the last time you used cash or, to be more precise, had to use cash? Probably,
you had to think hard about a business in your daily routine that does not
accept NFC payments or bankcards. Five years ago, paying for a coffee with a
smart watch seemed like a futuristic fantasy – now it is daily occurrence for
millions of people.
World Payments Report 2018 by Capgemini and BNP Paribas finds that non-cash transaction
volumes continued to grow at double-digit growth rates during 2015–2016, reaching
482.6 billion. Non-cash transactions are estimated to accelerate at a compound
annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.7% globally with emerging markets growing at
21.6% from 2016 to 2021.
contactless payments to a new level, offering a sensory branding suite to
merchants and partners in more than 25 countries. The suite includes sound,
animation, and haptic brand cues that occur with a Visa payment transaction.
All this helps signify to consumers that a payment has been made using Visa
whether in-store or online. The new sensory branding suite gives greater
dimensionality to Visa’s brand and lets the customers see, hear, or feel Visa
when they pay.
expectations evolve, and with IoT becoming more and more prominent in everyday
life, Visa expands its sensory branding suite across the globe, including
mobile first and in-stadium experiences, prominent technology, and retail
One of the
examples of such partnerships is the Tap to Phone solution created by Visa and
IBA Group. As an authorized Visa solution provider, IBA Group launched Tap to
Phone solutions in Ukraine and Belarus. Designed for small and medium-sized
enterprises (SMEs), the Tap to Phone technology is an evolution of the mobile
acquiring technology, enabling a smartphone with an NFC chip to work as a point
of sales (POS). To accept payments, one needs to install a transaction
processing application on a smartphone and have a bank account.
The way we pay continues to change, and it is extremely important that customer experience goes hand in hand with the emerging technologies.
21 to June 23 this year, the 16th IBA Group’s tourist rally took place 70 km
away from Minsk. Over 1,000 people got together to enjoy nature and sports. The
participants of the rally ranged in age from several months to their 70s. The
organizers of the event did their best to meet the needs of such a versatile
IBA Group’s tourist rally is an annual tradition for the IBA Group’s community. It is a time when IBA Group’s employees, their families, and friends gathered to celebrate team spirit, endurance, nature, and sports. It is more than just an annual celebration. It is a spotlight on what these values mean to each IBA Group’s employee.
expectations from the event were far from being optimistic as the weather forecast
promised heavy rains and windstorm. That was the first challenge to overcome
for most of the participants. They got through the heavy rain on the way to the
venue of the rally and were rewarded by fantastic weather on the days to
tourist rally has longstanding traditions that developed together with IBA
Group. What started as an 87-people event in 2005, grew into a massive 1,000+ participant
rally. This year, the organizers welcomed a new participating team Lemmingi that defied such veterans as Pertsy, Dynamit, Dobry Vecher, Belki, and
Smarch Cats. The bike biathlon was added to the list of competition
categories. Other team categories included obstacle racing, mud racing,
volleyball, badminton, rock climbing, draniki (potato pancakes) contest, and
some individual disciplines such as ropes course and darts.
evening, to warm up and to dry up the atmosphere, a culinary draniki
competition was held under the guidance of an experienced chef. All
participants and viewers\tasters enjoyed every minute and bite of the contest. The
Mammoth team won the first place.
ceremony of the tourist rally took place at 09.30 am on Saturday. At the
opening ceremony, Sergei Levteev, IBA Group Chairman, made a welcoming speech. According
to the tradition, Alexei Tereschuk, the captain of Smart Cats, the last year’s
winning team, opened the rally by raising the flag.
program was diverse and manifold. Each participant found an occupation to his
or her taste, be it an athlete, a fan, a guest or a child. The program of
workshops was varied. One could opt for an individual pottery class, take part
in a tea ceremony, master a new style of calligraphy, make a nesting house, or
compete in funny duo contests. The strongest could go up against Vyacheslav
Khoroneko, the six-time record holder of the English Guinness World Records,
and a repeated world champion and a record holder in free weight lifting.
Other activities enjoyed by the rally participants included a ride on a trolley, a walk on the rope course, a wall climbing, and a ride in a BRDM-2 military reconnaissance vehicle. Everyone received a charge of positive emotions during a Fun Starts relay race. Wellness lovers could indulge themselves in saunas, bathe in a nearby lake, and get a Hawaii-like suntan.
Saturday, all participants and guests enjoyed breakfast and lunch.
the day, the kids danced and played with animators, took rides on catamarans
and canoes, played in an inflatable castle, rode a merry-go-round, and watched
cartoons in the karaoke tent.
evening and throughout the night, the teams had wonderful bonfire parties
accompanied by shashlik and guitar songs.
Everyone could unwind at the disco and demonstrate their vocal abilities
in the karaoke tent. The Saturday night also hosted Bez Bileta, a well-known Belarusian group, and the DeTroit cover band. That was one of many
moments when members of competing teams celebrated the company’s spirit and
feeling of being a part of IBA Group’s global family was somehow complemented
by the atmosphere of solidarity inside each team. Most of the teams comprised
colleagues of the same department. The tour rally for them is another chance to
strengthen the team spirit and extend the relationships beyond the working
Each team had a motto, a flag, and a designated territory. The teams’ captains did their very best to win the contests and to feed the teams. Each member of the team was assigned a task, the teams‘ cooks used their creativity and experience to appeal to the taste of each team’s member.
As the tradition has it, there are no ex-employees at IBA. Many retired and ex-IBAers come to the rally to feel themselves a part of the IBA Group’s family. They are the tradition keepers of the rally. On the other hand, we saw many new faces this year who have brought enthusiasm and changes to the company’s life. Tradition and innovation, youth and experience is what makes us so similar and so unique.
teams competed in the multiple categories, including obstacle racing, mud
racing, water relay race, rowing slalom, volleyball, bike biathlon, rock
climbing, and badminton. Rope course, darts, and weights lifting were available
for individual competition.
