17 Oct From the Wielkopolska region to international business. 30 years of IT.integro
Last October, we celebrated the birthday of our company that entered the IT market 30 years ago. It might be surprising, but the company’s scope of operation has not always been ERP system implementations. What did we do at the beginning then? How did a garage idea of producing printer parts turn into an investment in an IT company, which today serves customers in almost 60 countries worldwide? We asked these questions the founder and President of the Board of IT.integro, Mr Piotr Śledź.
How did you come up with the idea of establishing an IT company?
P.Ś.: Establishing my own company was my goal since I was a student. I studied electronics and telecommunications and my first attempt at establishing my own business began with a project of developing a print buffer with my friend. The idea was a bit late, but we soon ended up working for a pharmaceutical company and we started developing our own system that was supposed to become the future ERP system. I was a fourth-year student, then.
Later, we became involved in computer sales and in 1991 I was able to enter into a partnership with Optimus S.A., a company that was one of the biggest PC manufacturers in Poland in the 1990s. I hired my two friends from Poznań University of Technology and we worked together since then. Back in the day, it was not easy to find employment after graduation, so we had to take care of it ourselves. That way, we stopped manufacturing parts in the garage and switched to trading in the whole Wielkopolska region.
IT.integro expanded from 3 to 200 employees in 30 years. What do you remember when you think about the beginnings of your business, even before it entered the ERP market?
P.Ś.: Hard work, mostly. At the beginning, selling computers in cooperation with Optimus was connected with frequent travels and setting up computers at night. Due to the growing interest in our services, we would sometimes work for more than ten hours a day. But from the market’s perspective, the times were easy because of huge demand for hardware. At this time, we expanded the company from 3 to almost 60 employees in 7 years and we operated in 7 points of sale.
In 1997, as the first company in Poland you started the implementations of the ERP system. Where did the idea to move from PC sales to such a niche product come from at the time?
P.Ś.: We switched from PCs to ERP systems thanks to the so-called system integration, that is from local networks, through the beginnings of the Internet, to the ERP-class system. Even in 1997, we could see a great demand for the solution and its huge potential. We knew that the solution was well-thought-out, stable and with development perspectives. The ERP system that we implemented was highly flexible and from the very beginning enabled us to adjust functionalities to the needs of specific customers.
Another reason for change was also the need to enter the new level of services. Our goal was to step away from the traditional, competitive trade and engage into much broader services based on modern technologies. We started implementing the ERP system produced by Navision Software – a company based in Denmark. I must admit that a barrier to entry was high. We had to invest in expensive training. We were guided by the idea of “now or never” and already within a year the decision proved to be the right one as many foreign companies – mainly German and Scandinavian – that entered the Polish market were looking for the same ERP system that was available in their home countries.
We knew that Navision Software had an excellent opinion in foreign markets and it was used by many big brands, such as Adidas. Soon, we learned that introducing the software in Poland was a great idea and there was no need for us to find another product to include in our offer.
In 2002, Microsoft became the owner of Navision Software and the system itself was renamed to Microsoft Business Solution – Navision. What the cooperation with the new partner look like at the beginning?
P.Ś.: Entering into cooperation with Microsoft made us feel euphoric and proud to be in one team with such a big player on the global technology market. Of course, there were also tougher times, when launching of Dynamics NAV, the follower of Navision and the predecessor of Dynamics 365 Business Central, was upstaged by another Microsoft solution. However, the market quickly verified the legitimacy of investing in Business Central, which sold well at the time and thanks to it we entered into a new product development phase.
Looking back, I think that entering into cooperation with Microsoft and joining forces as partners was a smart move. We have been gaining a lot from it and we see a very interesting and promising future ahead. Microsoft’s current strategy is unique from the point of view of competitiveness as there is no other ERP vendor investing in such a complementary solution environment. Dynamics 365 Business Central is no longer integrated only with Microsoft Excel, Outlook, Teams or Azure, but also with other apps within the extensive cloud-based business ecosystem.
IT.integro is no longer just a head office in Junikowo, Poznań. Today, we operate from 6 offices in 4 cities in Poland. How do you remember the opening of new locations?
P.Ś.: Our first regional office outside of Poznań was established in Warsaw in 2001, when we took over one of our local competitors together with its employees and a base of several Navision customers. Then, we opened the office in Wroclaw. It was created because we were working on numerous projects in the region at the time. We would serve a few large customers and our consultants had to travel to Wroclaw and stay there for months. Our current Project Manager and Senior Consultant – Mariusz Gościniak – decided to move to Wroclaw and that way we opened a new office.
