The Future Of The Bulgarian IT Industry: An Interview With Ivaylo Slavov, CEO of BULPROS
One of our main topics during The Big Reset Days was the future development of our country’s IT industry. Therefore, we invited a guest with great experience and contribution in this field – Ivaylo Slavov. In 2010, Ivaylo co-founded Bulpros – an IT solutions company, which for 10 years under his leadership grew at a very fast pace, and it’s currently employing over a thousand people in 20 offices across Europe and North America. Besides being CEO of a quickly growing tech organization, Ivaylo is participating in several other projects. In January, this year he became a founding member of the Business Council of Growing Europe, an initiative that aims to promote Central and Eastern Europe as an attractive investment destination. He is a board member of the Bulgarian Association for innovation, business excellence, services and technology, in short AIBEST.
Trending Topics: You are in an excellent position to closely observe what’s happening in the local IT industry. From your perspective, how is the Coronavirus crisis actually affecting the technology segment in Bulgaria? Do you have a forecast for the post-pandemic market?
Ivaylo Slavov: I would say that the IT industry as every other business is affected by the Coronavirus. We have a global economic recession and we will see what the real impact will be and therefore we have slowed down some of the processes. One of the main activities in the last couple of years was the digital transformation of companies or the digitalization. We are all part of this industry revolution and especially the IT industry, as it is the main driver for it. This means that in the sectors which are mainly affected by the crisis, like transportation, tourism, aviation, etc., there is a strong impact, also in the process, which was driving the digital transformation. I would say that we have slowed down in all the sectors and this is affecting all the companies in the technology industry in different ways. The good news about the technology is that the process of the digital transformation is not reversible, this means that some of the projects are just postponed, not stopped. Therefore, we have to see within the next months how this will evolve and how this will develop, and to see what we have and how to respond to this challenge.
Trending Topics: Do you see the current situation as an obstacle or more as an opportunity for the IT sector in Bulgaria, and for Bulpros in particular?
Ivaylo Slavov: For me, personally this is the fourth of the fifth big crisis that I am in, meaning I have more experience to talk about best practices. In my opinion, a crisis is always an opportunity. This means that we have to really think about where the future areas will be, where we can have new opportunities, and where we can push in order to get out stronger of the crisis. However, it is challenging, and we have to see how to formulate this opportunity and how to push this opportunity. In many areas like the communication, collaboration, workspace, office management, all these things are facing completely new environment and now we have to check how to deal with this new environment towards all the use cases, which luckily are part of our portfolio, and this could be one of the opportunities that we have, for example, because we have a strong collaboration business, which has started to grow now in the crisis much more than before. We are working day and night, facing all these new things, to find what is our strategy to the next activities and the concrete tasks that we have to perform in order to get the crisis as an opportunity.
Trending Topics: Can you elaborate a bit on your current strategy for dealing with the situation?
Ivaylo Slavov: I think as most of the companies, the first thing was to cut all unnecessary costs. This was the first reaction, because you don’t know how long it will take and for all of us it was the first time in life to be in such a crisis. This pandemic crisis is not something that happens very often. In most of our lives, in our generations, it’s the first time. We don’t know what real war is, these extreme situations are extremely unpopular for us. We know what a financial crisis is, we know what stock exchange crisis is, we know what oil price crisis is, we know these things, but nobody was aware what a pandemic crisis is about. Therefore, first thing we made was to stop costs and to put all unnecessary investments on hold. Everything that was nice to have was stopped and we came just to the ‘must’. For sure we are in a very competitive market in terms of candidate gaps, because in our IT industry is really a talent war, since many years. So, the second thing was to make the necessary steps towards our employees in order to make sure that we can secure them for a long time and to find the right measures on how to deal with that. For example, in 48 hours we put everybody to work from home and this is an organization with a thousand plus people, you can imagine that it was a question whether we can manage it. We usually work remotely, but it was remote work from the offices in US and Germany, and all of those things like infrastructures were managed better. Luckily, our IT guys are extremely good, and I am extremely thankful to them, that they could manage to move in 48 hours everybody to work from home without losing that much of productivity. Within that time, we found out that maybe we can gain some productivity when the people have mixed type of working – from home and from the office. And in the last 45 days, it was a real fight for closing new deals because we have to prepare ourselves in order to be able, to be strong in the business in order to overcome all the difficulties which are coming alongside with such a crisis.
Trending Topics: We are already a few months in the crisis. Can you already say what is the new normal, like how you are doing business when professional processes are changing, not only for Bulpros, but from what you have observed and what you know from your clients?
