Attracting inward investment from tech firms has been a priority for the UK Government in the run-up to Brexit, but there's more that could be done, according to a US CEO who's about to place a big bet on London.
US supply chain software company JDA Software, is about to make a “big investment” in London, Brexit or no Brexit. CEO Girish Rishi says his company plans to open a new UK office in the City “within the next 60 days” - and he'd like to see London's Mayor turn up at the opening to support the move:
We are making a big investment in the City. We held our user conference in London and I stood on stage and said, ‘I don’t care what the politicians say, I am making a bet on London.’ We are seeing strong growth from the UK. If Brexit was supposed to have a dampening effect, we haven’t seen that.
As for that invite to the Mayor, Rishi reckons it could send a positive message to others:
I have written to the Mayor [of London, Sadiq Khan] to come to the inauguration and engage with us, but I haven’t heard back from him. So what the UK can do is embrace us, when they see – without a prompt from government authorities – companies like JDA, who have an enormous presence here, making an additive investment.
Government authorities should portray London and the UK as a friendly place to invest, and which continues to be the marketplace of the world. They should be more welcoming for events and for investors. That would be a phenomenal thing.
This protectionist approach, we’re seeing it everywhere, in the US, the UK, India. It’s a global phenomenon, and I understand it: people need jobs. But it needs to be coupled with something else. And I’m appealing to the Mayor to come and shake hands with us and point out JDA opening new premises in London.
Aside of its investment in the UK, Rishi says that JDA’s other big bet is on data – both through AI and analytics. New partnerships will be critical in making the strategy work, says Rishi:
We’re hiring people with a background in data science and analytics, we’ve always been strong in that. We’re going to hire 100 people in the US on an engineering and coding level who have that capability. And we’re hiring another 100 people around the world.
We have traditionally been ‘JDA designs, makes, and delivers software’, but we are changing that model to bring in an ecosystem, a constellation of partners. We’ve announced a partnership with Mulesoft, and another with Dunnhumby. And we announced a partnership with KPMG, and we’ll soon be announcing a partnership with EY. Increasingly, this will be a constellation of partners to embellish what we do around use cases that weave in AI and machine learning.
Scottsdale, Arizona-based JDA Software remains privately held: a rarity in an enterprise landscape increasingly defined by share prices and high-profile IPOs. So will JDA buck the industry trend and stay private? Rishi points out:
Seventy percent of the world is private sector. You’re seeing across all sectors that companies are increasingly privately held. We run it with all the governance of a public company.
It’s an unbelievable advantage. It allows us to invest for the future, it allows us to invest in our customers. I spend zero time with investors. All my time is with customers or product development. Especially in an industry that is changing at unbelievable speed – manufacturing, logistics, retail, and new technology around AI, blockchain, and the IoT – it’s an unbelievable privilege.
Since Rishi took over as CEO in January 2017, JDA has put AI and machine learning front and center of its business – just as other enterprise providers have, such as IBM, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Oracle. Rishi says of JDA's strategy here:
Those are ingredient technologies, and we are exploring and incorporating them. However, our true north is focused on supply chain use cases – we’re not doing AI and machine learning just for the sake of it. For us, it’s all about intelligent fulfilment and cognitive planning, where you can incorporate external sensor data to extract instantaneous, real-time meaning.
Rishi is personally driving these changes at JDA and has a strong message internally:
Tangibly, we have increased our R&D investment by 20 percent. Forty percent of all our R&D now is going towards AI and machine learning and IoT. But that comes with a responsibility, because we are the largest supply chain software company.
We are seeing tangible use cases that make positive impacts on our customers’ operations. We have an inspiring roadmap. And I’m going around meeting customers where we are getting into iterative, agile modelling sessions with them, about where their business processes are today and where AI and machine learning can be woven in.
Growth comes from key areas and sectors:
There are three areas that we mainly operate in: manufacturing, third-party logistics, and retail. In our latest results, bookings grew 18% and our revenue grew 11 percent. It was a record fourth quarter. All sectors are growing for us. But what we’re seeing is different types of growth. Retailers are focused on consumer insight, manufacturers are focused on cognitive demand and planning, and on things like weather data and social networking data. Meanwhile, third-party logistics companies are focused on IoT data.
The company is also putting research at the centre of its new model, via its thriving Labs division. That raises the question of where the balance is - is JDA helping its customers to optimise their supply chain processes, or is it more the case that customers are teaching JDA about their vertical businesses? Rishi says:
Both; it’s a co-innovation process. Seventy percent of our Montreal JDA labs are PhDs. Customers like the Federal Logistics Agency, like Michelin, they take their teams there. We have an industrial design lab, we have math experts, and we sit down and look at workflows, at their data sets and workflows, and there is a great collaborative offering where we offer data science as a service. We engage with them around use cases. It’s a big part of our culture.
As supply chains get faster and smarter, and increasingly rely on data, sensors, location information, and more, via the Internet of Things (IoT), JDA is well placed to capitalize on these new sources of growth. But no word yet on whether London Mayor Sadiq Khan agrees.