The award ceremony
took place on Sunday morning. Winning teams, Lemmingi, Dynamite, and SmartCats
and prizewinners in individual categories received medals and prizes. Gennady
Makeev, HR Director, made a closing speech where he summed up the results of
the rally and thanked the organizers and the participants.
You can get a glimpse inside the 16th IBA tourist rally by visiting our Facebook and Instagram.
I visited IBA Group just a few months ago and one of the most interesting interactions I had during my visit was with Dmitry Konevtsev, the SAP Department Director. In my own experience, attitudes to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems such as SAP have changed dramatically in the past few years. Systems that were once essential and heavily invested in have proven to be failures for the business. The reputation of ERP has been in decline, but what are real companies doing with ERP today?
I asked Dmitry for his views on how businesses are approaching ERP today. He said: “The implementation of ERP has been a matter of many discussions since the early days. People often feel uncomfortable about any changes to their business and ERP can often overhaul the operation of the entire enterprise. Therefore, employees are opposed to ERP, but the key is to approach it as a business task, not an IT implementation.”
Dmitry explained a recent project that IBA has been involved in implementing. He said: “We initiated the introduction of the newest SAP Profitability and Performance Management 3.0 technology at a major mobile operator. The customer aimed to develop a self-service analytics system that provides a comprehensive insight into the overall company performance. The project is one of the first SAP Performance Management for Financial Services (FS-PER) implementations in the world. The analytical solution is complicated, as it is designed to integrate and harmonize numerous heterogeneous data sources and involves millions of measurement units.”
Dmitry explained how IBA has experience across many different industries, including oil and gas, railways, and telecommunications. ERP is an important tool across all these industries and although the media image of ERP installations has been largely negative in recent years, the reality is that many companies still require ERP to manage complex logistics and supply chains.
The idea of a digital twin is a concept that many industries are growing, especially as Internet of Things (IoT) sensors become more common. The digital twin has been common in the aerospace industry for many years – an engine manufacturer such as Rolls Royce will maintain a digital version of every engine they deliver and it is updated in real-time from the real engine using a stream of data from sensors, capturing a complete digital twin of the real engine.
Tools such as SAP can deliver this concept for other solutions. Dmitry showed me an example of a building management system. Now I am not an expert on managing buildings, but I can imagine the complexity of managing every single power socket, lightbulb, fire extinguisher, window, and door in a large building. It used to require pages of maps and floor layouts in addition to constant inspections. Now the entire building can be coded into a graphical interface so the user can see everything in 3D on screen and sensors all over the building feed data into the SAP model. A fire extinguisher can send an alert if it has been used and is now empty. A power socket causing a circuit to short out can be identified the moment there is a problem. The model I saw looked stunning because the graphics resembled a video game – maintaining a building like this would clearly be far more efficient than the old system of only fixing problems after they happen. With real-time monitoring and sensors, some problems can be predicted before they happen – and then prevented.
Dmitry explained: “Digital twins are a development of the IoT concept. Earlier, IoT was viewed as a technology of passive sensors that receive and send data. Today, it is a concept of smart sensors that analyze data and make decisions locally based on the data they process. In 2018, Gartner suggested that this is a technology stuck in the hype cycle, but we can see real clients asking for projects like this using SAP Leonardo.”
It is clear that ERP has evolved. The integration of IoT is allowing ERP to not only represent process flows, but also to predict and make changes. We are now in an age of intelligent ERP and the failed installations of the past can now stay in the past. Solutions like digital twins using SAP are demonstrating that there is a bright new future for companies ready to explore how ERP can help them to redefine and manage their business processes.
From January 24 to January 25, IBA Group hosted the Rocket.Build Local 2019 – Minsk, Belarus hackathon. For the first time, the annual event took place at the IBA Group’s High-Tech Park campus. Rocket.Build is a Rocket Software’s annual hackathon. This event brings together engineers and programmers from around the world to work in teams to develop new products that help Rocket customers solve their business and technology challenges.
IBA has been cooperating with Rocket Software since 2016, the primary area of cooperation being mainframe products. Rocket develops products in diverse fields, including analytics, networks, data, storage, and enterprise software. The firm’s products are designed to run on mainframes, Linux/Unix/Windows, IBM i, cloud, and hybrid/virtualized systems.
IBA Group specialists who are involved in Rocket Software projects took part in the hackathon. All 90 participants were divided into teams, each team consisting of two to four members. The teams came up with 26 various ideas to solve production issues.
Having finished working on projects, the participants presented their ideas to the customer. In a strictly limited three-minute presentation, the teams had to convey the value of the proposed solution to the audience and the customer, and to demonstrate its functionality.
Anjali Arora, Chief Product Officer at Rocket Software, chose the winner of the main prize, the CPO Award. The winning team is expected to travel to Boston to participate in Rocket Build Global to be held from June 9 to June 13 at Rocket Global Headquarters. In addition, a peer voting was held at Rocket.Build Local 2019 and three teams were selected as winners.
The hackathon was a delightful event for IBA Group employees, giving them an opportunity to demonstrate their skills in a friendly and innovative atmosphere.
When I recently visited IBA Group in Minsk I was expecting to hear about their Cloud Computing solutions and some of their more recent developments in Machine Learning, but I was surprised to hear exactly how developed their Robotic Process Automation (RPA) expertise is today. I was surprised because their approach to RPA is not typical. They have experience of delivering real projects to real clients in multiple countries using the top 4 RPA software platforms.
