Bet of success in the decentralization of Portugal
With Innovation Centers of Tomar, Viseu, Fundão and Portalegre, Softinsa, a subsidiary of IBM whose origins in Portugal date back to 1994, has strengthened its investment in our country, in a nearshore policy, currently with more than a thousand employees. In a clear bet of success in the decentralization of Portugal. In addition to the national market, technology provides and exports services in the IT area to international companies on five continents. Quality and innovation are key success factors of the company that sees customer satisfaction as a priority. Sérgio Pereira, General Manager of Softinsa, tells us about the company’s path and its projects in Portugal.
Present in Portugal for 20 years, what led to the creation of Softinsa and what are the main areas where it operates?
Softinsa – Engenharia de Software Avançado Lda., owned by COMPANHIA IBM Portuguesa and Viewnext, was born in 2007, but its origin dates back to 1994, the year cgi portugal was created – Compagnie Generale D’Informatique Portugal, a company dedicated exclusively to the commercialization, implementation, development and maintenance of a Platform for Human and Fixed Resources Management. In 1998 the company began to offer services in the area of Information Technologies (from systems to application development and SAP implementation), an activity that has been continued and developed through the strengthening of local synergies with IBM Portugal.
Softinsa is headquartered in Lisbon, with IBM Portugal, and we are present in Tomar, Viseu and Fundão through our Innovation Centers. In 2019 we exceeded 1,000 employees with the following distribution: Lisboa 386, Tomar 400, Viseu 237 and Fundão 26.
In three words how would they define Softinsa’s mission and operation?
Our values “Customers, Quality and Innovation” are the basis of Softinsa’s organizational culture. As far as customers are concerned, we are committed to responding and delivering value to their real needs and providing the best experience with our service. It is also our ambition to improve the quality of our work and establish new standards in the market. Quality is the result of team spirit and individual performance. We also assume the ability to anticipate the needs of customers and offer proposals for innovation, managing any service or initiative with agility and perseverance.
A lot has changed since the company was born, what are today the main areas to which they are dedicated in the domestic market and in global terms?
Our offer has been following market trends and is also in accordance with the main business requirements of our customers. We currently divide our services and solutions into two major areas: GBS – Global Business Services, which includes Consulting and Application Management services, such as AMS, SAP, Cognitive, Human Capital Solutions, Asset Management, Analytics, Mobile and Low Code Development; and GTS – Global Technology Services, which includes smarter cities & IoT, Cloud & Managed Services, Data Center Facilities and Mobility & Digital Workplace Services services.
From our Innovation Centers of Tomar, Viseu and Fundão we provide and export some of these services, and currently 25 percent of our customers are international companies from five continents. In the national market of Information and Communication Technologies, Softinsa is mainly known as the market leader in the areas of AMS (Management of application ecosystems) and Digital Workplace Services (Management and user support) of the largest national companies (Top100).
What led Softinsa to invest in our country, what factors do they consider to be more attractive and that weighed most on this decision?
One of the main reasons that led us to invest in nearshore centers was to overcome the scarcity of resources in the area of information technologies and the difficulty of finding talent with the skills and skills necessary to give a quick response to the specificities and demanding deadlines of our clients’ projects. If, on the one hand, our nearshore centers allow us to welcome the growing number of employees, on the other hand, they promote a close relationship with polytechnic educational institutions with which we have an excellent collaborative relationship.
Our purpose has been to train the centers with specialized skills in areas of transformation and business innovation, bringing to Portugal the most advanced technologies in order to promote the modernization of the business fabric and aiming at the provision and export of qualified services.
You were one of the pioneer companies to decentralize your operation outside the two main technological centers of the country. What are the main challenges, difficulties and opportunities in this strategic decision?
Softinsa was a pioneer in Portugal in the nearshore concept, with the opening in 2013 of the Tomar Innovation Center, a partnership between Softinsa, IBM Portugal, the Polytechnic Institute and the Tomar City Council. This project came about when the various entities came together to find a solution that would allow the creation of jobs and retention of talent in the region, the establishment of inhabitants in the interior, the attraction of new economic investments, the export of services and the development of a new technological and infrastructure dynamics for the region. Tomar’s success, with the evidence of the benefits resulting from this type of partnership, a synergy between local government, the business world and academia, opened the doors of our second center in Viseu, three years later, and, in 2019, the Fundão Laboratory.
