Tom Soroka, the founder of Leaware, talks to the BPCC’s Michael Dembinski about how the process of digitalising business process must have users’ needs at its heart.
There’s no business currently unaffected by digitalisation. Having digitalised its main processes, a firm faces an endless cycle of optimisation, driven by competition, customer expectation, and the usual bottom-line imperatives of cost-saving and increasing sales. Once on the digitalisation path, a firm can only move forward – and the main limiting factor is access to people and skills. How much of this can firms do themselves – and to what extent can they rely on outsourcing to help them cope with the challenges of digitalisation?
The answer to this question depends mainly on the internal competencies that a company has built. It’s important to understand that digitalisation of any process consists of two stages. The first one is ‘build the right software’. The second is ‘build the software right’. Building the right software requires a deep understanding of the business needs of the users who will be part of the digitalised process. This knowledge should be in-house – most often it’s the company's unique know-how that provides a competitive advantage. An outsourcing company can help in discovering what the right software should be in two ways. The first is the know-how it has, due to its experience in digitalising similar processes at other clients. This is a great value, but it does not happen often, because every company digitalises processes in a slightly different way. The second way is to use the outsourcing company's know-how in terms of competences and methodologies that allow discovering how the process should look like after digitalisation. A very interesting methodology is Jobs To Be Done, which helps to understand the ‘jobs’ that users want to do, how they do them now and what challenges they face. I encourage everyone to learn more about this methodology – it helps a lot to avoid the problems of building a solution that will work well, but won’t bring any value to the users, and moreover will make their daily work more complicated.
The second stage is to build the right solution. This is the domain of every company that deals with software development and here the help can be very wide - building a turnkey solution and its further maintenance. When choosing a good provider, it’s worth checking how the company builds solutions. How it ensures their long-term maintenance and development, what good practices it uses so that the created solution isn’t prone to errors and the code is of the highest quality. This is a common problem, because badly designed code after some time becomes difficult to maintain, and it generates many unnecessary costs in the future.
Building a long-term relationship on the basis of trust is the bedrock of any sustainable business. Over the years, clients’ problems are worked through in partnership, jointly dealing with issues, providing value, showing the way – an optimal point where both parties feel entirely comfortable in the business relationship, and would not think of looking elsewhere. But businesses such as yours are interested in growth – growth means bringing in new people; how do you assure clients that you will have the right number of people with the right skills to dedicate to their projects?
Long-term relationships are the basis of cooperation with all our customers. The key for us is an appropriate quality management system, which we have created and are constantly developing. This is our main competitive advantage over other companies similar to us. It is important to understand that quality is not based solely on talent, but it is the result of combining a properly built team with software development processes that help ensure and maintain quality.
I know from experience that a bunch of senior developers who are competent in their field will not make the project successful unless they work according to certain processes, methodologies and good practices. We are only human and software development is a complex field that must be supported by appropriate tools.
This applies to all elements - such as proper communication within the team, the architecture of the created software or the way it is tested.
It's worth finding out if the outsourcing company really understands what it means that the team works in the scrum methodology – how the use of ‘scrum’ is measured. How does the team test the software being created, do they use unit tests, integration tests, end-to-end tests. What does it mean in reality? How is it measured in the organisation? Ask a few selected software houses how they measure the quality of developed software. You may be surprised, because most of the time there are no measures, no quality system except for a few buzz words like we are agile and work in scrum.
Your clients include AXA, BNP Paribas, Compensa and PwC, working across Poland, Germany and Denmark, Finland and Belgium. You have your sights set on the UK, a market that’s currently short of many hundreds of thousands of IT developers. What are your goals for the UK?
Our goal is to create the highest quality software that really helps people in their daily work. According to our mantra – ‘Build the right software. Build the software right’.
The first service we offer is to build a solution from the idea through to long-term development and operation. The second service is process digitalisation. The third is team extension. We want every customer with whom we work to be satisfied and recommend us further. For us, this is the best way to build relationships and grow in the UK market. We want to grow in the UK market so that at no time does the quality we deliver suffer. This means systematic and organic growth.
What are your experiences of the UK market – does it require a different approach to that needed when dealing with clients across north-western continental Europe?
We are still learning how to operate in the UK market. What you can easily see is a greater openness to innovation. Markets like Germany or Belgium are more conservative. People in the UK are also more open to working with companies that have development centres in other countries – in our case it is mainly Poland. In Germany, for example, you have to spend a lot more energy at the beginning – it is best to speak German to break the ice and build a relationship. In the UK it seems to be easier. On the other hand, the consequence of this is a greater competition of companies from all over the world. What all markets have in common is the fact that each customer expects high quality of the provided solutions. In this aspect there are no major differences – the company that delivers top-quality solutions will be successful in each of these markets.
You work across various sectors of business including automotive, banking, entertainment, healthcare, insurance, logistics and retail. Each sector has its own set of characteristics, yet everyone is united by need to show profit and growth, while respecting society and the environment. How does your service vary from sector to sector?
These sectors differ mainly in the area of the problems they have to solve by digitalising processes and building products. The Jobs To Be Done methodology is useful in discovering the differences and needs of each sector. The development itself is similar. That is, the key is to correctly understand the problem to be solved and to propose the best possible solution. For this reason, it’s important to have knowledge and experience in the area of discovering unmet needs of users, proposing the best solutions. Development is quite similar in every sector – always the goal is to deliver high quality code that is testable, modular and developable in the future.
Mobile apps, cloud-based solutions, artificial intelligence/machine learning, UX/UI (user experience/user interface) – you are present in these areas, ones in which firms from across all business sectors need external assistance to move ahead. Which are showing the best promise for business improvement – which offer the best investment for companies right now?
It all depends on what stage of digitalisation a company is at. Currently, everything about artificial intelligence is very popular. Often, unfortunately, this is a slogan that is impossible to implement in the company, because the processes that will provide the data needed to train the neural network have not been digitalised. Therefore, there is no single answer to the question of what is the best solution for the industry. I do know one thing – I even recently came up with a new buzzword – ‘company as a code’. I am convinced that more and more areas of functioning of each enterprise – whether small or large will be covered by the code, which will be created to automate, integrate and digitise processes. Those who will not do it will lose, because their costs will be higher than their competitors, and at the same time the possibilities of scaling the business will be much smaller. Therefore, in my opinion, it is worth focusing not on whether to build a mobile or web application, or create a neural network, but on what users' needs are worth digitalising and what will be the best solution. The result of such an approach will be a mobile application, a web application or maybe some kind of integration – something thanks to which the company will build its competitive advantage and will be able to serve customers better – and that is what it is all about.
Final question – how did ‘Leaware’ get its name? I associate it with the River Lea in north-east London…
The name of the company comes from the combination of two words LEAN and SOFTWARE. We always follow a lean approach, which we understand to be creating the smallest possible solution that generates the most value for users. This approach is very deeply injected into the DNA of our company. As we work with a start-up, we propose to make the MVP (minimum viable product) as small as possible – we have even invented the BOX method that supports us in this process, so that we can verify as soon as possible whether the start-up ideas will make business sense. As we digitalise the process, we try to focus on the most important aspects at the beginning and leave the corner cases for later. We believe in the principle that it is not the number of software functionalities that makes a difference, but their quality. It is better to have a product with four functionalities that really do the job than a product with 30 functionalities that are not tailored to the users' needs. That is why we have named our company LEAWARE – to always keep this in mind.