Ran BERGER: "The warm welcome in Georgia is not something we take for granted"

  How easy is it to work globally from South Caucasus? 
Focus on IT
  How big is Georgia's potential in hi tech?
Focus on IT is the Caucasian Journal's new interview series which we're starting today. We reach out to the top executives of IT companies which are based, present, or relocated in Georgia, to hear their first-hand comments and experiences. 
  Got something to say? Leave a comment or email us to become our next speaker!

Ran Berger
29.08.2023 (Caucasian Journal).  Georgia's revenues from IT services are booming and even seem to exceed the wine export revenues – the country’s traditional income resource. However, compared to many other countries, the progress of Georgia’s IT sector is still modest. What is needed to make Georgia more competitive and attractive to serious investors? What are the advantages and pitfalls of working globally from Georgia?

Caucasian Journal decided to learn directly from the decision-makers with hands-on experience in this country. Today we are grateful to Ran BERGER, co-founder and CEO at Flat Rock Technology (Great Britain) for answering our questions.    

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of CJ: Dear Ran, welcome to Caucasian Journal! You seem like a “classical” founder of a software company, which you have been developing during 15 years from a scratch to a strong 400+ employees team scattered over several countries. Can we start with a bit more information about yourself and your company?

Ran BERGER: Dear Alexander, thank you for the opportunity to share my experience and our Georgia journey with you and with the Caucasian Journal's readers. I started my career in IT as a young engineer in 1999 and I built my experience since then. My main journey was with large scale organizational systems such as ERP, CRM and BI [respectively: Enterprise resource planning, Customer relationship management, Business intelligence - CJ] which allowed me to understand how the main business functions and processes work, and how various systems can optimize them. During the early stages of my career I saw how the internet is changing our lives and businesses, allowing us to rapidly scale and integrate with other partners in the value chain. 

As part of my career, I was offered a relocation to London, UK, and there after few years I opened Flat Rock Technology. My vision for Flat Rock Technology was to bring my CEE and IT experience to offer business with software and web development services from top talent teams in East European countries. Fast forward to nowadays, we are serving a growing client base from our offices in Bulgaria, Georgia and Hungary, and I am confident that we will soon introduce new locations.

The new AI trends will release our skilled people, in the future, from some of the basic tasks and will allow them to focus on where they can add value.

AK:  Georgia is not (yet) the most obvious destination as a global IT hub, and was even less so several years ago. But forward-looking businesspeople like yourself have chosen this country and preferred it to other locations. Can you tell us that story - how did it happen?

RB: I am a process driven individual, so when we choose a new location we usually perform evaluation that includes more than 200 parameters such as access to talent, education level, development of the local IT community, labour law, tax regime, political and economic situation, transportation, ease of doing business, potential resistance from our clients and many more.

Before we opened our Tbilisi office, we have performed our evaluation and we also met with local law, finance and recruitment firms and then number of detailed visits. At the end of the process I was convinced that this was the right location for us to expand, and we had moved forward. 

AK:  How smooth was your Georgian experience, since you had decided to go ahead to add it to your network? Did you encounter any technical or bureaucratic problems, or other “underwater rocks” on your way, and what were they like?

RB: Our experience was as complex as you’d expect. When you start in any new country, and Georgia is not different, you have to learn the people, culture, processes and requirements. We have had to deal with all the bureaucracies like any other company, and for me this is a critical experience in getting some initial understanding of how the market works and what the company admin management entails. 

 I am sure that the demand for talent and competition for each skilled IT professional will only grow in the next few years.

AK:  Your personnel in Georgia – how easy was it to find and hire qualified staff here? Do you observe any specifics with the local professionals?

RB: Recruiting and top talent have been a global challenge to all companies and in most countries in the last 7-8 years and had its peak during COVID era. We see ups and downs by country and skill and we then try to balance it with our multi-locations strategy. In the last 15 months due to the global economics and other macro events such as the war in Ukraine, we can see different trends, but I am sure that the demand for talent and competition for each skilled IT professional will only grow in the next few years. I think that it is our role as business leaders together with the academy leaders to develop the most appropriate education programs to train and develop more IT professionals. I also think that the new AI trends will release our skilled people, in the future, from some of the basic tasks and will allow them to focus on where they can add value and to use the new technologies and solutions as hybrid with the irreplaceable human brain in scaling up. 

