After the current Ukraine-Russia war, it became difficult for software development companies to keep their businesses operational. This is the story on both sides of the border. Additionally, competing with the global pool of technology companies is a huge task with the ever-changing market, competition, and integration of transformational technologies. In today’s interview, we’ll talk to two experts from a company called DataArt, which has grown exponentially and is creating waves in its domain.
Founded in 1997, DataArt is a global IT consultancy with 20+ locations across the US, Europe, and Latin America region. Known for its rapid growth, the company achieved Microsoft Gold Certified Partner status in 2007 and has consistently appeared on the Inc. list from 2010 to 2018. The company specializes in product development, system modernization, security services, and digital transformation, serving its clients. DataArt actively supports initiatives like Girls Who Code, Women in IT initiative in Eastern Europe, etc.
Therefore, let's understand the various nuances of running a software development business with a huge workforce in today’s time. However, before that, let's learn more about our guests.
Who is Alexei Miller and Sheetal Kale?
Sheetal Kale is a Bangalore-based (India) Managing Director at DataArt. She draws from her past experience in multiple companies and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology. Additionally, her experience in Content Writing, Social Media Marketing, and more brings incredible expertise to her company.
1) Based on the current disturbance in Russia-Ukraine, how is employment in your company affected?
Firstly, thank you for acknowledging our past successes and expressing concern for the disturbances which we are currently facing. Situations like the war in Ukraine significantly impact companies like DataArt with operations in Ukraine and other countries. As you may be aware, DataArt has over 25 years of experience operating globally, most recently expanding into India.
Before discussing our recent endeavors in India, it's important to note that our roots have always been in the dynamic intersection between New York and Eastern Europe. This region includes Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Armenia, and several other countries. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing events, the company decided to exit its business operations in Russia while reaffirming our commitment to Ukraine. This was a painful decision that continues to affect us deeply.
I appreciate your acknowledgment of our recognition over the years as one of the better IT employers. This recognition has been based on our commitment to a culture that prioritizes the well-being of our people, delivering quality work, and considering the interests of individuals, whether they are employees, shareholders, or clients of DataArt. Our focus on human needs and priorities has been a key factor in earning these high marks.
While taking our initial steps in India, we aim to maintain similar standards and strive for regional recognition. It's fair to say that after our exit from Russia and despite the toll the conflict in Ukraine has taken on some of our Ukrainian employees, as a whole, the company continues to emphasize our culture and standards. We understand this is not always easy or possible, but we are holding up pretty well in our commitment to these principles.
2) How has your experience been with your expansion in India? Do you find any specific benefits of working there?
Thank you for the opportunity to share our experiences in setting up operations in India. I'll address this in two parts, starting with our journey in India.
Since our inception in April, the operational and strategic aspects of our presence in India have been exceptionally satisfying. We have witnessed steady growth, starting with just one person and now expanding to a team of about 12. The satisfaction and positivity we experience are largely attributed to the extensive support from our global colleagues.
This global collaboration has been instrumental in shaping our Indian center, working with third-party partners for legal and accounting support. Though relatively new, our journey has been operationally wonderful, reflecting our commitment to steady and organic growth.
Regarding the second part of your question about the benefits and why we chose India, DataArt has always prioritized organic growth. Our expansion into India was a natural progression, driven by the vision of leveraging India's diverse IT pool and emerging technologies. We aim to tap into India's vast talent pool in data science, AI/ML, and other emerging technologies.
Cost efficiency is another significant advantage in India compared to certain other locations. We believe in being efficient in labor and operational costs, aligning with our overall cost efficiency models.
Being located on the Eastern Asian side of the globe provides us with a time-zone advantage. This allows us to service our clients globally, ensuring 24/7 support and accessibility. Our goal is to cater to clients from when the sun rises in Japan to when it sets in Hawaii, covering all the countries in between.
“The cultural diversity in India is a key factor in our expansion plans. We believe this diversity fosters collaboration and helps break down barriers in working environments. It encourages team collaboration, fostering a global company culture that transcends perceptions, myths, and preconceived experiences.”
In summary, our decision to establish a presence in India aligns with our organic growth approach, leveraging India's diverse talent pool, ensuring cost efficiency, capitalizing on the time zone advantage, and embracing the cultural diversity that enhances collaboration across global teams. We are optimistic about the future and the positive impact that our India operations will continue to bring to DataArt.
