- Alexander, how much and how have the internal structure and business processes of IT companies changed in 2020, according to your observations?
“Today, large and multidisciplinary IT companies need flexible tools inherent in a matrix management structure to quickly form pre-sales and project teams. Therefore, we actively use approaches such as Agile, Scrum and Kanban. Changes in our internal structure were influenced by such focus business priorities as attracting new customers, increasing sales, developing services, improving the quality of service, compliance with regulations and legal requirements. For example, Softline strengthened teams for custom software development, managed, platform and infrastructure services, import substitution, financial instruments, and compliance.
Business processes have not remained unchanged either. First of all, this refers to ensuring the effective work of distributed teams when using the remote work format, and operational training of employees when switching to new tools. The dynamics of the international expansion of our company is such that sometimes the issues of operational efficiency fade into the background. However, this year we have managed to unify operational processes and automation tools across the entire international business. This will definitely provide a reduction in labor costs and an increase in the manageability of the business as a whole.
- Are there changes in the client pool, are there new opportunities to generate income?
- Based on our project experience, we can definitely talk about several segments where the demand for IT solutions has grown noticeably in 2020 - this is the public sector (including healthcare and education), the financial sector, telecom, industry and retail. Moreover, we see the formed deferred demand for digital solutions in the segments most affected by the coronavirus crisis, such as tourism, culture, hotel business, and air travel.
In the commercial sector, mainly cloud services, VDI and online communications were in demand. Clouds today are not only about speedy service delivery, but also about high performance, scalability, availability, reliability and cost effectiveness. Softline provides a full range of cloud-related services. Among them are the Azure Health Checkup service for checking the state of the cloud environment, migration services to the cloud, provision of cloud services on the SaaS and IaaS model, and multi-cloud infrastructure management. Companies from such industries as IT, retail, media, public sector, housing and communal services and construction used Softline's services and services.
As for the public sector, the priority was the activities within the framework of the creation of systems for remote communications and distance education, the implementation of national projects, import substitution and ensuring cybersecurity. For example, in the healthcare sector, solutions for organizing video conferencing and telemedicine were in demand. In the field of education and science, Softline took part in the creation of high-tech classrooms and laboratories, several quantoriums in various regions of Russia, and WorldSkills platforms. Also, the company has completed a number of regional projects within the framework of the national project "Safe and High-Quality Roads".
In terms of income opportunities, the influence of the uncertainty factor regarding the future dynamics of the market situation is still significant. Softline relies on a subscription business and platform services using highly automated platforms with self-service elements. If now these are mostly B2B and B2C services, then in the near future we plan to provide B2X services - for example, for the public sector (B2G), telecom operators (B2O), and so on. In the summer of 2020, Softline, in partnership with the mobile operator Sri Lanka Telecom, launched its own platform in the Republic of Sri Lanka, thanks to which users from South Asian countries will be able to receive additional IT services (VAS) using a subscription model. And in August, Softline launched the CloudMaster cloud management platform, which in December was included in the Russian Ministry of Digital Industry's Registry of Domestic Software.
We also see potential growth points in the regions and in the segment of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs). Both those and others, due to the lack of infrastructure and human resources, need cloud services, information security services. The creation and development of "smart" cities, intelligent transport systems is also impossible to imagine without digital infrastructure and services.
- What's new about the use of AI and robotization?
- Our company pays great attention to the automation and robotization of internal business processes, processes in the framework of interaction with customers and contractors. The market trend of transition to contactless / unmanned technologies - RPA, biometrics, self-service devices and service robotics - is also making itself felt. Today, at Softline, the number of business processes in the process of robotization (RPA) is already in the tens.
In February 2020, Softline and Skoltech opened a joint laboratory on AI, machine learning and IoT. The link between the company and the university is Softline Digital. We see a growing number of AI and machine learning projects in our customers in industries such as science, retail and oil and gas. The scale of these projects can be judged by the fact that most of these projects used significant computing resources based on specialized NVIDIA supercomputers and global cloud platforms.
- What can you say about internal and external communications, relationships, team spirit?
- IT companies turned out to be more ready for a massive transition to online communications. In addition, given the geographically distributed business of the global company Softline, online communication tools have been actively used before. But now they have become an alternative not only to meetings, but also to business trips. Currently, Softline uses several different tools for communication and collaboration, depending on the specifics of tasks and employee preferences.
