Today, every company can have a say in this: the pool of tech talent here in Belgium is small and overfished. When the Antwerp data science company The Grain was looking for developers for its own app for production planners, it looked for alternatives. That’s how it came to work with CactusSoft, a 100 percent Belgian company that engages technological talent in Spain and Georgia.
“The CactusSoft team stayed on board with us after the app was launched”, says Thomas Meersseman, co-founder and product lead of The Grain, in a double conversation with managing partner Mario Vanlommel of CactusSoft. “The developers have really become an extension of The Grain. They are on the other side of Europe, but nobody really thinks about that yet.”
The Grain makes analytical applications for industrial companies, explains Thomas Meersseman. “We use Artificial Intelligence to optimize their processes. These are all custom applications, tailored to the specific needs of each company. In addition to these customized projects, we have also built our own application to support production planners, Checkmate.”
The Grain saw how companies spend an enormous amount of time planning their production. Planners have to make complex plans in a short time, which they often have to completely turn upside down along the way. Raw materials arrive late, there is a delay in the supply chain, a machine breaks down, a last minute order comes in — all factors that ensure that a production planner’s work is never really finished. Checkmate ensures that the planning is automatically adjusted if unforeseen circumstances arise. Planners no longer spend two days drawing up a schedule, but two hours. The app makes companies more agile.
Skepticism Quickly Disappeared
To help develop Checkmate, The Grain joined forces with CactusSoft.
Last year, the company built an MVP (minimum viable product) themselves. The Grain focused on what they do best: the analytical components and a robust backend. But a successful web application also needs a strong frontend. They had insufficient internal expertise for that. The Grain first looked to hire a developer, but soon rejected the idea because of the tight labor market in Belgium. In order not to lose speed, they entered the market to look for an external solution. That is how CactusSoft came into the picture.
In the beginning, Thomas Meersseman was a bit skeptical about nearshoring and rather aimed for a purely local party. Wouldn’t the distance between Belgium and Spain or Georgia cause communication problems? But CactusSoft turned out to be the best of both worlds.
“Ultimately, it is not a Spanish or not a Georgian company, but a 100 percent Belgian company. That convinced us. The personal approach was very important. I knew: if there’s a hitch somewhere, I can call Mario and he’ll fix it. That inspires confidence”, says Thomas Meersseman.
“The personal approach was very important. I knew: if there’s a hitch somewhere, I can call Mario and he’ll fix it. That inspires confidence”Thomas Meersseman, Co-Founder and Product Lead at The Grain
As managing partner of CactusSoft, Mario Vanlommel acts somewhat as a liaison officer. “I build bridges between our customers and our developers in Spain or Georgia. We detect the needs and expectations of companies, and then we put together a team with the right expertise and the necessary seniority to provide the appropriate technological support. But even when the collaboration really starts, I’m a bit of the glue between CactusSoft and the companies we work for. I keep my finger on the pulse during the collaboration, I make sure that the objectives remain on track.”
Belgium, Georgia, or Spain? Does Not Matter
Checkmate has now been launched. According to Meersseman, the first reactions from customers are very positive. “It is a work in progress. To meet user feedback, of course, there are constant upgrades and new features needed. That’s why the CactusSoft team just stayed on board after the launch. The developers have really become an extension of The Grain. They are not on our payroll and they are not in our office, but nobody really thinks about that yet.”
“The CactusSoft team just stayed on board after the launch. The developers have really become an extension of The Grain”
The corona crisis has lowered the barrier for nearshoring even further. Telework has often been the norm in the past two years, and The Grain’s people also largely worked from home. So in practice there was hardly any difference in the way of working. Everyone worked remotely, all communication was digital. Then it no longer matters whether you are in Belgium, Georgia or Spain.
Communication was Thomas Meersseman’s biggest concern beforehand. But it actually went smoothly. All communication is entirely in English, but that will no longer be a problem in 2022. Even if The Grain employees speak Dutch to each other at the office, it rains on English technical terms anyway. The company could also have outsourced the frontend of Checkmateto India, but then the communication gap is much larger and you also have an hour difference. With CactusSoft, the team felt really close, especially thanks to the Belgian connection.
No Classic Client-Executor Relationship
Communication is something CactusSoft is investing heavily in, emphasizes Mario Vanlommel. “We screen candidates not only on their technological skills, but also on their soft skills, their motivation and their knowledge of English. We know that a combination of all these elements is crucial to build a good relationship with the customer. Companies don’t just outsource projects to us, our people work very closely with the teams in Belgium. As with The Grain, we really become part of the company. Communication is just as crucial as technological expertise. That is a continuous learning process. We provide an online platform where our people can follow training courses and further training. It’s a two-way street. Communication is crucial not only to understand the needs and expectations of customers, but also to quickly and efficiently process their feedback on the solutions we develop.”
“I was pleasantly surprised by the extent to which the developers contributed ideas about our technological challenges,” adds Meersseman. “They proactively offered possible solutions to problems that arose, they had ideas of their own to do things differently. The involvement is great and goes a lot further than the classic client-executor relationship.”
The involvement is high and goes a lot further than the classic client-executor relationship
“The fact that the CactusSoft people are still working for us, even after the launch of Checkmate, shows that there is music in this model. The ability to structurally work together in the longer term was an important element in choosing CactusSoft, as was the capacity to scale up where and when it is needed. With the expertise that we bring in through CactusSoft, we create great added value in our own teams.”
If you have a tech idea or a digital challenge we can help you with, contact us at [email protected] or discover what nearshoring and CactusSoft can do for you.
The article first appeared at Bloovi.be on April 27, 2022. Read the Dutch version here.