In an interview before the PODIM Conference, Gaber Cerle, CEO of Datalab SI, talks about how companies often don’t know what the state of the company is like and what needs to be done, and highlights the importance of a well-designed digital strategy, because a successful digital transformation can only follow strategy.
A data-driven agile approach is characteristic for startups. How can Datalab’s services help startups as well as big companies looking for agility?
“In Datalab, we work on developing the business information system PANTHEON and on consulting and implementing business information solutions into company operations. We are a team of experts from different disciplines, with a lot of knowledge and experiences in solving the questions and challenges of using business information technologies. In addition, we have developed a wide network of branches and partners across the entire region, with whom we collaborate in these processes.
It is crucial for startup companies to initially choose a programme with which they will be able to lead their business operations through all stages of their company development. This means that the programme is growing and answering the changing needs of the company in all the fundamental business areas, including material operations, accounting and finances, manufacture, sales, storage, stock and review of key business indicators.
Fast and exact information is crucial for company survival, as it enables timely reactions and suitable decisions. In startup companies, due to the nature of company development, fast and exact information is often connected to fast changes in the chosen business information system, which is not productive.
The fact is that in startup companies, roles overlap, as in the starting stages of operations, certain individuals are in charge of a wide range of tasks, while our function is that we direct them, simplify their operations with digitalization tools, enable high independence in their work, and that we are there when they need us.”
For a number of years, Datalab has been striving to give value added to data. Today, in an age of data, is this value even bigger than it was years ago?
“With our goal to transform data into revenue, we wanted to say that it’s crucial for companies to know what specific data and business indicators mean. Every entrepreneur needs to have an overview of their business operations, they need to know the right data at the right moment.
In PANTHEON, the functionality Business analytics is included from the most basic edition of the program onwards, and it uses key indicators to show what shape the company is in. The entrepreneur thus has information at his or her disposal that enables effective decision-making and makes it easier to avoid unpleasant surprises.
The business stream has been significantly faster over the past few years than it was in the past, you need to make decisions faster, competition in all domains is strong, the smallest details count and without the right tool, there is quite a big possibility that we will lose control over our business operations.”
Now, in an era when data, their management and protection are gaining important, how valuable is this time advantage before the competition that Datalab has obtained through the years?
“This year, Datalab is celebrating 22 years of being in business. We are present in countries of Southeast Europe (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania) and we have more than 57 000 users. PANTHEON did not spring into existence overnight, but rather years of development, improvements, user experiences and strategic partnerships have led us to a point where we became the leading provider of the business information system in the region.
The time advantage is invaluable, but a fact is that part of our business model is based on development taking place due to our users’ feedback, as more than 70 % of improvements that we implement in the program arise from market inquiries. We also realize that it is necessary to constantly adapt to new technologies in the spirit of business digitalization in all domains, but we also constantly give a lot of emphasis to data safety.”
Adapting to changes is inevitable
Datalab, just like the PODIM team, realizes that digitalization is crucial if companies wish to stay competitive. To what extent is this realization also already present in Slovenian companies?
“According to the digital economy and society index, Slovenia ranks 15thamongst 28 member EU countries. With connectivity, the index measures 9 different elements, in five of those, Slovenia ranks better than the EU average, while the index of broadband connection prices is the only one that’s lower than it was in 2017. On the one hand, we need to look at this from the aspect of Slovenia’s smallness and mountains, which are connected to bigger investments. On the other hand, it’s related to the regulations we have on the market.
In Slovenian companies, the awareness of the necessity of digital transformation is present, but we are even strengthening this awareness with our solutions. It is especially important that entrepreneurs, on the basis of best practice examples, learn about the advantages of digitalization and mirror it on their own business processes. Adapting to changes is unavoidable in this case.
Companies often don’t know what the state of the company is and what needs to be done. It is very important for them to have a well-designed digital strategy, as only then successful digital transformation can follow. Paperless business operations are something that advance companies have been using for more than 30 years. Digital transformation on the company level means reorganizing the company in a way that enables the use of digital technologies, thus accelerating the process of adjusting business models and processes to new market challenges and creating new business opportunities.
Digitalization also concerns the perception and willingness of employees, and the support and directions from the leadership. But it is truly transferred from top to bottom.”
Documents digitalization today moves documents from drawers to the cloud, it is impossible to avoid it. Do companies trust the data that’s under your care? Do you keep data in the cloud, do you do it yourselves or do you have partners, external contractors? What challenges in this field are still foreseen for the future?
“Within PANTHEON Hosting in Slovenia, we collaborate with the leading telecommunications operator in Slovenia – Telekom Slovenije. Our branches similarly collaborate with local telecoms. Our user’s data is thus safely stored in Telekom’s cloud and are thus accessible from anywhere and at any time.
The documents that we manage in PANTHEON, for example received and issued invoices, accounting documents, salaries and similar, can be safely stored in the cloud, the so-called server. The server is always accessible, which means that the data is also always accessible. Additionally, the server has suitable safety measures that prevent data loss, especially making backups and physical and software protection.
