosvenor Square, London.

IBA Group became the winner in the category Relationship Management. Alexander Derkach, IBA Group representative, collected the prize.

See video:

Award-winning IBA team
Award-winning IBA team

Key outsourcing trends taking place in Great Britain in 2011

IBA Group

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

This blog usually explores opportunities in Eastern Europe, but given that it is the first month of 2011, it’s worth exploring some of the key trends taking place in the most mature European outsourcing market – the United Kingdom.

Outsourcing advisory firm Equaterra just published their key trends for the UK market in 2011, based on examining 650 outsourcing contracts with over 200 companies, worth around £14 billion. Given that so many UK contracts have been examined, it was possible for the Equaterra researchers to draw some conclusions about how Western European customers are behaving, and what they will want in 2011.

Trend 1: Economic conditions are still tough, forcing companies to consider more offshore outsourcing. Eighty-seven per cent of companies will continue offshoring at present or higher levels, but sixty-one per cent will increase offshoring.

Trend 2: Cost reduction continues to be the key driver for offshoring, but financial flexibility is becoming far more important – up fifteen per cent on the previous year.

Trend 3: Global sourcing of services is far more accepted – with over seventy-five per cent of all companies using outsourcing applying some kind of offshore delivery model.

Trend 4: Multisourcing is increasing – with large-scale single-supplier contracts usually linked to low satisfaction with the contract.

Lee Ayling, EquaTerra’s Managing Director, IT Advisory UK, commented: “As in previous years, the 2010 study provides deep insights into the changing dynamics of the UK outsourcing market. One of the many points of note is that outsourcing contracts which deliver cost savings alone do not lead to higher client satisfaction. But successfully delivering cost savings plus another driver, such as access to skills or time to market, does positively impact general satisfaction – highlighting that both end users and service providers should not focus on price alone before and during an outsourcing relationship.”

For the European supplier community, the message is clear, cost remains important, but flexibility is the key. If outsourcing can create more flexible service levels and improve cash flow through more flexible financial models then it will be regarded a success.

CEE Countries Included in Gartner’s Top 30

IBA Group

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

The analyst firm Gartner has just published new research on the top locations for offshore services in 2010, based on their analysis of the past year watching the offshoring market. The top thirty countries for offshore services were rated according to 10 criteria that will help determine which locations are right for individual organisations. The 10 criteria were: language, government support, labour pool, infrastructure, educational system, cost, political and economic environment, cultural compatibility, global and legal maturity, and data and intellectual property security and privacy. The rating scale was “poor”, “fair”, “good”, “very good” and “excellent”.

So, with five possible scores across ten criteria the results are fairly comprehensive, and so it’s interesting to note that only fast-growing developing economies feature in the top thirty:

Americas: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama and Peru.

Asia/Pacific: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA): Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Hungary, Mauritius, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Turkey and Ukraine.

Seven highly developed countries have moved out of the top thirty this year – Australia, Canada, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore and Spain. Clearly these locations remain important as nearshoring destinations, but their value compared to other regions is fast declining.

Another interesting fact is that almost a third of all the top thirty countries in the Gartner list are from the Central and Eastern European region – demonstrating that this region is not only important as a nearshoring destination, but is also developing the expertise to sell services to the world.

Additional information is available in the report entitled “Gartner’s 30 Leading Locations for Offshore Services, 2010-2011”.

2011 to be Crucial for the Sourcing Industry in Europe?

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

A new report, titled Europe’s Global Sourcing Market: Trends Growth and Prospects, has just been produced by research firm Everest in collaboration with Egypt’s IT development agency ITIDA. Naturally enough there are several mentions within the report of how suitable Egypt is as a destination for IT outsourcing, but there are many useful observations on the growth of the entire sourcing market within Europe.

Everest noted that there are many concerns from organisations about outsourcing beyond the EU because of the perceived lack of political stability and risk of sending services beyond the EU. This risk factor is also compounded by the national infrastructure of locations such as Egypt and India. Poor roads and a requirement to have electricity generators at the office all add to the cost of service.

Everest point out that IT sourcing is currently 61 per cent of the entire European market and their estimates of growth are quite aggressive. In the decade to 2020, sourcing from the UK is expected to grow 600 per cent, and from the other western European nations by over 1,000 per cent – they are less developed in this area than the UK.

