Cracking the code to IT success

BBD, an independent custom software development company, has over 30 years of technical and developer experience in the banking, insurance, telecommunications and public sectors

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With over 700 employees and offices in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, London, Bulgaria and India, BBD has built a solid reputation as the preferred provider for custom software development and application design solutions.

“Established in 1984, we have made a name for ourselves in the market with our track record for the successful delivery of effective business solutions, world-class software engineering skills and in-depth business domain knowledge. We partner with our clients to build a combined intelligence, through the analysis, design and development of sustainable technology solutions. And, by leveraging our in-depth and practical business knowledge, we strive to ensure real business value is gained from our technology solutions,” says BBD’s CEO, Peter Searle.

“We were first established as a custom software development company and that has remained our primary focus. But, since those early days, the software world has seen exponential change, and this has allowed us to grow in multiple different technologies. Our focus remains on delivering business solutions for clients that truly add value,” he adds.

When it comes to software development, Searle says it’s important to remember that while software is developed to meet a specific business need, it is often not mutually exclusive of existing packaged solutions.

“Often, a business solution will utilise a combination of packaged services, custom software and legacy applications. What makes BBD unique is that our approach is multi-dimensional, where we look at what is already available and relevant to the client and build up a solution from that. It could sometimes be that the developed or customised portion of the software is as little as 10% of the total working solution,” he explains.

And, while there may have been a number of significant innovations in the software space, Searle feels these may not always be relevant to a particular business’ need.

“It can be that optimising an existing process is the best approach—I still think that it is preferable to be better than anyone else at doing something that everyone does. But, of course, there are innovations that cannot be ignored, and the cloud is a good example of that.

“We offer technology that is appropriate to a client’s business needs. To achieve this, we often work hand-in-hand with the business and technology strategists in a business. The actual technology that we use changes all the time and, today, cloud technologies from across the major cloud providers are a big part of our skills base.” According to Searle, the technologies stemming from the emergence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have come together to create a kind of super tech, with artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality and robotics blending together to have a massive influence on the way we manufacture goods and live our lives.

“This is having a noticeable social impact and we in South Africa need to ensure our people have the skills to join the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We need to make sure that we stay relevant as a country and keep our skills in line with the ongoing changes occurring around us. I think it will be a challenge to bring our people up to speed but as a tech company, it is also easy for us to help make this change on a more social level,” Searle says.

“To this end, we often look out for young guys and girls with an interest in our field, especially girls, as the number of female coders in the industry is still noticeably low. Our future leaders have embraced technology from the start, recognising the Fourth Industrial Revolution as their future,” he adds.

BBD also supports a number of graduate learners through WeThinkCode_ (WTC), a revolutionary tech-based learning institution dedicated to eliminating South Africa’s IT skills gap.

“Partnering with WeThinkCode_ provides BBD with access to a pool of IT resources not previously available. These students are able to step into graduate level positions at BBD and thrive. We have also formed a partnership with GirlCode to empower women in technology, while showcasing the many exciting IT careers available.”

Searle also believes that it’s important for the South African youth to understand that there are many different careers wrapped in the term ‘software developer’. Students don’t necessarily have to be a master maths wizard to programme, and it is often those with a creative flair and strong language ability who make the best programmers.

“The role of a software developer has also changed in terms of the tools and the number of technologies that a developer now needs to understand and work with. Technologies arrive at a blinding speed and a good developer needs to know which of these will add value. I definitely think that it’s become more of a challenge to be a top tech developer as continual learning and innovation in development technologies is a basic requirement.

“While software development is our core offering and we look at specific business verticals where we have business knowledge depth as well, including banking and insurance, we do also do a fair bit of technology consulting. Through other BBD Group companies, we also offer an ERP solution called Fusion; we provide Wi-Fi services to shopping centres and specialist robotic process automation (RPA) services and specialist data consulting with a focus on predictive analytics,” he explains.

It may be more difficult to be an expert today as some roles are quite narrow. BBD’s typical full-ball developer welcomes this challenge to stay current by using appropriate technology while still focusing on researching new technologies and sharing that knowledge across the company.

“Looking to the future, I believe that BBD will continue to be an expert in software development and the building of business solutions. I also expect that via organic growth and through some acquisition, we will continue to expand our range of technology services offered. And, while we will continue to remain rooted in South Africa and its people, we have also started to expand into other geographies, and I expect this to continue,” he says.

One of their biggest successes, according to Searle, is being a South African company that employs a large number of young South Africans every year. Not only has working with organisations like WTC allowed them to provide opportunities for a significant number of young people to become software developers and embark on a really great career, but their move to become a 51% black-owned Level 2 B-BBEE business is also what makes BBD a true South African business.

“This has helped us to ensure we give value-add back to the country that has given us a such a strong base to grow from. These strong values have also ensured we can turn back and feel proud of all of the projects we’ve been involved in,” he says.

Searle started his career as a Cobol programmer after doing a course at Van Zyl and Pritchard (VZAP), and while he has completed a few industry qualifications supported by some training, he says he learnt mostly from others in the industry.

“I really enjoy the creative side of software development and I think my leadership style flows from this. I recognise the value and strength of people and aim to create an environment that allows people to deliver. Software development has a strong creative side, and I think it’s quite a creative job. It’s always been my passion to create solutions, even if it is on the more commercial side, which is still technically business. This can, however, be a challenge when working alongside a large corporate type where you need to execute a solution when you were not part of the original idea. It can be equally difficult working with a smaller client where you are creatively challenged to deliver a solution quickly and on a much smaller budget.

“At the end of the day, I believe that every South African business has an opportunity to help grow this country and focus on the positive of what it means to live in an incredible country like South Africa, so let’s do just that. Software development is a massive opportunity for us to make our people relevant and get them working in one of the country’s fastest growing sectors,” Searle concludes. 

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