Columbus Lietuva CEO Dovydas Zinkevicius: “In 10 years, we will not be able to clearly distinguish if Al or a human is at the other end of line”

  • 2023-01-20
  • Linas Jegelevicius

At Columbus, the vision is clear – to be the preferred service provider of digital business solutions globally. “Our mission is to help companies to transform, maximise and futureproof their business. And we’ve been doing that since 1989, with more than 2,000 employees serving over 2,500 customers worldwide,” Dovydas Zinkevicius, CEO of Columbus Lietuva, told The Baltic Times Magazine.

What was the start of Columbus Lietuva? 

It has a history of 20+ years, our start dates back to 1999 when Sonex Sistemos was acquired here in Lithuania. Several other major changes took place in Columbus Group over the time. Columbus Group was the main shareholder for the biggest part of the time until very recently, when MBO (managed buy outs) took place.

Columbus Group has experience of being very big, going smaller and once again getting back to aggressive growth mode, note, monitoring throughout the status of its shares on the Copenhagen stock-exchange.

But all the time, the core business (implementation of ERP, Enterprise Resource Planning) remained concentrated on certain market sectors, like manufacturing, food, retail and financial. How Columbus Group is doing in the stock exchange market one can see following this link -

What has been achieved by now? 

We grew and we expanded our products/service portfolio, which I am particularly proud of. We can discuss what is better – to have one product and concentrate on its expansion or to have more products, but less concentration. It comes to diversification and perspective – how we see that long-term and where we see the value at the end of the day.

I suppose you operate pan-Baltic?

 Columbus Group operates employing over 2 000 employees globally and gave opportunities for Columbus Baltic management to make MBOs which we, as the management, did a while ago by acquiring Columbus Lietuva and Columbus Estonia business units. After acquisition, we managed to grow business to over 170 employees in the Baltics. At the same time, we managed to provide services to customers in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Latvia, even in Mexico.

 In the light of the COVID pandemic, physical office location became less important. Furthermore, the new common understanding is obvious – we all can be more digitally orientated, operate more remotely.

Talk about your clientele, please. What are the biggest names you work with?

Columbus serves major names in the food and manufacturing industry, also financial and aviation sectors. Speaking of the latter, we recently completed ERP implementation in the Lithuanian airports, thus expanding know-how by an additional part of operations in this sector.

We do more than 15 ERP projects per year. There also are some involvements which come at certain moments and which can have a great impact on the whole market. One such involvement is the Columbus attempt to give ideas to the Bank of Lithuania on how to more easily report on the whole financial sector, which, by the way, constitutes 500+ different companies/institutions.

Imagine a situation where a participant of the sector, instead of filling out a bunch of reports (on average, over 50 of them per year, as requested by the Bank of Lithuania), itself receives a report from the Bank of Lithuania – on the market on one hand, and the Bank starts seeing real time data/transactions on the other hand.

 Where does Columbus Global and Columbus Lietuva do things differently than the others?

 The main differences lie in the segments which we cover – how we cover those segments in terms of products. All of us have a different understanding of what one-window service means. In practice, it is still limited to the product portfolio each provider operates.

In your three-year strategy, Focus23, Columbus aims to become a reliable digital direction consultant, creating greater value for customers. Talk about it more, please.

Columbus is proud that on top of ERP it has added the whole Microsoft ecosystem products and licences.

At Columbus, we believe that providing customers more services and products brings additional value, as it helps customers make purchases more efficiently, it also helps avoid lengthy discussions with different suppliers.

 With the three main strategic directions, Empower, Sustain and Delight, together with a simplified operating model, just a few years ago, you aimed to gradually increase profitable growth to at least 10 percent annually until 2023. Are you on the path?

 It was hard to predict the pressure on our cost line to be at the high level that we observed throughout 2022, which saw inflation skyrocketing and hitting records. Naturally, we are behind our budgeted bottom numbers, although we are able to maintain growth numbers, which is also  a great story to share.

What are your major targets for 2023? 

To complete Focus23 strategy by delivering three main projects and eight changes. As of now, we are at 70 percent of completion. One of the main benefits of the Focus23 strategy to customers would be a self-service portal, which is in line with the one-window approach extension. Would you not want to see the status of cooperation with Columbus in one place? To see what the on-going projects are, what the licences provided by Columbus are? What the support status is?  It will have much more information than you usually see while having a relationship with telco companies. Really much more.

 Is Columbus Lietuva not “doomed” to success just because the IT sector is flourishing – everyone has gone or is going digital?

Indeed, we have the common perception that everything that is IT is „doomed“ to success. Аnd partially this statement is very correct, as long as it comes to the following: the future perspective, which does look brighter compared to companies in other segments. But if we just run a comparison of the average numbers, the general understanding is that these types of services are more in demand as they stand very close to the meaning and essence of the term „digital“. But when it comes to daily operations, we face many issues which impact our financial results just as in other companies. For example, would you find it interesting to know that our Columbus Baltic’s 2022 margin is just about six percent? Yet we do feel great being able to impact the future, have opportunities to scale our solutions worldwide and we do feel great having the possibility to serve very different types of customers, no matter what their physical location.

Where do you see the company – and yourself! – in 10 years?

I see enjoying a much bigger part of revenue coming from products which are bought by very different companies around the globe. Microsoft wants to enable this opportunity to partners via their app platform, Appsource, and we, at Columbus, have a great upscale in this direction as currently we have an IP of 20+ solutions inhouse. And I am not counting the fact that we can create while dedicating 10%+ of our capacity into R&D (Reach and Development), which I find amazing and which needs to be highlighted.

I see us being able to serve any customer irrelevant of the barriers we have currently today. For example, I am sure that the language barrier will be solved with more sophisticated translation, technically like it is currently in the process of transformation of the barrier related to geographical location.

Finally, I see Columbus employees being able to have exclusive balance between work and personal life. Even today we do not have geographical boundaries, but we still feel that we stick to time, which we can dedicate to a customer as physical beings. In 10 years, I am more than sure that AI will help address a lot of issues related to customer support and we are the first in  line to teach AI to act in a way whereby you cannot clearly distinguish who it is at the other end you are talking to. Or this topic may even be irrelevant, as you will likely be receiving the services you are requesting at the level you want.