Part six: Saji Antony – Senior Vice President Engineering
Anyone at Vanenburg knows Saji. He started working at Baan Company in 1995 as a product architect until 2004. After his period at Baan Company, Saji joined Cordys in 2005 as a senior product manager until 2011, when he left Cordys and joined Vanenburg, becoming one of the cornerstones of the Vanenburg India team. Soon the team grew to 20 people that were involved in development initiatives from all kinds of start-up companies. The real growth of the Vanenburg India team came when Vanenburg started working for enterprise customers, like Valeo and later Solvay. Currently, Vanenburg India has around 110 employees and we are expected to grow to 140 in a few months.
At Vanenburg he is responsible for solution development and heads the engineering team apart from his responsibilities as the general manager for the India development center. Saji holds a master’s degree in computer applications from the National Institute of Technology Kozhikode (India). Saji is married to Agalya (Cloud Operations & AI/ML Lead at Vanenburg).
Profile Saji Antony:
Master in Computer Applications
Previous working experience:
Baan Company: Product Architect
Cordys: Senior Product Manager
What do you do on a daily basis at Vanenburg?
Mostly my focus will be on the delivery organization in ensuring that we meet our customer commitments on time and with quality. I also work a lot on the product side shaping up our products, and trying out new ideas and ways to improve our solutions. These days a lot of time is also spent in ramping up the team with lateral hires and also a lot of freshers and interns.
You have been connected to the Baan family for many years. What makes it so great to work at Vanenburg, Baan Company, and Cordys before?
I started my career working at Baan as an engineer. From then till now I have worked only for Baan companies like Cordys & now Vanenburg. So it is a very long association. There is a personal connection with Mr Jan Baan which has developed over the years. Trust the shows and the belief he has in our abilities has been the foundation of the relationship.
It was during 2005 that my wife who was working for Cordys was asked by Mr Baan to start a new centre in the south of India. She accepted the offer and due to that I also had to change my job to Cordys taking a senior product manager role. We moved to Coimbatore and started a center for Cordys and a few years later opened the Vanenburg office in Coimbatore which I am overseeing now.
In all his companies Mr Baan has enforced a culture where there is a lot of freedom and empowerment given to the employees. Most of the Baanites – our name for former Baan colleagues – will talk about the Baan culture which is about the 3 I’s. Initiative, Innovation & Integrity. The friendly environment and the fact that we always worked on innovative solutions make life very interesting and that probably is the reason for our having a long association.
On which projects are you currently working?
Being in charge of the delivery organization I am connected to all projects. But I am more involved directly in some initiatives like Flowcreate and all the customer projects we have around this product. I am also involved with many internship projects we have conceived to try out some new ideas. It is done also with the intention to bring the young guys up to speed.
What is Flowcreate?
Flowcreate is our no-code/low-code -and integration platform to develop micro applications. It is conceived as a citizen developer tool intended for less technical guys to develop and run applications. To modernize their IT, businesses are always looking out for new applications which can help them to improve their processes. It’s not always easy to get your application requirements addressed by your IT on time as there is always a shortage of resources and budget. This has led to the evolution of citizen developer tools which can solve many application needs with less techy persons.
In a normal application development scenario, you need to arrange your development servers, database, and source repositories and later think of arranging acceptance servers, and production servers for testing and deploying the applications. With Flowcreate all these hassles are taken care of and you need a web browser and log in to the Flowcreate environment to develop and deploy applications. A set of design tools are provided with drag-and-drop features to design your data model, pages, workflow, menus, and much more.
You can also make the application available on mobile with the help of the Flowcreate container application where micro apps can be downloaded. The mobile apps support offline features so that you can continue to use them even when the internet is not available. The data will be synced as soon as you are back online.
So a Flowcreate app could be a standalone app for data storage and retrieval, an application for workflows and approvals, an application to perform a task taking data out of your systems of records and then bringing it back after the task is completed, and so on.
Flowcreate could also function as a document exchange platform as it comes with a multi-tenant architecture to receive and send documents across. Imagine developing an application for all your dealers providing each of them with an exclusive experience with the separation of their data. You could exchange business documents back and forth with your dealers as Flowcreate can also function as a hub.
"In all his companies Mr. Baan has enforced a culture where there is a lot of freedom and empowerment given to the employees."
You mentioned development activities for eVerbinding. What is the connection between eVerbinding and Flowcreate?
