How do IT companies work during the war?
Self-organization, volunteering, new opportunities: how do IT companies work during the war? Interview with devspiration Managing Partner.
More than five months have passed since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. No person or business hasn’t been affected by war. But everyone experiences its impact differently, including turning risks into new opportunities and stress into greater productivity.
In the interview of FinTech Insider with the managing partner of IT company devspiration Vasyl Shkoropad you can read about the difficulties encountered after February 24, were the plan postponed or not, peculiarities of team management in turbulent times, and the challenges of being a technology company in Ukraine during the war.
– Please tell us about devspiration. How many years have you been on the market? What does the company do?
We consider 2008 the year when my partner Yuriy Vey and I decided to start a separate story. We are an IT service company, mainly working with financial services organizations from the USA and Europe. We worked in an IT outsourcing company but had our vision of how we would like to organize our work. So, in 2008, we started our own business.
Technologically, we mainly use Microsoft technologies and applications-related platforms. We also work through our partners – large technology companies. We work with them on projects for their clients.
devspiration officially appeared as a company name in 2020, and Covid also pushed us.
– What is the main product you offer to financial services companies?
We work with data integration, data analytics, with process automation. We also help with cloud solutions.
– What is it like to be a technology company in Ukraine during the war?
I’ve often thought about it. In a sense, we in IT have some privileges compared to other industries. Times are tough, and sometimes, one wants to complain. But the situation for our industry is much easier than others, especially in Ukraine. We have no connection to physical production facilities, technological cataclysms do not threaten us, and the only thing we need for stable work is the Internet and a laptop. COVID prepared us well for the current working environment. It was hard for us to adapt during the quarantine, but our adaptation was much faster after the start of the war in February 2022.
The demand for our services is also steady. It’s not as dynamic as before the war, but it’s still stable. Now we see that the fears of a global crisis are spreading to Europe and the US, mainly due to high inflation. And since this is our primary market, we closely monitor their situation. With some delays, it also affects us.
We are also service exporters. We help our Ukrainian economy survive, and we realize this is our responsibility. Although we face specific nuances with the exchange rate, we perceive it as contributing to helping our country.
Obviously, in the first few days and weeks after February 24, we had to focus on creating conditions for the team’s safety. We wanted to ensure everyone was safe and had everything they needed to work. We understood that people needed special attention and care, but at the same time, we had to ensure that our work quality remained high. Most of our clients understood our circumstances, and we also knew that we had a short window of opportunity where they would be more indulgent towards us. Our customers were also stressed and did not understand what to expect.
Also, our company and our team members were very actively involved in volunteering. It is a significant and integral part of our company’s life now. We have created a working group where we distribute volunteering tasks and needs daily, search for the necessary things, and are engaged in logistics to the front line.
Recently, for example, we held a meeting – a charity auction and raised funds for particular needs.
– Worthy of respect. Wasn’t there an opinion on February 24 or in advance, since the discussions about the possible war were about for some time, to take the whole team abroad?
We started working with these risks well before February 24. We tried to assess them, predict what could happen, how we can respond to these challenges, and how to reduce their impact. We did this both on our own and together with our partners. As part of this work, we conducted surveys on how many people would be willing to travel abroad in the event of a war. We found that about 20% of the people were ready to leave – that’s a small number.
We continued to develop plans to evacuate people but not to relocate our business. Relocation of business should be a last-resort solution.
But at first, we didn’t notice much interest in it. And secondly, we would not be able to move most of the team because after the declaration of martial law and as a result, men not being able to leave the country.
– What challenges and opportunities have you encountered since the invasion began?
The difficulties we all had were similar. The very first difficulty is to realize the new reality and overcome stress. We understood that the company and every team member were under extreme pressure, and we needed to maintain a fragile balance between safety, care and stability.
We have successfully dealt with this. In confirmation, I’ll tell you about such a case. Our partners, too, tried to manage the risks somehow and organized so-called shadow teams that could pick up work if we become unavailable. But such groups were in place only for about a month. This case proves that our customers are confident that we provide and will continue to provide consistent services. Also, the fact that we went through the crisis of 2014 more or less successfully added to their confidence. We have been working with our clients for quite a long time, and they saw that it did not affect our work then.
