Interviewed by moneycab, AdNovum CEO Thomas Zangerl talks about how the company positions itself after 18 months characterized by major change worldwide, the topics on which it will focus going forward and what it has achieved together with clients.
Moneycab.com: AdNovum has been known among Swiss companies and public authorities for over 30 years for its software solutions. How has your offering changed recently?
Thomas Zangerl: In our key area security, identity and access management (IAM) solutions, we are expanding our portfolio to include cloud solutions with Microsoft Azure. At the same time, we are pursuing trends such as passwordless authentication and zero downtime deployment together with technology partners, for example with Nevis, which has been an independent company since the beginning of 2020. In addition, together with our partner Spitch we offer an innovative voicebot solution which can improve service and availability in call centers.
In recent years, you have focused heavily on the financial sector. What is to be expected now?
Today, we are known as a best-in-class software developer. However, in the future we want to be increasingly perceived as a solution provider. We have a number of business solution ideas for the banking, the insurance and other sectors, also in the context of alternative business models. Together with the cardossier association, we develop services for the automotive industry. We intend to expand these services with effective process automations, for example for the registration of vehicles.
How important is the transportation industry to AdNovum?
We have been successfully implementing projects for the transportation and logistics sector for a long time and now we want to expand this area further. Transport and logistics companies are particularly challenged to offer quick and cost-effective solutions in view of the highly competitive international environment and the instability of the economic situation caused by the pandemic. To them, the optimization and digitalization of logistics processes as well as improved customer satisfaction are more important than ever. Here, we can provide valuable support. For supply chain management, for example, our experience in building cross-company platforms and implementing blockchain solutions is valuable. Add to this our expertise in IAM and information security, for which we also offer consulting covering relevant topics such as data protection, zero trust networking and cloud security.
How does AdNovum position itself with regards to the multitude of cloud offerings out there?
With our digitalization solutions, we show our clients how they can use secure-by-design cloud offerings effectively, and in compliance with regulatory requirements. «Cloud Native», for example, allows clients to directly use platform- and software-as-a-service offerings from cloud solution providers. The solutions are highly scalable. By using such offerings, investments can be turned into operational costs. The ongoing platform updates also cover part of technology management. With hardware security modules (HSM) and double key encryption, we ensure the necessary security even for high requirements regarding data classification. Through our «Secure Cloud Factory» collaboration platform, we also use the cloud for developing software.
Which fields of application for the hot topics of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence are currently of particular interest to you?
We recommend automatic answering of customer queries using AI-assisted speech recognition and bot technology. This can significantly increase customer satisfaction, as we were able to demonstrate with a voicebot for the Road Traffic Office of the Canton of Aargau. Already with 20 trained questions, more than 25% of customer questions could be answered, which brings major relief. The potential of voicebots in this area is far from fully exploited. For example, we still see major opportunities in the insurance industry, which I mentioned earlier.
In parallel, we are constantly exploring new fields of application for machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence as well as implementing customer projects using them. For Frimobil, the fare community association of public transport in the Canton of Fribourg, we implemented a mobile app for surveys among passengers. The built-in ML component extracts data from a large variety of tickets. The solution allowed Frimobil to not only digitalize the survey process, but also implement a new data-driven service – thus improving the quality of the data for revenue distribution.
We are also exploring options for using collaborative machine learning. Furthermore, we conduct workshops with clients from various industries to identify and specify use cases and to provide proof of value. In parallel to our practice-oriented analyses, we offer our clients ML security training. The goal is to enable them to identify where their ML applications are vulnerable in order to protect themselves effectively against threats.
Let's talk about the top hype topic «blockchain». What have you achieved here?
We see a slow but continuous growth in demand for business solutions based on private blockchains. Such solutions allow building trust chains and audit chains (traceability) for all kinds of transactions in every market, e.g. in art-dealing and for ensuring transparency of supply chains. This is why we initiated Secure Blockchain for Business. Based on such a blockchain, AdNovum has also built the cardossier platform, which maps the entire lifecycle of a vehicle. The cardossier platform went live in the summer of 2020 and is continuously expanded with new use cases. Cardossier is an excellent example of how a blockchain-based ecosystem can act as a catalyst for the digitalization of an entire industry. Such solutions have tremendous potential. But it takes time to establish them in the market.
However, for cryptocurrencies, blockchain is probably past its zenith?
We are also following the boom of cryptocurrencies with interest. We see great potential in the tokenization of assets through blockchain tokens that represent real, tradable assets – ranging from artworks and buildings to shares in companies. As regards digital assets, we clearly focus on secure management and storage. One example is the solution we developed together with the Crypto Finance Group, a leading player in the industry. This kind of solution is becoming increasingly important, which is reflected by the growing demand. Another area where blockchain is being leveraged is in the implementation of self-sovereign identity (SSI) for transactions in various industries. We built a first SSI application for cardossier in late 2020. We consider SSI a promising approach in particular in the context of E-ID and data privacy regulations (GDPR/CCPA).
How quickly can you provide clients with a new solution?
For today's customized solutions, we use standard solutions (buy) and implement specific functionality (build) which aligns the standard solutions with the client's needs. From the start of the project, we can make solutions ready for production in 3 to 4 sprints, i.e. in 10 to 12 weeks, which already bring significant added value to the client. One example is the tool to generate measurement values for the environmental, social and governance performance of companies (ESG Rating Tool) we recently developed for VP Bank. We brought the solution live within three months of being awarded the contract.
New functionality for an existing solution can be implemented even faster. For Holcim, AdNovum built the project coordination tool ConcreteDirect, which allows Holcim’s customers to place, change and confirm orders as well as to trace delivery directly in the app. For the safety of Holcim's customers and truckers, ConcreteDirect also allows touchless delivery during COVID-19 – with confirmation based on location and time stamp instead of signature as of April 2020. Our agile team developed this feature and brought it live within a week. For client projects such as the ESG Rating Tool for VP Bank, where everything from collaboration and engineering to production runs in the cloud, we are able to implement bug fixes or change requests within hours.
You often offer fixed prices for your services. Are your costs always covered?
No, but this is part of the business risk. Maintaining sustainable client relationships is more important to us than short-term profit. Therefore, our main goal is always to complete a project successfully. In our history, we managed to go live with every single project – this is AdNovum’s quality label.
Programmers are sometimes exhausted. How can this be avoided?
We proactively address all employee-related topics. During the last 18 months, they have performed incredibly well working from home although the conditions were sometimes difficult in the beginning. To support them in the best possible way, we have expanded our offering in the areas of fitness, wellbeing and mental health, as well as social and team-building activities. In addition, we offer them coaching or social counseling as needed.
We also provide individual smart work solutions. We are currently in the process of implementing a concept for future work that is as flexible as possible and allows us to harmonize the work-life balance of our employees with the wishes and requirements of clients. We have also taken these aspects into account in the planning of our new headquarters at Kalkbreite in Zurich, which we will move into in September. We are looking forward to this new and awesome environment.
You joined as CEO over a year ago and have been able to analyze the company from the inside. What was the major step that helped advance AdNovum?
My focus and interest are on analyzing the present and shaping the future. From my perspective, however, it has not been a single significant step over the past thirty years, but rather the repeated conscious decision to focus on quality and sustainability – not only in services and software, but also in relationships and cooperation with employees and clients. I think that our corporate culture and our willingness to go the extra mile for each other have brought us to where we are today.
This interview was originally published in German on moneycab on July 19, 2021.