First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Adrian Blidarus: I’m very grateful that my family is doing ok and that we’re all healthy. But no man is an island, and, like many people, I have friends and colleagues who have experienced COVID-19 firsthand, so I sympathize with them. These are difficult times but still, birds of a feather flock together (virtually too), and even if we all do our best to stay safe, we’re aware that things can go wrong at any time. With all the ups and downs of the pandemic this year, we’ve come to appreciate being able to sit together and quickly adjust to new challenges every day.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Softelligence.
Adrian Blidarus: I started writing code when I was 16, and I initially pursued a technologist career as a software engineer. Gradually I got involved in management positions in various local companies, most of them being startups or companies that were led by entrepreneurs, doing business internationally all over the world. At some point, I was discussing with my brother to start a company of our own that would be different from the companies that we had been working for. These were mostly outsourcing companies, and we had a distinct feeling that we were good enough to drive further innovation by creating products and offering proper business and technology consulting.
How does Softelligence innovate?
Adrian Blidarus: Softelligence is a company that focuses on people, and I believe innovation is about people more than it’s about technology. Technology evolves and creates new opportunities, but the real innovation is technology integrated with a specific business area. That is why in the absence of business understanding and the right culture, technology by itself cannot make a difference. We’re currently rebranding our company logo precisely on this idea, of the connection we help make for our customers between their business goals and the technology drivers to achieve those goals.
Essentially, technology in combination with business understanding and a digital culture creates a virtuous circle with its own continuously improving dynamics: people embrace technology in order to improve business outcomes and, by doing this, they help technology to evolve. At Softelligence, we focus greatly on people and culture, and we stay up to date and forge partnerships with the big technology providers while using our deep business understanding in Financial Services to create real, significant innovation.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Adrian Blidarus: Our first response to the pandemic was to make sure that everyone was safe. Only after that was secured, we ensured that we could work effectively together in spite of the physical separation. That is why we decided to send everybody working from home two days before the local government declared the lockdown. The whole endeavor put huge pressure on our IT and infrastructure teams, who all performed brilliantly, and we were able to operate properly from day one.
Business-wise, we’re doing our best to stay close to our customers and support them in two main areas: dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown (especially for our customers in Insurance that were, for instance, impacted by business interruption claims) and by helping them to accelerate the digitalization of core Insurance and Banking processes such as quote and bind, claims handling, lending, new customer onboarding and more.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Adrian Blidarus: I would say we’re grateful that we’re operating in a domain where physical presence is not necessarily required in order to perform our duties and that we are very well-versed by nature in using technology. We have also been quite fortunate that the business domains in Financial Services that we’re serving weren’t so badly affected by the pandemic and its restrictions. However, we tried to maintain a cautious attitude towards the situation. We have obviously been looking at our expenses, and here the good news was that travel expenses dropped to zero. Moreover, we have been in a position where we hadn’t had to let anyone go because of the pandemic impacting our business; on the contrary, we managed to grow and expand our numbers.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Adrian Blidarus: Stress and anxiety are the main negative effects of social distancing and lockdown on a personal level. As humans, we are built to interact with one another and, not long ago, our survival was depending on our ability to stay together in front of peril. What has been happening since the pandemic was counter-intuitive from this perspective and has been amplifying the effects of the natural fear of getting sick and of the unknown. Another aspect is the fact that, while working from home, the separation between personal life and working time has become very blurred, leading to an increased risk of burnout. The only way that we can deal with that is by being together, even if only virtually, and staying closer to those who are most vulnerable such as people living alone, single parents, or people with medical conditions. We’ve tried to counterbalance this by intensifying communication of any kind and creating online community events such as monthly townhalls, training, cooking classes, and workout sessions. We’re preparing for a great virtual Christmas party.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Adrian Blidarus: The idea of the competitors has evolved nowadays to be much broader, and you may compete on some things and end up cooperating with others. Maybe it’s got to do more with situations than with a certain company or person. Sure, there are companies providing similar services to ours, but we also come up against multinational organizations that are much larger than ourselves. However, this is not a David and Goliath situation. Due to our focus and expertise delivering to Insurance and Banking companies since 2006, we have an edge through our experts and our blend of business understanding closely tied with practical delivery expertise. The context, the situations are very important as well.
Your final thoughts?
Adrian Blidarus: I believe that this whole health crisis situation is also bringing us a lot of good things, and we should, from time to time, try to focus on those as well. For once, we get the chance to spend a lot more time with our families and with our kids, even if we aren’t always thrilled having our kids walk in on us while we’re in an important video conference on Microsoft Teams. Secondly, by showing us how vulnerable we are in solitude, we understood how much we need to be together in any conceivable way. Business-wise, the digital transformation that everybody liked to talk about in the past years, but that was sometimes getting deprioritized, is accelerating and is changing the world for the better.
I discovered in this pandemic that projects do not have to take so long to be launched, nor do they need to be so bureaucratic. To produce value, you just need an open attitude towards finding solutions and leveraging innovation. It’s become crucial now to try new things, to iterate and adapt quickly. This is true for both contexts, in which entire companies started, practically overnight, to work from home, but also in the accelerated delivery of digital transformation that have been on the agenda for years, but which has always received minor priorities or budgets.
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