2017 in the offshore and nearshore IT outsourcing models
For several years now, JCommerce has been successfully providing services in the nearshore IT outsourcing model and is definitely eager for more. In 2017 these activities are going to intensify.
With the help of European Union grants, the company will expand its business on the US market and will strengthen its activities in Europe. In 2017 JCommerce will take part in the most prominent industry events like Web Summit, Slush, Mobile World Congress, UC Expo and E3.
The constant development of the company, its wide range of services, know-how and some of the best developers in the world are key company values, which bring visible success. In 2014 JCommerce noted a 58% increase in export revenue, and subsequently a 25% increase in 2015.
Skanska about Cooperation with JCommerce – Interview with Péter Béres
530,000 m2 of office space completed, 170,000 m2 under construction and 320,000 m2 planned, according to data from 2015 for Central and Eastern Europe. This makes a total of over one million square meters of existing and planned offices spread over several cities. Managing such a rich portfolio must be a huge challenge?
Indeed, we realized that without a sophisticated controlling application it is not feasible to prepare high quality timeliness forecasts, as we are not only dealing with huge areas in terms of square meters, but the hundreds of assumptions behind every project. In our business we need to look a minimum of 5 years ahead in every forecasting period for each project, preparing several scenarios with different assumptions and combining such project scenarios in different project plan versions, resulting in huge complex calculations which are almost impossible to follow in Excel. Shifting forecasting into such an application clearly saved time without compromising on quality.
How did cooperation between Skanska and JCommerce come about?
Our cooperation started off with a project to optimize the ERP Microsoft Dynamics AX system in the Polish branch of the company, Skanska Property Poland. The system which was previously in use within the company no longer met expectations, and so, in 2012, JCommerce specialists became involved in the development of the system and its adaptation to the needs of the company. After this initial modernization of the system, JCommerce also proposed the creation of a Web application using .Net technology, which has enabled our users to enter and view data without licensing restrictions to access. This solution was highly popular, and from there new ideas came up for additional modules, such as Rent Roll, a list of lease agreements, and Gain on Sales Calculation, which is a tool for recording the profits associated with these projects.
The system implemented at the Polish division of our organization by JCommerce was presented in such form during the CEE Commercial Property Development meeting, and received wide acclaim. The decision was therefore taken to extend its operation to other markets in the region and integrate it with our internal Korab II system. JCommerce specialists have also assumed responsibility for those stages of the project.
What is Korab II?
Korab II is our own ERP system, which Skanska uses in the CEE (Central / Eastern Europe) countries. Its integration with the solution created by JCommerce enables the flow of data between systems, both in terms of vocabulary data, such as country names or service codes, and financial data. Changes made in one system will be automatically updated in the other.
What were the main problems which you wanted to solve?
Before the implementation of the system we had huge issues with the consistency of the data: the lack of a unified data structure, different units, different currencies and different formulas for calculating the same parameters, depending on the methodology in use in that country. In individual countries, the same parameters or indicators often differed greatly from one another, due to legal, tax, or economic differences. As a result, the company had problems with standardizing indicators that are vital for development project management, such as the market value of the project, the value of land, costs, inflation, or lease profitability.
The situation was further complicated by the fact that data was entered into a number of different systems simultaneously, and was therefore often different – errors came up, and we sorely lacked a singular database for analytical processes. The preparation of reports was highly onerous under such conditions.
Can you give us the main advantages of the system and the benefits which have resulted from its implementation?
The system records all leases, rents, discounts, and annual profits, using the data warehouse. With a significantly improved speed of data entry, users do not have to enter data in different databases; we have direct access to current information and transparent reports. With the web application data being available in all locations at the same time, information is consistent and orderly, without errors resulting from incorrect data entry. Scalability is also a considerable advantage, as is the ease of adaptation to the increased needs of our company, thanks to the technologies used as well as licensing models.
Are you able to name any key performance indicators which you have managed to improve by implementing the system? Can you give us any specific numbers?
I can’t talk about financial KPIs, but can confirm that we have already reduced the reporting consolidation process by one day, which we can “give back” to the operating countries so they now have an extra day before the deadline of their reporting process. It results in better quality that can be seen in the number of questions that need to be asked and the number of revisions that any of the countries need to submit. We foresee that the forthcoming new modules which connect the application directly with HFM, the consolidation tool used by Skanska worldwide, will result in a similar saving of one extra day in 2017.
Skanska and JCommerce continue to work together on the development of the system. What is the current priority?
At this point we are working on the addition of other data grids which we would like to process and analyze; and we plan to extend the range of functionality of the system, for example the Land Valuation tool which analyzes changes in the reported book value of land compared to market value. We also plan to connect up our new CRM system and are considering storing some external market data.