Now contrast this to the typical RPA story in the media. Robo-bosses, robots taking over, and other mentions of robots replacing humans. When reading about RPA we usually read hype and grand claims of digital transformation, often from experts or IT companies with very little track record in this area. Yet IBA has been quietly developing expertise in all the major RPA platforms all over the world and there is no hype at all. They have just been getting on with the job.
When I arrived at IBA, I never expected to hear such a solid RPA success story – case study after case study of real RPA deliveries. I did a detailed interview with Vjacheslav Mikitjuk, director of Internet Technologies, that I intend to publish in the new year.
The RPA world is full of hype. HFS Research has been a vocal critic of the RPA hot air and fake news for the past few years, but even they now acknowledge that there are real solutions being delivered that are adding value all over the world. I witnessed this up close when I went to visit IBA Group and it was not even something that I had expected. They have kept their RPA expertise fairly quiet, but I’m hoping to change that in 2019 by telling the world what they have been doing.
On September 2, IBA Group organized a family festival for its employees and their children to celebrate the beginning of the new school year. The celebration took place at Minsk Zoo, much to the delight of young visitors and their parents.
This year, IBA invited children, their parents, and their grandparents to spend a sunny Sunday at the zoo, where they could get acquainted with various animals in enclosures, as well as at the terrarium, aquarium, and exotarium. The icing on the cake was a show at the dolphinarium.
IBA Group’s management congratulated children on the beginning of a new school year. First graders received makeshift medals and gifts with the IBA logo. All attendees got lunch bags and could satisfy their sweet tooth with ice cream.
As a part of the entertainment program, children could see exciting chemical experiments and use a trampoline, an inflatable slide or a swan ride.
On May 17, IBA Group celebrated its 25th anniversary with a big celebratory event in Minsk, Belarus.
Located at a picturesque lake, the venue included indoor and outdoor entertainment zones. Guests had a chance to interact with robots, try a variety of fast food from food trucks outside the restaurant, or indulge in molecular cuisine. They could relax and sit on bean bags, have a walk on the riverbank, and chill out inside the restaurant.
The newly gathered band Soft Skills, which consisted of IBA Group’s employees, performed for the first time to the public. Covering a kaleidoscope of hits, the band acquired a number of fans among their colleagues and was greeted with enthusiasm.
However, the real highlight of the celebration was a live set of the Belarusian State Academic Symphony Orchestra. Performing on the riverbank, the orchestra played a number of classical pieces, as well as soundtracks of modern movies and TV shows, such as Skyfall, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Game of Thrones. When the music started, the night sky of the lake lit up with fireworks, making the orchestra’s performance truly magical and unforgettable.
In his speech, Sergei Levteev, IBA Group CEO, thanked the company’s customers and employees, saying that 25 years many people doubted the company’s success, but IBA Group overcame all obstacles to be where it is now.
The party concluded with a discotheque, where employees of IBA Group could dance the night away to the sound of electronic music.
Technology is inherently democratic in nature. There are very few countries in which a person cannot take an interest in IT from a hobby all the way to a prosperous career. However, the global technology services market has never been more competitive, and standing out in a crowded field is challenging at best. This is where forward-looking stakeholders in Belarus are coming to the forefront, in the provision of various technology offerings that are definitively oriented to export markets across the globe. The Belarusian economy is steadily being moved toward technology, and there is a quiet confidence among its players that it will be successful in this modernizing agenda.
What immediately strikes any business visitor coming to Belarus is that the country is truly connected. It should be remembered that Minsk was designated as the USSR’s technology hub in the 1970s by the then-Soviet government, and this culture continues to permeate. With an estimated 100,000 IT experts living in Belarus, there is a vibrancy in the country’s atmosphere. Conference rooms and cafes bristle with lively discussions that take on both tech and entrepreneurial flavors. And, forward-looking leaders in this space have laid the groundwork for both ongoing development and profit.
Consider the recently completed Hi-Tech Park Belarus, a modern facility that acts as a strategic incubator for entrepreneurs across the IT value chain. Current tenants include application developers, hardware manufacturers, and prospective disruptors, many of the latter focusing on crypto-currencies, an area in which Belarus’ IT sector is targeting for future growth. Each takes advantage of recently-passed tax abatements designed to help boost Belarus’ IT space. Housed on the outskirts of Minsk, such a development would easily fit into Silicon Valley or Austin’s technology hub. But despite being uniquely East European in its flavor, the aim of the majority of this initiative’s members is to firmly implant their products and services in western markets. And, based on historic precedent, there is reason to believe that they will achieve this end.
The ongoing success of Belarus-based IBA Group is testament to the opportunity that technology players from this country can find overseas. With a list of services ranging from transportation management solutions through to RPA for leading financial services providers in South Africa, this company (which incidentally recently celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary) has become an example of how IT services can be successfully exported from an emerging European location. That IBA Group has recently opened a brand new campus in Minsk’s technology hub speaks to its success.
This year, the Belarusian children newspaper Polosataya Gazeta (Striped Newspaper) organized a charity event to support children who spent the summer in medical institutions. The list of institutions included the Republican Burn Center, Republican Scientific and Practical Centre for Traumatology and Orthopedics, and Republican Scientific and Practical Centre for Pediatric Oncology, Hematology, and Immunology, as well as long-stay patients of children’s hospitals in the Belarusian cities of Grodno, Gomel, Brest, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Minsk, Bobruisk, Orsha, and Mozyr.
IBA Group took part in the event, buying all 1170 new issues of Polosataya Gazeta, and sending the newspaper to the children’s hospitals. In addition, IBA employees wrote warm messages for little patients.
