"Businesses now need to fully understand the capabilities of standard solutions and are no longer willing to demand instant adaptation without a second thought," says Iztok Juvan, Managing Director of BE-terna Slovenia
What is a digital approach to implementation and why has it proven to be the most successful approach to digitisation for enterprises as well as small businesses in recent years?
The way in which application solutions are chosen today is changing dramatically. Companies looking for new solutions are preparing for their decision much more thoroughly than a few years ago. They invest a lot of effort into researching available solutions on their own. You can find a huge volume of different types of content online. We are seeing companies that come to introductory discussions with potential suppliers with a fully formed idea of what they are actually looking for. Businesses are also recognising the importance of in-house application management, which is why more and more of them are recruiting IT professionals into their ranks. There is a growing awareness that complex customizations of industry standard solutions create many challenges that manifest as difficulties during upgrades, higher maintenance costs, etc. This is why we are seeing a greater need to introduce best practices and implement them as quickly as possible.
The new circumstances call for and enable a different approach to implementation. While we used to carry out lengthy analyses and solution plans, today we mostly rely on prototyping. The first thing we do is to demonstrate to users the things they can achieve by using what’s available out of the box. Numerous activities make up the implementation process and many are repeatable and can be done by companies themselves. We have prepared numerous descriptions, questionnaires, short video instructions and pre-designed plans for individual activities. This is known as an independently managed implementation. We have plenty of ambitious ideas for this.
The mistaken belief is that IT companies do not need digital transformation. Why is this not the case and how have you approached digital transformation in your company? How does this experience help you when you work with your customers?
An IT company is like any other company and is facing a very dynamic environment today. They need to adapt, update or redesign their internal processes, which is a great opportunity to implement digital solutions. Continuous improvement - especially digital improvement - is needed if you want to ensure long-term growth in an industry whose main mission is to implement business solutions. The first area where you should focus is definitely taking care of employees. We use multiple digital tools to improve employee communication and engagement and we have a wealth of digital training resources available. We also have a fully digitised recruitment process that covers everything from offering a position to concluding contract as well as the full onboarding process. Another area where efforts should be focused is improving the customer experience. Our aim is to become as "data-driven" as possible in this area, and we have already started certain activities, such as measuring satisfaction across all customer lifecycle stages and proactively monitoring the status of cloud solutions using telemetry so we can prevent potential issues. The third area that’s ripe for improvement is improving operational efficiency. This is one area where we can achieve the most as a company. We are constantly working on improving the implementation process and introducing new tools that support our efforts. For example, this year we are implementing a comprehensive project management solution. And of course, we're constantly deploying solutions that help us run our business more efficiently. Some of the examples include electronic contract signing, paperless operations, implementation of a new document management system and others. The final area is improving our offer with quality solutions.
Your company’s goal is to offer more consulting services and less development. Is this due to a shortage of technical staff or is technology becoming easier and faster to adapt?
It’s interesting that this is increasingly the goal of companies looking to deploy new solutions or upgrade their existing systems. Traditional solutions running on on-site infrastructure are increasingly becoming a major headache for most customers. There are several reasons for this situation and most of them stem from unrealistic expectations of the provider and the client. During the sales stage, suppliers overpromise and clients come up with unrealistic demands, creating the optimal conditions for inflation of additional requirements. Today, we invest a lot of energy into discussing the business value of additional requirements. Will a company be more successful and generate more revenue by requiring the supplier to customize the system? Of course, there are some customizations that cannot be avoided: regulatory compliance, features that represent a competitive advantage or features that a company needs to do business because of the nature of their business model.
I would venture to say that cloud solutions are a more important driver of this change than the shortage of technical staff, which is a good thing. It shows that companies are no longer willing to mindlessly demand customisation before they even fully understand the capabilities of standard solutions.
However, large customers still demand custom solutions, which is something they can afford. Does this mean that small businesses will find themselves left to their own devices?