Last November we entered a protocol for the creation of a new Laboratory, this time in the city of Portalegre. The nearshore model has allowed us to collaborate closely and more proactively with educational institutions, enabling us to leverage a series of academic initiatives and qualified training to capture students’ interest in these areas of technology and to hire the best talent in the region. This proximity to the municipalities also enhances the implementation of projects of relevance to the region itself, as is the case of the recent Smarter Cities projects developed in Tomar and Viseu in the areas of Energy Efficiency and Urban Mobility, respectively, and that contribute to a more efficient management of cities and to the increase of the quality of life of citizens.
How has your latest bet, the Fundão Lab?
The Fundão Laboratory has completed its first anniversary and, despite the unfavourable global context with the pandemic situation, we consider the balance to be quite positive. We currently have customers from the renewable energy sector and in the DevOps area, which has enabled growth for about 30 consultants. In addition, we believe that the conjuncture of the region is very favorable for the expansion of our operation, since we have managed to capture talent through higher education institutions, such as the University of Beira Interior (UBI), the Polytechnic Institute of Castelo Branco and the Polytechnic Institute of Guarda (IPG).
The local support in training and hiring through the IEFP and, in this case, the Municipality of Fundão, which in addition to support in logistical and installation issues, provides a set of incentives for the setting of human resources in the county, as is the case of scholarships for lease and support in the integration of staff from outside the Region.
What solutions and services offered by these competence centers would you like to highlight?
Softinsa, using its broad portfolio of services and solutions in Consulting, Application Management and Infrastructure, can meet any need or requirement in Information Technologies, not only in specific areas, as well as in the global architecture of solutions. This scope alone is a differentiating factor, as customers find in a single technological partner all the skills and qualifications necessary to accompany them on their journey of innovation and digital transformation.
There are core areas for our business such as Application Management Services (AMS), SAP and Cloud & Managed Services, which are transversal to all locations. The services provided by the professionals of our Innovation Centers cover the entire offer of Softinsa, however, there are services that are only provided from these centers, such as Smart Cities solutions for the energy sector, and low-coded platforms such as Outsystems.
For which markets and customers are the services of these technological innovation centers provided today?
In addition to the national market, innovation centers are collaborating on five continents, in several languages and, in some services, on a 24×7 operating basis. In terms of sectors of activity, we have large organizations related to the banking and insurance sector, telecommunications, energy, industry, government and distribution/retail that trust us to support technology in their business in Portugal and in the countries where they are represented.
Since the technological area is one of the most influential in the country’s economic activity, much is said about attracting and retaining talent. How has access to qualified talent in these most inland areas of Portugal been for you?
The trust of our clients and the success of the projects is only possible if we bet on key skills and the training of our professionals. It is for this purpose that we have launched, in partnership with polytechnics and universities, initiatives such as postgraduate courses, seminars, hackathons, training academies in technologies such as SAP, DevOps, Outsystems, among many others, and Erasmus programs, which introduce and deepen students’ knowledge of solutions oriented to market and various industry requirements and open the door to very attractive opportunities for them , not only in Portugal but also in client projects across borders.
We intend to continue to invest in actions that value the training and professional development of students, such as our recent participation in the UPskill Program – Digital Skills & Jobs, a nationwide initiative aimed at strengthening skills and increasing the offer of professionals in the area of information and communication technologies, in order to capture the talents with the necessary skills to bring more value to projects with our customers. The critical success factor for addressing the challenges of the new digital economy posed to organizations is undoubtedly the availability of qualified Information Technology professionals, so collaboration with Higher Education Institutions is essential. We have the support of local authorities and educational institutions to find ways to further boost the growth of the region, not only through a greater number of students, but also attracting experienced professionals, promoting and finding incentives to fix them.
What is the size of the investment made in Portugal, main results and what strategic objectives of Softinsa and ibm group in Portugal in the short and medium term?
The investment is very significant and translates into the creation of more than a thousand jobs in recent years, being the IBM Group, in which Softinsa is one of the largest investors in Portugal in the ICT area – Information and Communication Technologies. This ibm/softinsa bet in Portugal will certainly continue in the coming years.
The IBM Group’s fundamental objective is to be the leading technology partner that helps national companies become more competitive locally and globally, through the adoption of innovative technological solutions, using the unique experience of the more than 2,000 consultants it has in the country, but also the technology and services that are generated by IBM worldwide (more than $5 billion invested annually in innovation in areas such as Cloud, Quantum Computing or Artificial Intelligence).
Who are your main customers in Portugal and in the world and the main export countries?