Anna Granovskaya, editor-in-chief at Polosataya Gazeta, said that the children received the messages and were touched by the kind words in them. She thanked IBA Group for the help. Anna also highlighted the importance of those messages, saying that parents were thankful for them, as the messages brought joy for their children in such difficult times.
IBA Group strives to contribute to the sustainable development of the communities in which it operates, improving the quality and well–being of these communities. This provides a source of pride in the company for our employees and a focus for their involvement in community life. You can learn about IBA’s CSR endeavors on our website.
We would like to say thank you to everyone who participates in our charity events. It is always a pleasure to work with such caring and kind people.
Sixteen teams participated in the competition this year. For the first time in its history, IT Spartakiada was held in two stages, with the tournament starting in spring and finishing in autumn. In its spring stage, the participants competed in laser tag, swimming, poker, and indoor football. In autumn, the teams clashed in karting, kicker, bowling, table tennis, volleyball, and basketball.
IBA won the tournaments in kicker and bowling and occupied the second place in laser tag, poker, and swimming. The karting, table tennis, and indoor football teams finished fourth, while the basketball team ended the competition at the fifth place. This allowed IBA to finish at the second place in the overall standings.
Winners of IT Spartakiada are determined by the minimal sum of points scored by teams in their top seven sports. EPAM was the winner of this year’s competition, while ISsoft won the bronze.
Congratulations to our colleagues! We are proud of their success and wish them many more great achievements in the future.
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!
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Think about the consumer technology that you regularly use today. You probably have a smart phone, maybe a Kindle or other e-reader, maybe an Apple Watch or similar device that can access information from your phone. Maybe your car can hook up to your phone to offer in-car information. Maybe you have an Amazon Echo at home so you can access the Internet just by speaking?
All these consumer devices are available today and are accepted as normal. Most consumers expect to have a device that gives them 24/7 access to all the services and information that the Internet can offer.
So why isn’t enterprise technology like this? Many companies still issue phones that are not even smart and laptops that are too heavy to really be portable. The concepts of cloud computing and app store flexibility remain conceptual in many organisations. Why?
The obvious answer is that consumers have far less to invest than large companies. When purchasing technology, a CIO needs to set the agenda for several years. If things change during that time it can be difficult to shift direction or to keep up with the change. Individuals don’t face this problem.
This has led to the popularity of Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) policies in many companies, where employees are offering cash to use their own equipment instead of what the company can supply.
But a small change in the strategic mindset can also have a major benefit to the enterprise. Commissioning new software solutions as apps, rather than desktop tools can encourage the workforce to be mobile. This can even encourage companies to create entirely new solutions for customers.
An app developed by IBA for use by a bank in South Africa allows bank employees to sign up new customers on the move. They can photograph the customer using their phone and capture details which are then shared with the central system of the bank – no forms, no waiting for an appointment. The new customers, the mobile bank employees, and the bank executives all benefit from the app approach.
It used to be that enterprise technology was years ahead of what people had at home, but now the reverse is true. It’s time for more company executives to take inspiration from the tools they use everyday – how can we use mobile devices and other common personal technology to create better business solutions for our customers?
In my last blog I mentioned that Big Data has progressed far beyond just being a business buzzword. There are entire industries being shaken to their core because a leading player finds a way to analyse their customers better than their rivals. Far from being a management trend, this is a strategy that will fundamentally change many industries.
But have you ever stopped to appreciate just how much data we are creating today?
Some excellent analysis in Business Insider recently explored this question. The problem is that people and companies are just creating so much data – it is increasing at an exponential rate. At the present rate we are doubling the amount of digital data that exists every two years.
But even though we are creating and storing these enormous amounts of data, only 0.5% of it is being analysed. There is so much data out there that companies, governments, and individuals feel swamped, unable to gain insights from it.
The Business Insider article features a comment that cuts to the heart of the Big Data issue: “You have to start with a question and not with the data,” says Andreas Weigend, former Chief Scientist of Amazon, now director of the Social Data Lab and lecturer at UC Berkeley.
Businesses need to start thinking about the insights they could get from their customers, to ask more ‘what-if’ questions. There are solutions out there in the data, but it is impossible to analyse every byte of data.
A typical analogy for the average person might be the difference between email and Twitter. You check every email, even if it is only long enough to decide that it should be deleted. However, you only check Twitter messages that are arriving as you are looking at the news stream, or you use intelligent filters and analysis to ensure that interesting messages are made visible.
Businesses need to start thinking of their Big Data strategy in the same way. How can insights be drawn out from the data they already have?
Big Data is still just a buzzword for many people. Magazines and newspapers that do not cater strictly to a business audience continually need to explain what they mean when talking about the subject and the strong association with technology means that even some business leaders are still unaware of the true benefits.
But as with all technology projects and ideas, if they can be associated with actions that can improve a business, make it more efficient, deliver services faster, or create new products before competitors, then the leaders can see the advantage.
Forbes magazine recently documents a few examples that demonstrate some of the advantages. Carnival Cruises needs to plan the best way to serve passengers in much the same way as an airline does. However a cruise is a much longer journey than a flight and across all their ships and passengers, Carnival has 80 million cruise days per year. If they could just earn $1 per day extra from each passenger then that’s an immediate $80m boost to revenue.
That’s an example of how to analyse customer behaviour so products and services can be targeted more effectively. Retailers still do this with loyalty cards, although the idea of a loyalty card has been falling from fashion in recent years – customers are tired of giving away their personal data in return for very small benefits.
But data can also help to save money and improve service too. The Australian telco Telstra uses Big Data analysis on their entire network with predictive analysis so potential faults on lines, and in specific areas, can be identified before they happen. Outage time is reduced, engineers can be moved into position faster, and not only does the company save on maintenance, but the customer is happier too.
