This is how this Belgian company could cope with the scarcity of tech talent: “Without nearshoring, we would never have been able to launch our platform so quickly.”
Ocular was playing with the idea of building a virtual extension for the experiences it creates in physical spaces. When Belgium went into lockdown, those hybrid plans gained momentum. But trying to find professionals in Belgium to develop such a digital platform at lightning speed proved to be difficult. CactusSoft came to the rescue.
Belarusian software engineers joined Ocular’s team from 2,000 kilometers away. “They have become full team members. They have taken over our DNA,” says Ocular founder and managing director Nicolas Vanden Avenne.
Ocular designs and develops digital tools that translate into physical spaces, explains Vanden Avenne. “We have already built interactive experiences for In Flanders Fields, Technopolis, and the Van Eyck expo in MSK Ghent. But we have also given the Quickstep showroom and the Accenture lobby a digital touch. The essence is always the same: we want to amaze and inspire people. We want to leave an impression.”
Corona Crisis Acceleration
“We were already developing a digital platform that can control physical spaces,” says Vanden Avenne. “With that platform you could, for example, adapt your showroom to the type of visitor you receive. One customer will then see a different scenario from another customer.”
“The corona crisis has accelerated that platform. Companies are looking for innovative ideas to integrate their physical space into their customers’ digital journeys. They want to receive their customers personally and guide their offerings in a digital 3D environment. Just like they would in their showroom, but online and remotely. A digital extension of their physical space. In the hybrid world of tomorrow, such cross-pollination is the future.”
“We already had a concept and the first wireframes for that digital platform. In times of crisis you have to move forward. COVID-19 was no time to sit back and relax. But our developers’ schedule was packed, so we needed extra manpower to further develop the platform quickly. Flanders is bursting with technological talent. However, the demand is greater than the supply and that talent is therefore not available in the short term. We started looking for creative solutions to add extra capacity to our team. That’s how we ended up at CactusSoft.”
Two Cultures, One Team
CactusSoft employs nearshoring, linking Belarusian software engineers to Belgian companies. “That method was new to us, so we had several questions,” says Vanden Avenne. “The human aspect was important. At Ocular we pay a lot of attention to the people who are our employees and we have short, direct lines of communication between management and employees.”
“We were not looking for cheap workers; we were looking for full team members. Just because they work from Belarus does not mean that we would suddenly throw our entire corporate culture overboard. Bram Van Nieuwerburgh, Partner and Chairman at CactusSoft, was able to reassure me immediately during our first conversation that our vision matched CactusSoft’s vision perfectly.”
Bram fulfills an important function as a bridge-builder and liaison officer. We often work with Ocular on foreign projects. Whether in Poland or Saudi Arabia, cultural differences always play an important role and can make such projects particularly difficult. Bram knows the Belgian culture, but he also knows the Belarusian culture through and through. He can reconcile the two without any problem. The cultural differences have not been an issue at any point in our collaboration. Due to the Belgian anchoring of CactusSoft, the time needed to arrive at a solution was also very short.Nicolas Vanden Avenne, Founder and Managing Director at Ocular
“In normal times, the Belarusian developers would have come to Zwevezele for a week to get to know each other and get the project on track. This was not possible because of COVID-19.” Vanden Avenne, therefore, had to kick off the collaboration in a different way. “Two project managers at Ocular had a call every day with the team in Belarus, promptly at 9 AM. They were soon on the same wavelength and followed the same sprint rhythm. Despite the distance, communication was very open and transparent, and a relationship of trust has grown quite quickly.”
“We started with two separate teams, in two countries. But that has become one team. The Belarusians have become real Ocularians. They have taken over a piece of our DNA. We launched Xperify on Monday. When we were making final preparations the Friday before, we discovered – as so often happens with software – another bug. That was a fundamental problem because it crashed the platform. The engineers in Belarus went the extra mile and worked all weekend to fix that bug, while we provided support here. Then I felt that they felt very closely involved with our platform. They were not mercenaries; they had become colleagues.”
In the meantime, Ocular is selling the first version of the Xperify platform in full. “There is a great deal of interest, and there is clearly a demand for it. The platform also fits in with the transformation we want to make as a company. We were a pure project company for a long time, but we want to evolve into a hybrid company where we work on projects for customers as well as launch proprietary products. Without CactusSoft we would either have had to drop projects or postpone the release of the platform. Now we can work in parallel and that evolution towards a hybrid company is going much faster.”
Speed is therefore the most important advantage of nearshoring for Vanden Avenne. “Speed, without compromising on quality. The Belarusian engineers are very strong, real professionals and experts in their field. For the sake of clarity, nearshoring is not a savings operation. Above all, it is a solution allowing us to move forward quickly, so as not to miss out on opportunities. Without CactusSoft we could never have developed our platform so quickly. I can’t even put any concrete time savings on it, because the talent was simply not available in Belgium.”
“The cooperation with CactusSoft has now been phased out again, but we still have one Belarusian developer who is part of our team. A second will be added at the beginning of next year. The temporary collaboration has acquired a structural character. We have sustainably strengthened our team, the only difference being that the new colleagues are 2,000 kilometers away.”
Is your company also looking for fresh tech talent that will help your business grow? Discover here what nearshoring and CactusSoft can do for you.
The article first appeared at Bloovi.be on November 10, 2020. Read the Dutch version here.