Tech business in focus: Godel Technologies
Godel Technologies’ mission is to build the most respected nearshore software delivery partner in Europe. CEO Neil Turvin explains how his business is drawing on the depth of skills available in Belarus to help UK clients implement cutting-edge IT solutions.
Founded in 2002, Godel Technologies helps clients meet their IT development needs through augmenting their own in-house teams or providing dedicated teams for outsourced IT development. Highly qualified Godel staff help the likes of Virgin Holidays, Experian, Boden, First Utility and Jet2.com complete IT projects and IT product development to the highest standards.
Godel’s teams are organised around the Microsoft, Java, Open Source and PHP stack of languages, operating across multiple sectors to protect the business from any sector-specific downturns. “No single sector makes up more than 20% of our revenues, which ensures we do not carry the risk of a sector downturn,” Turvin says. Regardless of sector, Godel focuses on helping clients with cutting-edge projects. “Everything is aligned with digital transformation and ‘agile’ these days,” Turvin says. “That’s how budgets are being signed off. But that can encompass all sorts of things from ERP systems to insurance systems, business intelligence or machine learning.”
Godel currently employs around 500 people – around 30 in Manchester and the vast majority in Belarus, which has a depth of IT talent. “In the former Soviet Union, Belarus was chosen as the place where investment would be made in tech,” Turvin says. “Minsk, the capital of Belarus, was the tech hub. There’s been 50+ years of investment in technology, which is why we have been operating there for the last 15 years.”
With about 94% of staff based in Belarus but all clients in the UK, communications technology is critical for Godel’s success. “We install high definition video conferencing for all of our clients onsite for free,” Turvin says. “It means they can have direct conversations in English in real time every day with people in Belarus. In the summer there’s a two hour time difference, and three hours in winter. But it works well for software developers, because they like getting up late and working later.”
Disruptor or disrupted?
Is Godel a disruptor – or at risk of disruption – or both? “Everybody is at risk of disruption in some ways,” Turvin says. “But I definitely see ourselves as a disruptor, probably for two reasons. Firstly, the lack of high quality IT skills in the UK is a big challenge across every industry. We have access to exceptional software engineering talent which we can offer to our clients at competitive rates, so we are a disruptor in that way.
"In addition, we are solely focused on serving clients in the UK and we see that as a differentiator compared to our competitors. There’s so much demand in the UK. If you try to meet demand across the globe, it’s harder to keep your quality. For us, it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality "
The approach is clearly working. “We entered 15 awards last year and won 15,” Turvin says. These included the Best Management Team award – sponsored by BDO – in the 2017 Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 awards.
Despite the focus on quality over quantity, Turvin is aiming to double Godel’s headcount by the end of 2020. However, in a market where one Belarus-founded nearshore competitor currently employs around 25,000 people and is aiming to triple in size, Godel will still retain its boutique status. “We manage our growth steadily,” Turvin says.
The biggest challenge in growing the business so far has been in achieving a “mindset change – and making sure people are aware of your differentiators, internally and externally,” Turvin says. “For example, we have to manage expectations around going from 500 to 1,000 staff as some parties believe that is fast growth, but compared to other companies within our sphere, that could be looked upon as slow! So the challenge is partly about recruitment and finding the right talent, but you also have to take people on a journey of change over a period of time – changing people’s mindset in order to deliver new services, new offerings and new ways of going about things.”
About Godel Technologies
Industry: Computer Software
Company size: 501-1,00 employees
Ownership: Privately held
Godel is future-proofing itself to keep up with technology advancements. “We continue to invest in technical education around the latest technologies,” Turvin says. “Traditionally in the offshore and nearshore world, organisations would do what I call ‘business as usual’ work. We don’t really want that work so we have to invest in tech education in order for our colleagues to stay a step ahead of the game. We are leveraging high quality talent in Belarus, so in order to retain and motivate those people, you have to invest educationally in them with the latest technologies and offer them those types of [cutting-edge] projects. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is a good example. Microsoft are visiting our development centres to train our guys in their technologies in AI and machine learning as they also recognise that as a partner, we are able to offer a disruptive model in the UK market.”
