CIO100 2017 #31-100: Atta Elayyan, LWA Solutions
The past 12 months saw LWA successfully deliver several business transformation projects for its clients, though the most significant was for Aramex’s BYOD initiative, says CEO Atta Elayyan.
Aramex is the largest courier company in the Middle East. Its recent acquisition of Fastway has seen its global footprint expand into Australasia.
“In an effort to secure its dominance in the Middle East North Africa region, facilitate for rapid global expansion and reduce the risk of being disrupted, Aramex defined a strategy that would place technology at the core of its business,” says Elayyan.
This strategy would revolve around completely re-engineering the company’s courier task management systems, to unlock operational scalability and facilitate for improved customer experiences.
He explains the previous solution ran on costly rugged hardware and Aramex heavily relied on their couriers’ personal knowledge for operational efficiency, meaning it was difficult to scale their business to meet influxes in demand. To address these challenges, Aramex wanted to leverage low-cost smartphones to ‘Uberise’ its operation.
“Through my connections within Microsoft Jordan, I heard about this strategy and was able to successfully pitch LWA’s capability of executing this vision to Aramex’s CIO, Samer Awajan.
“By leveraging an agile, design lead development approach and a ‘start-up’ team culture, we were able to successfully consolidate all courier task management needs into a single app that ran on any smartphone. It is possibly the world’s most comprehensive BYOD courier app.
“The app also provided key courier status information to Aramex’s consumer app, enabling customers to track packages in real-time.”
The solution went live in late 2016 and has transformed Aramex’s business. Leveraging low-cost smartphones enabled the company to halve its hardware related costs, while the intuitive app automates temp staff on route optimisation processes giving a completely new level of scalability.
In 2010 Elayyan co-founded LWA as a pioneer specialising in Windows Phone app development. By 2012, it had delivered the most popular consumer app on Windows Phone.
“A failing Windows app ecosystem saw us pivot into enterprise mobility services, targeting business wanting to drive innovation by leveraging the latest Windows-based hardware.
LWA secured several Microsoft funding initiatives and successfully delivered innovative solutions for some of New Zealand’s biggest brands such as Trade Me, Silver Fern Farms and the Ports of Auckland. However, a further decline in Microsoft’s enterprise mobility market share led them to rethink their strategy.
“In 2015, I set a strategy in place that would help us decouple our reliance on Microsoft and re-brand ourselves as a platform agnostic mobile solutions provider.
“They key to my strategy was investing in upskilling our entire development team in Xamarin, a .NET based, cross-platform mobile development framework, which I learnt about at Microsoft’s annual developer conference in the US.
“My team’s experience with .NET and hunger to learn iOS and Android development, meant they were quick to pick up this new framework giving me confidence to pitch this new capability to clients.”
He says the move to Xamarin gave it a unique competitive advantage over native mobile app development shops. Xamarin uniquely facilitates for the delivery of native app experiences while leveraging a shared code base, making it a compelling framework for businesses wanting to execute mobile strategies targeting multiple platforms.
“In 2016, we delivered one of the world’s most comprehensive Xamarin solutions for Aramex, establishing us as industry leaders of this rapidly growing framework that would be ironically acquired by Microsoft.”
He says LWA was literally founded on a passion for tinkering with new and exciting technologies, and this remains a core aspect of the company culture. LWA is somewhat a unique organisation, in the sense that understanding how to leverage the latest technologies to drive innovation is a key selling proposition.
“Having said that, like any other organisation, we also need to maintain a healthy balance between core operations and R&D initiatives.
“We have two key approaches to innovation,” he explains.
“Firstly, we heavily invest in purchasing new and exciting hardware we believe could be relevant to our services, and make it accessible to all members of our team to tinker with. Over the years, this has led to key partnerships with hardware providers such as Microsoft, Honeywell and Panasonic gaining us early access to their latest devices.
“Secondly, we invest in students via our summer internship and tertiary education sponsorship programmes, through our close relationship with the University of Canterbury and ARA Institute of Canterbury. Every year, we take on up to five university students to work on various R&D projects.”
He has consciously grown his public profile over the years and says he strives to achieve as many awards and accolades, which showcase his team’s capabilities and the impact they are making.
Examples of such achievement are being personally recognised as a Nokia Developer Champion in 2013, a Microsoft MVP in 2014/2015/2016 and the start-up being recognised as finalists in the 2015/2016 Microsoft Partner Awards under ‘Start-Up of the Year’ and ‘Windows App Developer of the Year’ categories.
“Another key aspect I have leveraged to promote the role my team plays and the impact we are making, is public speaking and teaching.
"I am an accomplished public speaker and have delivered several popular sessions at tech events.I also actively teach courses and guest lecture at tertiary institutions on topics relating to the latest mobile development and UX Design best practices.
“With regards to improving the soft skills of my technical people, I am often throwing my people in the deep end by encouraging them to give sessions at technology events, run technology meetups and education programmes, and putting them in front of clients during key project pitches and reviews.
“This has not only improved my team’s soft skills, but has also helped ensure there are other members within my team who can advocate for our services in my absence.”
Selling services at the bleeding edge of technology is often coupled with challenges, he says.
“The projects we pitch to clients are typically addressing innovative alternatives to existing solutions or processes and hence are not immediately critical to operational excellence. They are high risk, non-tangible investments and typically come out of the organisations IT budget.
“To manage these challenges, we encourage the delivery of a minimum viable product (MVP) that only addresses key pain points and can demonstrate tangible value to the wider business as soon as possible.”
He says LWA adopts a design-led, agile development approach to deliver the initial MVP and to continually enhance a given project, once its value to the business has been established.
“This has been how we’ve been able to consistently introduce disruptive tech-enabled change within our client’s organisations, while working within tight budget constraints and ensuing a fast delivery cycle.”