It is understandable that the largest enterprises, including large Slovenian companies, often need to customize their solutions. Above all, they are using a large number of different application subsystems that need to be integrated and they need to make sure data is synchronised. Integrations often drive process change, which requires customizations. Large companies have more resources at their disposal and can afford them more easily. The advantage of cloud-based solutions and simultaneously the only sustainable model is that solution providers are not allowed to modify the “standard” solution and can only customize it using so-called extensions. This allowed large cloud solution providers to provide solutions that are always updated, which was impossible to achieve in the past. This is also the reason many companies have become "prisoners" of existing solutions. They have invested years of additional development into them and now face legitimate fears about how to move forward.
Of course, small businesses will not be left to their own devices. Our job is to find the right solutions for them. We have developed a solution for small businesses that makes it easy for them to move to the cloud. It also opens up numerous opportunities for customization by leveraging low-code platforms that do not affect the core solution. The fact is that companies small and large will need to make the effort and adapt those processes that are not a source of competitive advantage to standard solutions.
Your business is on track to becoming a fully cloud-centric company. How does cloud technology help you with digital implementation approaches for both small and large businesses?
One of our strategic goals is to become a company that fully leverages cloud solutions to manage all its processes and helps other companies to migrate all their application systems from their internal infrastructure to the cloud. Awareness of the benefits of moving to cloud technologies is certainly growing, and this is reflected in better adoption rates.
I would have expected larger companies to be more conservative but we are seeing quite the opposite. Enterprise environments decide to migrate to the cloud when the technical and business benefits are clear. In terms of technology, the main concerns relate to availability, security, connectivity and accessibility. On the business side, total cost of ownership is the key concern. Often, the licensing model changes to a subscription so the challenge is what to do about their on-site infrastructure and what to do with the internal IT team. In the future, the move to the cloud in the future is inevitable for small companies.
As you grow, you haven’t neglected the need for sustainable technological solutions. Smart approach to digitalisation also has a positive impact on the sustainability of a company, doesn't it?
For sure. Sustainable development is the next pillar of our new strategy. On the one hand, we are working on our own sustainability strategy, and on the other hand, we are working on a solution for our users.
Sustainability is already a hot topic and will become even more important in the future as companies become subject to reporting requirements. Can digitisation have a positive impact on sustainability? Of course. It provides solutions for monitoring your sustainability status and also has a significant impact on how companies relate to their environment, society, etc.
Let's look at some obvious examples: two years ago, we experienced the first large-scale lockdown of our society and we were forced to cut back on business travel. Tools for remote work have allowed us to continue running our business almost seamlessly. Employees work in hybrid mode, which means fewer trips to the office. Cloud computing is also likely to help reduce the number of on-site servers installed in companies. There is also the concept of green software code, which is about writing code that executes in a resource-efficient way.
We have the feeling that every year new technologies come along that promise they are the new foundation for a successful business. However, you are of the opinion that it is not wise always jump on every shiny new bandwagon. Why is that?
We often see large software suppliers experiment in one direction and then change course. In a time of rapid change, we see a lot of this. Products and services are created, renamed, redesigned and even discontinued. At the same time, you always hear about new, cool-sounding fashionable buzzwords that everyone is talking about.
On the other hand, we have certain industries that are technologically advanced, but are by no means fashion followers who pounce onto every technology that comes along. To deploy something new requires a sober assessment of new technologies. What companies often overlook is that this also requires the support of management and employee engagement.
As we enter uncertain times, companies are finding it particularly important to increase operational efficiency. How do you deal with this in your business and how do your customers deal with it?
In uncertain times, when most companies are dealing with staff shortages, increasing operational efficiency seems to be an important aspect. At first glance, it sounds as if increasing efficiency means doing more with fewer people and putting more pressure on employees. However, improved efficiency should mean that you do more with the same number of employees while maintaining regular workload. Efficiency can be unlocked through automation and software-based robotic process automation. The prerequisite is to understand your processes well and eliminate the activities that add no value to the process or automate them.