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Computing

Company of talents

Former students from the Campinas State University (Unicamp) use new system for building software adapted to each customer

NEGREIROS

Next April, a company called Ci&T Systems commemorates eight years of activity with annual sales of R$ 15 million and 140 employees. Such success, in such a short time, has been achieved by the then micro company under the command of three young men who graduated at the beginning of the 1990’s in computer engineering at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). César Gon, aged 30, Fernando Matt, 29, and Bruno Guiçardi 30, developed innovative solutions for e-business software and won over a market made up chiefly of large companies. The principle they adopted was to create structures that make it possible to build, quickly and flexibly, programs produced according to the needs of each customer, by means of pre-developed software components. These solutions are called componentization.

“We developed an architecture that incorporates the most recent innovations that there are on the market, using and reusing each basic component of several programs to meet new demands in a company,” explains Gon, a master in computing science and the company’s president. He draws a parallel between the history of software and that of the automobile industry, which has evolved from almost product by handicraft to a productive chain that integrates suppliers of parts and vehicle assemblers. “Ci&T – the assembler in the analogy – uses ready-made program ‘bits’ in a tailor-made software. It is far quicker and more economical than those where each part is built to solve similar problems,” says Gon. This system has advantages over the two options available nowadays.

On the one hand, ready made software, off the shelf, that does not meet certain needs of each company. On the other, programs developed to measure, of an extremely high cost and a long time to mature. That is why componentized software, as it is known, for e-business, has attracted organization of the stature of Petrobras, Natura, AGF Brasil and BankBoston, to mention a few customers from the portfolio that Ci&T has won over in its eight years of existence. In this period, it has taken – and won – competitive tenders in major multinationals, which ended up favoring its rapid growth.

Global stock
The first contract signed by Ci&T, worth R$ 50,0000, was with IBM, for the management of telecommunications networks, something that consolidated the company’s formation in 1995. In 2002, another multinational led Ci&T to take the first step in the direction of the foreign market. After beating over 800 competitors, they developed Hewlett-Packard (HP)’s project for the automatic replacement of stocks in large distribution companies, like Pão de Açúcar, Extra, Carrefour and Kalunga. In three months, the system baptized as Electronic Order Fulfillment was also adopted by HP’s units in Chile, Mexico and in the United States. This first export accounted for 10% of Ci&T sales of R$ 15 million last year. The plan for expansion in the world market includes a commercial representation in the United States, to facilitate participation in fairs and events for the sector, and working the American market.

The target – ambitious, César Gon admits – is to grow 50% a year up to 2007, when he intends to reach the R$ 100 million mark in income. To do so, he is analyzing the entry of a strategic partner this year, possibly a venture capital investor. Gon, though, is not letting himself be seduced yet by the capital market, and intends to keep his company as a closed capital limited liability corporation. By opting for this line of growth, a little slower, Ci&T has managed to pass unscathed by the crisis that has affected the Internet sector over the last few years. “Our focus is on traditional companies, with solid business, with which we establish a long term relationship. We visualize our customer globally and try to outline the growth of these companies over the next five years.”

After the expansion driven by the telecommunications sector, the company has developed solutions for banks, insurance companies, distribution companies, and companies in the media and entertainment. “Our big challenge is to build a bridge between the needs of the business and technology. We do this by creating teams for each customer. These teams specialize in segments and work by market.” The insurance sector is an example, with products developed for BrasilPrev, Caixa Econômica Federal and AGF.

Ci&T’s biggest customer is Petrobras. For the oil giant, the company from Campinas modernized the control system for the data on the movement, stocks and quality of petroleum, gasoline, naphtha, natural gas and alcohol. For Natura, a new website was developed to increase the interactivity between the largest Brazilian cosmetics company and its consultants and consumers scattered over Brazil.

To continue growing, Ci&T is investing R$ 7 million over the two year period 2002/2003. There is R$ 2.5 million obtained from the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES), under to Software Sector Support Program (Prosoft), and R$ 4.5 million of its own resources. This has made it possible to move the company’s headquarters from an old house in the city center to a building with 1,600 square meters, with cutting edge technological infrastructure, located in the Campinas High Technology Center. The other part of the funds is being used to expand its network for marketing and sales, with the opening of offices in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia.

New jobs
A good part of the investments will go to the development of new products and the expansion of its team of professionals from 140 employees to 180 before the end of 2003. Ci&T intends to maintain the profile that has helped the company to grow: the great majority of its employees are graduates in computer science, but there is room for physicists and engineers, among others. Of the total number of staff, 70% came from Unicamp, the talent pool where the company looks for its professionals, who call themselves the “U Generation”. Amongst Ci&T’s professionals, 30% have a doctor’s or master’s degree.

“But the characteristic in common is that they all have the capacity to innovate and a taste for changes, a factor that is part of the company’s culture,” says Gon. A pioneer in Brazil in the development of software based on components, Ci&T is now placing its bets on web services, a resource that makes communication via the Internet possible between systems designed in different programming languages, developed by different suppliers and on various operating systems. The operationality conquered by web services represents the first step in distributed computing, a tendency that should steer the development of software, explains Kleber Bacili, the coordinator of Ci&T’s components unit.

Before, companies used to concentrate on big computers – the mainframes – the processing of their information, often carried out on different machines that would carry out services for given functions. The great evolution consists in creating a system that is compatible and has communication and direct access to several machines and network nodes, in a simple and cheap manner and without any kind of interference.

Bacili gives as an example a bank that uses the same technological infrastructure to do credit analysis and to release finance. Web services make it possible to distribute the task of credit analysis to companies that have this specialization, freeing space on the company’s computers for other missions. “This resource makes it possible to use services from all around the world,” says Bacili. A good path for the company to follow on its innovative route.