At first, we really fell out of our usual processes, but we quickly realized that the war was going on and would last indefinitely. Therefore, we immediately returned to our routine activities after overcoming the first shock.
Work stability allows us to retain existing contracts but working with new contracts has become more complex. Our partners, customers, and the financial industry are sensitive to high-risk regions. And Ukraine is now obviously considered such a region, primarily because of the war.
There is much talk about Ukraine nowadays, and the information field is full of reports about our state. Many people cheer for us and are ready to make contact because they are empathetic and want to help in this way. When we work with potential customers, we have seen that many regions have become more responsive to our messages, primarily Central and Northern Europe and the United States of America.
– Does devspiration have plans marked “after victory”? Or, on the contrary, the war pushed the realization of all ideas without postponing them for later?
We put off some plans later because they didn’t look timely. But very quickly, we realized that these were destructive thoughts and actions. I always compare our situation to those in front-line areas or our military. Our problems seem very meagre compared to theirs. That is why we quickly realized that we need to return to our everyday work, or even to a more aggressive position, because we do not know how long the war will last, and by postponing something for later, we will not solve any problem. We can only save some resources and nothing else.
We returned to the usual plans that we had made at the beginning of the year before the invasion. We actively develop our sales and work on the company’s brand.
What we put off for later are any celebrations and parties. We all agreed that we would celebrate the victory. We have stopped all active mass events. Everything we do – is to help other people. All events now must benefit the country, the army, or the people affected by the war.
– You mentioned that you are having some difficulty with exchange rates. Do the innovations initiated by the National Bank negatively affect your work?
Yes, it is. We understand that prices are rising now, and inflation is gaining momentum – this isn’t good. But on the other hand, the difference between the commercial and official rates was quite tangible. Now that the National Bank has introduced some changes, it has probably become less real but still tangible. First of all, it affects purchasing power.
At the beginning of the war, we did not have an understanding of how stable the banking system would be and whether we would be able to receive payments that came to us from abroad. Fortunately, these risks did not materialize. The system works steadily, although we have considered different options for alternative ways that are complex.
– What are the features of team management in turbulent times?
I already mentioned some things. On the one hand, we need to take care of people. We conducted corporate training for the entire team on how to work effectively under stress and manage constant instability, and we also completed training in tactical medicine. But on the other hand, it was better not to bore people with secondary things. Because, again, people have a tremendous psychological burden. We also understand that many of them are volunteering with us or separately. Therefore, we know that it is more critical for them to spend time on these top-priority things.
One of the values of our company is self-organization, or as we say it in English – ownership. By this, we mean that we give people the opportunity to be responsible for the result of their work. We trust them in their work, and we do not carry out micromanagement. But we make it clear that we expect people to be self-aware and show a result. Everyone works remotely, and people have to pull themselves together and overcome their worries, that is, to self-organize and continue to work. Since the beginning of the war, this feature has been strengthened and has helped us a lot.
– What technologies do you think will contribute to the earliest possible recovery of Ukraine after the end of the war?
To address this issue, we need to consider what we put in the word “recovery.” For me, this is, first of all, the restoration of the destroyed regions of Ukraine. And the other part is creating something new that didn’t exist before the war.
By recovering, in the first place, we mean rebuilding the infrastructure. Looking at Ukraine’s cooperation with our foreign partners will be exciting. I am sure there will
be many overseas contractors and agencies involved. We will learn a lot and introduce many new standards in different areas.
Another important direction is to overcome the negative consequences for the state’s territory by clearing and neutralizing explosive objects. For example, some companies are already working on technologies that allow drones to identify flammable objects scattered in open areas. We even somehow discussed in the team the ways of such large-scale demining.
As for new services, there will be much room for creativity in all industries, including financial. New services will be related to the state’s interaction with citizens and organizations. We now see that this cooperation is actively taking place, and more will come. And fintech will contribute to this.
The covid has brought many new information technology trends, which will only intensify now.