One of the major offline events dedicated to digital transformation, Softline managed to hold in early March 2020 - it was the annual IT summit “Softline Deep Dive. Theory and Practice ”, which was attended by over 400 people. The rest of the large-scale external communications were carried out mainly in the online format. But this even has some advantages - for example, reduced costs for organizing and holding events, the ability to reach a larger audience.
It has become a good tradition in our company to conduct regular "hot lines" online with the participation of top managers for all employees of the company. This format allows you to learn firsthand current business priorities and important corporate news, share experience, get feedback, and so on.
For many years of work in the global high-tech market, the company has formed a staff of highly qualified specialists. Therefore, Softline's management pays great attention to increasing personnel engagement, reducing staff turnover, training a personnel reserve, using the rotation mechanism to acquire new skills and exchange experience. Today the company has many employees who have been working here for more than 5 or even 10 years.
- How much have Softline's goals for the near future and prospects changed?
- Despite the recession in the global economy, our company demonstrates steady growth and is quickly adapting to new challenges. This is evidence of Softline's stable business model and reasonable diversification of the company's business.
Meanwhile, the company is constantly improving, considering new business models, potential growth points, new formats of cooperation with strategic partners and high-tech startups. For example, this year Softline was the first in Russia to receive the GreenLake competency within the HPE Pointnext specialization. This status allows the company's specialists to act as experts in the selection and implementation of the Pay-as-You-Go service model. The GreenLake suite includes solution groups such as Big Data, Edge Computing, Backup, and SAP HANA and EDB Postgres.
- What else, important for your company, has become different, and what has remained the same?
- As part of the updated business strategy, we have revised our approach to doing business. Now the so-called Value-products and services occupy a significant share in the Softline portfolio.
Research data from leading analyst firms show that the pandemic is driving digital spending across businesses. Customers today need flexible and cost-effective tools to conduct business, including in an online environment. Softline strives to meet the needs of large customers in the creation of applied and industry-specific software solutions and services within the framework of digital transformation. Therefore, great hopes are pinned on the joint efforts of the Softline Digital and Softline Development teams.
It is important that in 2020 we managed to achieve a high level of customer satisfaction, including thanks to the high quality standards of consulting and technical support services, as well as the implementation and development of digital platforms.
As for the second part of the question, in the IT business, the main value is competent employees. Therefore, it is especially important to maintain a respectful attitude towards such employees, provide them with the opportunity to realize their potential and ensure career growth. By the way, 2021 has been declared the Year of Employees in the company.
In addition, Softline continues to build a partner ecosystem based on mutually beneficial cooperation. The status of an integrator provides an integrated approach and allows us to provide our clients with turnkey services. In 2020, the company entered into a number of partnership agreements with vendors in the field of infrastructure, network and communication solutions, information security, software import substitution, VR solutions, robotics, building engineering systems, etc. Cooperation with partners is developing in international markets.
- What do you think will be the further development of events in the changing world?
- The boom of projects related to the organization of remote workplaces and pilot projects of digitalization has already passed, and we do not expect sharp leaps in the IT market. It is likely that, starting in the second half of next year, we will see progressive market growth driven by demand for digital infrastructure and services - AI, hyperconverged infrastructure, edge computing, microservices, and so on.
Means for digital design (CAD and BIM) and digital twins, which today are actively used not only in traditional industries (mechanical engineering and construction), but also in energy, oil and gas industry, shipbuilding, and transport, will not be left without attention. Combining digital design with AR / VR technologies creates new opportunities for digital transformation of enterprises. There is an increased interest in 3D design tools in the field of higher education. So, in December 2020, Softline provided the largest universities in Russia with more than 30 thousand SOLIDWORKS Education Edition licenses.
Another important vector is information security, which, on the one hand, is one of the main constraints in the digital transformation from the point of view of customers, but, on the other hand, acts as a driver for the implementation of appropriate solutions and services in compliance with the requirements of regulators ( 152-FZ, 187-FZ and others). Softline, as a provider of cybersecurity solutions, offers both products from leading vendor partners and proprietary products that meet modern market trends. Namely, SOC, remote security, protection against online fraud, and so on. Many of their offered products are available on a service model, do not require integration into the customer's infrastructure, and are easily scalable.
- Thank you very much for the conversation!