The IT industry is performing well. But do we really understand our customers’ needs?

Foto del autor

By Eric Tornquist

January 29, 2021

*Adapted from Mario’s contribution to the Local Impact of Global Trends for the ICT Industry, CUTI, Uruguay 2021.

Arion is an Uruguay-based company that delivers its products and services worldwide. This means we closely follow what is happening globally, but at the same time we keep an eye out for those global impacts in Uruguay.

One of the things that caught my attention is the consolidation of a trend that began a few years ago, which is confirmed by the analysis of consulting firms, which is the improvement of opportunities for smaller companies. The all-powerful companies will surely be more controlled in regulatory matters and will tend, gradually, to a kind of disassembly into smaller units, which ultimately means opportunities to continue building innovation from smaller organizations. This will happen especially in fields that have been highlighted by global consultancy companies, such as ‘human experience’, ‘customer sciences’, ‘wearable technologies’, ‘5G’, ‘cloud native’. Then, of course, there are all the positive externalities that derive from that scenario. Here the key will not be in ‘staff augmentation, but rather in the innovation that produces better value for the companies.

Currently, the pandemic situation that we are experiencing molds the innovative factor of the projects companies are working on. In the near future, this will go from a situational requirement to a quality requirement. This gives an edge to small companies. So instead of trying to resemble generic nearshoring, I believe we should take advantage of the spaces that open up for small companies that innovate, precisely in these fields: data, human experience, customer science, wearables, and 5G. There are opportunities for companies that really want to specialize in any of these technologies, always with a focus on the client and the platforms.

As I see it, Uruguayan IT companies should create incentives for innovation where knowledge is shared. This could be achieved by creating innovation entities within technology companies. For me, innovation is closely related to the things that inspire me, the way I find the resources for it, the way I seek a return on this. These entities could benefit from understanding the global trends, socializing that knowledge, and start pinpointing the area where they want to make an impact, not least because all of the trends we mentioned are actually gigantic and have thousands of ideas to be explored within. Obviously, there will be companies that do not yet have the size to host their own areas of innovation, so different formats and strategies must be promoted, such as incentives to come together and innovate together.

The era of “technology for technologists” is over.

Technology must be linked to the world and allow the generation of jobs, skills, and strengths from the plains. We cannot just be a rich industry for the already rich: we need to connect to the real world. And those connections are made when instead of talking so much about technology, we talk more about problem-solving. There must be a resounding change in the conversation; we must quickly begin to see technology as one of the components of what organizations do, and not as something different, touched by a magic wand. We must insert ourselves into the operation and the resolution of problems that some companies in Uruguay -and the world- have, especially in companies that we understand have better prospects of survival in the future.

Uruguay has defined key sectors of its economy -those that generate more production, more exports, more employment- wood, meat, agriculture. We are working with them, but we anticipate we could work a lot more in order to help these sectors solve frictions, for example in traditional sectors such as bureaucracy, notarial, legal, where sometimes problems derive from over-regulation and old laws. So, every time a person needs to get hold of a document they need to go to the correct office where the clerk gives them a form with which they can then go to the same or other office and try and find it. Documents for the same person are not linked to each other, and these forms and procedures expire at some point and the person might need to do them all over again. We envision a future where Blockchain solves this instantly. And we have to consider that Uruguay has come a long way in terms of Digital Governance, which is not the case in other countries.

To me, this shows that we, the tech sector, need to be closer to those places that need us, not only profitable industries but all sectors. We have the power to become forces of democracy, coexistence, of social wellbeing. We should say “an Uruguayan hospital is capable of prolonging patients’ lives because of the cooperation with the technology sector” instead of “we are now installing our software for hospital management”. This is not about technology, but about the problems we solve and the way we try to anticipate problems. We shouldn’t see ourselves or be seen as a third-party agent, but rather as an integral part of the industries we work with. This implies we need a new type of talent, more diverse, that is sometimes not present in overly technical companies: profiles related to design thinking, product management, to customer experience. Some companies haven’t realized this yet because customers are not yet asking for it. Moving toward a stage from “customer order” to collaboration to work together requires different teams than what most tech companies have today. This directly relates to the way we teach students: we teach computing when we should be talking about innovation and digital transformation.