In an interview with Telecom Review, Professor Janusz Filipiak, founder, president and CEO of Comarch, shared his vision of the company’s growth in the Middle East and his thoughts on the future of the IT industry.
In 1993, two years after receiving the title of professor, you founded Comarch, a software company. What brought you there?
I’ve already been active within the field of advanced technologies for nearly forty years now. I have cooperated with CNET France Telecom laboratories in Paris, was acting director of the Teletraffic Research Centre at the University of Adelaide in Australia and worked in laboratories in the USA and Canada. Having published more than one hundred papers on data communication in IEEE Transactions on Communications, the IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications, Operations Research and six books, I believe I can call myself an expert in the field of telecommunications. What was my motivation to start a company? I would call it putting knowledge into practice and creating something big and meaningful, with an ambitious goal of expanding globally.
What did the beginnings of Comarch look like?
I founded the company with some of my most talented students from one of the best technology universities in Poland. It all started in a small classroom we rented from the university. We were maybe 15 people with poor equipment, but a strong vision and incredible motivation. It seemed impossible at first, but it all went so quickly. That is probably why we’re often being compared to the Silicon Valley start-ups.
You said Comarch was born as a student start-up. How much has the company grown since then?
Comarch increased in size four-hundredfold in the course of 22 years and is still experiencing dynamic growth, both in income and in the number of employees and agencies worldwide.
Today, we employ more than 5000 first-class programmers, computer scientists and other professionals in both business and technology. The company’s academic background and high respect for education is still key for us - all of our employees are graduates from the best Polish and foreign universities. Comarch has been recognized as a strong market player by the biggest IT analyst companies, such us Gartner, Analysys Mason and Berg Insight. We have subsidiaries in more than 40 countries and consequently develop our own R&D department, made up of high-end IT engineers. Comarch’s total gross revenue is around USD 326.7 million per year.
More than 300 million mobile subscribers around the world are served by Comarch OSS/BSS, and 215 million are members of loyalty programs implemented by Comarch. We work for some of the biggest communication service providers in the world, such as Telefonica, Deutsche Telekom, BT, KPN, Orange, Vodafone, E-Plus Gruppe, ViaSat and MTC. Our clients trust both our know-how and innovative solutions from the M2M, IoT, data monetization and SDN/NFV domains.
And how does the Middle East region fit into this strategy of growth?
We’ve been constantly present in the Middle Eastern countries since 2004 and our importance in these markets has been growing since.
Dubai was on our radar from the very beginning. In the past few months we have expanded the team in our local office, to support the needs of our customers in the region even better. We are already working with such renowned brands in the region as Etihad, RTA, Dubai Airports, Etisalat and other local companies, and we consider each project a rewarding and stimulating challenge.
I feel our strategy of innovation, high R&D investments and orientation towards the future is a great fit for the reality of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Also, because of the fact that Comarch is a relatively young company, and as around half of the population in the Middle East is aged below 28, this translates into very high use of social media and a remarkable openness to new technologies.
What makes local companies trust Comarch?
We are a family company - my wife and I hold more than 69 percent of the overall number of votes at the general meeting of Comarch SA, while my son and daughter manage our subsidiaries in the USA and in Switzerland. Companies in the Middle East also rely strongly on family values, which is a solid foundation for business conversations.
Customers in the Middle East value the fact that we take full responsibility for the software we sell, which gives us a very competitive time to market and allows our consultants to solve any problem or reshape any functionality, whenever needed. The fact that we deliver BSS/OSS solutions that are flexible and configurable also allows our customers to co-create them with us, in order to best suit their unique needs.
And probably the third pillar of trust is our high focus on innovation - in a city such as Dubai this goes a long way. Comarch has very recently been awarded the most innovative BSS/OSS provider prize for its activity in the Middle East and future cooperation and this has boosted our credibility in the region even more. We’re currently running some exciting projects here in Dubai and they will, without any doubt, shortly contribute to improving the quality of life of the city residents.
Have you been to Dubai many times already?
Yes. Because of the nature of our business, I travel a lot, to meet customers and employees in other countries where Comarch is active. I’m extremely fond of visiting this place; I’ve been here several times already.
Dubai is a perfect spot to discuss and develop disruptive trends, such as smart city technologies or the internet of things. Besides, I believe that Expo 2020 will set unprecedented standards in the domain.
In fact, during my trips to Dubai I often think that there is in a way a parallel between this city and Comarch. Dubai was once small, but now it is a major business hub and a global city with a unique entrepreneurial climate - almost like Comarch, which grew from a start-up into a big IT enterprise. Comarch has been compared to the Silicon Valley start-ups, while Dubai is without any doubt the Silicon Valley of the Middle East.
It just seems that Dubai is the perfect place for business.
So what are your plans for the coming years?
I am sure we need to follow our strategic direction of organic growth. This has proven to be very efficient in the last couple of years and I think we should keep to this path. I believe our strategy of geographical expansion, which was our strategy pillar for 2015, will also pay off. Now that we have branches in all the major markets in the world we are able to do business even faster and better than before.
Aside from expanding geographically, we are currently investing a lot in developing new, very innovative products responding to the current needs of telecoms companies worldwide. And I am confident that our investments in solutions related to big data, the internet of things, telemedicine, loyalty management and our strong focus on knowledge and innovation, will pave the road to the success of our business.