JANUARY 26, 2019, Venture Magazine
Optimiza CEO Majed Sifri believes the best is yet to come for his company, the technology market, and Jordan.
Optimiza is a Jordanian company that hardly needs an introduction. It’s a leading digital transformation solutions provider that supports hundreds
of regional enterprise and government clients across the MENA region. It has become an incubator of Jordanian talent, housing substantial intellectual capital and helping organizations get more out of technology.
Majed Sifri is a cheerful soul. Sitting at his office on Mecca Street in Optimiza’s Amman headquarters, he cracks jokes and constantly lightens up the mood. His smile is contagious.
At heart, Sifri is still an entrepreneur. He brought years of startup experience to Optimiza when he assumed the CEO position in 2010. That said, he realizes that charm doesn’t sell on its own. From the beginning, Sifri knew he needed to guarantee a quality product before marketing it out and selling it.
“When I first came to the company, I stopped all marketing because I wanted to make sure we have the ability to deliver first… Under-promise and over-deliver to the extent that you can. People have to trust you.”
Sifri says it took a couple of years before the processes, people, and methodologies were completely aligned.
Now, he’s on the charm offensive, trying to position Optimiza as the go-to company for Jordanian and regional digital transformation. Venture sat down with him for the following interview.
Tell us about Optimiza in brief?
“Optimiza is a leading regional Digital Transformation solutions provider that supports hundreds of regional enterprise and Government clients across the MENA region. We have deep intellectual capital, efficient systems and processes and excellent resources enabling leading edge reliable solutions. In essence, we help organizations optimize on and get more out of technology.”
How did you get to Optimiza? Tell us about your own personal journey and how you landed here.
“I was fortunate enough to have multiple technology startup experiences in the US and Canada with global reach, some of which I sold and one of which I took public. I had successes there, and then I started feeling like I wanted more on the quality of social life side … the Chairman of Optimiza, Rudain Kawar, is a very old and dear friend, but my plan was not come to Jordan but to go to the Gulf. The day I landed in Dubai, Rudain and I had an unplanned dinner. He was flustered because he had just lost the CEO of his technology company. I offered to try to help, as a consultant. I started with that, and there I found that the opportunity with Optimiza was very interesting.
It was a turnaround opportunity, where the company had an incredible vision and a very rich history. It had comprised the merger of several companies in Jordan and a few others in the region. When I came on board, I was met with two challenges: the business cycle was hitting its low point in 2010 and Optimiza had just merged nine companies – so the challenge was trying to put it all together, and that also interested me in terms of personal growth. I’ve enjoyed it, and it’s been a very exciting and interesting journey. We’ve been fortunate with the help of a lot of hard work, to have had seven years of consistent aggressive growth across all metrics.”
You have an entrepreneurial history. How does that inform and guide your leadership of the company?
“In order to succeed in this day and age, and specifically in the information technology space, you have to be entrepreneurial, or you fall behind very quickly. I was very fortunate to have this history, and a lot of the executives in the team have a similar history. We work together to try to keep a dynamic approach, because as you grow and scale, you need to manage the right balance between systems and processes [on one hand] and the entrepreneurial spirit [on the other]. Optimiza represents a very interesting platform. It has depth and breadth that allows us to be very creative in certain areas, while we can also leverage well in areas that require a systematic approach.”
Can you think of a specific example where you’ve had to be entrepreneurial lately?
“There are very interesting new trends that are hitting the digital/technology space. We are able to focus on some of the key ones: digital transformation, data analytics, the cloud, Block Chain. For example, we recently took one of our key proprietary software applications, our Hospital Information System, and tried to be creative by taking some of the modules, spinning them out to create a very advanced Lab Information System. That is a subcomponent Application, that we’ve put on the cloud, and are selling as a Software as a Service (SaaS). So, like in this case, you have to look at all your assets and try to creatively build on them.”
When you say Optimiza is a “leading ICT systems integrator and digital transformations solution provider” – that sounds like a huge umbrella. What are some of the things that fall under it?
“This takes me back to the concept of a platform. Having a platform that provides multiple areas of expertise that truly have synergies amongst them provides us with a huge competitive advantage. In many cases, we are competing with global companies – both Western and Eastern (Indian). Optimiza’s platform allows us multiple advantages. It allows us to tap into the synergies between the three pillars of service provision: infrastructure, applications, and software.
There are many cases where we are competing for an end-to-end solution re-engineering the business process, putting it into an application, and building the infrastructure to support it. It’s very important for a large enterprise customer to feel comfortable enough with someone to do the whole cycle. Very few companies in the region can provide this breadth and depth of services.”