With eVerbinding, we have a strong partnership as we deliver our development services to them for a long time already. The major use case for Flowcreate was the document exchange platform for e-invoicing. Now they are on a separate track taking the solution further for their use case with a strong team working for them. With Flowcreate we are now focusing on the micro apps strategy with all the learnings and experience we had building the eVerbinding platform.
Next to Flowcreate, you are also monitoring the product development at Vanenburg of our products Rappit and UnDoc. What are Rappit and UnDoc?
In the initial days, Vanenburg was engaged with many startup activities being the development partner in building ideas into solutions. Parallelly we also developed solutions for enterprises in modernizing their IT. Taking advantage of many of our customer success stories we are now building our product stacks to help our customers in many areas. We have Rappit, a rapid application development (RAD) tool with lean code principles to build applications. The amazing thing about Rappit is that it does not have vendor lock-in. This is really important because you do not have tool dependency after generating code. It is generating 75%+ of the required code by a business analyst and uses out-of-the-box building blocks and reusable libraries, but the no vendor lock-in also results in no license costs.
Besides Rappit, we have Flowcreate as a citizen developers platform and UnDoc as a set of libraries to speed up ML-based document recognition and transformations to an electronic format that can be easily integrated into backend systems. It provides a way to extract structured content from unstructured documents.
What makes UnDoc unique from other document AI solutions?
In our experience, we see that less straightforward use cases are not handled well by OCR solutions. This is due to the fact that non-standard templates require a high level of machine intelligence in understanding and extracting details information.
This is where Vanenburg’s UnDoc becomes unique compared to other solutions. Our solution provides the elements for a custom (uniquely geared) document automation solution, to extract data with high accuracy. We have developed machine learning models that can be trained with your own data for highly accurate entity recognition. On top of that, we have developed configurable document templates. For example, an invoice header with lines and a PO number.
A recent blog, written by Ronald Haantjes, discussed whether a company culture is transferable. Since you have been working at several companies of the Baan family, what is your point of view?
If you look at the companies Mr. Baan has created we could easily say that the culture is transferable. The nice environment we had at Baan Company is mostly carried forward to his next companies Cordys and now Vanenburg. In my view it happens because of two reasons:
One is the enforcement of certain principles by our founder which he values the most in his regular interaction with the employees. And two, the commitment of the leadership team to create a similar environment to what they experienced in their early companies. The Baan culture as we call it is something all former employees fondly relate to where we have the freedom to execute and the constant encouragement to perform our work in the best way possible.
"Compared to the industry average, employees leaving us is much lower. I attribute this low attrition rate primarily to the nice workplace environment we have created."
Building the India team takes a lot of time and effort. How do you acquire talents and how do you retain them?
To create a high-performing delivery organization we need to focus a lot on the hiring side. We do a lot of fresher hiring from good universities and offer them internships. In this way, we are able to attract young talent. Transforming young engineers into solid professionals in a short span of time is something we are greatly focused on. The hiring of experienced professionals is more challenging as there is a big gap between supply and demand. Apart from the skills we also check for fitment with respect to our culture so that it will be easy going for the new employee once he/she joins us.
Compared to the industry average, employees leaving us is much lower. I attribute this low attrition rate primarily to the nice workplace environment we have created. Generally, people work for people and it’s important to build relationships with a long-term perspective. If you feel confident that your work will be rewarded and you are encouraged to perform then half is done. The remaining part is to provide them with challenging work where the employees feel that they are learning and growing.
If the employees feel that learning is slowing down then they look for pastures outside. As a company focused on modernizing IT we always have new things to learn and develop on our plate and that makes life a bit easy for the managers.
Are any future plans or exciting projects coming up?
There are a couple of upcoming developments and projects worth mentioning. First of all, the company is changing from service-focused to product-focused. With our Rappit, Flowcreate, and UnDoc solutions, we provide the tools that a company needs to modernize its business processes and create value. By extension, the shift from ‘anything the customer wants’ toward ‘services around our product portfolio’ is where we see a lot of potential and it is great to be part of it.
Besides the products, we continue to have quite some developments within the teams. Currently, our team in India consists of 109 employees, and we expect to grow to 140 employees in the upcoming months. I’m looking forward to seeing the freshers and graduates showing their skills and enthusiasm, combined with the expertise and knowledge that we have at Vanenburg.
An important aspect is how to make our employees competent. At Vanenburg, we really highlight personal development and growth, motivating our employees to never stop learning. A combination of forming groups for learning and certification, checking on their process with regular meetings, and their motivation to get certifications and enhance their skills is what makes them happy at Vanenburg.
Myself, I am planning to update my Google Cloud Architect certification and probably another certification afterward. Learning never stops!