IT Hyped Trends And Resilience To Disruption
The Prime View got an opportunity to interview Andre van Dalen, CEO at AMIS, a company that equips enterprises with state-of-the-art IoT capabilities.
Andre, please tell a little bit about yourself, about your career in IT, what you have been doing and what you’re up to right now?
When I started as a COBOL developer, I created tailor-made software as additions to ERP at a company called Unit 4, back in the days when it was not called the ERP yet. Then I switched to a customer-facing role as an implementation consultant on ERP software. It gradually deferred into project management, account management, product management, and even HR.
I extended my responsibilities, and occasionally switched from the mid-market to the enterprise market, was responsible for the IT-delivery to the Ministry of Defense. Then I was asked to take a role on the board of AMIS. It was my big step into innovative technology. That is where I stand now as CEO.
Andre van Dalen
CEO at AMIS
For those who do not know, how do you define AMIS as a business?
It is interesting that “AMIS” stands for Aircraft Maintenance Information Systems. Back in 1991, the company was working only with the avionic industry developing custom maintenance software. The idea was to grow into that market, but the major carriers like KLM, the Netherlands Schiphol airport, and Boeing companies felt reluctant to do business with a student company.
In 2009-2010 we went into the Oracle industry firmly, stating we want to be the Oracle technology partner in the Netherlands.
We became very successful, gathered lots of partner recognitions, won prizes in integration technologies.
A few years ago, we realized we have the right competence and the tech stack to enter the IoT market. It was getting more and more hybrid technology stacks. We focus on companies with lots of data or complex data and application structures. We entered Microsoft Azure and open-source services from that point on. That is where we stand now – we are an IT technology company that can connect, integrate, and synergize any devices and systems.
How do you leverage technology to deal with the rising customer expectations in your space?
Right now, most companies are dealing with legacy IT, and that legacy IT cannot keep up with the current wants and needs on the market. We live in a strange reality, where we can open our phones and do many fascinating things, and then get back to the office and find ourselves in this rigid, legacy enterprise system; this needs to change.
To satisfy our customer expectations, we choose to specialize in integration to complement larger systems and replace a specific box with state-of-the-art technology without replacing the whole enterprise’s back-end IT systems. This approach allows a cost-efficient business transformation.
You were trying to work with big airline companies like KLM and Boeing in the past. Who are your customers right now?
We can see several industries where most of our customers come from. It is energy and the agriculture industries, which are very innovative in the Netherlands. Of course, we have financial organizations and trading firms as our customers too.
The baseline of our work is that if you use technology, if you want to innovate your business, then you probably should be partnering with us.
How can companies use IoT to improve customer experience and increase market share?
The availability of technology is not the most important part of digitizing customer experience. Big Data and data-driven technologies are not silver bullets either. You need to think thoroughly about what you want to achieve, understand the know-why of your ambitions, and only then add the know-how part.
In my experience, IT tends to hype itself.
Companies and management get advised to hop on this or that trend; otherwise, you will fail. How many times haven’t you heard you should digitally transform, do IoT, do Big Data, do cloud? Data can make a big difference, but first, you need to realize that data management and data analysis require a complex approach. In its turn, IoT offers great possibilities. I call it the “ROI of IoT” – Reactive, Oversight, and Innovation.
Can you envision how IoT is going to reshape the future in the next decade?
IoT is already reshaping our lives and work. Automotive, manufacturing, retail, agriculture, and many more industries use data to get actionable insights. Things like self-driving cars, highly relevant shopping experiences powered by beacons, energy optimization for more efficient manufacturing capabilities will soon change the way we see the world today.
The best forecast comes from what we can observe in our daily lives. Our customer, a car-manufacturing plant, has autonomous carts moving along the assembly line to support the chassis through the assembly line. The propulsion system of these carts is essential for productivity. An error in this system due to electrical or mechanical failure can lead to an unplanned outage. The propulsion system is prone to heavy shocks and bangs caused by robots mounting different parts of the car.
An unplanned outage of one of these carts can lead to a complete halt of the factory line. By mounting sensors on the propulsion system, we can monitor minimal changes in energy usage and vibration. These are indicators of a future outage. This way, we can prevent outages by detecting a decline in performance. With our solution, we made sure the assembly and delivery lines work seamlessly.
What are the key challenges you are facing right now? How does AMIS solve these challenges with its delivery capabilities?
That is not that easy to define. On one side, its legacy software, obsolete technologies that are to some extent still operational.
We often have to deal with, “don’t fix what ain’t broken” philosophy.
Another challenge is the so-called technical debt – the unavailability of IT engineers who want to invest time and skills in the legacy technologies. You are left with very few specialists who can help solve some of the non-trivial tasks.
Do you face any challenges in terms of regulations as you deal with lots of customer data?
Of course, we do. We must think about all kinds of regulations. When working with American companies, we have to comply with the US regulations on data availability for the government. On the other hand, being a Dutch company, we have to meet and comply with the GDPR terms.
When it comes to working with financial organizations, we have to go the extra mile to guarantee confidentiality.
Here we are regulated by the Dutch National Bank and by the EU regulations. Of course, we sometimes see a conflict between those two. To achieve full data protection, we add extra cryptography so we can ensure maximum data safety for customer satisfaction. Also, Microsoft and Oracle guarantee us the confidentiality of the data that is stored in the cloud.
What was your reasoning to choose Microsoft Azure over Amazon AWS?
We can work in different clouds, but lots of our customers precisely ask for Microsoft Azure. They do that because Microsoft is a trustworthy name and its systems have a large footprint in their companies – their mail and document systems are already in place. Also, in the mid-market, Microsoft is pretty successful with their ERP stack. I think they have made huge steps on the on-deck technology board. They have lots of technology available on the PaaS level, and I think they are now state of the art.
We can compare Microsoft Azure with Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, which is more of a niche player. AMIS used to work on Oracle database and Oracle technology in the past – we recognize its advanced performance in availability and scalability. Oracle has some advantages in cost, performance, and actual integration, but still, Microsoft is a few steps ahead when it comes to IoT integrations.
Many companies have been affected by the COVID 19 crisis. How have you been able to mitigate the risks and drive the business forward?
I think we are one of the lucky companies. As an IT company, we had all kinds of technology in place to work remotely, so we could switch almost instantly from on-premise office work to everybody working from home.
Fortunately, lots of our customers are in sectors that aren’t directly affected by the crisis. It also proved that investing in technology makes your company resilient to uncertainty and disruption and improves an organization’s ability to respond effectively to rapidly changing circumstances.