Bryan Cheung founded Liferay in 2005 with some friends in the basement of a church in California. Currently, this digital experience software developer company is present in more than 40 countries and has more than 1,200 employees. 120 of its engineers work in the center that the company set up in Madrid. Cheung, a UC Berkeley graduate in Computer Science, is responsible for the company’s strategic direction. “Improving the customer experience through a better digital experience is key,” he insists in this interview.
During the pandemic, companies and institutions have had to catch up and incorporate technology very quickly to stay active. Has this drive towards digitization been perhaps one of the few positive things about this crisis?
The pandemic has pushed companies towards digitization. For some of them, the adoption of digital solutions has even been a question of being able to keep the business running or having to close it. It changed the way customers wanted to be served, they changed buying preferences, it changed the way people interact and also their expectations regarding how they relate to companies. This affected not only businesses, but also public services. Suddenly having digital solutions to serve customers/citizens became a necessity for all of them. Companies that were already going digital focused their energy on making it happen, and those that were thinking about going digital had to reassess their priorities and invest in cultural and technological changes to achieve digital transformation.
How has it affected your market?
For the digital experience solutions market, of which Liferay is a part, it meant giving businesses the capabilities to meet these challenges: flexibility to personalize experiences and test new approaches quickly, robust integration capabilities to provide remote access to internal systems and better support for engaging with customers through new technologies and other digital channels.
In the specific case of Liferay, what have you noticed these new demands?
We have invested in the expansion and growth of our global teams by approximately 20%, especially dedicated product and solutions professionals, in order to accelerate the delivery of the solutions that companies need to face this challenging scenario. We have also adopted strategies around talent to find the best professionals. In addition to that, we continue to strengthen our ecosystem of alliances, adding new partners and allowing existing ones to continue providing world-class solutions to our customers.
Among other results, they have renewed their own product. What do customers notice?
We recently released the latest version of Liferay DXP adding new capabilities focused on giving business users the freedom they need to create, test, audit, and improve experiences without IT involvement. We’ve introduced low-code capabilities to help business users build and customize applications, for example.
You who know the Spanish reality well, in what situation are the companies of this country in terms of digitization?
Spain advances in digitization and during the crisis it remains above the digitization levels of the European Union average. According to the latest edition of the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) produced annually by the European Commission, Spain is among the top ten European countries in terms of digitization. However, Spain has a low position in the digitization of companies, due to the slow progress of SMEs and micro-SMEs, which are the vast majority of companies in Spain. Only 10% of them have an online channel. In large companies the situation is completely different. Furthermore, not all industries are at the same pace in terms of digitization. Our goal is to help all industries achieve a higher level of digitization by providing them with the tools and technology to make this transformation easy and seamless.
What would you recommend to Spanish companies to advance in digital transformation?
To prioritize where to start on a digital journey, my suggestion would be: first transform what facilitates interaction and the user experience with customers, employees, and suppliers, because that will impact customer retention, business results, and user satisfaction. Or to put it another way: the digital transformation process will be determined by the speed of change in a specific industry and the speed of what competitors are doing to offer similar services with an improved experience.
“Our goal is to help all industries achieve a higher level of digitization”
And what is the next step when those first tasks have been done?
For companies, at a more advanced level of digital transformation – i.e. finance, retail – the challenge is to evolve towards digital-first business models. This step requires a deep transformation in the organization that is reflected at all levels of the organization, from the board of directors to the company’s strategy, processes, investments and acquisition of digital talent.
We often talk about putting the customer at the center and at the same time companies tend to implement automated customer service or with ‘chatbots’. In Spain these practices have just been banned, what do you think of this measure?
From our experience in global markets, we see that companies are embracing AI-powered solutions as a way to help customers get answers and resolve issues faster, so as digital experience platform providers, we make sure to continue to offer enterprises capabilities to integrate what is most appropriate based on their cultural and business regulations, whether it be a live person-to-person interaction solution or an AI-powered option.
Why did you decide to install your second most important center in Madrid? Do you plan to expand it or extend your presence to other Spanish cities?
15 years ago, when we launched our open source portal, Spain was one of the regions where the developer community grew the most. Some of our first clients came from here. We saw it as an opportunity and decided to invest in Spain as a center not only for software development, but also for business in Europe. Spain plays a fundamental role. Madrid is now home to one of Liferay’s most important engineering hubs, along with two others in the United States and Brazil. We have around 120 team members here and there are many open positions not only for Madrid but also for remote work in Spain.
What exactly does the Liferay DXP platform offer? How does it help businesses to be more productive, to be closer to customers, to reduce costs…?
Companies around the world use Liferay DXP to create portal, commerce, and integration solutions that help them go digital. It gives them the power to adjust and improve digital experiences without having to ask for help from IT. It also helps IT users by unifying disconnected systems, eliminating silos and connecting databases to streamline processes. In addition, it also provides integration capabilities through APIs and web services to make it easy to bring together third-party software and legacy systems to create more productive experiences. In addition, it offers cloud capabilities that facilitate infrastructure management and save IT resources – time, people, money – to allow you to focus on what is most critical, which is to deliver what the client / employee / partner / stakeholder needs.