Facing reality. What do global crises teach us? This was the theme running through this year’s SoDA – Software Development Association of Poland conference, which was held at the end of September in Wrocław. Did the gathering of software houses produce an answer to that question?
The talk that made the greatest impression on me was Lessons from Ukraine: Resilience during the war. Given by Konstantin Vasyuk, who holds the position of Executive Director at the IT Ukraine Association, the Ukrainian equivalent of SoDA, it focused on the situation of the IT sector in his country this year.
The best way to sum it up would be with the statement “Transform crisis into opportunities”. In the first half of 2022, the value of Ukraine’s IT services exports increased by 23%, year on year, with 56% of Ukrainian companies anticipating growth this year. Vasyuk showed how both the plan for continuity of operations, which was drawn up in the expectation of conflict, and communication with clients built the resistance of IT companies to the effects of the Russian attack during its first months.
What then ensued was a period of change and transformation. Businesses which had lost their domestic orders began operating successfully on the international market. Some of the companies that relocated their offices to areas unaffected by the war moved their headquarters or branches abroad. Those who remained in the east were provided with communications and remote working conditions. Cybersecurity, systems for the armed forces and uncrewed technologies were promising new fields of specialisation. At present, Ukrainian IT looks as if it will emerge from the war in a stronger position, as Vasyuk amply demonstrated with a gripping presentation full of data and brimming with passion.
Ross Smith, a consultant from the USA, gave an excellent talk entitled Navigating the US Market. Practical Sales Insights. One of the topics he discussed was the current reality of the American IT market. He listed the dominant trends as an increase in redundancies in the IT sector, the way in which the largest corporations and the public sector are turning towards creating in-house applications and diminishing investment in start-ups. To me, his most important observation was the withdrawal from Central and Eastern Europe in favour of South America as a source of IT services. In addition, the war being waged beyond our eastern border is influencing the fact that we are perceived as an unstable, increased risk region. Other aspects which are of the essence to clients in the USA are the beneficial cost-price structure in the Latin American countries, the fact that Spanish is spoken there and the similar time zones.
In Business trends: the global perspectives of changes in the IT market, Kerry Hallard, the CEO of the Global Sourcing Association, turning her attention to a similar tendency, but with reference to Poland and the IT services market in the UK. Without neato9ng about the bush, she stated that, despite the massive lack of IT staff there, the market is saturated as far as Polish companies are concerned. The reasons she pointed to were the price increases, which are a result of rising salaries, and the limited access to experts connected with the possibilities for finding employment on the global market. It was a pity that, despite the questions, her analysis was not explored in more depth, since her conclusions are at odds with the fact that the UK is the main source of income for a great many Polish software houses. Informal conversations also suggested that further expansion on that particular market is planned by those already there and new players alike.
Both Kerry Hallard and Ross Smith, who took part in the panel discussion, were in agreement on one thing. The era of Polish companies selling ‘everything’ or ‘anything whatsoever’ is coming to an end. The fact that a company has the resources to produce any system expected by a client is losing its competitive edge. The future lies in specialisation and that can be related to the sector we work in, the types of systems and applications we produce or the technology we are true experts in. Specialisation is an added value which will enable us to convince clients and continue to grow or, quite simply, not drop out of Western markets.
An interesting thesis was put forward by Łukasz Olechnowicz, the CEO of Infopulse Poland, in a talk entitled IT and the year 2025. Will the unprecedented pace of change trigger a crisis on the jobs market over the next few years? It might be said to lead to the assertation that ‘it has all happened before’. Looking back over more recent catastrophic events, from the financial crisis of 2007 to 2008, via the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the COVID-19 pandemic, he maintained that our sector always emerged unscathed. First and foremost, we have never not had a problem with shortages of IT experts. The only difference has been the scale in terms of absolute value, as he demonstrated in his presentation of the data.
Here, we come to the specific ‘crisis’ connected with employment in our sector. We have difficulties not only with recruiting staff but, above all, with keeping them. These topics were the focus of a number of talks. In a presentation entitled A person, not a robot, remains where they want. On retaining staff in an organisation, Ewa Ebelewicz-Plaza and Tomasz Ciapała of Future Processing shared a study exemplified by their company. They showed us how, for years, they have succeeded in maintaining a staff turnover much lower than the market average; for 2022 thus far, the level is around 3%. Throughout this period, Future Processing has been consistent in running a policy where the crucial aspects are an open and transparent system of pay and benefits, regular communication between both sides, a clear path for development and a range of team integration activities. What is crucial is the fact that the company measures the key aspects of its policy; in other words, it consciously manages it.
The internationalisation of teams. How to manage geographically scattered groups remotely, a talk given by Ewelina Usarek-Nowak of Luxoft, focused on how to manage international teams. The conclusion I found most interesting concerned the role of direct supervisors or managers. Their approach to people is vital if a team is to work effectively. Usarek-Nowak emphasised that, nowadays, the manager plays a leading role in solving human issues, which is no longer the domain of Human Resources to the extent that it used to be. I think that this relates to every team and not only to international, culturally and nationally diverse ones.
Łukasz Olechnowicz, who I have already mentioned, attempted to forecast what the employment market would be like in 2025. As he sees it, IT specialists can be divided into two groups. The first contains those who enter the global jobs market. For these people, there is no difference between countries in terms of pay. Where and for whom they work is also matters little to them. What awaits those who stay on their local markets is making a living on pay at a defined level or even facing a fall in rates.
Specialisation, staff-related policies and appropriate leaders are three factors which come together to form an opportunity for benefitting from the current manifestations of crises as a chance to compete globally and to grow and develop effectively. Ukraine’s IT sector is persuasive when it comes to showing us that this can be done. Such are my main conclusions from the talks given at the SoDA conference.
Let me now link the first part of the conference theme, “Facing reality”, with the event itself. The reality of the conference belied the notion that we have any crisis whatsoever. The organisation was superb and SoDA’s team of women warrant nothing but the highest praise for an event which was infused with a positive, soda-water sparkle. With smiling faces everywhere and plenty of fascinating informal conversations, it was full of experience sharing and took place in an atmosphere of openness. It was most certainly another intriguing gathering of our sector.
The venue, which was the Wrocław Congress Centre, lent its own charm to the conference. During the breaks, we gathered and chatted in the park alongside, where fountains play hits during the day and offer a display of ever-changing colours at night. Every day, we walked past the monumental Centennial Hall, which is entered on the UNESCO World Heritage List… and is connected with the central character of one of Marek Krajewski’s crime novels.
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