Every big business uses data today. Every business has the opportunity to analyse this data in a more effective way. There is always information available if you know how to dig deep into the data you have.
I was recently asked about the classic price vs service argument by a consultant who advises on IT outsourcing. I replied that I am surprised there is still a debate over this. You can compare IT supplier based on the quality of what they do and then compare equally competent suppliers on price, but price is not a primary variable that should be used to compare companies.
After all, if the service delivered does not work then how much have you saved? The price debate reminds me of where IT outsourcing was a decade ago – it was surprising to be asked about this in 2015 when most organisations have a far more mature approach to finding expert partners.
I looked at CIO magazine to see what they considered the key trends in IT outsourcing would be this year. They published a good summary at the beginning of the year and never once mentioned that price would be an important comparison point.
Several of the trends they identified are very important though and I don’t feel that they are being given enough focus in the business and technology media:
1. A focus on outcomes: outcome based pricing has been around for years, but is often focused on BPO outsourcing where specific business processes can be priced. A focus on the outcome rather than process of delivering IT will be how many projects are charged in future.
2. The business ordering direct. The CIO used to manage all information systems, but now the business units are doing far more ordering direct because many solutions can be delivered using apps or the cloud, therefore not impacting on the infrastructure managed by the CIO. This means that suppliers need to develop new relationships and change their sales strategy.
3. Analytics taking over. In areas such as CRM and customer service technology systems data is all that matters now. This approach to data-led decision-making is affecting many business functions including the more creative ones such as sales and marketing.
The IT outsourcing trends are changing and developing as the IT services space develops, but sometimes it seems that the advisors cannot escape some of the old debates.
Social networks have evolved rapidly over the past few years. In the last decade tools like Myspace were primarily used for sharing pictures and messages with friends – the social aspect of the network was the primary reason to use it. Facebook took over and sharing cat videos remained an extremely popular pastime.
But now companies are using these same networks to interact with customers. Brands got used to watching out for content on blogs and then the review sites, as well as tweets and Facebook. The past half a decade or so has seen an enormous change in the way that corporate and customer relationships work and it looks like Facebook may be about to define the next wave of change.
The Facebook Messenger app has been around for a few years now. It’s a useful tool for keeping in touch with friends and in many ways removes the need to know the phone number of your friends because messages are all relayed through the Facebook system – even though the app functions entirely separately from the main Facebook app.
A new development called “Business on Messenger” is aimed at making the app a hub for customers and companies. Companies will be able to take orders on Messenger, send out order confirmations, send shipping status updates, track deliveries and customers will be able to directly send questions to sellers.
All this functionality will be offered to companies to use in a flexible way that works best for their business. For the customer these developments are welcome. Facebook is encouraging developers to build new apps around the messenger API so it looks like companies will be able to create a complete customer messaging system using the building blocks Facebook makes available.
In some markets the WhatsApp messenger has already become an important tool for brands to talk with customers – and Facebook already owns that app. I fully expect the two messenger services to be blended at some point, with the addition of all these added features that will make this a real hub for customers interacting with companies.
Will companies buy into the service from Facebook? I expect that they will because to build this infrastructure internally is very expensive. The end result is that companies will be able to get a very low cost customer management system, but it will mean that more customers will be tied into using Facebook – whether they want to or not.
On April 16, the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (www.iaop.org) released the second blog article devoted to The Global Outsourcing 100® list. This article recognizes companies for innovation programs.
The Programs for Innovation category of the IAOP’s Global Outsourcing 100 focuses not just on specific examples but on the programs that service providers and advisors have in place to identify and implement innovative solutions.
Today’s customers demand innovation from their providers and the outsourcing industry is looking for new ways to meet this growing demand. IAOP evaluated programs for innovation in The Global Outsourcing 100 for the first time.
IBA Group earned the highest 8 points in this category. The company received a full star recognition and its achievements in innovation were marked as the ‘Highest Rated’. This accomplishment looks especially impressive because the average score for innovation of the participating companies was 3.52.
IBA Group showed in its application that innovation is not a one-shot job for the company. IBA Group set up a Committee for Innovations headed by the IBA Group Chairman and created a company-wide Registry of Innovations. A special procedure on how to apply and approve or reject the ideas was implemented in the IBA intranet and a special venture fund was formed to finance the innovation procedure.
IBA Group implemented many successful initiatives through this procedure, including a mobile version of the IBA’s enterprise content management system and an Automated Fare Collection (AFC) system that earned a European IT & Software Excellence award for IBA Group.
The International Association of Outsourcing Professionals launched a series of blogs devoted to The Global Outsourcing 100® list that recognizes the world’s best outsourcing service providers and advisors. The blog articles are focused on the four judging categories of The Global Outsourcing 100 and on what it takes for companies not only to make the list, but to achieve distinguishing ‘stars’.
“Hip hip hooray…it’s not the New Year but it sure does feel like it around here with the buzz and excitement of IAOP’s 10th edition of The Global Outsourcing 100®!” – This is how IAOP opens its first series of blogs on The Global Outsourcing 100.
Each organization completed a rigorous, opt-in application to compete for inclusion in The Global Outsourcing 100. The achievements were assessed based on the following four distinct areas: Delivery; Programs for Innovation; Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR); and Size & Growth. Those companies that have distinguished themselves receive half or full stars in one or more specific judging category.
IBA Group has been enrolled in the rating, which is actually organized as a contest since 2006. The list has been evolving and the rules have been changing, but IBA and other outsourcing providers keep applying to be among the best 100. It is not only a good chance to receive exposure. It is also an opportunity to see how the company is doing against others and to set targets for improvement.
