The interview was originally published by Computerword.pl.
Małgorzata Wiśniewska, Managing Director at Avenga Poland, talks about how a flexible technology-based model ensures business resilience and helps turn risk into a business opportunity. The digital vaccine is ready and tested.
We talked a year ago, on the occasion of the premiere of last year’s “Computerworld TOP 200” report. Since then, you have welcomed a new CEO and a new name of the company. How else has Avenga changed?
We have changed our name to Avenga, but we are still following our previously outlined development strategy, which works well. We’ve maintained our course: we are building a global IT group whose ambition is to change the paradigm of working with clients – to shake up the conventional IT market so as to meet the demand for much faster and more efficient service delivery and IT competence. We have a global reach, but we are also present locally, close to our clients and the four companies in our group are currently undergoing a consolidation in terms of processes. We’re implementing adjustments within this strategy, resulting, among others, from the need to react quickly to our customers’ situations.
The changes are due to the ongoing pandemic and a small ‘ice age’ in the economy, which may lead to a powerful crisis.
Deterioration of the economic situation and such a fundamental change of conditions are the best tests of the flexibility, adaptability and resilience of a business model. Earlier on you could make any declaration, but today the world has said: “I’m checking.” And I am pleased to say that our technological and business choices have proven to work perfectly well.
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There are at least a few dimensions to this sudden and forced change. Which ones are you talking about?
Let me focus on the three perspectives that are most important for Avenga: remote cooperation, more effective acquisition and retention of consultants, and finally the strategic level of the group’s investment policy.
The first aspect, i.e., the operational switchover to remote work, was implemented immediately, without any problems. We had already been prepared for it for several years, although no one expected the present scenario. The decision to fully switch to a cloud environment had more to do with the comfort of work than preparation for the current crisis situation, and I think that now nobody in Avenga can imagine working without a cloud. It’s easy to get accustomed to convenient solutions.
→ Is the hybrid cloud here to stay forever?
I understand that full success in this dimension can be announced, if clients have also made a smooth transition of your joint projects to this format?
I couldn’t agree more, as it wouldn’t make sense if clients couldn’t adapt to the new model of cooperation. I can say that this situation has helped us in some cases to overcome our existing concerns or reluctance to change the status quo. These issues have just lost their importance and consequently our clients have naturally entered into a new model of cooperation, not passively, but actively, as they discovered that the current experience opens up many new opportunities. It allows for remote execution of services and better access to IT resources, which translates into a faster digital transformation.
You mentioned a better and easier access to IT resources and competence for your experts, who can be acquired for projects faster.
Yes, this is the second major change, precisely when it comes to acquiring, retaining and assigning people jobs and projects, and in terms of creating a working environment, organizational culture, setting goals and challenges. It is thought that people need a sense of belonging to a team and therefore they are keen on face-to-face meetings, offices and teams. Today, it has turned out that remote communication, in terms of efficiency, is not inferior to direct communication, but has important advantages for us, such as a positive impact on the environment or saving time spent in traffic jams. Today, we can engage more effectively and better select competences for our remote projects.
You have touched upon an important subject. So before we move on to the third dimension of Avenga’s adaptation to the new conditions, tell me what the ‘new normal’ will look like in your opinion? What kind of recession dynamics and rebound do you expect?
Many processes will never return to the pre-crisis analogue era; they will remain in the digital sphere. The situation we’re dealing with is, and will remain, a catalyst for the digital revolution. We are facing another regrouping in the approach to technological innovation. Two things will happen in this respect. First, there will be an even greater chasm between what should be standardized, cheap, and quickly available and what should be unique and responsible for the company’s competitive advantage. This, in turn, means an acceleration of the pace of implementation of cloud solutions in the area of standard processes, while at the same time increasing the number of tailor-made solutions in the executed projects. It’s seemingly a paradox, but only this way in a world full of unpredictability, with the need to quickly switch to remote work, that companies will not lose their own identity which is necessary to build their market position. So I expect reshuffles in most industries in the rebound phase and the emergence of clear leaders. Perhaps companies that we never expected could ever do it will move into the leadership position. Surely the key to their success will be technology that enables the organization to adapt quickly and easily to new conditions.
