Converting to the cloud saves a lot. It saves important and sensitive information and documents, even if hardware gets damaged. It saves office space and money by not having to invest in hardware and device maintenance. It saves time when the information stored on the cloud is paired with algorithms that can process the data. It saves money as cloud storage is affordable and does not require expensive equipment to run. It automatically saves work in progress so information does not get lost.
Davyn, a software company that sells business applications, knows a lot about the cloud. The company recently won Microsoft Partner of the year award for 2019 and is one of the largest organisations in the region that pushes Microsoft Azure, a cloud computing service created for building, testing, deploying and managing applications and services through Microsoft-managed data centres. Most of Davyn's products operate on the cloud.
The company – now in its 19th year – comprises founding director Ainsley Yorke, chairman and director of strategy Derrick Villeneuve, CEO Jillian Martin and 40 other programmers and sales staff.
Business Day met with Villeneuve at his office in Aranguez to discuss the Davyn's recent win, how companies can leverage cloud computing technology to integrate and streamline their business work flow, and the possibilities artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can provide in detecting corruption.
Currently, Davyn is working on a project to connect different agencies in the Social Security Board of Belize to improve revenue collection and offer better e-services capabilities using Microsoft's integrated cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure, Office 365, Power BI and Dynamics 365.
"We're in the business of implementing sales business applications. The things that businesses use to run their operations is the technology we use to operate their business. So we sell enterprise resource planning solutions or ERP, so that's like accounting, supply chain stuff, and all the stuff we use to run your business you buy your inventory stock, you have to sell it. You have to account for all of it. Our systems track all of that."
The Belize project
Davyn won the Microsoft Partner of the Year award mostly for its work on the Social Security Board of Belize project, where it was tasked with digitally connecting the different aspects of the social security service both on the public service and the users side.
Villeneuve said previously there was a lot of overlapping of work in the board, as there was no inter-department communication or integrated system.
"It's all the software that will run social security for the country. We register individuals into that platform, we would take all the employer remittances so when you get paid there's a deduction for national insurance right away."
He said Davyn is building a portal for citizens in Belize to access services so they could see what their contributions are, they could apply to register their children, and they can change or update their addresses. The information stored can be processed and used to help flag anomalies in the system.
"A big part of social security is processing benefit claims, sickness benefit, death benefit and pensions. There's a lot of data you collect so I can use to analyse that data and maybe point out some interesting things or look for anomalies, fraud, for example, things like that."
Davyn provides programmes that manages accounting, inventory, human resource management, payroll and employee self-service portals, a programme it developed in-house, to name a few. It has worked with 120 local companies, among them Pennywise, Excellence Stores, SuperPharm and the Housing and Development Corporation.
"What happens in retail, a lot of times is some companies will have a retail system that's separate from the accounting system, and then a different system maybe to manage the inventory. That's a problem because things don't necessarily talk to each other. Our system is all one. You would have the same software that runs at the point of sale and cash register in the accountants computer...
So when you transact the sale, that is, you know the person in the office can see that in the same system, and it's updating the accounts in near real time."
He said if businesses are not connected then they end up with many inefficiencies that cause problems with its reporting.
Davyn services are mostly cloud-based and requires no hardware, except for its point of sale in retail because that requires a machine to check out the products.
"We're moving customers into the cloud. It doesn't mean you replace everything, but you can leverage cloud for all sorts of things. So instead of having to put hardware, no hardware means you don't have stuff to maintain as well. In smaller organisations you may not have an IT team, you might have one person in some cases."
A few years ago, when the economy was in a downturn, Davyn recognised the change in the financial landscape and started to expand the business outside the country, which allowed it to generate revenue in US currency.
"We are a lot more regional than we used to be. We used to be very Trinidad focused till about three years ago. And then because of the economy, we made a decision to be more regional focused, so we've actually went from maybe like a 90 per cent local business, and now... it's more than 50 per cent."
The company has clients from Jamaica, Suriname, Guyana, Curacao, Dominica, Barbados, St Lucia, St Kitts, St Vincent, Belize and Bonaire.
He said he's noticed that the countries with higher risk of being hit by a hurricane are quick to convert to the cloud.
AI technology and cognitive services
As Davyn's applications are cloud-based, the data can be processed by the machine learning tools in the system known as Microsoft Cognitive Services. This connects all parts of the company as well as allows for data analytics.
Microsoft is embedding AI technology in many of their products, which means more companies will be utilising the technology.
"More and more, you're using it even without necessarily realising it.. Microsoft, they're building AI in almost everything now. All the platforms have some form of AI, even your e-mail... There's tools that will analyse your data and then kind of surface up things that it thinks are interesting."
The tool can generate reports, analyse the data and flag issues such as corruption and theft.
The technology even makes converting from paper to digital easier. Microsoft cognitive services has software in the products that allows a programme to scan a document, and regardless of a person's handwriting it can recognise the letters and record the document. This saves companies time and money when converting their paper documents to digital.
"We had a little mini project we started in Belize, but never got deployed because they changed direction on it. But we're using the same cognitive services from Microsoft to take forms and convert it into digital data.
"That's not to say, you could scan a form on the scanner, but converting it into something that you could put in a database that's a little more difficult. It's OCR (optical character recognition) but it's a little more advanced now because it will also do handwriting. It's fairly accurate," he said.
Villeneuve warns if a company does not digitally connect its operations there will be many redundancies.
"If you're not connected then you end up with a lot of inefficiencies and that's what you try to solve. You don't want to have to redo work."
A few years ago, machine learning software was sold at exorbitant prices, but now, as the product is becoming more available on the market, it is easier for anyone to access.
"As little as a few years ago, if you wanted to leverage some of that technology you were paying developers big bucks, or you have to go somewhere and open source and maybe borrow some code. Whereas now, you could leverage that technology as a paid for service through Microsoft services and build it into your product for a nominal fee. So there's kind of made it available to everybody at, you know, at a really low cost."
Using its team of programmers, Davyn designed Employee Self-Service, a product designed for human resource departments to allow employees to handle their own business instead of depending on an HR clerk to inform them of any company issues.
With this service, employees can go online and apply for leave and view their leave balance, see their pay stubs, request supplies, and request other HR functions. They can even see if their leave was approved in real time and get feedback from HR.
Villeneuve said the product costs US$1 per user for a month.