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Corporate Research

Software in transformation

Dextra has evolved by following the market and is now seeking to expand overseas

Eduardo Cesar The company uses the agile work methodology, which helps develop software faster and with greater interaction between employeesEduardo Cesar

Dextra, a bespoke business software development company, is founded on the concepts of rapid adaptation to new technological trends and intensive cooperative projects. The company has recently gone international, opening its first overseas branch in the United States, where it offers management software, online retail software, and mobile applications. The adaptability of this company from Campinas, São Paulo, is demonstrated by its history. Founded in 1995 by a scientist and a computer engineer—both graduates of the University of Campinas (UNICAMP)—Dextra began as an IT consultancy when the Internet was still in its nascent stages. The company has grown by 10% per year over the last three years, and in 2015 its revenue reached R$20 million.

“I met Eduardo Coppo in Professor Rogério Drummond’s laboratory at the UNICAMP Computing Department when I started working there as a software developer. I had previously been working at Digirede,” says computer scientist Bill Coutinho, chief technology officer at Dextra. “Coppo and I created the company to work on computer networks and the management of Internet structures, which were just beginning to grow. In 2000, we decided to change direction and started consulting on the use of the Internet and websites.” At that time, the company was part of an incubator run by the Campinas High Technology Development Center (CIATEC). Since 2009, Dextra has been based in the Pólis Technology Complex alongside other technology companies such as the CPqD Foundation, CI&T, and Padtec.

Company
Dextra
Location
Campinas, São Paulo
Nº of employees
150
Main products
Bespoke software and applications

Another UNICAMP alumnus, computer engineer Luis Dosso joined the company as a third partner in 2002, and its focus was changed again. “We realized that the software development market was looking very promising,” says Coutinho. They started working with open-source software. “We decided to become bespoke software developers, which forces us to look ahead to future trends. We create software for insurance providers, banks, services, industry, and more.” One of the latest systems developed by the company was an online shopping algorithm for Globosat that creates recommendations for customers based on their consumer profiles. According to Everton Gago, one of the developers of the system, its advantage over other online stores is the support provided by Dextra through computational systems, helping Globosat analyze consumer profiles in order to offer other related products.

“We have developed other applications during our eight years working with Globosat, such as one that lets children choose films from Gloob, the children’s channel,” says Coutinho. As well as working with large companies such as Sul América, Nextel, and Confidence Câmbio (now part of the Travelex group), Dextra also developed Livelo—a system that allows customers to exchange points earned by using their credit cards for products—as part of a joint venture between Banco do Brasil and Bradesco.

Eduardo Cesar The atmosphere is relaxed, with several places for holding meetings and blackboards scattered around the buildingEduardo Cesar

Agile methodology
In 2007, Dextra adopted an innovative new work methodology. “Software development is traditionally a manufacturing process, an assembly line almost, with a specification phase, requirements, modeling, and completion. Teams are separated and communicate with each other through documents. It may work just fine, but customer delivery is slow. Since 2007, we have been using the agile method, which was created in the United States in 2001 by a group of independent developers (the Agile Alliance) and establishes fast methods of software production and interaction among professionals at all stages of development,” says Coutinho. “We adapted this method to Brazilian culture.” This includes presenting the customer with a design for their program or application within two weeks.

Like other companies that pride themselves on their laid-back working environment, such as Google, Dextra has special colorful rooms with cushions and blackboard walls, as well as high tables with whiteboards near the cafe, where impromptu standing meetings can be held. “It is an environment where learning is part of our work,” says Coutinho. “We have informal gatherings such as ‘coffee with code’, where someone studying a topic connected to a current project explains the subject to other employees, how they implemented it, and its potential influence on the development of other applications.”

Eduardo Cesar Chief Technology Officer Bill Coutinho: encouraging Dextra’s international expansionEduardo Cesar

Another such meeting is held in the Dojo, the Japanese word for a place where martial arts are practiced. A group of developers share one of the meeting rooms, taking turns to spend 10 minutes each with a keyboard connected to a big screen learning a new coding language. The process enables employees to exchange experiences and adapt a new computer language to the company style and environment. “This is important because we are always learning in an effort to remain at the forefront.”