3) What makes DataArt stand out amongst thousands of other software development companies worldwide?
DataArt is a good choice for many, but not necessarily for everyone. DataArt has earned a reputation for two primary reasons, as previously discussed.
Firstly, our unique culture of treating employees, shareholders, and clients as human beings might sound abstract, but it translates into a distinctive flavor of customer service. Many clients working with us often quote a sentiment attributed to Warren Buffet: "It's only when the tide goes out that we see who's been swimming naked."
Clients appreciate that DataArt is a reliable partner in good and challenging times. No large, mission-critical project happens without its share of ups and downs. It's crucial to work together, care about personal needs, priorities, and remembering that making money isn't always the sole or acceptable answer. Over the years, DataArt has nurtured a customer service culture that clients value deeply.
Secondly, although not discussed extensively today, DataArt has made significant investments over the last 20 years in building "industry practices." These practices represent deep domain expertise across five industry verticals.
When DataArt approaches clients, we emphasize that we're not just tech experts but someone who comprehends the intricate details of specific industries. This includes understanding industry standards, regulations, and the unique needs of the people involved.
Our track record of successfully delivering solutions within these industries makes us more efficient and credible. This expertise in five industry sectors is a key factor that attracts considerable interest from potential clients.
4) How do you want your company to be known globally in 5 years?
DataArt has always aspired to avoid being a Frankenstein-like entity, pieced together from parts that don't naturally fit. We started from virtually nothing and have grown to about 6,000 employees.
Looking ahead five years, we undoubtedly anticipate being larger, positioning ourselves as one of the leading global players in the IT consultancy space. However, equally, if not more importantly, we want to be recognized as a company that operates as one cohesive unit.
A unified corporate culture, one team, and a consistent standard of serving clients, regardless of whether they are in Armenia, Ukraine, India, the US, or elsewhere, are integral to our vision.
This approach is valuable and needed in the market because of many stereotypes and misconceptions about individual countries. The industry craves simple, predictable, authentic, and quality work delivered globally by a single company.
While DataArt maybe ten times larger, I sincerely hope it will retain the same essence five years from now. Maintaining a corporate culture with thousands of employees is a significant challenge. It's a different dynamic from having a hundred people, and I've witnessed firsthand how difficult it is. However, we are committed to preserving and fostering our unique corporate culture.
Bringing this back to the earlier point, India is crucial for us in the investments we are making in the country. It is vital in our growth journey, strategic capabilities, and the cultural diversity we aim to embrace. We look forward to learning, integrating, and working together to overcome these challenges and continue our global expansion.
5) How can we separate DataArt from other companies presently? Also, how do you stay aligned even after huge expansions?
At DataArt, our values are crucial in shaping who we are today, who we were yesterday, and who we aim to be tomorrow. A fundamental value that guides us is our "people first" approach, emphasizing expertise, flexibility, and trust.
Our goal is to become one of the most trustworthy organizations globally. While this might sound ambitious, being known for trustworthiness is a cornerstone of our identity. We aspire to maintain a people-oriented, customer-centric focus.
As mentioned earlier, we are, at our core, a people organization, and this isn't just a cliché in today's technology-driven world. It's an integral part of DataArt's fabric, evident in our interactions with customers, clients, and employees.
We want to be recognized as a trusted partner known for resilience and adaptability. Throughout our discussion in the last 60 minutes, adaptability and resilience have been recurrent themes, applicable not only to technology but also to people matters and client relationships.
Despite our current strength with 6,000 employees, we aim to maintain agility and nimbleness as disruptors in the industry. The aspiration is to challenge the notion that only startups can be agile and nimble, positioning DataArt as a 6,000-strong disruptor.
In summary, our vision for the future is grounded in our values, emphasizing trust, a people-first approach, customer-centricity, adaptability, resilience, and a disruptive mindset in the industry.
Note: To watch part two of this interview, click here!
6) Are there any technologies that were relevant in the past but are completely irrelevant today or in the future, as per you?
The next 10 years will be pivotal in the digital transformation and technological innovations. Attending the Bangalore Tech Summit recently, where discussions revolved around AI, ML, and the unknown, reinforced this perspective.
While it might be challenging to predict the specific technologies that will become redundant, it's clear that AI, ML, data science, and data analytics will play a crucial role in shaping the future.
