AXIANS PORTUGAL AND ITS INTEGRATION INTO ONE OF THE TOP 50 EUROPEAN GROUPS

Portugal 2019 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Pedro Afonso, CEO of Axians Portugal and CEO of VINCI Energies Portugal, on a diverse portfolio, international expansion, and the challenges of business in Portugal.

Can you please give us an overview of the evolution of Axians Portugal over the past two years, since the acquisition of the Novabase division?

We have recently finalized our integration in the group. Being part of VINCI world is more than just assimilating procedures, tools, systems, organization, or metrics; it is absorbing its culture, a culture of decentralized operations network with a great deal of autonomy in local business units, a culture which is extremely different from other large corporations that are much more centralized. VINCI is one of the 50 biggest companies in Europe, which means, we have operations in several areas, such as airports, highways, construction, concessions, and so on. Therefore, working in Axians under the VINCI Energies “umbrella" brings interesting synergies for ICT, as various opportunities can be addressed within the group. Our current step on this onboarding program is joining the VINCI innovation networks'. It's been a smooth and very successful process. That said, in two years, we have won two innovation prizes at VINCI Energies so far. Actually, our integration in VINCI is such an accomplishment that we use to say that we have no longer employees but shareholders. VINCI has a program which transforms a typical employee into a shareholder and this is done by investing along with people. Thus, more than 60% of VINCI employees—almost 200,000 all over the world—are shareholders. 41% of Axians Portugal workers own VINCI's shares already and we believe this figure will grow. We are an extremely strong group and we do have ambition to grow. Our main focus is the people who work with us and their well-being, though.

What does your portfolio of services and solutions include?

We are the leaders in Portugal with regard to ICT system integration. Companies need to fulfil three requirements to be successful in this sector in Portugal: firstly, they need to have a strategy to go abroad; secondly, they have to cover the entire lifecycle of ICT in the customers, and finally they must be working with the 200 biggest customers in Portugal. We meet the three of them. We go from on-premises ICT to the cloud and hybrid. We are also on top of the main hot topics like cybersecurity and privacy, Artificial Intelligence and bots, and have had several achievements in those areas, mainly in Banking and Insurance. We are also very strong in sectors like Public Administration, Education, Telco, Energy and so many others. In the Industry sector, for instance, we are working for fast improvement. In fact, we have started to invest a lot more in this field since last year.

In 2018 Axians Portugal won the Microsoft Inspire Award. What does this mean for the company?

In a specific area, we have invested in the customers with Microsoft, and we have had great achievements with that strategy. It is important that a company like Microsoft recognizes Axians and that a company like Axians uses the Microsoft technology for its customers. This also applies for CISCO. We were awarded with three prizes at the Cisco Partner Summit as well, very recently. We are extremely proud of the journey we've been doing with our global partners. It has been making the difference in our arena and it takes respect and partnership between all the parts included for this to happen. Trust is the key value for our success and this is also valid for other important global brands we partner with. They are responsible for our success too.

VINCI Energies has plans to boost your presence abroad. In terms of internationalization, what are your plans?

We prefer to see international business in a different way: not as country A or country B, but in terms of the activities, solutions, and services that we can provide to customers. We always start with them: if we have three or four large customers, then, we can set up a local company to develop out of that. We do not see other countries or the world as a small village; we face each customer as a large country. In certain countries, we've started with some great clients, and after a while we have set up a company locally to develop that further. We supply services from Portugal to different cities remotely, such as Munich, Brussels and Luxembourg, among others. The opportunities since we have been integrated in the group are more than we had in the past and, because of that, we are now addressing big projects abroad in the Utilities sector where the group has already activities, for example. We have specific and deep knowledge on a specific subject so we can do it.

What is the main challenge of doing business in Portugal?

The main challenge is finding skilled people but not only that. Follow me: first, enough children aren't being born and, for that reason, talent will become increasingly scarce. The second challenge is attracting people to universities to learn the hard-technical subjects we need to operate our companies, with the right soft skills. The third one is competition for talent, that is, the knowledge with which we work today is global knowledge, and with that same knowledge one can work in any part of the world. This means that we must struggle for talent, not only in Portugal, but also abroad. The market here is growing; at the same time, international opportunities are increasing as well. We should think about bringing excellent opportunities to Portugal, which to me is the main challenge. I would like to introduce a concept - augmented productivity. When we do not have enough people available, we must “empower" the existing pool of talent with software, machines, bots and automation, to the end of having more efficient use of people's time and talents. Qualified people should focus on valuable activities and all those activities that can be automated should be automated then.

What are your main goals for 2019?

To seek talent inside and outside the company. This is truly an endless task. Overall, the future leaders, given the increasing pace of change in this DX economy, should focus on their moral intelligence, on top of their emotional and cognitive skills. Fostering solid values through education is the way to build relevant and long-lasting human relationships, for all that matters. For all other (minor) things, the market will dictate the path we shall take.