This interview was originally posted in CEOCFO Interviews on the 27th of September 2021. The interview was conducted and transcribed by Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor of CEOCFO Magazine.
CEOCFO: Mr. Boyland, what was the original concept when you started CPQi and what is the focus today?
Mr. Boyland: CPQi really sprang from my experience at one of the largest banks in the world in a senior management role for technology. We had done a lot of offshoring globally. Some of that offshoring had reasonable levels of success, others had very good levels of success, depending on the area.
When I left, I wanted to see if I could set up a company that was the sort of organization that tier 1 bank would use for an offshore capability. It would be an organization that was highly skilled and specialized in its area, with the key partnerships that are needed and the right attitude. In addition, as we only work across the Americas, it would be in the same time zone as the businesses we would work with. This would prevent a variety of complications I experienced as a CTO. CPQi was sprung from that desire.
CEOCFO: When you are working with people in another country, how do you get over some of the problems with idioms and some of the communication problems?
Mr. Boyland: That is a great question and a really, really important one, because as the world decides to get more and more politically correct, we tend to try and avoid talking about the differences that occur through different cultures. However, the reality is that no matter what we personally want to talk about or not, those differences do exist and when it comes to business they have to be considered.
It is reflected perhaps more in the way that people are managed as individuals in some cultures. In North America and Europe in particular, people speak up a lot about what they have achieved. That is part of the way in which you get your next role, whereas, in Latin America in general, it is more common to talk about what you have been learning. That can come across as being not very qualified. An amusing example might be, if you look at one of the major training or risk platforms, someone with 6 months experience in North America is very likely to talk up how highly qualified and expert they are in the platform, whereas someone in Latin America with 5 or 6 years of experience will put on to their C.V “I have been learning how to develop the platform for our fixed income training,” for example. The whole flavor of it comes across very differently. When you are working locally, for example, only in Latin America, that is fine. However, when you start working across regions then there is an educational aspect that needs to be put in to help people understand these cultural differences and to adapt to them.
At the end of the day, if someone from Latin America wants to work in North America, the entire continent will not change culturally to adapt to them. Therefore, if that is their desire, they will need to learn to adapt to that culture and vice versa. Just to balance it out, to give an example the other way around, in North America it is not uncommon to go into a restaurant and to see tables set up for two people. These tables provide an efficient place to hold business meetings. However, if you were to go to a Latin American country, Brazil in particular, it is very unusual to see a table for two. You are more likely to see a table set up for 20 and everybody sits together. That social aspect of being part of a community is respected, whether there is perceived hierarchy or not, is extremely important to the health and wellbeing culturally to be a part of a community.
CEOCFO: Who is using your services today? What types of companies and what are they looking to CPQi to do for them?
Mr. Boyland: We work for the financial industry, both what we call “sell side,” which is predominantly the banks, and the “buy side,” which would be more pension funds, insurance companies and so on. We are very proud to have had J.P. Morgan. Bank of America and Citibank on our list of clients, as well as Bank of Montreal, Scotia Bank and Royal Bank of Canada. Down in Latin America, we also include some of the major financial institutions such as Banco Bradesco, BCI and Galicia Bank among our clients.
I suppose what they look to us for is that we have a company that has 5 things that make us unique. The first is that we only work in this industry and that is very important. We do not work for shops, and we do not work for telecommunications companies. They are fantastic industries in their own right, with their own specialties, but so is finance, and it is detailed and complicated. Therefore, we stick with that.
The second is that we provide as much education on banking as we do in technology for our staff, so never provide our clients with people who do not know what they are coding. The third is our partnerships. We partner with all of the major trading and risk platforms and several other platforms, including those in digital transformation. Fourthly, we have a geographical spread across the Americas, which provides a balance of resources as well as a range of different pricing points, which can help clients get their projects done within budget or under budget. Finally, we have a banking culture, which means that rather than being a stressful, contact based external supplier, we act as if we are an internal IT department. Because of that our clients look to us to provide them with 3 things. The first is staffing solutions for specialists, squads, and teams. The second is transformation services, both in terms of defining, executing and earning the strategy as well as the actual execution on cloud, DevOps and Agile, predictive technologies and channels. Lastly, they look to us to provide managed services for systems already in production.
CEOCFO: When you are working with a client to develop a solution for them or to choose a solution for them, what do you look at to help make the decision of what is right for a specific client?
Mr. Boyland: I have a strong accounting background and because of that, for me, the creation of economic value add is very important. Many projects are done either because it is someone’s pet project or because it is a new type of technology, or because someone has convinced them that replacing one cost base with another is going to be to their advantage. However, if we look at what the true economic value add of a project is, then we can decide which technology would be the best fit for their goals. To give you an example of that, artificial intelligence was all the fad up until COVID. It is coming back now. It is a very important tool. It encompasses AI, machine learning and deep learning. However, many institutions were spending huge sums of money on data scientists, attempting to find out what their data really means. We do not look at it that way. We look at it as a prediction.