Our human minds are incredibly vast, capable of creativity, pivoting, agility, and adapting to the speed of change. By using AI, we can navigate the unknown confidently. As a company with a culture accustomed to working in uncertain environments, DataArt embraces the prospect of incorporating AI and ML into our operations. With these technologies on our side, we believe there's no need to fear the future.
In line with this, we take pride in our existing AI/ML Labs at DataArt. We have established incubation hubs and accelerators within the company, signaling our commitment to being well-prepared for the future.
7) Do you think the software industry will soon mimic fast-paced innovations like smartphones?
The truth is, I don't know, and for many technologies. Not knowing has become completely normal. It's interesting to discuss and debate this because many people in business and society often refer to technological change's dizzying, super-fast pace. Basic tools change and the way technology affects our lives changes, like when ChatGPT came along, and suddenly everyone was using it. Even though they somehow survived without it for the past several thousand years. This year, there'll be something else.
The truth is, if you look at the technology world over the last 40 or 50 years, that pace of change has always been there. However, it has not always been visible to the users, the rest of us who use it daily.
Even looking back at my career in this industry over the last two or three decades, the best technology to put together a particular app or system changes every couple of years. Tech people are used to this, and for them, not knowing what comes next is normal because they know it will come, and they will have a few days to prepare, and that's okay. They're no longer shocked by it.
Cloud and mobile existed briefly before, and now AI is transformational. These technologies have every mark of fundamentally changing how we develop technology, how we conduct business, and the availability of various tools in our daily lives. They affect the very business dynamics. But there have been some false starts over the last five or six years.
Everyone said in the business and technology world, "Well, Bitcoin is not serious, but blockchain is the stuff that will change business." Bitcoin is still doing great, and blockchain is still struggling to find applications. That was a little bit of a misfire.
So, I have a high degree of confidence to say that AI will not be a misfire. It seems too big and too serious for that. But you just never know. My recommendation to many of our employees and clients is to be at peace with not knowing what comes next. Don't try to prepare for a specific technology. Rather, prepare for change.
When it comes, you'll be able to respond to it. This position is not always popular and uncomfortable for many people, but I fundamentally think it's safer, especially for a consultancy organization with global ambitions.
We're not interested in making it as a business; I'm now speaking less philosophically and more practically as a business. We're not interested in being the world's best expert on one single technology, we want to be known as a consultancy that can help clients with anything that might happen with their technology infrastructure. So, maintaining this somewhat neutral posture and preparedness for change is important for us.
8) What would you like to tell someone who came up with an app idea but didn’t conceive it due to a lack of skills or knowledge?
Certainly, there are numerous innovative approaches and ideas that startups or individuals come up with. However, we often observe a trend where things reach a certain level, but then they roll back or don't develop as they should. While there's no magic potion for bringing better apps to the market or ensuring the success of ideas, I can share some insights on how to approach this.
First and foremost, before diving into working on an idea, extensive research is essential. This involves understanding the market, existing applications, competitors, what works and doesn't, and identifying market demands.
Are you solving a problem or fulfilling a need? All these aspects are crucial elements of your research.
Secondly, as an ideator or product developer, you don't necessarily need to understand coding languages, but a grasp of the development process and the basic technological layers involved is essential. Understand the stages of development from ideation to fruition and be aware of each stage's importance.
Testing your idea is another critical step. This can begin with seeking feedback from friends, colleagues, and social networks. Conduct surveys and interviews, and engage with potential users to test and validate your ideas.
Additionally, consider having a mentor or participating in a mentorship program during the app development. A mentor can provide valuable insights and collaboration you might miss when working solely with friends or colleagues.
Instead of going big right from day one, consider taking small steps. Starting small allows for iteration, adaptation, and flexibility. Listening to your customers is paramount, even if your vision is great, as customer feedback can reshape your direction.
Collaboration is key. If you lack certain skills, collaborate with others. This could involve outsourcing to smaller companies or individuals who can complement your strengths.
Grit, determination, and persistence are essential for any app developer or product developer. While skills can be learned, having the drive to move forward continuously is critical. However, it's important not to fall in love with your project or product to the extent that you become biased and resistant to feedback.
Lastly, securing funds is crucial in the development process. Explore various avenues such as schemes, scholarships, grants, and crowdfunding to obtain the necessary funding for your project.
In conclusion, these are key considerations for product development and successfully bringing your app from an idea to the market.
9) What is the new definition of innovation with the increasing number of similar applications in the tech industry?
