Traditional financial entities are now tied to their legacy system

A jovem askblue faz um balanço muito positivo dos seus sete anos de atividade e, apesar do atual enquadramento económico, mantém-se otimista. Pedro Nicolau, CEO, da consultora explica como se adaptou-se às novas circunstâncias de mercado.

The company was founded in 2013 by four partners, Pedro Nicolau, Sofia Bastos Santos, Rui Couto, and Ana Rosado. askblue helps companies and organizations transform digitally, as well as helping them define their business structuring strategies.

Last year one of the company’s goals was to grow internationally and to have a dedicated team that would develop markets in the Middle East and Northern Europe. There are currently several projects underway in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and the Netherlands.

Pedro Nicolau told Link To Leaders about the project’s direction and goals for this year. Despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, it still has the ambition to surpass 14 million euros and to expand to a team of 350 people.

How is askblue adapting to this new Covid-19 pandemic context?
In a very short time, we have managed to adapt well to these new circumstances. Fortunately, the way our company functions makes it possible to do all the work remotely. However, we had to make sure that some working conditions were put in place to avoid a drop in productivity. By working remotely, we had to have full access to our customers’ computer systems, which took about two to three weeks. We also had to adjust our work methodologies to let our employees continue working as a team, despite being physically separated.

Since our work activities require a great deal of customer interaction throughout the project, we have adapted and rescheduled our work meetings. Thus, these meetings have become shorter and more frequent. 

The management of the company and the departments also had to be adapted. The main objective has been to stick to the routine, maintaining visual access through collaboration tools and video calls, keeping everyone’s motivation high, and maintaining communication between teams.

Finally, we streamlined internal communication through our internal social network, increasing the frequency of information to promote and encourage participation.

We believe that we have become an attractive company to work for and for this reason, we have attracted and kept the best professionals working for us.

What is your assessment of these seven years of doing business? And what would you like to achieve in the next seven years?
Our assessment is very positive. We believe that we have become an attractive company to work for and for this reason, we have attracted and kept the best professionals working for us. Our customers also have confidence in our ability to develop critical and transformation projects. This should also be part of the formula to help us achieve success in the future. 

Our goal for the next seven years is to develop and grow internationally and to reinforce our presence in the non-financial sectors. We would like to strengthen our reputation as a reference company in Portugal because we know how to provide value-added solutions and because of the quality and experience of our professionals.

We are aware that in order to continue growing at a fast pace, we will have to deal with new challenges, such as maintaining that high level of quality when it comes to our services, investing in technical and functional specialization, developing competitive offers, and being innovative.

Which countries and regions is askblue thinking of investing in at the moment?
Northern Europe and the United States. We already have partners and ongoing projects in both of these markets.

How much did askblue make last year and what contributed most to the earnings?

We had a turnover of 10.8 million and the financial sector contributed the most.

“We believe that with the information base at our disposal and even with the uncertainty we are currently facing, we will continue to grow in double digits this year (…)”

What are your prospects for this year? Are you able to reach 14 million euros as predicted?
Our prospects for 2020 were very positive before the pandemic started. The first-quarter results of this year were just as we had predicted, both in terms of volume and margin. It has been our best quarter ever. 

The future is less predictable today and we are aware that our sector is not one of the most directly affected. Some customers have already been affected and others will be affected later. This will hurt their business, either by reducing turnover or by increasing costs and, therefore, in the future they may use less external services.

However, since askblue mainly provides core business services to big companies to run their daily business operations, we do not expect our services to be much affected. We believe that with the information base at our disposal and even with the uncertainty we are currently facing, we will continue to grow in double digits this year, but everything of course depends on how the health crisis evolves.

How many customers does askblue currently have? And what are the main sectors?
We have 33 active customers and the main sector is finance, but we have been developing solutions and projects in very different areas, such as retail.

What are the most requested askblue solutions?
Responses to market requests can be presented in four different ways. Firstly, our approach is to encourage the development of projects which improve performance by reorganizing and optimizing business processes. A second approach is technological, developing tailor-made solutions on OutSystems, Java, and Microsoft .NET platforms.

Another aspect is managing the maintenance and evolution of our customers’ applications, which is the purpose of our askblue technology center (ATC). This ensures that askblue stays at the forefront of new market trends in digital transformation, for example. Finally, we complement and reinforce our customers’ teams with askblue professionals who have the necessary skills in the most diverse technical, methodological, and functional areas.

Do national companies already have the capacity to challenge and analyze value proposition?

The Portuguese companies we work with are, on average, extremely well-organized and run by hard-working and competent professionals. In this regard, the projects we develop are complex and challenging, from the business point of view and also from the technological point of view.

“ (…) the reality of financial technology has been affirmed and traditional entities need to transform themselves so as not to lose their leadership position. ”

At a time when financial technology is increasingly gaining prominence in Portugal, can askblue be the right partner to transform an organization and provide it with what is necessary to compete in this sector?
Today traditional financial entities are tied to their legacy system, which is a heavy organizational structure, and must continuously respond to the regulatory requirements demanded by central banks. However, the reality of financial technology has been affirmed and traditional entities need to transform themselves so as not to lose their leadership position. 

Therefore, askblue is an ideal partner that helps financial entities in their transformation process. By knowing how the financial sector operates, we are at an advantage in this process. We take innovative approaches with the challenges of the future in mind. and, simultaneously, we make sure that these approaches are compatible with regulatory requirements. Additionally, we have mastered current and new technologies, which let us implement within the time-to-market frame any new models and services that may be adopted.

Despite being a young company, what are the characteristics that allow a company to establish itself so effectively?
I believe that the reason for our success is due to several factors. Firstly, we have a well-experienced team that is knowledgeable in the market and well-known for its importance and quality in the sector. These factors lead to customer confidence in the askblue teams with which they interact and which ensures high-quality output. Finally, or possibly even in the first place, we have been thinking big right from the beginning. When we started, we clearly defined the organizational structure of the company keeping in mind the growth of the team and the organization.

“Making mistakes is part of the company’s growth process and must be understood and corrected (…)”

Looking back, what would you have done differently if you had had the opportunity?
In general, I believe that the most important decisions have been made well. I am including here the fundamental ones, such as, the company’s strategy and positioning, our organization and what we have to offer, etc. This is the advantage of having started our business with an experienced management team.

On the other hand, and as you can imagine, we have also made some bad decisions, such as the first ERP, which did not prove to be adequate, some partnerships that were not the best for the Portuguese market, and some professionals who did not adapt to our level of demand and business culture. Making mistakes is part of a company’s growth process and must be understood and corrected so that the organization becomes more and more efficient.

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