Ivaylo Slavov: Well, he had a couple of negotiations with big clients, and I would have assumed they will never happen in such times. I would have assumed that they will be postponed, because of no personal meetings, visits, travels, etc., but it was not the case. Interestingly, we were able to close some of those deals just with electronic signature, just by talking over zoom, WebEx, Skype, whatever type of collaboration environment. This means that the new normal is there. This was not normal before the crisis. Therefore, we are starting the new normal now. I think we have to analyze, and we have to work on what is the real implication of the new normal. I am not sure that anybody can say what is the real implication of this now, because there are many affected areas – working time, working from home, office space, the way of negotiating, everything becoming digital. Think about contracts that appear truly electronically signed, there is no more need for creating paperwork. There are so many areas, which will be the new normal and the crisis is helping a lot to identify some of them and also define ways how to deal with them. We are in front of very interesting times and I think we will be cleverer about this in six months.
Trending Topics: Before the coronacrisis, the IT sector was facing the challenge of finding quality talent. Will the crisis calm the market? And do you expect more Bulgarian specialists from abroad to return?
Ivaylo Slavov: It depends. I think we are doing many things to bring the people back to Bulgaria in the last few years. There are many initiatives about that and companies that help that. Everybody, colleagues, partners, is trying to do something in that direction. However, my theory is still the same. What we will have to face in the next years, and the crisis is just a small step in between this, is the topic of migration and demographic development. Because the problem of our country is that we have a lower population, year to year. We have to face this challenge.
The good news about IT industry is it will be one of the industries that will recover first. And it will recover first because this is part of the usual programs and development, we are just one of the motors of this development and one of the motors of this progress, which is the good side for us. On the other hand, without a clear, good migration strategy, not only returning Bulgarians back to the country but also putting good conditions for migration from countries with a similar culture,I think we will be unable to cover the topic with the talent war. Short term, because of the crisis it will be a bit easier, because there will be some people released, there will be some companies that will fail, there will be some bankruptcy, there will be some things like this. But this is just a short term. Midterm or long term nothing can be solved if you don’t solve the demographic problem.
Trending Topics: Do you have any ideas on how to bring foreign talent to Bulgaria?
Ivaylo Slavov: Talking about foreign talent, there were more than 250 people only in the last 12 months who came to us, to Bulgaria. We have some gaps, gaps in the BlueCard strategy, in the general migration strategy, giving the permits of work for some people, that we have to work on. We have to work on those gaps not only with the associations, and the IT companies, but also with the government in order to make this happen. I think maybe now we will have better possibility to work with them on the one hand, but on the other hand, some of the processes will go slower, because now we have another 100000 people who lost their jobs throughout the crisis and this means that all this triangle – unions, government, and business, will change the perception of talking and negotiating, due to the fact that we have to find back jobs for those 100000 people. It doesn’t mean that they come from the technology or IT industry, but we have a general perception and we have a perception of a particular industry. Therefore, we will have to work in our industry more to make the conditions easier to bring the people back.
Trending Topics: Crises have often boosted innovation in one way or another. Has Bulpros’s portfolio of services changed or evolved somehow in the past few months?
Ivaylo Slavov: The good and bad news about the crisis. The bad news about the crisis is that the utilization of resources is getting lower because some projects are postponed. Good news about the crisis is we have free talent to develop. We have products, we have services and on top of it we have repeatable solutions, which are something in between products and services. What we did in the last 2-3 months and what we will be doing in the next quarter as well, is we boost all kinds of R&D investments. It means we use this potential, which came out of this unutilized force and we just put this potential truly in the product development. We just launched a new version, a new release, a next generation of our cybersecurity product. We are coming with a new collaboration product for the market in the coming days, etc. We have many announcements in front of us on the product front because we are able to boost a little bit the product development toward the utilization of the services of some of our engineers, programmers, and other people.
Trending Topics: As an AIBEST member, your company is helping the government with the digitalization of critical systems such as electronic healthcare? In your opinion, can the crisis unite public and private resources and result in better positioning of Bulgaria on the world map?
Ivaylo Slavov: The Bulgarian e-health system will help Bulgaria to be at least competitive on the market. Because we are a little bit far behind in many of this electronic services and e-government stuff that other countries are and we know the good examples and that we are not one of the good examples, so far. Our idea and the idea of AIBEST, especially in the healthcare area, which is the most affected one of the crisis, directly, to support as far we can to create a better e-health system and e-health environment for the country. I think that the first activity is already on its way. It is challenging to work in an area, which in many years was kind of prepared for a big turn but it was still not done and I hope that we can help at our best, because we have a significant number of hours that we are giving to the government. We can put at least some pillars, which can help to force and bring this system much earlier to life than it can happen without those types of activities. Without those types of activities, it is just R&P process, which is challenging and there are a lot of judgments. In this way we can make some of the pillars that will make all of the next steps easier and this is our intention.