Jornal Económico: What were the main challenges that companies faced during this pandemic period? And were they prepared to face them?
Nelson Pereira: I would separate the kind of companies I will report on into two large groups. A company that was already in the digital world had a specific orientation and concern. Others that were not so oriented towards the digital world indeed looked, in a first wave, at their resilience, that is, the continuation of their business and what all they could protect. In this scenario, cybersecurity did become a more significant concern. The already prepared companies had to strengthen themselves, while those that did not have to accelerate their move into the digital world and act much more abruptly than would have been convenient for all of them.
We then saw in a second phase that they all had a plan for digital transformation. Without being able to mention names, we have a large international client in the fashion retail sector whose motto, until recently, was that it wasn't in digital that it wanted to succeed, and now it had to convert. But instead of having a plan for three years, it has a plan for six months, and it will have to execute it. It is mandatory, and there is no question about it. So, if even these large clients had to rethink, we can imagine all the rest. This is what we’ve been seeing in the market.
It is also important to mention how our human resources can orchestrate all of this. Because there was a tremendous amount of uncertainty, especially during the first month, few companies would have a thorough procedural plan, as we have for many other things, to face a pandemic scenario. So that was the biggest concern, how to continue the human work, maintain relationships, and so on.
And I think, regardless of the core of the company we talk about, technology has had a lot to say. Today we are here in this remote conversation, which has become a normality, but in the past, it wouldn't have been. If someone couldn't be in this conversation in person, we would have to change the schedule; it would never fit in our heads to do it by teams, zoom, or other tool. That was the most significant revolution that we felt, and fortunately, as in all events in human history, we adapted very quickly when something on this scale happened. I think all companies were positively surprised by how quickly we adapted.
As for Noesis, we already have a large footprint outside Portugal. We have markets from Brazil, the USA, Ireland, etc., in several time zones, with all their restrictions and complications. In those regions, we no longer felt that much impact because we were already working remotely.
JE: Did you notice the difference between the different markets?
NP: Yes, we did. For example, in the US, you see that they hardly noticed that we were in a pandemic because they have been used to working remotely with other countries for many years, so you can see that their processes are already adapted to this reality.
Not in Brazil, for example. In Brazil, we had straightforward complications because the physical presence of people, just like in Portugal, ended up being almost mandatory. We noticed operational difficulties there, which were quickly addressed. Still, without a doubt, we saw the various markets behaving differently. For example, and curiously in a Europe that we all say is quite advanced (and let's hope it is), there were some complications even in the Netherlands. The trend is that the US takes a longer-term view than Europe, which leads us to all this transformation that has certainly accelerated.
JE: In your intervention in the "Who's Who in ICT," you point out that the acceleration process we have been experiencing will continue, forcing transformations. What are the main trends that you see developing and that will force companies to transform themselves?
NP: From our experience, many are betting on customer experience, which was not a priority before. The digitalization of the business itself was seen almost as moving the same process from physical to digital, to your website and little else. Today, there is a parallel plan, utterly focused on what you want to make available on digital, and the customer in the digital world may or may not be the same person who will then use the physical world. We have noticed a rapid acceleration into that world, with all the requirements, be it the choice of a platform or custom development. In custom development, we continue to see low-code platforms, with the intention of its development being very close to the company's business, while "in the old days," the concept was that IT was independent of the business. The business asked IT for things, and IT usually gave bad news to the business.
Nowadays, the distinction between IT and business is more and more blurred. Still, for that to happen, low code platforms are needed to respond to what the business wants faster, making the technology adapt to the business' wishes. That's not to say that this doesn't bring problems. In the medium to long term, it could be beneficial to have longer cycles, but it is understood that the business often cannot wait. So, in essence, there are two paths. One in which the delivery is faster, as is the example of Robotic Process Automation, increasingly used in creating robots to bridge connection problems between various systems that a company may have and that don't connect easily. Usually, it would take, let's say, a year to solve this problem, and with RPA, it is solved in a month. We all know that the fundamental issue is not solved, but the business issue is solved, and while IT prepares all the other structures for the choice of an integrated solution, all the client's problems are solved.
What I see as one of the biggest challenges is the fact that "fail fast" is becoming more and more accurate. It's better to do, and if it fails, to find another solution, but to implement something. And then, in parallel, have long-term solutions so that each client has its resilience in the future.
JE: And the opportunities that will arise soon will still be in the digital transformation process of the companies?
NP: Absolutely. And this digital transformation will have to move from dialetics to practice. About ten years ago, everyone talked about cloud, but many people only did so because it was fashionable and had to be talked about. Today it is already a utility, and it is almost transparent. The best thing about technology is when it becomes almost transparent, and it works. By now, companies have gotten used to it and are already using the full potential of the cloud.
Now, digital transformation is no longer and cannot be a buzzword. It is no longer about going digital but about understanding how the business can win with the digital world. Many companies equate their physical presence, but others equate both worlds, that is, having a rational plan for continuity and a separate plan for the digital world. This transformation is inevitable. We see the emergence of digital transformation departments independent from the IT department in companies, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago. They work much faster and are much more connected to the business, where they talk about product management and not project management. It is a gigantic difference. That's the most significant transformation we have witnessed and the one we try to help as much as possible.
JE: What are your perspectives on the future?
NP: At Noesis, we foresee double-digit growth, as in 2021, until the end of 2023. Our positioning will continue to grow a lot in Portugal and in the several regions where we are. I would say that the big challenge we will have to overcome is the lack of human talent. technology will appear, and we are here to make it happen, but human talent may start to be scarce (it is already scarce in some regions). Portugal may still have its "ramp up," but this will depend on its positioning, strategically and globally.
Learn more about Noesis' participation in the roundtable here