Enterprise Times recently caught up with Richard Davies, UK Country Managing Partner, Netcompany. Netcompany has been growing quickly over the past six years. It now has 6,500 employees in Northern Europe with the UK a significant and rapidly growing part of the business.
ET began by asking Davies about his support for UK veterans. Netcompany has been actively working with TechVets, which supports UK military veterans transitioning out of service and into the technology industry. Netcompany has sponsored training for veterans and is an active employer of veterans. ET asked Davies why?
He replied, “It’s really important to us because we have a lot of veterans. It’s a component of our broader social value, just as it would be for diversity and gender. We believe that supporting the vets is equally important, and it’s a cause very close to our hearts.”
Denmark is a leader in digital services
Netcompany is based in Denmark, and its history is in project management, says Davies. It was born out of Anderson Consulting 15 years ago. Since then, it has become one of Scandinavia’s most dominant technology providers.
What advantage does being based in Denmark deliver?
Davies said, “Denmark is ahead of Estonia. It has digitised the user experience to a point where the user, as a citizen, gets a much more enhanced service. For instance, one mailbox for every citizen, so there is no manual post now in Denmark.
“We’re still talking about single sign-on, about identity management. They’ve just done it and they’ve done it with a single portal, mit.dk. It went live last week, where you can access all of your utility bills, car insurance, and tax through your personal portal. Netcompany has been instrumental in working with those departments to deliver services that are changing society.”
A need to deliver on large projects
One of the challenges of delivering on government-run projects anywhere in the world is overruns. It’s often caused by underestimating the goals but also by project creep. When projects overrun, they can quickly become unprofitable. ET asked Davies how Netcompany had managed delivery and profitability.
Davies replied, “It’s a huge pressure because you have to deliver those things. You can’t deliver the profits unless you avoid the overruns. What was the core of enabling that was our Govtech framework. We built up code around certain functions, grants management, case management, biometrics and workflow. We then build up substantial codebases that we mix and match, depending on what customer outcome we’re trying to drive.
“It’s about stitching together reusable codebases that have already been tried, stress-tested and secure. You only know that because you’ve done it before. Most things fall down in our experience when you’re delivering something without a tried and tested set of code accelerators. The ability to take reusable codebases from other projects and put them together.”
On scope creep and methodology
Davies commented, “Over 15 years, we’ve built a robust framework or methodology if you like. It all stems from user definition and requirements. Unless you are rigid about documentation and reporting, what you agree to do or not do, you will get scope creep. And once that starts, that never stops. So we are very disciplined. You cannot deliver large transformative projects without super discipline.
“Sometimes, you have to say no more than you say yes. Customers will always want to change something. Many of our coders and a lot of our young talent are generalists. They’re comfortable in testing roles, coding, performing the business analyst roles, and understanding this methodology.
“Within the company, there’s a huge amount of take outside the technical aspects of things. There is a lot of emphasis around the training and the career development of our young consultants. They all work for that one methodology. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Poland, Vietnam, Holland, Denmark, UK. That’s really, really important. Because without that, you will get exactly what you describe.”
The keys to a composable framework
There is much talk about composable architectures and frameworks. But for many organisations, building those composable elements, APIs, security and becoming more connected is difficult. Netcompany has built its own set of components that Davies mentioned earlier. But for many companies, where should they start?
Davies replied, “First and foremost, it depends on what you’re trying to achieve. What is the end result? We have a lot of these modules that are a mix of COTS (commercial off the shelf software) packages, our own modules and accelerators.
“We probably have 200 plus modules in our composable architecture across a range of industries. Everything from billing to configure price to quote, or customer engagement. It could be a combination of COTS packages and our own accelerators.
“How we start depends on what we’re trying to do for the customer. Some customers may be very COTS heavy. Others may just want us to put our own modules and accelerators in there. We don’t tend to have any particular order of things. Many of these things have already got some of what you described built-in.
“What we’re seeing with composable enterprises is that we try as much as possible not to put our hands into systems of record. We don’t want to go anywhere near that. We’re trying to build on top of people’s investments in their core systems. For us, it’s extracting what data we need to build on top. They have to be the right APIs for the data.”
The underlying data platform is key
Data is critical to organisations, yet much of what they have is messy, duplicated and incomplete. Therefore, it was interesting to hear Davies talk about the need for the right data and the right APIs for the data.
ET asked Davies what had changed to make data the underlying platform?
Davies said, “The whole notion of event-driven platforms that rely on data is now a reality. But what you put in there is only what you need to satisfy the business requirement. For instance, take an airport. It’s a very busy thing, with lots of what I would call IoT elements. Aircraft are used for passengers, food coming on, luggage coming on, and so forth.
“We’ve just launched a joint venture company to go to the market with an event-driven data platform for airports. We’re going to do this in conjunction with Copenhagen. We sat down with the airport and asked what good looks like? What would you really want?
“What they really need is just in time information. It’ll be segmented between business operations, and each area will want a different set of information. Baggage handling will want this set, but the retail arm will need a totally different set of data around footfall and sales. To do that, you have to create a data platform to get that information to those users in real-time.
“So we built that platform with Copenhagen, starting from the business requirements and then putting in a composable architecture underneath that drew the data sources from some of the existing systems. And then we built a new AI event-driven data platform underpinning that.”
The need for data quality
Having the raw data in real-time is fine, to a degree. However, most analytics work assumes that data will be clean and even enriched. Data quality is slowly coming into its own as organisations realise they must do better with their data. ET asked Davies, are companies refining their data model before building their composable app on top?
Davies replied, “You have to have very clear business objectives.”
Did Copenhagen airport know what data it had and what people would want?
Davies commented, “We spent probably a year sitting down with those various groups. It helped us establish some of the key priorities and business objectives of each one of those areas. We literally built a new platform from scratch, and it’s absolutely fascinating. It shows that you don’t have to be an expert in airports. You have to understand how to assemble the pieces that will answer that business question very quickly.”
It’s all about the first 50,000 lines of code
Building frameworks from lots of components is interesting. We no longer tend to think in large numbers of lines of code but the number of components we are using. However, there is still a need to recognise that frameworks must be built. ET asked Davies, does Netcompany use a different framework for each function, and how fast can it deliver complex apps?
Davies said, “We would always say you’ve got a head start if you turn up with the first 50,000 lines of code. With every single one of those modules, which could be a price engine, a package that looks at luggage handling or whatever else, we would try and have the first 50,000 lines of code for each of those modules. That will be code that we’ve already tested and tried elsewhere on something else. So we are utilising things we have off the shelf.”
You need to culture for continuous transformation
Sometimes the conversation around composable architectures gets lost in the technology such as agile, low-code, no-code, and APIs. What is often overlooked is that these are often just parts of a wider solution. Enabling your citizen developers to access back-end logic with low-code environments to build the apps they need still requires that back-end logic and other components.
It is also important that we rethink where data sits in all of this. It is often an adjunct, a by-product of the technology we are working with. As Davies makes clear, it is not. It is the underlying platform on which the business case can be realised.
Talking with Davies, it is clear that we are all heading in the same direction but not at the same speed. The goal of digital transformation was fine at the beginning, but now we realise we need continuous transformation.
Davies argues, “It’s not just continuous transformation. It’s a way of being, and it takes years to change your organisational culture and construct to be comfortable with it. I still ask now why people still can’t deliver a lot of these big programmes? A lot of it is nothing to do with the technology. It comes down to, have you got that structure that stands the test of all the pressures you get when In a large organisation with programmes and politics and everything else that goes along with it.