Navigating the future: AIBEST's impact on Bulgaria's tech landscape

Navigating the future: AIBEST's impact on Bulgaria's tech landscape

In this exclusive interview, Nataliya Shishkova-Georgieva, Executive Director of AIBEST, the Bulgarian Association for Innovation, Business Excellence, Services, and Technology, unveils transformative initiatives shaping the IT industry landscape in Bulgaria and the Southeastern region.

FOCUS ON Business: What is AIBEST and what is the history of the organization?

Nataliya Shishkova-Georgieva, AIBEST: AIBEST was founded over 11 years ago as a union of companies operating in the technology and high-value-added services sectors such as Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), Information Technology Outsourcing (ITO), Researchand Development (R&D) and Shared Services (SSC).

The technology and sourcing sector in Bulgaria has undergone fundamental changes in the last decade, transitioning from purely customer service-related activities during the period of 2010-2013 when processes and technologies were simpler and standardized, to services with high added value that required specific expertise and process management abilities.

This necessitated the creation of a sustainable business alliance ensuring representation and dialogue with authorities, educational institutions, and fostering B2B collaboration. All endeavors and initiatives are aimed at improving the business environment in Bulgaria, sharing best practices, enhancing innovations and technologies, and portraying the country as an investment destination.

Positioning the industry as a vital engine for the economy, stimulating and supporting highly skilled talents, is among AIBEST's primary priorities. Others include improving the efficiency of education, expanding the industry in key cities and strengthening the image of the country and the region as a stable pillar in providing complex and value-added services in Europe.

Acknowledging the dynamic and swiftly evolving landscape of business and technology, AIBEST has embarked on a series of initiatives designed to support businesses in maintaining sustainable growth year after year. This commitment to excellence has been well recognized on a national level resulting in the substantial expansion of the AIBEST ecosystem in recent years.

What geographical area is covered by AIBEST?

AIBEST operates on a national scale in Bulgaria, with our initiatives and focus spanning major regional cities boasting long-standing traditions in higher and secondary education. These cities offer opportunities for the growth of the industry and, consequently, the local economy.

Additionally, considering the relatively smaller markets in the Southeastern Europe (SEE) region, it’s vital to view them as a collective entity to maximize resources and diversity. This strategy underpins our approach to regional cooperation.

In November 2023, the latest edition of the AIBEST Industry Report was released, revealing that there are approximately 800 companies operating in the high-tech and outsourced business services sector in the Bulgarian market. In 2022, 24 new companies were established, primarily in the areas of R&D and ITO. These companies collectively employ over 100,000 individuals.

AIBEST's membership comprises over 60 companies, representing around 40,000 employees. We bring together large global entities with operations in Bulgaria, as well as locally-founded companies at various stages of development. Our network continues to grow, allowing us to confidently claim the position of the industry's voice in Bulgaria.

What are the main business initiatives of AIBEST?

In order to successfully fulfill our mission and goals we organize and initiate various initiatives in the areas of analytics, best practice sharing, networking and huge industry gatherings.

Our market oversight takes the form of annual market research reports for Bulgaria and SEE, tracking the growth of the three segments (ITO, BPO & SSCs, R&D centers) in taxes, workforce numbers, M&As, and other benchmark criteria over the years. These reports have been a staple since 2015. Additionally, we conduct an internal report based on a talent survey across AIBEST members, evaluating their employment strategies and overall effectiveness. This data aids in establishing a unified approach for the industry, contributing to our collective excellence.

We host recurring monthly and annual gatherings. Considering the diverse sectors within our union, we've tailored specific formats for each operational field while also organizing general events for our entire community. To enrich these discussions, we bring in specialists with relevant backgrounds – be they government officials, consultants, or other stakeholders – depending on the topic.

Responding to the exigencies of the present, we conduct seminars and webinars addressing specific hot topics, dealing with administrative procedures or strategic planning. For instance, what started as a seminar dedicated to AI- related technologies has evolved into a monthly series known as the Innovation Day Series. Companies leverage these events to pool resources effectively and explore maximizing the benefits of these cutting-edge technologies.

Moreover, we foster ongoing dialogue between businesses and their key stakeholders in growth – local authorities and educational institutions – through our annual Roadshow. This exclusive series of visits takes AIBEST members to cities across the country, where they engage in roundtable discussions with local authorities and showcase their brands to students from local universities and high schools.

Our annual conferences have become leading events not only for the industry in Bulgaria but also for SEE. The Annual Forum is hosted in different Bulgarian cities each year and contributes to our country's strategy in addressing current challenges. Meanwhile, our SEE ITS Summit builds on and extends the reach by inviting government officials and business representatives from the region to collaborate.

What is the status, main objectives and main challenges of IT industry in SEE region?

In 2023, we witnessed a cooling trend in the technology industry, reflecting a broader slowdown in the global economy, a trend expected to persist into 2024. These developments stem from complex factors. On one hand, geopolitical tensions and global conflicts have created uncertainty among investors.

On the other hand, global economic processes, such as high interest rates and the looming recession in some major markets, contribute to the overall cautious sentiment. The challenging access to talent also adds to expectations of a slower growth pace.

Notably, the pandemic has accelerated the need for transformation across companies. Market demand, responding to pandemic challenges, has driven increased resource allocation to automation. Adapting to the rapidly evolving field of artificial intelligence and corresponding regulatory frameworks is crucial for businesses. Faced with rising costs, companies are focusing on cost efficiency and process optimization through the integration of AI, anticipating it to be a key element for achieving greater efficiency.

Companies should continue investing in talent, with a slight shift in focus towards empowering them to work with new technologies and adapt to the evolving business landscape. This strategic investment in human capital will play a pivotal role in driving innovation and maintaining a competitive edge.

Currently, the SEE region presents a unique opportunity. The adaptability of smaller markets becomes an advantage, enabling agile companies to pivot swiftly, allocate resources effectively, and navigate change – essential traits in a dynamic market. The scale of our markets becomes an asset, not a limitation.

Thank you for the interview.

This article comes from magazine:
FOCUS ON Business #15 March-April (2/2024)

FOCUS ON Business #15 March-April (2/2024) Check the issue