With almost three decades’ experience working in the IT sector, Paul Baldacchino is a seasoned expert in the field, with a talent for implementing creative business strategies. This was his mission when he was appointed CEO of technology firm DataTech Consulting in 2012. Passionate about growing the company, Paul discusses his hopes for the future as he aims to lead it into a new age of success.
Upon joining DataTech Consulting as CEO, Paul Baldacchino had a clear objective – and he wasted no time in putting his plan into action. “Back then, DataTech was trying to find its purpose,” he explains. “In 2003, it started out as a risk management consultancy company but, over the years, the shareholders started looking for a new focus.”
Today DataTech provides solutions that enable its clients to digitally transform their businesses and, from the outset, Paul saw an opportunity for the company to enter the Libya market. The plan involved regrouping the Malta office, as well as focusing on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software implementation.
“Within three months, I convinced the Board to accept a high-level, long-term business plan,” he shares. “I remember my colleagues thought I was crazy because I asked to cancel contracts and refuse work, but my aim was to find our direction and focus on products that we knew well. This was a big moment as a new CEO and the drastic change gave the company purpose. It took us about two years before we made some noise, at which point I knew we were on the right track!”
From a new company with only one client, DataTech has steadily grown and successfully worked with some very prestigous global names. The CEO says that he is especially proud that, across its years of operation, DataTech has the complete respect of its clients. “Consulting and software implementation are complex sectors built on long-term B2C relationships, so I believe our track record is a significant accomplishment given our trade.”
Paul also set in motion new work practices, including remote working. As someone with a results-oriented approach, the CEO strives to develop relationships with his team built on trust. “Employees are an integral part of the business; they are the expertise,” he acknowledges. “While the Board is the heart of the company and gives it shape and form, our employees fuel it and push it forward.”
For Paul, there is always room and opportunity to be creative in his role until he figures out what works. He stresses that, while there can be risks involved, it’s ultimately worth it if trial and error yields results that can push the business forward. “There’s an interesting management practice I like to employ called ‘creative destruction’,” he explains, “whereby you build something and, because it is still small, you destroy it and try again.
“Being a CEO can feel like being a kid with a bag of building blocks,” he smiles. “The size of the bag is equal to the size of the company. Big companies don’t like to destroy what makes them money. Small companies, on the other hand, tend to iterate on their processes several times before they settle on something that works. Some CEOs have a very challenging job maintaining the status quo, while others have the difficult job of creating and developing a company’s identity. I get a lot of satisfaction from this element of my role.”
Throughout the past decade, DataTech’s core activities have revolved around the provision of ERP solutions for businesses, including the implementation and customisation of software, bespoke development and cloud services. Paul explains that the company has now gathered enough momentum to shed its consultancy skin and explore other exciting areas.
“We invested a lot in research and development,” he says. “We have years of technical experience in software implementation, customisation and integration, so we are now working on our own in-house products. This involves exploring the capabilities of AI to automate some of our processes. It is a big leap for us, but this is where our focus will be throughout 2022.”
The CEO explains that DataTech’s new products include one for security and compliance access, as well as a comprehensive HR system and a logistics supplier relations platform through which companies can issue tenders, quotes, and send and receive purchase orders and payments. “With these new products, we weren’t looking to reinvent the wheel but rather leverage our extensive ERP expertise to exploit a unique opportunity for the company, while providing clients with good, cost-effective solutions.”
Speaking of the business over the past 12 months, Paul says that DataTech has felt the effects of COVID-19 like most other companies, but believes the business will thrive in the long-term. “We kept going throughout 2020 and 2021, but undoubtedly there’s been a decline in the volume of business opportunities compared to those pre-COVID-19,” says the CEO.
“Although I believe our business is resilient enough to keep going – as business contracts usually span several months – the impact has certainly been felt. Service companies will be heavily affected in the long run and can take time to recover – a client’s priority may not be to purchase software in times like these,” he adds.
Paul asserts that this reality goes well beyond Malta’s shores, as the global enterprise software market took a big hit. “For many companies, new projects were the first to be cut loose, as money needed to be redirected to other areas of greater priority. For the global players, this may have meant a simple switch in product revenue, but for smaller companies this could have meant much more,” he explains. “COVID-19 stopped the entire world economy; it was unprecedented. DataTech was fortunate that, while it did not have the opportunity to expand its business, it managed to maintain its market share and profit margins.”
As for his role as CEO, Paul jokes that nothing really changed. “For us, COVID-19 came in a box with a ribbon and a note reading ‘good luck’. Give me a technical challenge any time!”
Looking ahead, Paul says that the company will look back on 2022 as the year that DataTech took another leap forward. “The products we are launching are valuable and thoroughly tested – we are confident of their uptake. This will take us from being a consultancy firm to a product supplier, alongside our consultancy services. We’re very excited to see this happen after two years in the making.”
The CEO is also eager to continue putting Malta on the map through his work with the ICT Executive Committee of the Malta Chamber, of which he is a member. “I’m pleased to be working alongside such a great team and have learnt a lot. As a nation, we have always been hard-working and have shown our worth at every opportunity. There is a lot of local talent in the market, and I believe Malta has a great deal of potential in terms of entrepreneurship.”
Sharing where he would like to see DataTech positioned by the end of the year, Paul says that although significant changes are in the pipeline, he believes the company has now established itself as a brand and he is looking forward to a period of consolidation and growth.
“We are already operating overseas but our plans are to continue our expansion into the international market in the year ahead,” says Paul. “There are many ways a business can grow and, while profit is certainly an indicator, we are also focusing on reinvesting in the business to fulfil our long-term strategies. I do not see this changing in the near future, and we’re very excited to see where this journey will lead us.”
This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2022 – an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders.
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