But issues such as economic uncertainty means that all this expected growth may take some time to happen. Eric Simonson, managing partner, Everest Group said: “Volumes of work are currently static and companies remain reluctant to launch transformation programmes when they are nervous.”

The example of Ireland suddenly hitting a debt crisis and needing a bailout from the EU and IMF is sending a shudder of uncertainty through European companies. Though growth is still expected across Western Europe there needs to also be confidence in future growth for companies to invest in the transformation programmes that drive further outsourcing.

The next year will be crucial for everyone involved in the sourcing industry in Europe.

IBA Group VP Speaks at Gartner Outsourcing & IT Services Summit

London, September 21, 2010

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

I was at the Gartner Outsourcing Summit in London last week and during the conference I met Dr. Valentin Kazan of IBA Group. I asked Valentin what he was doing at the summit in London.

He explained: “We came here to London under the Russoft umbrella to participate in the conference. The idea was to show that Eastern Europe is ready for business in outsourcing. We have great experience in this area and so we are now delivering this message to the conference audience here with Gartner.”

I asked Valentin what he thought of the analysts he had met and what information he had taken from the conference so far. He said: “The Gartner analysts are very pragmatic. They deep-dive into the companies they work with so there are very good examples of what we are doing in this marketplace.”

When I asked Valentin to give me a single reason why Gartner delegates should pay more attention to Eastern Europe he said to me: “Yesterday I saw a presentation saying that India can produce graduates each year that would be a quarter of the population of Finland. We can’t match that scale, but we do have a lot of highly skilled people who can solve any problem – particularly mathematical and scientific problems.”

You can see my conversation with Valentin Kazan on Youtube here:

Attrition returns to bite the unwary

IBA Group

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

I remember talking to Dr Phanish Puraman at London Business School some time ago about the ‘war for talent’ – the need to search the world for hard-to-find skills. This applied particularly in such fast-growing industries as IT.

The tremendous economic crash over the past couple of years changed all of that. The big IT firms over in India went from hiring tens of thousands of people a year to layoffs. It was an immense shock to the entire industry.

But there is now a double-whammy taking place. Most developed economies are recovering, somewhat slowly, but they are growing.

This means that companies across many sectors and industries are freeing up budget again. They are entering a growth cycle and investing to help sustain that growth and also releasing frozen projects that could not be worked on during the slowdown.

So there is a large amount of IT work coming through in the form of RFPs, and new contract wins being announced in the media.

For those of us working in the IT industry that’s all really positive, but are we going to learn from the lessons of the past?

The IT players in Eastern Europe have started maturing, including Czech Republic, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Brazil is becoming a serious player, and other nearshore (to Europe) destinations such as Malta and Egypt are marketing their regions to decision-makers in the IT industry.

I hope that we do see regions developing centres of excellence and an end to the tendency to just lob all projects over to India. The IT firms there are already witnessing a decrease in employee loyalty as people start jumping ship in a more positive market, leading to the same old attrition and wage hike issues that existed before the crash.

British people voted for a new government. More outsourcing is on the horizon.

IBA Group

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

Last month the British people voted for a new government. It was not a straightforward operation because no single party achieved a majority vote. The ruling Labour party were eventually ousted and a coalition of the Conservative and Liberal Democrats took over, with the Conservative leader David Cameron becoming the new Prime Minister.

But what does any of this have to do with the IT services industry in Europe? Well, the previous British government spent a lot of money to save the banking industry and stimulate the economic recovery after the crash that began in 2007 with the US credit-crunch and then swept the world.

In fact, the British government is running a deficit this year of about £180bn. That’s an enormous amount of money to find and so the new government is reducing spending in all departments. As soon as they took office there was an announcement of an immediate £6bn saving. Just this week, further initiatives were cancelled, saving another £2bn, but these are only small amounts compared to the total deficit.

Without a doubt, there will be a shift to more outsourcing and shared services to encourage further efficiency and savings. There are many experienced suppliers with a long history of supplying services to the government, but this is a new era. There is a hunger for innovation and new types of service and charging.

You need a near-death experience if you are going to change the way a large organisation operates and the British government has suffered something very close to that. They are exploring new ideas with new partners and more outsourcing is on the horizon.

Suppliers in Eastern Europe are well positioned to offer greater efficiency, but importantly to be able to offer a service located within the European Union. It’s possible for non-europeans to win business from the government in the UK, but in the present age of austerity, Europeans have a huge advantage.

