A Follow-Up on My Presentation – Questions&Answer #6 InterFace AG

In this series, I will comment on the written feedback I received after my presentation. Also, I will answer the online questions asked by students I had no time to amply reply to during said presentation

Lehren für Unternehmensführer – das Leben, das Wissen, die Informatik und die Ethik

(Life, Knowledge, Computer Science and Ethics)

„Innovative Entrepreneurs“/ Summer Semester 2010
Leadership in growth-oriented enterprises

Today: InterFace AG

What is the current number of employees at InterFace AG?

We manage our turnover with a little less than a hundred people. The ratio between employees and freelancers is about two to one. For reasons of business care, among other things, the increase among the freelancers was a little higher than with the employees.  However, our first priority is still to continue realizing our business interests with salaried employees.

How did the enterprise, as it grew slowly but constantly since its foundation, change in terms of the workplace atmosphere?

I do not think we changed as far as values and culture are concerned. We probably were more intuitive in former times. Today, the importance of meaning in our work is obvious to us on a more intellectual level.    
However, our business model changed considerably. Initially, we were focussed on being a “software laboratory”. Now we are IT counsellors. There is a huge difference between working in a laboratory (in your cubbyhole) and being a counsellor (mostly seeing customers): work hours, dress code, required social and business competence,… 
Of course, the “workplace atmosphere” depends very much on the actual job you are doing. But I presume that our counsellors do their best in order to promote a positive workplace atmosphere when they are seeing customers, as well.  🙂 .

What is the focus of your company when it comes to developing IT solutions and how can small, medium-sized and big enterprises benefit from your optimization service?

In the business field of IT applications, we develop ambitious web applications, along with design, multi-media, localization, suitable Apps …. If the customer so desires, we also take care of the operation. This is how we try to take all of the problems off our customers’ shoulders and provide them with complete hand in hand solutions.    
Usually, we focus on the IT competence. In the application development sector, JAVA and J2EE are currently the main issues. But we are not afraid to tackle “older” technologies (c++) or script languages, either.    
In big projects, we mainly counsel and service. That is either done by a single InterFace employee, or by a small team. We often manage to give surprising and profitable impulses when it comes to requirement engineering, architecture and quality. We also produce an added value in the form of project control (for instance with SCRUM) and thus considerably improve the time, cost and quality parameters of projects in application and implementation.
Our customers also benefit from the fact that we do not lose our sense of proportion and identify with the customers’ interests. Even in situations that (seemingly) are controlled by inherent necessities, we try not to throw overboard “common sense”, thus working honestly in the best interest of our customers. Sometimes, this is not easy, but eventually it is always worth the effort. In this manner, we are not only suppliers, but also comrades-in-arms for our customers.
About customers’ benefit: are we talking more fine-tuning, or do you sometimes get drastic improvement?
Very different scenarios are imaginable. In the sector IT organization, you can sometimes get surprisingly “drastic improvements” by using simple methods. More often than not, however, it is the same as in real life: you have to work hard in order to get better solutions.

Interface AG works in the sectors IT organization, IT infra structure and IT applications. Which of these sectors would you call your main business? In which of these sectors would you see the future necessity for services offered by InterFace AG? (Can you make out a trend?)

Currently (and this has been going on for some time already), we want to promote all three sectors, thus taking advantage of their integrative potential. Ten years ago, we still assumed that the local software development would soon decline (see: India). And it is true that in those days, the software development sector was not at its best. To make up for it, however, the infra structure business boomed. Five years ago, there was a decline in infra structure (“IT became a commodity”) and simultaneously software development grew stronger. All in all, I would not claim to see a tendency.    
In retrospect, tendencies often led to the opposite of what analysts had predicted.
🙂 Unfortunately, even this is something you can not rely on.

Lately, more and more attention is given to energy efficiency, also in IT. How important is Green IT for you and your customers?

So far, the relevance in our project is rather small, although we consider it very important. For example, government agencies, when calling for bits, set a huge store by getting personal computers and servers that use as little electric energy as possible.
As to the future: I would advice to install server farms where electric energy can be easily produced (for instance by wind power in Patagonia or in the basements of “Desertec” for solar energy). 🙂 It is definitely an issue we are going to take very seriously.

Your enterprise developed from a product enterprise to an IT counselling organization. In addition, the legal structure changed from a limited company to an open corporation. How did your personal tasks, challenges and approach change with this development?
 🙂 In the original question, it said IT liberation organization instead of counselling organization. I wonder if that was only a Freudian slip? Because the idea is far from stupid! How about an IT counsellor as liberator from IT!

The change of the enterprise from developing products to servicing and counselling was a challenge for all parties concerned. For me, it started with having to deal with the mercantile world. Our product guarantees a long time of reliable and high income through licences. That gave us a nice feeling of security and the potential for unhurried planning processes. In the counselling situation, this is not possible.
My personal role, too, changed. After all, during the first years, I was the product owner, as my role would be called following the current SCRUM terminology. Now, I have become more or less the networker for InterFace.    
However, the challenges I have to meet when it comes to “leadership” have not changed very much, except maybe if you consider it a change that now I sometimes have to show my employees how to knot their ties:-) .
Tongue in cheek, I would answer the question as follows:    
I used to grow my hair long, often wore shorts in the office and almost never wore ties. Now my hair is short (or non-existent), I seldom wear shorts and I often wear a tie. Although lately, there is again change in the air.

My mental concept of working, for instance, with government agencies, is that it must be a very tiring and time-consuming business. How do projects with government agencies differ from those with private enterprises?

We have many customers from the private sector, as well as among government agencies. Especially among the latter, for example at the Federal Labour Agency, or in jurisdiction and county police agencies, some very demanding and innovative projects are under way. There is often even more courage than in industrial companies. In other respects, projects with government agencies do not differ too much from projects with big enterprises.
When trying to do business with government agencies, however, as a general rule you have to first pass the bidding process. And especially for a small enterprise, same bidding process is often a huge problem. Much work and money is invested and if you have bad luck, all was for nothing in the end. The good news is that if you win, you have a reliable partner, often for many years to come.

My next post will answer the questions my audience asked about market and competition (Markt und Wettbewerb).

(Translated by EG)

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