What is the future of the system?
The system has been presented in all of Skanska’s business regions, meaning Scandinavia, the UK, and the United States, and there is a desire to roll out the system in all locations. This is obviously another big challenge that requires the adaptation of the system to local conditions, such as different accounting systems, or changing the metric system to the imperial system in the United Kingdom and the United States. But before that happens, we want to tidy up all processes and implement all planned functionalities in the system currently operating in the CEE region, using it as something of a pilot study.
The Future of New Technologies
During the inauguration lecture of our hackathon, you said that over the next 20 years the world will change more than it did over the previous 200 years. If so, then for sure a lot of professions that we know today will disappear. So which do you think will carry on or will develop anew? Which profession is the best choice, for ourselves or our children?
First, you need to have an open mind, there is no point deluding oneself that common patterns will work in the future. I think everything will change ever faster. Perhaps those young people who have come here today to take part in the workshops and competition represent the last generation for whom driving will be a common skill. For the next generation it might just be a hobby like horseback riding for us, and most people will have cars which will drive themselves to the destination point. And that means you have to be very open to change. The most valuable professions, the most prospective, will be all the jobs that are associated with data – that’s for sure. So the job of a statistician, an analyst, but also an engineer. There will also be some professions which are strictly related to the humanities, such as a psychologist, who will lend us an ear, or the arts, so the professions which either cannot be or which we will not want to be computerized.
So then which jobs will become obsolete?
All those in which humans had to learn some rules and now apply them, such as, for example, primary care physician, lawyer and translator. These are professions in which computers have now taken over from humans. How many of us are treated by Dr. Google? In the future, instead of blindly pestering Google, we will have a computer equipped with artificial intelligence, which actually studied medicine which means that it learned on real cases – what the symptoms are, what the causes are, what happens to a person during illness, and how to treat it. And such a computer, just as it plays chess today, will someday be able to diagnose patients – perhaps even more effectively than a human doctor.
So apart from programmers, not many of us can sleep soundly?
Not necessarily, because on the other hand, there are also jobs that can be computerized, but have not been. Some time ago I worked on a project for a garbage truck that gets around without a garbage man or a driver. And indeed several such garbage trucks were produced. It was a pretty good prototype, actually went round in the morning without human involvement, and the computer and sensors controlled the mechanical arm which gathered up the trash, and the garbage truck continued on. But in the end the project was abandoned. The arm didn’t always manage to pick up the trash, or the garbage bins were not always in the right place, or someone had forgotten to put them out, or they were hidden somewhere. Probably it could have been figured out, but in the end it was definitely cheaper to just hire people to do the job. And it is quite distinctive. Once upon a time in fantasy books or science-fiction movies, it was machines or robots that twisted the screws and did the worst jobs, and people functioned as managers. But now it turns out that it is often quite the opposite. In shopping centers, logistics centers and loading bays, the computer tells the worker where to go, and a man with a speaker in his ear hears: six steps to the left, two steps to the right, the third shelf, raise your hands … These roles can be completely reversed.
It’s a bit like in the Matrix…
It could turn out in one of many ways, as computers are very good at making decisions and, increasingly often, we let them. For example, in the recent high-profile case of driverless cars, which from time to time will have to decide, for example, whether to kill a passenger or a pedestrian who forced his way onto the road.
So the most important roles will be played by the programmers, right?
Well, not quite. Because artificial intelligence is not programmed. At least not in the sense that there are sets of rules that we have input, and now the machine must abide by them. No. It works like this: at the beginning we put some data into the machine. Information, figures, some content. For example, a model of artificial intelligence, which was asked to write an essay, had previously learned the content from Wikipedia. As it read, it received the command: contribute your opinion. There were no rules which would have regulated this process in advance.
Well, but if we do not implement rules at the start, we may completely lose control of the process. As with the example of the bot which was supposed to learn how to interact with Twitter users. The result was that it turned into a racist Hitler-lover, a ‘hater’ to all around, and had to be switched off … And this driverless car which we talked about, based purely on data, would probably sacrifice the person who was older, in worse physical condition, or of less importance to society. Because such is the logic of data. But it is socially unacceptable.
I think that it will. Because data changes the way of thinking, the paradigm is changing. Today we have your beliefs, your views, so in science we have hypotheses. After they have been constructed we set out to verify them, we draw some conclusions and get to work. In this model which I am talking about, there is no initial hypothesis. Only data – text, a number, a picture. Then there’s the model, meaning that we have learned something from the data, first came the abstraction, then the generalization, we have some rules, but the rules are derived from the data. And only with these rules are we able to draw any conclusions. And because there is so much data, everything is somehow connected to each other, this model turns out to be not so terrible. We can tell it: learn from this data, then verify it using different data. And then something arises, which was missing in the approach based on one’s belief system: it conflicts with empirical evidence. This way I can very easily judge whether I was right or not.