The first blog article by IAOP is devoted to the Delivery Excellence judging category. The category includes company recognitions, customer references, company certifications, and the number of Certified Outsourcing Professionals on staff.
Delivery Excellence is a strong area for IBA Group. This year, the company received the score 7.25 for delivery excellence of the highest 8 points. It is a distinguishing accomplishment, given that the average score of the participating companies in this category was 5.86. IAOP awarded IBA Group a half star for Delivery Excellence.
Technology is continuously evolving at such a rapid rate – it is impossible to predict with any certainty how it will impact on our lives in coming years. When people make predictions about how technology will evolve, try this exercise. Look back ten years and think of all the technologies you take for granted today: social networks, smart phones, mobile Internet, tablet computing. None of them existed even a decade ago – or were so nascent an elite few were the only users.
Think back a decade more and you will find yourself at the birth of the web. Adverts for major consumer products did not even feature URLs until the late 1990s. Now you see how difficult it is to predict what technologies will be common by 2015.
There will always be winners and losers in the search for new ways to use technology to achieve business success. The downfall of companies such as Nokia, Kodak, and Blackberry illustrate the consequences of not understanding how society is changing and using new technologies.
But one development that is likely to evolve further is technology outsourcing. As the world becomes more complex, it is even more unlikely that companies will retain the right kind of expertise internally. IT services will be outsourced more often because only the IT companies understand the complex technological solutions – rather than some of the drivers we saw a decade ago, such as labour arbitrage.
The globalization of IT is itself becoming more complex anyway. There are still IT service companies all over the world offering their services, but now they don’t always need to directly contract with a customer to provide a specific service. The cloud-based model allows service providers to offer a specific service – storage or computing power – that can be turned on and off as desired. The app store model many people use on their phone can also be used in the enterprise to create an environment where end users on the business front-end (not the IT department) can choose and install technology solutions themselves.
Change is taking place fast in the IT services market and nobody can predict how it will look in ten years, but one thing is for certain, IT experts need to offer a variety of delivery methods because enterprise IT is borrowing many of the ideas that consumers are already familiar with.
Last Wednesday, IBA Group was awarded for implementing the best vertical solution of the year. It happened at a gala reception organized by IT Europa to recognize the winners of the European IT & Software Excellence 2015 Awards.
Gyles Daubeney Brandreth, an English writer, broadcaster, and actor announced the results to the audience of more than 350 contestants and their colleagues, friends and families. Winners were selected from 83 finalists that represented 32 European countries. IBA was honored to be one of the winners.
We nominated one project in two categories. Those were Vertical Solution of the Year, and Public Sector and Utilities Solution of the Year. In both categories, IBA Group competed with six other finalists for an award. The Vertical Solution of the Year category turned out to be award-winning for IBA. Congratulations to the winning IBA team!
This year’s award was specific for IBA Group because the winning solution comprises not only software but both software and hardware. The solution was an Automated Fare Collection (AFC) system. All of us who are passengers of the Minsk public transport tested the solution. Visitors of the 2014 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championship held in Minsk last year were among those who tried the AFC system in practice.
The project posed many challenges for the IBA team as they had to find answers to quite a few questions. Minsk has different types of public transport, each with specific features. How should we handle the specifics? Should the AFC be fully automated or use fare collectors? Should it use the internet as a communication channel? Which security technology is most suitable? Passengers prefer to use single paper tickets instead of transport cards. Will they agree to change their habits?
However, all these issues were solved and the system was launched. Today it is easy and comfortable to use. Passengers enjoy tapping their cards on validators and ticket inspectors produce proudly their automatic terminals to check the fares. The city authorities are able to analyze the operation of the public transport. This solution is just one example of how IT can improve people’s life.
The European Software & Solutions Summit that IT Europa conducted right before the Awards focused on the changes that the IT industry should be able to accommodate.
Presenters from Gartner, Oracle, HP, and other market leaders spoke of the new buyers and how their behavior has changed in the past 20 years. John Chapman of IT Europa said that we live in a new world. It is an interconnected world, where equipment and customers become connected. Gartner predicted that 75B products will be connected by 2020.
Oracle went on to say that Everything as a Service (XaaS) is becoming the preferred consumption model and every company is becoming a software company. Even cloud computing is no longer the same. It is evolving towards a fully integrated digital platform, argued Interoute.
Those businesses that adopt new technologies quicker than others are more likely to have experienced higher growth, concluded Verizon and IBA Group is looking to work with such customers.
In my last blog, I mentioned that social networking technologies are changing how many companies use CRM. Opportunities are created to have a much deeper relationship with customers than was ever possible before and this goes far beyond just CRM alone.
But what is it that any company really wants? Why do they invest in all these technologies in the first place? There are many reasons, such as improving the customer experience, but possibly the most important is to generate customer loyalty. It costs far more to attract new customers to your business than to just keep the existing ones happy, so managing loyalty is important.
And as customers we all know about loyalty schemes. You probably have loyalty cards for your favourite hotel chain, airline, coffee store, bookstore, and supermarket. Every type of business tries giving away points and prizes to encourage loyalty.
The problem is that academics now believe that our present focus on loyalty through loyalty programmes doesn’t work very well. Take airlines for example. There are really only three major airline alliances, Star Alliance, One World, and SkyTeam. Serious business travellers just take a membership with all of them so they always collect points regardless of the airline used.
Most people use the supermarket that is closest to their home rather than travelling much further because they have a loyalty card from another store. Most of the time these loyalty cards don’t really create very much brand loyalty.
Smart companies today are looking at their CRM data and using a ‘buzz monitoring’ platform to analyse the social networks and then interacting with customers based on the information they can glean from the customer behaviour data. In effect, what is happening is that companies who know their customers well are able to use the data to create customer loyalty gifts and rewards that are targeted at the individual customer – not just points that every customer earns.