The past ten or so years have been economically quite tumultuous for Jordan and the region. Where are your growth markets? And, for diversification purposes, are you able to compete outside of the region?
“There are two parts to the answer. The opportunity in digital transformation is so interesting in that it creates a market anywhere you look – in any market, in any economy. If you can optimize, you can help clients become more efficient, reduce their costs, increase their profitability; there is an opportunity no matter where you look. The trick is making sure the potential client base understands this well enough and feels comfortable enough to do it. It is precisely now, because of the challenging economic situation, that many large clients are beginning to realize, in order to be competitive, they have to embark on a digital transformation journey.
The trick for our sector is to continue looking at the opportunity not as a zero-sum game. We can grow the pie together, exponentially, over the next five to ten years.
There are changes that are coming that people and companies have to adapt to, and they need partners to adopt quickly. So I believe there’s an opportunity in the region to do this. Additionally, there’s also a verticalization and geographic diversification opportunity for a company like Optimiza.
Because we have a platform, we are lucky to have the ability to be opportunistic and entrepreneurial in addressing market verticals, where we move quickly and make a decent profit. We’ve also started some preliminary work in Africa, and with some of the applications [such as the aforementioned lab information system], we’re thinking about launching globally.”
Besides the business cycle, which no one can control, what other challenges do you see for your work? Security? Cash-flow? Regulatory fluctuation?
“The most important challenge any company in this sector has is access to resources, particularly human resources. It’s not the quality of the resources, but finding them. We are luckier than most, in the sense that our brand helps us in the recruiting process. But I think access to competent resources is tough.
We have 400 employees, which is a large size for a regional technology company. For example, we started looking at sectors such as construction and real estate development – which aren’t going away
The second biggest challenge in our region is always cash flows. Everybody has this challenge no matter how you deal with the cash-flow cycle. Again, we are lucky in the sense that, because of our diversity, if there is a challenge with one of our business units, another unit is on the other side of the cycle and picks up the slack. These are the two key challenges.”
What is your favorite Optimiza product? I know it’s like asking about your favorite child (so it’s a terrible questions), but who knows … maybe you have one!
“On a macro level, any service we provide that includes a professional services component. This is where we add the highest value. For example: Data analytics, business process reengineering, designing requirements, designing networks, outsourcing, and so on. This excites me the most, because as we specialize in (and productize) these services, we can make a bigger difference and make more money.”
What are your plans for the company? What line of services/products do you personally want to grow/change/ impact?
“I come back to this idea of the rich platform that we have, that leverages the rich history, and focuses on our current solid state. We are at any one point deploying hundreds of projects for tens of clients. We’re sitting on a backlog of *40-50 million US dollars of signed existing contracts. There aren’t many technology companies in Jordan or the region who have that backlog. It guarantees a certain level of ongoing business.
Our vision is to keep growing this platform, to become one of the—if not THE—go-to organizations for anything that has to do with digital transformation and ICT in the region. It’s a regional Accenture-type play with that type of breadth. There are very few players who can play this role in the region. We think we have the opportunity to do it, and are solidly taking steps in that direction; this is only the beginning and we are excited about the opportunity.”
Tell us about the benefits of being headquartered in Jordan. What can Jordan provide that is unique in the region? Talent pool? Low costs? Proximity to major markets?
“I think it’s all of these things. Primarily, it’s the talent pool at cost effective rates. The most important advantage of Jordan is the human resources. We have people who are exceptionally competent, highly reliable, and very task committed.
There are lower cost jurisdictions but not as reliable and efficient. There is a decent quality of life available for these resources in the country. And [in Jordan] we have regional reach. We are central, we can reach any of these markets. And the Jordan brand in ICT is a positive brand. When we combine it with Optimiza’s positive brand, this is very helpful. People associate Jordan and Optimiza with a high-quality deliverable, which gives them comfort.
We also still do roughly a little bit more than 50 percent of our business in Jordan. Additionally, we are, I believe, the largest e-government applications developer in Jordan, and we’re trying to productize these services and market them outside of Jordan.”
As you know, this is Venture’s 150th edition – commemorating our 12 plus years of business coverage. Do you have a message for Venture’s readers about where Optimiza is heading in the future?
“Despite all the concerns about the economy and the region, we are very bullish about the regional opportunity. Venture has contemporized many companies that have grown and become important local and regional entities. We have been one such company, and we expect to do much more in the future. The opportunity is there for companies like ourselves, out of this market, to grow significantly. We think this is the tip of the iceberg.”
BY ABDUL-WAHAB KAYYALI