I don’t know if you know, but it has been estimated that as many as 70-90% of scientific papers, especially in the field of medicine, are falsified. The conclusions drawn are simply untrue. Why? Because someone had their hypothesis, perhaps even somehow reached it objectively, for example, he had a group of patients, he found something noteworthy. On this basis, he developed a hypothesis, then generalized it to all of us. But without the support of the data. Because really the result came first, and the data was adjusted to fit later. Because the data can easily be juggled, if we already have our conclusions before we even start.
Okay. But people have a tendency to impose rules. Just as medicine has bioethics, which prohibits certain tests and treatments, purely because of convictions, there may be a need for such regulation in computer science, the creation of infoethics …
I don’t know what it would look like, but it would be very interesting. Perhaps it will turn out this way, but at this stage, however, it is still science fiction.
Well, yes, because we are talking about artificial intelligence, which is also still just science fiction. But now let’s focus on something that is more real. The analysis of Big Data. Is it ethical to analyze all the data on network activity, payments, GPS positions? Theoretically we are able to connect all this data to a particular person, say, a Social Security number and know almost everything about him, even the most personal, intimate details.
That’s true. And it actually happened some time ago. There’s a book, Dataclysm, or data cataclysm, about how much computers know about us. The book was written by an American who ran an online dating site. It’s a specific kind of site where you can lie about certain issues, but you can’t, for example, lie about your preferences, because you want to meet a person who you find interesting, not the opposite. So there are aspects of your privacy which you have to tell the truth about, and yet these are things that you wouldn’t want to read about yourself in the paper. It’s amazing how much people are willing to tell you about themselves after all. The analysis of such data allows us to build a complete profile. As being off-line is slowly becoming a kind of luxury, so privacy is already a luxury nowadays.
That’s why we’re starting to see regulations come into effect. The European Union ratified the ‘right to be forgotten’ last year – so these are the first steps to giving us back the rights to our data.
That’s true. But on the other hand, we know that the Americans, the Russians, the Chinese and others are also listening to and recording all the telephone calls in the world, all emails, anything you have ever said or written. There are people who analyze and archive it for some reason. The technology already allows it – the storage and processing of data is now so cheap that governments are able to do it. Being anonymous is really a luxury, but it seems to me that people don’t really want it. They are able to put a lot about themselves out there online. It’s true that if we want to enjoy the benefits of the Internet, we need to share data. The system needs to know about us. And that’s okay. However, in using our data, we must take into account the benefits and drawbacks. We sell our data for tangible benefits. And the problem lies in the fact that in reality we sell data for below its true value. Or even for a song.
Okay. We’ve gone off topic a bit. Since there are so many unknowns and so many threats, what decisions about the future can we make to minimize this risk, even a little? Even if only in a professional sense, where to start?
The key word is data. There’s more and more and there’s going to be more still. We generate it, devices generate it, and soon we will process it on an even greater, unprecedented scale. So, people who deal with this data, plus those who have an open mind, will be increasingly indispensable. Anyway, for now there is a lack of them, good professionals are always lacking in these developing fields. In a year’s time they’ll be lacking even more, and in two years more still.
But won’t it be another ‘golden direction’? Twenty years ago, parents dreamed that their children would become doctors or lawyers. Nowadays management is most fashionable. And everybody has a tertiary degree. And now they have nowhere to work. Isn’t it going to be the same all over again? What if a machine ends up taking the place of this analyst?
That’s true. After twenty years it might actually turn out that these professions related to information technology which we know today will no longer exist. Today, however, universities are not able to turn out as many graduates as the labor market needs. Information technology today is changing the world and drives development in its entirety. It changes the scientific approach; it affects all areas of the economy and human activity. Twenty years is not all that short-term a perspective. It seems to me that during these next twenty years, the outlook in terms of IT specialists won’t worsen. And what comes next? After that, we simply don’t know, nobody can predict what will happen.
Business Intelligence solutions in healthcare sector
JCommerce is providing services for GE Healthcare in the area of development and maintenance of Business Intelligence system.
GE Healthcare is a worldwide provider of innovative technologies and services that set new standards of medical care. JCommerce is responsible for the development and maintenance of the client’s Business Intelligence platform. The team of QlikView developers works as an extension of a client onsite development team (team extension model). An expansion of the team to include Qlik Sense developers is also planned in the future.