Godel is also future-proofing itself by investing in its brand and developing high quality references. “We invest a lot in terms of our brand because we want to be associated with quality,” Turvin says. “We want to be that most respected nearshorer. So being boutique in the way we go about things and our approach to the market helps us future-proof because people don’t just see us as an organisation that’s lower in the food chain – that doesn’t have a value proposition.” Godel makes the most of the “killer references” it gains from high profile clients, posting video testimonials on its website, for example.
As a high-tech business, it’s no surprise that Godel makes good use of technology itself. “We must have around £300,000 of video-conferencing kit out with clients,” Turvin says. “That’s key to our business. It demonstrates to clients that we are a technology company and high quality engineers expect a certain level of tech. So a lot of investment goes into digital technology within the business, and into our website so that we get across our culture and what really makes us tick. We’ve also invested heavily around cloud – around £500,000.” Godel’s email systems are in the cloud, as are its source control systems and the project-tracking systems the developers use. It has also invested in cloud-based video-conferencing systems to support clients’ remote-working employees.
Looking at the future of the software delivery sector over the next few years, Turvin believes Brexit could have an impact. “If it’s a hard Brexit and it’s hard for Europeans to stay here or they are not motivated to stay here, that will create more of a skills gap,” he says. “If it’s a soft Brexit and they are allowed to stay, that’s going to drive even more digital businesses. Recent surveys say that job creation in tech is two times faster than in the wider economy. So I see the skills shortage as becoming even more of a challenge.”
That skills shortage will also be exacerbated, Turvin believes, by the growing demand for AI and machine learning solutions. “Given all the challenges companies face at the moment around core software engineering skills, if you throw AI, machine learning and cloud in there, they are not going to be able to cope – it is difficult for a client to have full capability to deliver,” Turvin says. “We are looking to leverage talent in quantity in Belarus. But there will be so much demand that you [software delivery firms] have a choice: do you go after quantity or do you focus on being the quality partner? That latter is what we choose to do.”
What other sectors does Turvin think are most in line for disruption due to technology in the next few years? “Retail, because the high street is dying a death,” Turvin says, confessing his dislike of shopping in person. “The likes of PrettyLittleThing.com, Boohoo or Asos have grown online without any shops. That model will continue. Even businesses that kick off in fashion see themselves as tech businesses really. They grow from nowhere and quickly reach £50m turnover.”
The other sector where Turvin anticipates substantial tech disruption is healthcare, because of the potential impact of AI and machine learning. He says: “If a hospital is failing to meet targets or you’re a doctor or surgeon interpreting the results of scans, for example, AI and machine learning could help to generate more accurate results, at scale, for treating illnesses, depending on how you teach the tech.”
Encouraging digital business
UK businesses that want to become more digital need to create a “talent ecosystem” Turvin suggests. “You need to invest in graduates, in juniors, so you have people growing within your business, within your own culture, and coming through – it’s short-term pain for long-term gain,” he says. Although this will create some “churn” as businesses try to identify real talent, there will be benefits in the long run. “You also need to have somebody like Godel – a partner who can access exceptional talent for you faster,” Turvin says. “You also potentially need to look at the contract market where you need specific skills and knowledge, with the aim of the contractors distributing their knowledge within your teams. So in this way you create an ecosystem around talent.”
The government is already doing a lot to encourage new tech talent in the UK, Turvin believes. “Where I think they need to invest is in IT teachers,” he says. “We need investment into the way that IT teachers are being taught themselves, and the syllabus around IT. I also think they need to invest more in bringing people in from the private sector to help with the syllabus. Teachers in schools need to have the same investment that lecturers at a university would have.”
We asked: Away from Godel, what disruptive tech has most impressed you?
“The tech I’d like to invest some time in is virtual or augmented reality,” Turvin says. “Imagine how many meetings we have in our business, and we have people working remotely. If you could have online meetings in a virtual reality or augmented reality manner, where you could virtually shake hands and share screens or whiteboards in a virtual world, that would be interesting.”