AK:  By the way, if you think that something in the educational system in Georgia must be improved – to make our future IT specialists more competitive and equal to the global challenges, please share. There are many education professionals among our readers, who would highly appreciate your opinion. 

RB: I would like to see the educational systems getting closer to the industry itself and creating up-to-date programs that will combine theoretical education with hands-on experience. 

We should also think about the layers of the industry and see how we develop the talent “supply” to meet the demand. For example, the need to develop software engineers as well as coders and DevOps [software development (dev) and operations (ops) - CJ] skills which all require different competencies. The education systems must see themselves as integral part of the IT eco systems, and their success should be considered in relation to their outcome in the level of capabilities that they release to the market at the ends of their education process.

 AI is a muscle that each one of us need to train and know how to use from very early stage.

AK:  Speaking about the global challenges, what’s your view on the future of IT in your field, and how is your vision reflected in Flat Rock’s strategy?

RB: It is very trendy to think that AI will replace people. I tend to think that AI is a muscle that each one of us need to train and know how to use from very early stages and that AI will not replace us if we can add value. In Flat Rock we are continuously trying AI and other automation tools, and I am sure that we will not be behind the trends. My personal view is that we all need to adopt a new style of learning which I describe as a continued micro learning. This means that no matter what stage of career we are, we always must learn new skills and some of them will be very small. This is the way to keep our brain flexing and keep up with the fast moving changes. 

AK:  What are your and your company’s achievements that you are especially proud of? And, by the way, what’s behind its name “Flat Rock”?

RB: I am always proud for our people and those that stay with us for many years. I have always thought that at Flat Rock we need to develop long-term relations with our stakeholders such as employees, clients and suppliers. I am always very pleased to see that we are able to collaborate as a team from different locations, and when I see that we deliver a project for a client from the US with a project manager in the UK, some team members in Georgia and some in Bulgaria or Hungary, it makes me feel proud. 

The company name came as inspiration from a book called “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman from 2005. The book describes how the internet will enable the “global village” of trade, collaboration, employment, knowledge sharing etc. In 2008, when we founded Flat Rock Technology, we thought that our approach and vision was very much aligned with what the book describes.  

  I will refuse any business opportunity if I think that it is not aligned with my core values.

AK:  Our world is changing fast, and the IT’s role is even more tightly interconnected with security – not just cybersecurity but military security as well… AI might be fueling up the fake news… And this is all across a real-time war happening in Europe, with sanctions and counter-sanctions, war-triggered relocation of IT specialists and whole teams… What’s your opinion about responsibility of the IT industries and IT talents during such turbulent periods?

RB: As IT professionals we should stick to our core values and make sure that we understand trends, risks and opportunities and use our skills and tools in a good way to achieve a positive outcome. I personally believe in doing good, and as business leader I will only trade with other businesses and people that shares these values. I will refuse any business opportunity if I think that it is not aligned with my core values. 

AK:  Getting back to Georgia, what can be done to make it more competitive and attractive to global companies and foreign investors? Why, in your opinion, is it lagging behind such IT leader models as, for example, Estonia with its records number of unicorns per capita? 

RB: for the IT industry to grow and develop it needs a good balance between service companies (like Flat Rock Technology) and products companies that take new ideas and vision from Georgia to make a global impact. The way to achieve it is a long process that includes a wider strategy and strong eco system that will include early stage incubators, venture capital and private equity involvement, government incentives, and the most important is local leaders to take the risk and break through. Georgia has the people and potential and I think that with the exposure to what we see in other places, this should happen very soon, and it will be very exciting times. 

AK:  If there is anything that you would like to add for our readers, the floor is yours.

RB: It is a good opportunity to say thank you to Georgia and Georgians. The warm welcome I get as a person and that we get as a business is not something we take for granted. I hope that with my experience I can assist. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to see the Georgian IT sector changing in the last few years and I’m very excited to be a small part of it. 

AK: Thank you very much!

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