We understand that within a company’s workflows they already have predictions, and those predictions produce a particular amount of profit for them, which they can see through their accounts and their profit and loss. If we can make those predictions more efficient, better quality without passion, without greed, and simply slot them into the same workflows, then that is going to be economically valuable. Therefore, our focus on artificial intelligence is really around identifying and creating models for predictions and greater economic value to our client, not just a fad for technology.
CEOCFO: How do you help a client overcome some of the trepidation in making a change?
Mr. Boyland: It is a big problem. People are afraid of major changes, and rightly so. In fact, most major projects of that nature at least overrun on either time or budget, and most of them overrun on both. Modern technology methods help with that. More recently, organizations have moved to methods such as DevOps, underpinned by Agile. Without getting too technical on that, in simple terms it means that instead of defining an entire system we define a squad as a team of perhaps 7 to 12. We feed user stories into them, rather than requirements. User stories are descriptions of what happens, like “I came in this morning, I put my finger on the fingerprint reader, and my screen came on and it showed me what I have to do today and there were three things that I needed to get done before my coffee.” That is a user story. A good quality programmer can look at that user story and imagine what technology they can develop to create that story.
By putting user stories into squads and time boxing their deliveries into sprints of 2 or 3 weeks, we ensure that some level of functionality is delivered to the user base every few weeks. When users can see that this is not a wholesale change, it is a migration, it is happening now, it is happening quickly, but it is happening in small 2-to-3-week digestible chunks, then you can gain their buy-in far earlier. You also have the added advantage that instead of saying, “I am going to spend 20 million on this program right now,” you can say, “Well, I have allocated 20 million and I am looking at a business objective that I can achieve with it, and during the agile delivery I will adjust that objective to meet the needs of the business at the time.” Therefore, it is far more flexible and far easier to digest.
CEOCFO: We heard CPQi Group was certified as a Great Place to Work? What does that mean for you? Was there a deliberate strategy to achieve that kind of workplace?
Mr. Boyland: The workplace has changed. The knowledge base, the economy that we work with today, people have the right and the ability to choose who they are going to work for like they never have before. In fact, as a result of the pandemic, now they do not even need to constrict themselves to some geographical constraint of an organization that they can commute to. They can work wherever. As a result, you’ve got to ask yourself, aside from paying people a sensible wage or attracting them with benefits, what are they really looking for? In reality, it is very simple. We all want to work with people that we respect, that we get along with, that we enjoy being around, that we can have fun with. We probably spend more time at work than we do with our families. As a result, people are looking for a relationship.
One of the key questions that we at CPQi ask ourselves is, “Do I have a friend at work, is that friend someone that I respect.” A second question is, “Has my manager given me some positive feedback during the course of the last two to three weeks,” because if not, then there is something wrong. The third is, “Do I have the tools I need in order to get the job done.” Those three basic questions are more of a determinant to someone’s happiness in working for an organization than anything else. Couple that with, of course, a clear communications strategy about what we are trying to achieve and you have the key to success. It’s essential people feel that they are engaged and part of a team.
CEOCFO: How do you reach out to potential clients? Is your focus changing geographically, or are you expanding any of the services you offer now?
Mr. Boyland: If I was honest with you, I think that the overwhelming majority of the business that CPQi has acquired over the last 15 years has been a direct result or relationships, either that we initially already had, or the reputation we have built from the work we have done for them. Other times, relationships were built from the places people we have worked with previously moved to, or the people they have spoken to about our services. More than anything else, we are certainly not a sales organization and I do not think we ever would be. We are looking at where we can create value with people that we know and trust and would like to do well in their lives, and that is where the main focus of our growth has come from. That growth, really during the COVID period, and this year in particular, has been exceptional, as people have looked for those that can execute a solid program to a high-quality standard within predictable timelines and agreed budgets.
CEOCFO: Why choose CPQi Group?
Mr. Boyland: You would choose us, one, for our focus and specialty. Therefore, if you are in our space then certainly, we would be an organization that you would consider. Couple that with the excellent delivery that we have had, which is a result of so many people who have worked very, very hard focusing on quality. Everyone screws up from time to time. I will confess, we have had one major screw up in the company in our 15 years of activity; it happens. However, our track record is being able to deliver in a complicated and difficult environment.
Lastly, I would say that the most important reason someone would choose CPQi for is that we give our word. We know that our clients give their word to us as well and that means a lot, because once you have committed to delivering something you have to stick to it. People’s careers are involved, their bonuses are involved, their happiness is involved and that applies both to our clients and to us.
In some cases, we have actually turned clients away because we feel that they are not able to meet the commitments that they stated to us, they do not have the structure or the knowledge to be able to commit to us, and I am sure that other organizations have felt the same about us. Therefore, we look for a close partnership that enables us to jointly meet the business objectives that the client has.