Wall Street Journal – by Greg Ip and Angus Loten
The pizza delivery giant is one of several companies thriving in a time of touchless transactions, robotics, online commerce and decentralized offices. Their successes may define the business world for a long time to come.
Then the pandemic hit, and suddenly customers either couldn’t or wouldn’t enter stores. Domino’s quickly rolled out “Carside” pickup to its stores. It is one reason why the pizza delivery giant thrived during the pandemic. Its sales and stock price surged while other restaurants struggled.
The companies best positioned for the Covid era had technology that allowed them to adapt quickly to changing times: touchless transactions, robotics, online commerce or the infrastructure needed to support a decentralized workforce. They are emerging as winners in an economy where customers and workers must avoid contact, oﬃces are empty and travel is limited.
When Geography Is No Longer a Restraint
Many companies and their employees turned to telecommuting by necessity during the pandemic. Some discovered it had advantages: higher productivity and lower costs such as oﬃce space. But over time, its most important edge is likely to be the greater access to talent when geography is no longer a constraint.
This isn’t a new insight; the information technology outsourcing industry ﬁgured it out decades ago. The companies would often employ thousands of workers in big call centers with dedicated high-speed data lines in places like India or the Philippines where wages are lower. They are a model of how a decentralized workforce can become a strategic advantage.
IT outsourcing has evolved from relatively simple tasks to much more complex software development. EPAM Systems Inc. has honed this model. Founded in 1993 by Arkadiy Dobkin with a business partner in Minsk, the capital of their native Belarus, the Pennsylvania-based software engineering company sought to bridge the shortage of software talent in Western Europe and North America with the ample supply in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Now it has 32,300 professionals spread across its oﬃces, some with just a handful of employees, around the world. They design software systems for businesses, from ticket booking in the travel industry to conducting genomics analysis in biotech. There is little correlation between the location of its employees and its clients: The former Soviet Union accounts for just 4% of sales but 68% of employees.
Today EPAM developers scattered across more than 160 oﬃces in multiple time zones using Microsoft’s collaboration software, Teams, routinely work on a single project. For example, developers in Hungary, Belarus, Ukraine, and the U.S. are working on booking platforms for a major online travel company.
This turned out to be optimal for the world of Covid-19 with its restrictions on physical presence, travel and immigration. “When we had to convert to remote we were already partly there,” said chief marketing oﬃcer Elaina Shekhter. “They were already in diﬀerent time zones, not at the next desk or in the same city or country.” Though stay-at-home orders forced EPAM’s developers to relocate from oﬃces to homes, work proceeded uninterrupted on most contracts. After a dip in the second quarter EPAM expects revenue to resume growing in the third quarter.
While Covid has disrupted demand, the supply of engineers and computer scientists is usually the bigger constraint for IT services, said Jason Kupferberg, who covers the industry for Bank of America. Work-from-home could be a boon by opening up a bigger range of talent for IT consultants. In that, EPAM might have an advantage, he said: a good reputation among recruits and a lower-than-average attrition rate. Mr. Dobkin said he sees a “completely diﬀerent level of opportunity for a diversiﬁed work force.” Another boon for EPAM, he said, is that many companies, having succeeded at work-from-home, are more comfortable working with developers based overseas.
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