It's an interesting question because the general public needs variety to select what works for them. There is a point at which it seems like there's too much and raises the question, do we need a thousand fitness tracking applications? Do we need 700 password managers to choose from? It's all a little tiresome for the consumer. However, I think this variety is an opportunity and an inconvenience, though that inconvenience is relatively minor compared to the risk of concentrating power within a few select, very large tech companies.
This might be a bit sideways from the exact question you're asking because if we argue that there are too many similar apps, we might advocate for some selection process. Typically, folks at very large tech companies do it for us, but they're getting it right as often as they're getting it wrong.
So, this variety is the inconvenience that I am personally prepared to live with as the price to pay for not concentrating the power of selection in the hands of tech companies.
One aspect that many of the apps and product developers come to focus on a little too late is security and data protection. Generally, larger tech companies are doing a better job at it. If you monitor news about hacks and such, it's just less frequent in large tech companies.
I see this mutual system where smaller companies continue to innovate and produce potentially useless apps, but the general public retains the right to choose. Meanwhile, large tech companies provide the basic infrastructure, particularly around security and data protection, to make it a safer ecosystem.
Implementing this dual system is challenging in reality. It's easy to talk about but harder to execute. However, for me, this would be the right version of innovation that supports the speed of change we all live with or even welcome without creating additional risks in an already not super safe world.
10) What are your thoughts on AI taking over and its positive and negative effects in the future?
Of course, AI is not going to rule us or turn into some kind of Terminator scenario. As I mentioned some time back, AI is a tool. How we, as human beings, especially our human minds, work with it, pivot with it, and collaborate with AI is crucial. We must keep AI by our side so that humans and AI can win together.
Our past experiences have taught us that the human brain is limitless in capacity and nature. The human brain can ideate, pivot, be agile, and make right or wrong decisions. Because we can utilize our brains, we can keep AI on our side and succeed.
I don't believe that AI will negatively impact us. I think upskilling, cross-skilling, and learning new skills are necessities for our workforce. Automated AI bots may take over certain tasks, but when AI handles mundane tasks, individuals will have more time to focus on important matters. So, a shift in mindset and skills will be needed in the coming years.
11) With technological innovation, we have become a little lazy. What is your perspective if we make technology our master and completely depend on these tools?
Well, I'm less worried about technology becoming the master because technology, at least what we created it to be, is rational. If I put myself in the place of technology, what's the point of ruling these strange biological organisms? It's too troublesome. So, I'm not worried about technology being particularly interested in ruling us.
On a more serious note, in the long term, I am slightly worried about AI's potential to cause harm. Humans continuously underappreciate the negative side of what we invent. Historically, scientists have created some unpleasant things, such as nuclear weapons and biological weapons, and we've had to learn to control them and keep them secure.
“I don't mean to sound dramatic in saying that AI will have to be kept in a bunker, or else it will cause the destruction of humanity, but we are inventing some potentially dangerous things and not always able to calculate the consequences of what we create.”
However, the benefits of making the world more efficient and equitable outweigh the risks. I don't advocate for AI to be put in a bunker and slowed down in its development. Certainly, it feels like combined computing power to analyze things and make decisions is reaching a point where the human capacity to process the consequences won't keep up.
Decisions made automatically and supposedly rationally may have consequences that we find quite bad. However, in the short term, it's a phenomenal business opportunity.
Setting aside the philosophical concerns, from a practical business perspective, AI and AI-related technology provide practical benefits. It allows systems to be created faster and enables humans to interface with certain technology systems using human language without knowing how to code. This opens tremendous opportunities. For instance, a restaurant owner might want to create a system that explains the menu to people who have never heard of the restaurant in a language they understand.
AI can help create such a system efficiently and at a much lower cost than it might be today. AI, as an accelerator in creating smart technology, is an enormous equalizer, making capabilities once available only to the largest institutions accessible to a broader audience. We could create our peer-to-peer payment network with the help of AI in a couple of days, and it would work.
- DataArt is committed to its culture and standards despite the ongoing events between Russia and Ukraine.
- The decision to establish a presence in India is driven by the diverse talent pool, cost efficiency, time zone advantage, and embracing cultural diversity.
- The company has invested in industry practices, gaining deep domain expertise across five industry verticals and making it efficient and credible.
- In the next five years, DataArt aspires to be one of the leading global players in IT consultancy while maintaining a unified corporate culture.
- DataArt sees innovation as a blend of variety, allowing users to choose while preventing concentration of power.
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