The new normality is uncertainty

Sept. 28, 2020 · 7 min read

Aforo máximo 1 Toñito

I am writing this note in mid-September, at the beginning of the course and when a second wave of the covid-19 pandemic is expected. The new normal is adapting to the pandemic and an environment of uncertainty and constant change.

The first two weeks of the state of alarm in APSL we lost practically 80% of the volume of our business, very much oriented towards tourism. As a company we had begun to diversify into different branches of the sector: b2c, b2b, complementary offer, but always within tourism technology. The covid impacts us on the waterline and forces us to make an ERTE for reasons of force majeure that affects a large part of the workforce. Our service commitment to our clients, also affected, made us choose to oversize the people we needed instead of going to the maximum reduction.

Like many companies, we live a few months of madness, with constant changes in the laws and without knowing very well what to do. Today we still carry some of the consequences, with covid-19 laws that impact pre-covid legislation in labor matters (see dual contracts) and that we do not know how to manage and what the saturation of the SEPE has meant for everyone.

What was clear to us as a team was that we should take advantage of the break to reflect. The previous years meant a lot of growth, in projects and as a team. Just as technological mortgages are incurred in software development, companies also suffer from this evil. It's hard to find time to focus and reinvent yourself when you're growing up. The Covid break has allowed us this downtime and to spend time rethinking ourselves and defining what we want to be when we grow up. We are 11 years old, which for a technology company is already a success, and we want to continue doing what we like for many more years.

A few weeks before the state of alarm, Marisa Huaynalaya had joined the team, with the mission of helping to improve our strategic vision, marketing and product orientation. The state of alarm meant stopping everything and putting us in survival mode. Little by little we return to the path that we had set at the beginning of the year. In 2019 we set a plan, we wanted to improve our international presence and enhance the work of the teams, give them more autonomy and the tools to be able to achieve it with guarantees. This meant incorporating new profiles into the company, dedicated to supporting the teams. The state of alarm stopped us cold. It unraveled the teams and the plans and put us in survival mode.

Little by little we have been recovering. Projects have arrived from both the public and private sectors that have allowed us to gradually incorporate the people we had in ERTE. We opted to gradually incorporate the profiles that the projects we had to do demanded, encouraging the incorporation of 4 people at 75% instead of 3 at 100%. Our immediate objective was to return to a normality of the teams, although it was not matched to a normality in clients and billing. Finally, at the beginning of September and after having won a public tender from the Barcelona City Council, we recovered all of our staff.

We have taken advantage of the time to think about what we wanted to be and define a strategy to try to achieve it. The environment is changing, the plans are there to be able to redo them as many times as necessary, but it is important to have a roadmap.

Recovering the team has allowed us to rethink the idea of increasingly autonomous teams and how to give them the support they need. With that idea we incorporated Jesús Reyes, as Head of Operations. Jesús, with extensive experience in managing teams and technical projects, joins APSL with the idea of promoting the autonomy of teams, making them more efficient and giving them tools to evolve. With covid we have become a 99% remote company and this implies new challenges. We have to rethink our entire onboarding process, make it remote and involve the teams in that process.

Over the last few years we have created a very powerful Data Science team. We have never defined ourselves as a Big Data company, since we did not see a future for it. Big Data today is having a credit card and an account with a Cloud provider. We are committed to knowledge, to the study of data, to modeling and algorithms, to knowing what we are doing instead of trying and seeing what comes out. Understand the data instead of dizzying it. We have created a conversational bot development framework that allows us to adapt to the needs of our clients, we have strengthened the BI area by creating an implementation model that allows us to move with zero guarantees to comprehensive management of a company's information. Also we continue to investigate and collaborate with IFISC, that pure science and business objectives do not have to be at odds. We have opted for science, for understanding the data we are handling, for excellence in algorithms. Our objective is to continue strengthening this team and we have expanded it with the incorporation of Sergio Soto and Miguel Granica who join the data team and we are in the process of making the acquired knowledge productive in order to bring it closer to our clients.

We have rethought the way we develop software. Over time we have also evolved as a development company and now we develop with cloud first in mind. Our applications are there to be deployed in the cloud and at scale. This means that applications now have more layers than before, and more layers means more complexity and cost. Our goal now is to be able to create scalable, cloud-first applications with an impact on development cost and time similar to previous technologies. This means investing in the creation of our own utilities, in defining procedures and automatisms that allow us to better adapt to the needs of the new generations of applications. It sounds like squaring the circle, but it is rather applying the Pareto principle, yes, based on a more than considerable investment in R&D&i.

In the area of systems, the cloud has been opted for a long time. We were among the first to adopt Docker as an application deployment technology, we have worked from the beginning with Kubernetes, with Amazon AWS ECS and we have become one of Amazon's reference partners in the Balearic Islands. Our goal is to go one step further, also managing operations in the cloud, monitoring and consumption, in a way that allows us to manage the platforms the way we like: monitoring both the instances and the application itself, with controlled alarms, with SLAs and SLOs. Infrastructure as code, continuous integration and deployment, monitoring, dockerization... are common concepts in our day to day but we want to go a little further, creating our own tools that help us manage complexity, transversal projects that include both development departments as well as the data science department.

We want to take advantage of the potential of tourism technology, adapting it, to also work for other sectors. Tourism is a lever of technological change that many people are not aware of. At APSL we continue to bet on tourism, but covid has helped us realize that with the same knowledge we can serve many more sectors. The potential of the technology sector in Mallorca is immense and we have the tourism industry to thank for that. In the same way, by also working for other sectors, we believe that it will give us this cross-pollination, necessary to bring new ideas and new goals. A Medici effect driven by circumstances, but effect and transformation after all.

We have reflected on the convenience of establishing collaborative relationships with other companies in order to be eligible for larger projects. Companies and collaborators that complement us to be able to cover more needs of our clients. We have taken the first steps, but it is a complex task in the business technology fabric, very accustomed to the captive customer and to a “I do it too”. We are committed to transparency, open technologies, specialization and collaboration with the client. We make the agile manifesto our own and we want to see how it can be carried out when more companies are involved. We have done it with companies on the peninsula with very good results, but as the phrase goes, no one is a prophet in his own land.

We do not forget that we are a medium-sized company, 63 people, and in Spain that means problems. According to the Central Directory of Companies (DIRCE), as of January 1, 2019, there are 3,363,197 companies in Spain, of which 3,358,603 (99.9%) are SMEs (between 0 and 249 employees). 0.6% of companies are considered medium-sized companies between 50 and 249 employees. It's not by chance. Being a medium-sized company in Spain is very hard and it has been seen in the Covid. Going from 49 to 50 people means entering a sea of ​​regulations, having to increase administrative staff, filling in hundreds of statistics (at least we have all of them), being left out of competitions and subsidies aimed at SMEs. The costs multiply, the “advantages” disappear. Our economy seems to be geared towards having only small and large companies. In covid we have also considered what to do with this. We are a medium-sized company and we are motivated, we will go as far as we can or they leave us.

We do not know what the future holds for us, we have survived the first wave and now we are awaiting the impact of the second, which has signs of being both health and social and economic. We will try to overcome what the future holds for us by being faithful to our values ​​and our way of understanding technology, the company and the relationship with our clients and collaborators.

We hope to be able to count on it. Take good care of yourselves!

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