Bringing-Long-Distance-Collaboration-to-the-Next-Level-or-Why-Itransition-Opened-an-Office-in-the-UK

When it comes to opening a regional office overseas, there is a plethora of factors to consider, starting from operational costs up to added value. At Itransition, we have been debating whether to open a formal office in the UK for quite a while. Due to the proximity to our main Production Centre in Belarus, it was easier to hop on a plane and get to a business meeting in just a few hours. But as every business evolves over time, ours did too, bringing considerable changes to company goals, priorities and ambitions. Eventually, a regional office was officially established in Canary Wharf, London. This article discusses different branch office modes Itransition has tried over the years, the scheme we consider optimal for us at the moment, the offshore/local dilemma as well as some considerations on the efficient mixed team approach.

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Settling in the new office

Representative office modes we have tried

Itransition has tried different options of setting up an office in London. As a legal entity, we have been working in the UK market for over a decade and our sales representatives have been offering our services for the UK clients for almost the same period. But, obviously, a pure sales front-office, however solid it is, is not enough to bring real value to the company. In the US, for instance, our onsite team always covers the production cycle by local specialists at least partly. In the UK, though, it was much more economically viable to fly out the necessary professionals whenever needed.

So, for some time we used to follow a semi-local delivery office model. Our key specialists travelled to the UK regularly to work closer with our clients, better understand their actual business needs and realities, and provide extra confidence in our skills and capabilities, especially at the project beginning and during the final delivery. Besides, our account managers worked to overcome the concerns usually associated with offshore service providers and form long-term relationships with our key customers.

Now, the company objectives evolved further and a transformation of our collaboration scheme became an indispensable step forward.

So what is different now?

The objective is that now we would like to bring our customers’ comfort to a completely new level. We want them to consider us their trusted regional IT partner, if not an integrated IT department. And it certainly involves a number of modifications to the format of our regional representation.

Partnering with a multitude of clients from innovative startups to large global brands, we realized that the businesses and domains most interesting for us often cannot be effectively reached by current marketing channels and campaigns. So, we are seriously reinforcing the onsite sales team and boosting it with a solid presales expertise.

Furthermore, the company account management is now handled under a unified Key account management program. It standardizes the business development interface for our new and existing clients, supports long-term relationships and enhances escalation procedures, when needed.

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Alex Kulevets, one of our account managers, on a call with a client 

On the production front, we are planning to re-purpose the approach that proved its efficiency for our US office. An experienced team will work with the UK clients locally from our office in London. The focus will be set on the consulting and management parts, first of all, as we find them most practical when done onsite, with as much client involvement as possible.

Key development, quality assurance and customer service expertise remains in Belarus, keeping our pricing strategy well-balanced. Though, we will still use the benefit of comparably insignificant proximity between our European offices to bring in core team leads onsite for the most important project stages and provide more flexibility and effectiveness.

The updated office infrastructure seems quite solid and we genuinely believe that the software solutions we deliver can provide a strong technological backbone to enhance productivity of enterprises across the UK and the rest of Europe.

Offshore vs. Local

The fact Itransition invests in well-established regional offices does not necessarily mean we are planning to limit the diversity of our engagement schemes. There are still a lot of cases where our new clients and existing partners do not really need us onsite. Smaller projects with straightforward requirements are easy to discuss and handle online and so can still be developed offshore, keeping both parties happy with the end result and the cost involved.

However, a local presence certainly takes client relationships to a different level. When working with enterprise customers, for instance, decision-making is done in a completely different way: the client representatives we talk to directly are almost never the sole decision makers and report back to higher management. Each collaboration starts with a local sale contact who provides a powerful demonstration of what we do, persuades client representatives they made the right choice and helps communicate the idea to their supervisors. It is much more effective to do having a staff of professionals close to the clients. Besides, as hard as it may be to believe, not all companies are technically able to support multichannel video calls, so in those cases having a representative office is critical for business.

In most cases, though, a local team can effectively facilitate offshore development services and we see serious potential in the balanced combination of both models.

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Andrey Syomkin, RFX manager from Minsk team, preparing for meeting with a local client

Working in Mixed International Teams

At Itransition we have been practicing the mixed team approach for many years now, experimenting with the level of local involvement, various development methodologies, delivery schemes and so forth.

One of the organizational aspects we are exploring now and find quite important is the double subordination within our mixed teams. We have an operational manager in the Production Centre and a local manager in the regional office that both work with the same account, but have different areas of responsibility. The first coordinates the development team directly, manages daily routines, handles communication within the team and cooperation between various departments. The other supervises onsite activities – typically, core architecture set-up and business analysis – provides status updates, presentations and demonstrations, sometimes handles account management duties as well.

There are also distinct peculiarities of organizing distributed teams, when another vendor or the client’s in-house team works on a project in parallel with us. It may sound trivial, but the atmosphere in the team is crucial. The client’s employees have to be sure we are not there to replace them, but rather extend the capabilities and get better results together. That is where intensive communication is important on all levels. Our account managers work close with the client’s management to set up the right tone of cooperation. We encourage frequent onsite trips for regular team members. Daily stand-up meetings are also quite effective in this sense to create the feeling of unity no matter where any team member is situated geographically. And the effect is even more prominent for mixed Agile teams that include client’s employees and our specialists. This set-up can seem challenging as you make people from different companies handle the same tasks together, but, done right, it extracts unbelievable synergy as the team unites around common project goals.