IT Services: Three Major Trends

The past couple of years have been a trying time for anyone involved in IT services in all parts of the world. The global economic slowdown has affected most sectors, leaving few end-user companies in a strong position, spending on IT for the future. Most have just been focused on budget cuts and strategy reviews.

The growth of IT services being delivered from central and Eastern Europe (CEE) boomed almost in parallel with the growth of delivery from more remote locations, such as India, but can the troubles faced by India help European technology firms? Outsourcing slipped down the management agenda during the recession and is now becoming a popular recovery strategy, so this combination could mean the CEE region has far more to gain from the recovery.

And even now some growth has returned – albeit still fairly weak – can the IT industry just deliver ‘more of the same’? The reality is that the IT services industry has to change if it is to grow and succeed in the long term. There is an emergence of some important new markets, being driven by what might be termed ‘mega-trends’ in society. While service sector firms can sit and wait for a recovery in retail or banking, it’s going to be these mega-trends that really shape the future of the industry.

First, the ageing population in developed ‘western’ societies. By the middle of this century it is estimated that fewer than half of all Germans will be economically active. The majority will be either elderly or children, neither contributing to government finances. So how can a developed country like Germany continue to expect economic growth at the same time as maintaining the existing social welfare standards – all with fewer people working and contributing to the economic welfare of the nation? They need to partner with local expertise to succeed.

Second, sustainability is back on the agenda. European governments are implementing a system of carbon reduction commitments in 2010 that will force companies to audit and reduce their carbon use. This push from government will change corporate culture across the entire European region – and beyond. Large European firms will need to partner with local expertise to succeed.

And security is becoming more important, with governments launching national identity schemes and improved border controls – all these new security systems are based on some form of technology. Large European firms will – once again – need to partner with local expertise to succeed.

These three major trends are going to change the shape of IT services in future. But how many executives on the buy or sell side of the outsourcing equation have considered just how much their own marketplace might change this century, especially in Europe?

Welcome

Welcome to the new IBA Group blog. I’m Mark Kobayashi-Hillary, a writer and blogger based in London, UK, and I’m going to explore some themes related to the global IT services industry on this blog. You can find out more about me and my books and blogs on my website.

Let’s start by exploring the idea of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) as an outsourcing destination. It’s only natural to ask if the region is still attractive? IBA Group is headquartered in Prague, but they have most of their resource in Belarus, so they do have experience of several CEE markets and therefore some insights into the benefits of working in this region.

But naturally, one of the first questions asked with IT outsourcing is around the cost. And places like the Czech Republic or Belarus can’t compete with the low cost resource available in markets such as China, but then outsourcing your IT is about a blend of attributes, value, not just cost. The countries where IBA operates can compete at around a similar price to India, so that’s a good benchmark to start with, and being in Europe the resource remains local to European companies.

There are some other factors that make this blend of EU and non-EU delivery attractive. Resource in Belarus costs less than in the Czech Republic, but the Czech facilities are covered by international legislation such as the EU Data Protection Directive – essential if you want your team to handle any customer-sensitive data. And having the ability to blend EU and non-EU teams by allowing the EU-based team to anonymise data gives a real cost advantage, with the security of European legislation.

Belarus is not a regular holiday destination for many western Europeans; in fact it remains a bit of a mystery to many. But this can be countered by thinking back a few years to how Eastern Europe has opened up to people from all parts of Europe in general, since liberalisation two decades ago. The Czech Republic is now a common destination for tourists from across Western Europe, making it a comfortable and familiar European city. It’s only a matter of time, and perhaps a budget airline route, before Minsk enjoys the same popularity.

In fact, Belarus offers some of the best technology scientists in the world. The former Soviet Computer Research Institute and Computer Production Association founded the IBA Group (in 1993, after the end of the Soviet Union), and though the Soviet empire has long crumbled, there remains a legacy of gurus and expertise in areas such as IBM mainframes – the classic legacy technologies still used by banks and insurance companies the world over. Many of the gurus from the Soviet research institutes came to work at IBA.

This blog is published by IBA Group, but if it were just a regular advert for the company then it’s unlikely you would return to read the second one. The aim is to engage and educate, to offer some new opinions on IT services and outsourcing, and in particular on the eastern European market. It’s clear from just thinking about what to enter in this first blog that there is still a lot to learn from the CEE region.

What are your questions? Let’s start a debate…