Although all Dextra’s partners and many of their employees studied at UNICAMP, the company has no research partnership with the university. “We have a partnership in the area of ​​entrepreneurship: I am an adviser to startups at the UNICAMP Innovation Agency (Inova) and I mentor new entrepreneurs,” explains Coutinho. Everton Gago, a Dextra software developer and computer science graduate, also has a connection with UNICAMP. He is studying hisF PhD at the university’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (FEEC). Gago started working at Dextra at the same time as he began his graduate course in 2012. “I wanted real work experience and my adviser agreed.”

Eduardo Cesar Gago works with artificial intelligence systemsEduardo Cesar

Gago works with computer techniques that facilitate pattern recognition. “One of the projects we developed for a client was to forecast oil prices according to the history of the product,” he explains. With this system, the customer can relate the increased cost of oil in Europe to the rise of a derivative, butanol, for example, in Brazil or the United States. “In 2014, we also created a channel on the website of the Kroton group’s Anhanguera universities to connect students and their résumés with partner companies.” Using artificial intelligence, the program automatically recommends the most suitable candidates for a position, differentiating between a senior programmer with a basic knowledge of English and a less experienced programmer who is fluent in English, for example.

Dextra teams typically consist of eight people, including developers, analysts, and a product manager. “Every morning we have a 15-minute meeting to discuss what was done the day before and to plan what needs to be done that day. It is a way of trying to anticipate risks and problems.” A similar meeting is held once a week for about an hour, with people from various teams attending to learn what other groups are doing and to identify difficulties.

Eduardo Cesar Häger continually monitors open-source software sitesEduardo Cesar

Developer Oliver Häger works primarily on software interfaces, which is an important area of the business. “I have to stay on top of the most advanced trends and research what is most suitable for the client’s business,” says Häger, a German computer science graduate from the Ostfalia University of Applied Sciences. Häger took part in a computer graphics exchange program at Vale do Rio dos Sinos University (UNISINOS) in São Leopoldo, Rio Grande do Sul, and after completing his master’s degree in Germany, he returned to Brazil, establishing himself in the city of Valinhos, São Paulo, where his wife started teaching at a bilingual German school. He has been at Dextra since 2013, permanently monitoring websites where developers around the world post open-source software. “We search these websites, and if we find anything with potential value, we adopt it at Dextra,” says Häger. He is currently working as part of a team producing patient management software for a health clinic in the United States, whose name cannot be revealed.

Remote services
“We go to events in the United States every two months to target new clients and demonstrate our systems,” explains Coutinho. The US branch of the company (which opened in 2015) is called Dexence, and is already responsible for 10% of the company’s gross revenue. “We do all the work in Campinas, including virtual meetings, and services are provided remotely.” This way of working is commonly used by Indian companies operating in the United States, where service delivery is almost always remote. “But we have an advantage: the time zone difference is never more than four hours. We can respond to issues more quickly. It’s an important competitive advantage,” explains Coutinho. One of the company’s clients is WaterBit, a precision irrigation company that distributes sensors in fields, communicating wirelessly and storing data on cloud computing systems. “We developed a platform that collects data from the sensors, such as air humidity, soil moisture levels, and weather information, which is then processed and interpreted for the final customer, indicating whether irrigation is needed or not at any given time.”

Eduardo CesarThe company’s expansion overseas is supported by the Association for the Promotion of Brazilian Software Excellence (SOFTEX), associated with the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Communications (MCTIC), which promotes and aids the Brazilian software industry abroad. “The overseas market for Brazilian software development and services is valued at R$2.1 billion, with 50% from the United States and growth of 10% per year for the last five years,” says Guilherme Amorim, SOFTEX director. “Dextra is one of the most active of the 285 companies that have joined the program and is among the ten best performers. It has the flexibility and critical mass to deliver products that the American customers want,” he says.

Yet another UNICAMP graduate, computer engineer José Fernando Guedes joined the company as its fourth partner in 2010. Revenue has grown at a rate of 10% per year, and the number of employees has risen at an even higher rate, increasing from 115 in 2015 to 150 at the end of 2016. As for the future, Bill Coutinho says that the company wants to invest in artificial intelligence technologies, as well as the Internet of Things, neural networks, and machine learning.