This is a big change in behaviour for many companies and it will be the back office technology that drives the information for this to work, but it is a natural shift. Customers have greater expectations on brands today and the first time a brand responds and rewards you in a unique and individual way will create a ‘wow’ moment for many customers.
It is these interactions based on data that will drive customer loyalty in future, not loyalty cards. Has any major brand ever rewarded you based on their knowledge of behaviour and how did that make you feel?
Social media is maturing and becoming an important part of the supply chain for many businesses. In areas like the media it is clearly a strong communication channel between content creators and their customers, but in other industries there has been an even deeper use of the technologies.
Take retail as a good example. For decades retailers have combined loyalty cards with CRM technologies to try predicting customer behaviour and to drive loyalty to certain products. There are many examples of retailers knowing individual customers better than their own family because of the data collected during their shopping trips.
A famous example is the US retailer Target sending discount coupons for products a new mother might want to a teenage girl. Her father was outraged, but he apologised to the retailer when his daughter confessed that she was in fact pregnant. The CRM system knew it before the father.
But traditional CRM has always relied on actual purchases and visits to the store. There had to be an actual interaction with a retailer to generate data that could then be analysed. With social networks and social media uploads customers provide information on their likes, desires, and preferences without even visiting the store.
This is a fantastic opportunity for retailers who can integrate social channels into their existing CRM. In addition to actual purchases, discounts and offers can be tailored to include preferences and the general sentiment of an entire group of customers.
It does require a different approach. Some kind of community management is usually needed for the retailer areas – such as the corporate Facebook page – and new software capable of ‘buzz monitoring’ other areas of the Internet has to be applied. But the opportunity for retailers of knowing their customers even better through the use of better technology systems is clear.
The same opportunity exists across all sectors – try searching for online discussions about your company name or products today. I’m sure you will find people talking about them. Now the question is, are they saying good things and if not, what do you do next to engage those customers?
Are you engaging with customers using social networking and how different is this data-driven approach to the old idea of a customer service team?
Companies such as banks have complained for years that their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system doesn’t really work. The systems are expensive and yet they rarely return what was promised when the sales team demonstrated what could be achieved.
But I think that often, the real point of CRM has been lost somewhere between the software company sales pitch, the implementation, and the end user trying to make sense of how the system operates. A recent article in The Financial Brand magazine lists 6 important reasons why you should be reconsidering CRM. The first reason asks these questions:
“How will the data in the CRM benefit my customer?”
“How can I use this to speed up our process, to benefit my customer?”
“What events could be triggered using this data to help my customer?”
“Is there info that can be gained from the data that would help me do what is best for my customer.”
“How can my sales team best use the data to identify opportunities to help my customer?”
I entirely support this view. If the CRM system is not entirely focused on planning how processes and data can benefit the customer then there is no value in the system.
I would go further and argue that with the abilities we now have, CRM expectations should be much higher. Think of your mobile phone company as a good example. They probably offer you a monthly tariff on a fixed contract that offers a certain amount of minutes talk-time, texts, and Internet access.
But if you use too much Internet time or talk too much the customer usually gets hit with penalties – or very high per minute costs.
Yet, why would any company want to do this to a customer? You want to help the customer, not hit them with penalties surely? Why not use the data that you have on how this customer behaves – how many minutes they use on average each month, how much Internet data they use – and offer a special tariff designed just for that individual customer?
We have the Big Data expertise to do this and the CRM systems, but there has rarely been a connection between the data and how it can truly help the customer. For companies that want to succeed today, this has to change.
Keeping log of business relationships is not only the concern of a salesperson but also of everyone who has to work with clients, vendors or suppliers. It is not a newsflash that with the evolved technology there is no more need for long paper forms, notebooks, and business card holders and everything can be stored in a mobile device.
People from different divisions within IBA Group were looking for a mobile application that is easy to use, can store safely business information of a contact person and a summary of the conversation, can get more information about the interlocutor’s company form social media, can be useful in one-on-one meetings and trade fairs, and has other advantages. There are mobile applications that do that stuff, but not all of them together.
Our developers took the challenge and came up with a mobile application for iPhone and iPad called Marketing Application for Leads at Events (IBA.MALE). This application provides a solution for the following requirements:
• Use at events: upload a list of possible persons who will be at that event
• Capture and store interlocutor’s business information:
o by scanning of a business card and recognition of the text on it
o by scanning and recognition of a barcode or QR code and matching these with the person’s data in the pre-uploaded list
o by manual entry of information
• Receive online information on interlocutor’s company. The application allows for retrieving information on the contact person from LinkedIn online. It takes less than a minute
• Log the conversation summary
• Easy search of contacts by name, title, location or interests
• Export of contacts via email or Bluetooth.
With an existing free version of the application IBA.MALE Light you can check most capabilities of the application and decide whether to buy a full version of the application.
Author of The Analytics Revolution, Bill Franks, recently wrote a fascinating exploration of database structure in Forbes magazine. This might sound like an oxymoron – database structure and interesting – but bear with me.
When most people think of databases they think of relational data – fields of information. A database captures specific information such as name, address, phone number, all in a certain way so each field of information conforms to certain standards such as type (text or numbers) and length.
If you have never designed a database then think of it like this, you have rows of information that are the records of data – let’s say each one describes a customer. Then you have columns of information, each one is a field of data like a phone number or email address. So each record contains many fields… each “person” has a name, phone number, address… and so on.