And what will precisely happen as a result of this change and adaptation of companies? What solutions or technologies will become popular? What will allow them to gain business resilience in the times of a pandemic?
Self-service will become more widespread, so solutions replacing human labor, which until now have been used only in selected companies, e.g., chatbots or RPA, will develop quickly. And all the analytical solutions to support and improve them, such as ML and AI solutions, also safety solutions to make the relationship with the customer comfortable for both sides, as well as UX to take care of ergonomics. Only these companies that are able to switch to a contactless and a non-contact model at maximum speed will gain more market share.
→ To change or to pretend a change – that is the question
I understand that there are already examples of such joint adaptation projects changes?
Yes, we have a fresh example of a Polish insurance company which, in cooperation with us, has set up a modern, transparent and complete portal for multi-faceted customer service. The whole process can be carried out online. We are particularly pleased with this project, because we had actually been preparing for it together for a long time. There were many reservations and doubts, which disappeared immediately in light of the restrictions imposed on business as part of the fight against the pandemic; it was an escape, a successful digital escape forward. And together with our client, we know that so far the insurance industry has rather avoided the radical and more comprehensive digitization, holding on to a number of procedures and processes requiring face-to-face meetings and visits to the company or client’s headquarters. The company that was the first to completely cast those reservations aside, is entering the pristine market like a conqueror. In Germany, in turn, Avenga helped the insurance company HDI to fully digitalize the process of finalizing contracts; it is now digital from the stage of submitting an online application to the signing of a contract.
The current situation is a kind of an inspiration for insurance companies. I’ve heard that the organizers of the Wimbledon tournament have been paying a high insurance premium against the risk of a global pandemic for years. They have just benefited greatly from their overly prudent approach.
Oh, yeah, I’ve heard about it. (Laughs) There is great potential for building a competitive advantage in the whole insurance industry. A company that will be the first to use the Internet of Things and distributed book technology effectively on a massive scale, along with analytical systems for inquiry, will be the winner here. New products will appear allowing companies and their clients to better anticipate emergencies, so that the costs of claims handling can be significantly reduced.
And has Avenga already had experience in rapidly scaling up telehealth services? I know from CXOs of such companies that there has been a real breakthrough in this area…
I agree. It’s another hot spot now. We have an excellent example from our global practice, a telehealth solution for M3 Healthcare in Florida. Working closely with our client, Avenga has built this easy-to-use health and lifestyle management system: from a personal medical concierge service that helps to plan appointments and ensure optimal use of health insurance, to symptom analysis, reminders to take medication, a medical equipment ordering function and a digital health card.
Which other industries do you think are hot spots today? Who do you talk to about adapting business to the new reality?
Looking through the prism of customer service, any industry where a company is the first to make their service processes more flexible and fully digitized will get a larger piece of cake. We have contacts and cooperate with companies from the retail sector, especially clothes and furniture sellers. This is where Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technologies will increase e-commerce traffic. So far, there have been some shy attempts, constantly interrupted because customers often preferred to go to a brick and mortar store and touch the product. I think that we are about to enter a phase when we will take advantage of these opportunities on a much wider scale, which in turn will allow companies in this industry to significantly reduce fixed costs by closing down some of their traditional stores.
So what remains is the third element of Avenga’s business resilience to COVID-19: adaptation of your investment strategy. During our conversation you somehow outlined the new, adapted directions for the group’s development and expansion…Can we expect another transaction this year?
Indeed, from what I said, you can see how we calibrated our investment strategy. Virtual Reality, business intelligence, cyber security, AI… We’re also talking with such companies and conducting due diligence.
Companies need technology support more and faster than ever before, which makes our mission all the more relevant. Our plans for this year and the years to come will be focused on consolidating industry knowledge (we want to understand our clients even better) and building competence centres in technologies important for our strategic sectors: finance, insurance, and pharmaceutical. We are doing well, because our business model was and is resilient to the pandemic and we can share this resilience with our clients. We’re not putting on hold the process of acquiring new companies either. Later this year we will probably be able to announce the acquisition of another efficient IT entity.