We have more than 400 customers and we are working in the most diverse sectors with companies of all sizes. Some reference clients for which we have been providing services are Galp, Prio Energy, Vodafone, Lisnave, Fidelidade, Generali, Novo Banco, Santander, Bankinter, Mitsubishi Fuso, Heineken / Central de Cervejas e Bebidas, Jerónimo Martins, Efacec, BPI, Mota Engil, among many other national and international customers. The main export countries are Spain, France, Sweden, The Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa and Mozambique.
What advice would you give to a foreign company interested in investing in Portugal?
The growing importance of nearshoring is already a trend in Portugal motivated by our geostrategic position and the competitive advantages we offer at the level of qualified human resources. The fact that our country is already attracting research and skills centres from multinationals proves that we have put together the necessary conditions for the expansion of its operation, in particular in terms of the quality of infrastructure and communications, cost of living compared to other European countries, and the climate of security and social stability.
How has your business evolved in 2020, given the current pandemic situation?
Fortunately, we have had a very positive evolution, resulting from two fundamental factors: on the one hand, the enormous talent and dedication of our consultants and, on the other hand, and fundamentally resulting from this, the repeated and growing confidence of our customers in our services and technological solutions. This has allowed us to continue to grow the business in an accelerated way even in the context of a pandemic, and with that we have managed to create many jobs, pay more taxes and thus help the country, the state and the national economy.
How have your operations and teams in more than 100 countries responded to the challenges posed by the pandemic?
It has been challenging, but I believe we have been able to meet all the needs of both our teams and our customers. For many years, IBM has believed and promoted telework with its employees, and is also one of the pioneer companies in this area. At Softinsa, we have some people in this regime and even those who are not usually, have been on time working from home, not being an unknown practice.
In Portugal, it was only a matter of hours before we all had everyone at home, safely. From one moment to the next we all went home and many companies were not prepared for this. However, with our support, in a short time all our clients were also working from home without any problems. In addition to this more immediate and practical need, we have now noticed a change that relates to the fact that many of our customers are betting on the digital transformation of their companies. Therefore, the great challenges, which go through the safety of our employees and the support to our customers, have undoubtedly been overcome.
Within your core activity, how can Softinsa and the IBM Portugal group and your services help other companies in this unstable and uncertain situation?
Helping other companies at this point is a lot to be present. Both IBM and Softinsa are close to their customers and attentive to all needs. It was with this in mind, and recognizing all the challenges and difficulties that companies were going through, that IBM accompanied the transition from structures to telework and made available free of charge various software solutions, as well as bringing together communities and experts – including customers, governments, scientists, programmers, partners, health and academic institutions and IBMers – to work together and manage the COVID-19 outbreak with what we do best : application of data, knowledge, computing power and insights to solve difficult problems.
The truth is that we believe that our core activity, with our knowledge and resources, can be used not only to support businesses and businesses, but also the community at large. It would go against our values not to do so. We want to help in the process of discovering possible treatments, improving data availability and analysis, and ensuring the resilience of critical infrastructures we support.
How do you see the opportunities, challenges and all the changes this COVID-19 pandemic will bring to businesses?
No one has been expecting a pandemic and it is indisputable that it has and will have very significant effects on the way we live. We are ourselves responding to the many challenges it has brought and helping our customers do so.
However, it is equally indisputable that these challenges and difficulties have brought positive changes and opportunities in the technological environment. This is because all the efforts that were being made in this area, all the innovations, had to move forward and respond to needs. To get a point, IBM did a recent study that found that nearly six out of ten participating organizations accelerated their digital transformations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditional barriers, such as the immaturity of technology and the blocking of employees to change, no longer take place, and 66% of the executives interviewed indicated that they were able to finalize initiatives for which they previously encountered resistance.
And we feel this trend in real life, with many of our customers wanting to accelerate the digital transformation of their companies. This is undoubtedly something very positive, as it brings companies closer to the latest technological innovations, thereby enhancing innovation and improving the customer experience.
Belonging to the IBM group, what are the innovative solutions developed within the group and what else do you believe can create disruption and be positively transformative?
I would say that at this point the focus goes to two major areas: the “Hybrid Cloud” and the AI-Artificial Intelligence. IBM has advocated the urgency of applying these two technologies and these are exactly the areas that have been most developed in times of pandemic, for all the advantages of agility, competitiveness and differentiation that provide. We believe that in the future most companies will work in a multi-cloud environment (multiple Cloud providers) and we have the technology (Red Hat) that best allows us to manage this ecosystem. On the other hand, almost everything in the future (in virtually all areas of economic activity) will have the aid of AI, where IBM is a pioneer and world leader, notably with the use of Watson solutions.
Interview conducted by PortugalGlobal
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