For many years now the standard way of querying a relational database like this has been SQL – Structured Query Language. SQL is a series of commands and tools that make it possible to logically extract information from a database, in simple terms if you want to extract all the entries from a list of personal details where the date of birth is before 1980 then it’s a simple query. It’s just like asking a question and the database returns the answer.
But in the world of Big Data most of our assumptions around how a database is formed and how we can query it are different. There may be no fixed structure in a universe of data that is constantly expanding and changing. This makes the process of querying a Big Data set very different.
Of course this has been well known and many tools already exist that help to support Big Data analysis, but what Franks is arguing is that the skills and tools we need today are what we used to have before SQL became accepted as the standard way to interact with a database. Before we got all organized and relational, people had to query data in a much less structured way.
His book addresses this in more detail, but I find it fascinating that we can sometimes forget what we already knew about accessing data. Perhaps there will be a greater demand for people who can remember how data was queried before SQL became commonly used? It’s an interesting idea and goes to show that, in technology, the new is not always new.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is taking off at the Consumer Electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas. The CES is the biggest annual consumer electronics show in the world and often manages to set the agenda for the technologies that will be important in the coming year.
The IoT has been talked of for several years as ‘the next big thing’ in technology. It refers to when everything electronic is connected to the Internet and able to share information in a much more open way than is possible now.
The example often used is a digital fridge that can advise when milk is running low or what you can cook for dinner with the food you currently have, but this is not a good example at all and fails to see how fundamental the IoT could be.
If everything we touch is connected then we will live in a different world. Your phone, car, watch, heart monitor, shoes, just about everything you interact with will be generating information. Your insurance company will know when and where you drive your car. Your employer will know when you are at the office and when you are at home. Your doctor will be able to monitor your health without requiring a visit to the hospital. Your car will alert the dealer directly when there is a problem that cannot be resolved at home.
Many of these actions can be taken now. The ethos of the IoT is just that we will see much more communication from the objects we interact with and that there will be communication between objects. For example, your electricity meter may actually check with electrical items in your house and send a report on which appliances use the most power.
In theory the IoT is a revolution in communication in the same way that the Internet itself created an open communication platform. However, the big danger is that different companies use different protocols and methods of communication.
The CEO of Samsung used his own speech at CES this week to suggest that every Samsung product will be using entirely open IoT data platforms within 5 years. With this kind of leadership, hopefully smaller companies will follow and ensure that all their products are open.
The possibilities for the IT industry are endless. IoT will generate vast amounts of data, therefore the principles and expertise needed to manage Big Data will be important, but when this relates to customers then linking in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) aspect will also be essential.
IT projects are going to multiply in the coming years. Products that were never previously connected or never required software – a kettle for example – may require new software and systems so that you can send a message from your phone on the way home, so a boiled kettle is ready and waiting for you.
If the CES predictions are correct, 2015 is going to be the year that IoT finally goes mainstream.
The industry analyst Gartner recently published their predictions for technology in 2015. It’s an eclectic list that includes such announcements as 90% of consumer product companies using 3D printing for personalised products and digital disruptions being created by algorithms.
Of course every analyst and pundit is making their predictions now and so if I am going to add to this end of year commentary then I would suggest the following for IT services.
I can see four broad areas where technology products and services will boom in the next year or two:
• Health; particularly remote access to doctors, and wearable monitoring technologies. Health care technology is advancing so rapidly that we will see average life expectancy rates rapidly increase in the next decade.
• War; the world is becoming more unstable and cyber crime (such as the recent Sony hacking) is becoming an issue of national security. War will increasingly rely on technology as much as soldiers and missiles.
• Privacy; since the Edward Snowden revelations, people have become more concerned about their own privacy and the use of their personal data by corporations and government. This will create issues for industries such as advertising and yet create new opportunities for those who can help to preserve anonymity or confidentiality.
• Government; consumers have a greater expectation on their governments, both as democratic legislators and as providers of public services. Both will be dramatically changed through the use of technology with services improving and greater access to information.
The traditional market for IT services has already changed from what we saw in the past decade. I visited IBA recently and learned how some of their projects are more valuable after deployment because they can then capture and utilise user or customer data – the real value is in the data not the fee for building the system.
Based on what we have seen recently I believe there will be three major factors that continue to exert major pressure for change on how IT services are delivered:
• Contract flexibility; the old days of very tight SLAs and KPIs have to end because the world moves just too fast for service partners to be relying on measures that might have been designed a couple of years earlier. This is particularly important in industries that are changing month by month – customer service technology for example. IT service companies have talked for years about being ‘partners’ – now they need to truly design contracts that reflect this partnership model because tight contracts are too restrictive for the modern world.
• The app store model will continue to develop in the enterprise. Consumers are used to using apps and IT service companies need to consider how services can be bundled into the same kind of structure for the enterprise.
• The cloud will continue to dominate areas such as storage, but with complex services such as ERP and CRM all available via cloud based tools, is there anything that cannot be delivered this way? We will see every possible option explored soon.
I think these are the three main drivers within the IT service space at present. Earlier ideas about IT outsourcing being cost-driven and with many concerns about the development location feel dated now. Nobody cares that Skype was developed in Estonia, Angry Birds was developed in Finland, Tweetdeck was developed in London, and Waze was developed in Israel.
More broadly, as Gartner suggests, we will feel the impact of technology far more on our daily lives whether we are involved in the technology industry or not. Think of many normal activities; choosing a political leader, finding the best price for a new car, finding a new partner, studying for a new degree, reading the news, almost every activity we undertake now engages us in technology. Almost everyone is a technology user and this penetration into every part of society means that for those of us who do work with technology, there is a bright future – every other industry depends completely on technology today.
Have a great holiday season and enjoy the start of 2015. There will be more comment on the blog in the New Year!
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?
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.
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 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, November 25, 2014