German-Polish cooperation – the driving force at the heart of European technology innovation

For years now, the Business Services Sector (BSS) has flourished in the Central and Eastern Europe region, with various business models, including Shared Services Centres (SSC), Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) and IT delivery centres, such as the large presence of GFT in Poland.

Poland is now seen as a leader in the sector, with 1,050 delivery centres (some 70% of all centres in the region) and 240,000 people employed in the sector (c. 50% of all BSS staff in the region). Recently, we have also observed particularly dynamic growth in the nearshore model.

There are several key reasons why Poland is in a leading position, including:

  • a highly qualified technical workforce,
  • excellent linguistic skills amongst the workforce,
  • a friendly investment climate,
  • a vibrant and well-educated emerging workforce, with hundreds of thousands of new university graduates qualifying each year,
  • and of course, the country’s location at the geographic centre of Europe, its close proximity to Germany and other Western countries and excellent time-zone alignment.

These circumstances make Poland a highly attractive location for firms seeking additional manpower for their businesses, particularly those that require a skilled technical workforce. This is particularly attractive to German enterprises seeking to expand their operations abroad. Stephan Fricke, Head of Deutscher Process Automation Verband and Outsourcing Verband recently said: “Basically, we need reliable sourcing partners outside of Germany. Poland is a very good destination for finding, on one hand, outsourcing service partners in BPO and also IT, but also a good destination to set up your delivery centre.

Looking at the rapid growth in Poland in more detail, a few years back, only Warsaw and Cracow were visible on the map as viable locations for investors. Fast forward to today, we now have at least seven significant and scalable destinations in the country. Businesses now have a choice of locations from Poznań, the Tricity area (including Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot), Katowice, Łódź and Wrocław – with other regions catching up as well.

The realities of outsourcing – facts versus fiction

There are, unfortunately, many misconceptions surrounding the very concept of outsourcing. Many people associate outsourcing with simple, repeatable tasks that can be easily automated or conducted in a country with a low-skilled, low-cost workforce. In reality, outsourcing today means the delegation of certain business processes, including those which are of the most complex and technical nature, requiring comprehensive domain knowledge and subject matter experts. This new approach enables organisations to scale dynamically, especially if growth in the local market is hindered by limited access to the required number of qualified people at scale. Creating an international team, connected by advanced technology, enables an organisation to rapidly globalise, combining ‘onshore’ resources close to the client with ‘nearshore’ teams located, for example, in Poland. The growth of GFT in Poland is a testament to this approach, with committed teams of highly skilled and experienced people working collaboratively across geographic borders to deliver outstanding results for our clients.

The essence of a trusted Polish – German working relationship

Whilst the roots of GFT are founded in Germany, the organisation is now truly global and diverse, operating in 11 countries with approximately 5,000 employees. In Poland, the GFT team works collaboratively with German GFT team members and German clients, which often provides for a unique and challenging, high-energy environment. To make this work efficiently, a common necessity is to achieve high levels of trust amongst the wider extended team, and to establish adequate communication methods. Developing a common understanding of German business culture can be a long-term and comprehensive process, but it is essential to ensure a common understanding and to deliver ultimate client satisfaction.

As an organisation, GFT Poland is keenly focused on managing these challenges. Marcin Biel, Delivery Manager for the GFT German Client Units, recently commented: “Our experience shows that our German partners like to know the teams well – and by that I mean: they want to know the people in person, not only the avatars they see on Skype calls. It is also preferred that teams delivering software are distributed across both countries – so we deliberately have co-located teams, for example, in both Eschborn (Germany) and Łódź (Poland). Much more attention is also placed on personal contact than with partners from other countries and of course, we ensure that where possible, as many members of the team as possible have knowledge of the German language.”

Language and the culture of business

Having worked extensively with German colleagues and clients, we often observe something of a paradox – at least at first glance. Most German nationals with whom we work have a great command of English, and certainly, English is the language of choice for our key market of financial services. However, native German speakers often actually prefer to work in German, and we see this especially at smaller clients where you can even come across the statement: “English not required”. One reason for this is that many smaller institutions (e.g. small private banks) only operate locally, with no need to use English globally. These businesses often have a long history of only using German and sometimes even a long-lasting family tradition. However, it may actually reach deeper than just the business reality – speaking the same language is very much welcomed by German people, which helps establish a deeper level of trust. This allows you to build better, more natural channels of communication, that are in line with Germany’s specific culture of business.

These challenges are not limited to smaller enterprises. Whilst English tends to be the dominant language among global financial institutions, the market does lean towards being more conservative in certain areas, such that gaining trust in is not easy at all. For example, when dealing with medium-sized organizations that only address the German market, the challenge can be quite different, since they often lack any experience with nearshoring or outsourcing. There is also the question of proper sensitivity: even today, in an era of globalisation, cultural awareness is important to acknowledge when working with clients from different parts of the world – things that you could easily say to American or British clients could inadvertently offend a German business partner.

All these things considered, building trust can be a challenging and extended process. It reaches beyond meeting the strictest requirements specific to the IT market, such as quality of software delivery, employee competence or adequate security measures — which are all challenging in themselves. To build authentic trust, you must establish a series of successful accomplishments, and to do that, you must understand the German business culture. GFT Poland’s story clearly shows that it is possible. 

Having worked in the outsourcing business for many years, I believe that the future is indeed very promising; both for the Polish economy and its ability to provide the skills, technologies and people that are in increasing demand by a range of international clients. Delivering the right mix of resources from Poland, coupled with close collaboration with our colleagues and clients in Germany, will ensure a highly effective expansion of international business and innovation.

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