Usually, you would need to take care of the above-mentioned software by yourself or through a provider, and then also promptly maintain the infrastructure. With the hosting service, these worries fall away, as the data is stored in a data center, where suitable safety and technical impeccability are ensured.
Future challenges mostly include suitable data safety and a certain level of connectivity. The fact is that digital transformation brings new business models, and the technology needs to follow. But it needs to ensure suitable safety of business data.”
Various agricultural activities in a single system
The new PSD2 payment regulation came into force last year, which shook the foundations of the banking industry and brought a market that’s more open to innovation. Analysts marked it as a breakthrough and disruptive novelty. Considering that this regulation makes data more open, do you see that you can now connect more in the fintech industry?
“The main purpose of the directive is to upgrade and expand the range of online financial services for customers. In DataLab, we are constantly following these changes and, already today, we offer our users sensible use of various financial services in paying their obligations or managing business invoices.
We will definitely follow these challenges and, when necessary, offer sensible improvements to our users.”
Years ago, you started digitalizing the biggest economic sector in the world; you are developing software for farmers. In what form can Pantheon Farming, using IoT to digitalize data, be a solution for farming, which has found itself in a “crisis” and simply must digitalize?
“Due to the complexity that farmers face today, we decided to combine various types of agricultural activities into one system, including applications, various IoT integrations, exchanging data through online services, and back office. We adapted all this to farmers’ needs.
Successful farm management can take you a lot of time. To decide quickly and correctly, you need large amounts of accurate data, because mistakes cost you a lot. Digital solutions enable you to work a lot faster and more exactly. In the PANTHEON Farming program, you can get an overview of the entire farm in a single click.
Farms also need this data for various tenders and subsidies. But we all know that the accompanying ‘paper war’ with national institutions is often strenuous.
You can reduce your costs, no matter the size of your farm. Let the technology work for you, allowing you to improve your finances. PANTHEON Farming gives you an overview of the production on your farm. You will be able to make better decisions for the future with valuable data.
I would also like to mention the ecological aspect, which is becoming increasingly important in farming. Sustainability is the at the heart of many directives and initiatives of the European Union. PANTHEON Farming enables you to more effectively use up your resources and decrease your waste. The environment will be grateful to you, but your farm will also have more opportunities to obtain subsidies by the EU and collaborate in other projects.”
On the brink of Industry 4.0, when computers and processes automatization are becoming a common denominator, there are new algorithms, artificial intelligence and machine learning that demand fewer data input and interaction with people. What does this mean for Datalab?
“In Datalab we wanted to make our users’ business operations as simple as possible by introducing eBusiness tools, such as pre-set business processes that speed up and improve the processes that take place in the company every day; eAccounting, which is a system for recognizing the contents of scanned invoices and enable you to gather and recognize data from a paper document into the form of an eInvoice.
From there, there is automatic bookkeeping into balances and the main book, eDocumentation that ensures safe storage of documents and enables you to quickly and simply search across the entire documentation in the company, from invoices, guarantees, instructions, contracts; eExchange that ensures automatic data transfer in a standardized form, where different e-documents are exchanged between different business partners; eBackup that safely stores documents from the program to Telekom’s servers; and eInvoice that enables you to receive and send invoices in the electronic form.
But Industry 4.0 is a lot more than just that. It mostly means an organizational development of the company that we track with business solutions, be it with standardized solutions be it with user adjustments.
Every company, especially startups, is unique in its own way. That is why business solutions need to adapt to this, at least in some aspects, and suitably support the key business processes that represent the fundamental competitive advantage of the company, not always try to mould them into the same shape.”
Creative and high-tech ideas are always welcome
Datalab’s focus on proactively connecting with startups and scaleups is commendable. You are present in agritech and fintech sectors, do you see similar opportunities elsewhere?
“We are open to collaboration with startups from various sectors, it all depends on their solutions that we can integrate into our business system. The key thing we are looking for are solutions that simplify, accelerate and upgrade companies’ business operations, enable fast data exchange, and contribute to the advanced use of technology in the spirit of digitalization.
Creative and high-tech ideas are always welcome, and we are looking forward to collaborating with aspiring young minds.”
Considering that startups have fewer resources, do you get closer to them in some way with your offer and thus make the entry threshold lower?
“With companies that are at the beginning of their business journey, we strive to give them the possibility to do business with low costs, meaning that they do as much as they can themselves. They collaborate with accounting services for urgent tasks, such as VAT statements, salaries, balance sheets, while they have the option to lead daily administrations such as order forms, delivery notes, invoices, travel orders etc. by themselves.
For PODIM visitors, we also prepared a special offer of an introductory business program. You are kindly invited to come to our showroom.”
Is there any other message you wish to give to the PODIM audience?
“Companies, especially startups, primarily need to be proactive and adaptable in order to successfully compete with their competitors. For them, it’s important to introduce business solutions that will grow with them, enable them to do business from anywhere and at any time, promote mobility and effectiveness. As far as business and processes digitalization is concerned, it is crucial that companies prepare for this step on all levels. It all starts with the right mindset.”