Some time later, we launched implementation projects in Krakow and Silesia. Krakow is currently a development hub for one of our products – HR & Payroll Manager, designed to support HR and payroll processes in the system. Because we are planning to develop global products for soft HR processes, the Krakow office will still be expanded with another project team.
Are there plans to open another office?
P.Ś.: Not for now. As we know, the pandemic times have significantly affected our operating mode. With the implementation of remote work, location is no longer as important as it once was, and we want to focus on the development of the current branches and investment in project teams. Perhaps in the future, we will decide to open an office abroad.
Can you recall a moment that was particularly significant for the company’s development?
P.Ś.: There are many such key moments in our history. Starting with the investment in Navision Software, the initial stages of cooperation with Microsoft to Poland’s joining the EU, which allowed us to open up to Western markets more easily. We were very lucky that Poland was more and more open to foreign ventures.
Our entrance into the app world is also worth noting. Microsoft’s creation of the AppSource platform for distributing business solutions integrated with Dynamics 365 Business Central obviously played a big role in it. Because customers noticed its potential, we are now able to sell our own IT.integro’s apps all over the world.
Well, IT.integro has been conducting foreign projects for over ten years now, also for the companies operating in several countries at the same time. Was entering the global ERP systems market a major challenge?
P.Ś.: Definitely. It required a lot of determination, most of all. First of all, we travel to and from international destinations from Poland, so we had to get used to long business trips, which as you know are not always comfortable.
Second, breaking the language barrier was necessary. We started the first foreign project in 2009, but gaining trust of companies outside the Polish market was a longer process. Then, after the first few successful projects, we gained good references and we learned a lot about working with foreign customers, who nowadays seek our services themselves.
“Our initial steps on foreign markets involved analyzing the possibilities of system upgrades for a group consisting of more than several branches in Europe, Africa and Middle East. It soon turned out that it was a huge venture and the time of intense learning for us. This has helped us to develop assumptions about the extent of data harmonization in multi-company organizations. The experience that we gained during this time was used in our first complex international project launched in 2008 for the Danish group – AVK – the company we’ve been working with since then.
During this cooperation, we developed the foundations of the entire methodology for group project implementations. The methodology allowed us to achieve the best synergy effect between the companies. We built the “Global Template” for running global projects. It was based on three main elements – unifying the processes, defining the master data to be handled within these processes and selection of the supporting functionalities. We have also developed the first mechanisms, which, through subsequent projects and experience, evolved into the now well-known solution for managing master data, Master Data Management System – says Andrzej Dudzik, Vice-President of the Board of IT.integro.
What do you think is the most important in managing a tech company operating on such a large scale?
P.Ś.: People. Their proper selection, communication with them and the ability to build mutual trust. It is important to realize that all the people that constitute the team are crucial in the process of establishing and managing a business. A stable working environment with the so-called “human face” is significant from the perspective of a vendor and a customer, who must be given the right amount of attention.
“The main challenge that all IT companies face, including IT.integro, is the huge market demand for specialists. We compete for the most skilled ones, who, with our help, will become remarkable ERP consultants who are able to combine programming skills with business competence. We try our best to take care of those who are already part of our team. Our goal is to help them feel satisfied with their work and realized projects.
Importantly, we work on building relationships between the Board and the employees that are based on partnership and respect. Above all, we strive for open communication, which means that the Board is always willing to talk, even about more difficult topics. We try to apply the same principle to all teams. We believe that this is the key to building trust” – says Agata Landzwójczak-Tyczyno, HR Business Partner at IT.integro.
How do you see the future of IT.integro?
P.Ś.: We will certainly strive to become an increasingly global company. I think that looking from the perspective of 3 years, our team will grow to at least 300 people – a goal that we can achieve given our recruitment and training resources, together with the willingness to support each other, share knowledge and experience. Business, design and technological knowledge and experience are the assets that determine our position on the market.
Next, we would like to invest in the offering of our own business apps which I have already mentioned.
It is worth noting that the direction of IT.integro’s development is determined by the direction of the ERP system development. I think that, taking into consideration technological progress, the current trends, such as the tendency to move systems to the cloud as well as the openness to integration with the whole One Microsoft ecosystem and external apps that extend the capabilities of Business Central, will prevail. Also, it is very likely that the tendency to build customer solutions based on ready-made apps dedicated to specific processes, called “project mosaics”, will continue. It might limit the scope of services provided by IT.integro in favor of a sharp reduction in lead time and the ability to serve more customers.
The importance of the continuous upgrade will grow. It will allow our clients to skip extensive and costly updates needed once every few years and still benefit from using always up-to-date software that undergoes constant modifications and automated testing.
My greatest hope for the future is to maintain the company’s good spirit and “human face” when it comes to cooperation in teams and with customers. We will definitely take care of that.