Special feature: Greece

Interview with Mr Byron Nicolaides, CEO of Peoplecert

March, 2018

Technology is advancing at an exponential rate. Every year there is new technology that constantly changes our lives. As a front-runner in ICT, you are at the helm of CEPIS - which represents 450,000 ICT informatics and professionals. As president, what do you feel is your main responsibility and what would you like to accomplish?

CEPIS is an organisation that represents ICT professionals and ICT scientists throughout the whole of Europe. It is the federation that is responsible for policy and assisting the EU in policy drafting and decision-making in our sector. CEPIS consists of 32 computing associations, representing 32 countries; our board of seven is elected from among these. Three years ago, I was elected as president and I was recently re-elected. This has enabled me to look at exactly what is going on in our sector in Europe and around the world. Over the past year and a half, we developed a strategy for growth for the organisation and for the sector.

If you look at our sector, you can divide it into different spheres of influence. Firstly, you have IT professionals. Secondly, you have people who want to become IT professionals. Thirdly, you have the general workforce and finally there is the rest of society. ICT influences the entire society and we at CEPIS realise this. Catering and looking after ICT professionals and their requirements, means that we influence all of society. The impact of ICT in society, in terms of, for example security, AI, e-democracy, is massive. As the president of CEPIS, alongside the Board of CEPIS, we have strategies to ensure that we address the needs of our members and the needs of society. We have a responsibility towards governments and the EU to assist in addressing all the needs of the three different pillars of influence.

The ICT sector provides a foundation on which economies and societies can function and transform. It is a key economic enabler spurring efficiency and productivity across all sectors. When used correctly, it can disrupt industries and dramatically impact how things work. How would you describe the role of the ICT sector in Greece? If we’re to look at the economic recovery of the country and the transformation of Greece into a knowledge society, what sectors of the Greek economy are most open to disruption right now?

Mr Nicolaides: Recent studies have found that 6-7% of the total European population work within the ICT sector. The expectation is that, within the next 20 years, this could go up to 50%. We are now only at the beginning of the revolution. The EU has released a study stating that there is currently a need for 400,000 ICT professionals in Europe. People are looking for high-level ICT professionals. Programmers will rarely be unemployed. There is a real need for them. The same study projects that if the EU does nothing, by 2020 this gap will increase to 800,000. We will continue to see an increase in demand and the supply will continue to fall short.

On the other hand, we will see that many will lose their jobs at the hand of technology. Certain jobs are ‘old-fashioned’. What we need is to develop these people to fill new kinds of positions and satisfy new job needs. What we need is more programs to educate and develop our workforce. We need more people with high-level ICT skills and therefore we need to invest heavily in IT education. Our current workforce needs to transform to be more ICT conscious.

Greece is a country with a population of roughly 11 million. Roughly 5 million reside in the Athens metropolitan area and 70% of Greek economic activity takes place here. For the past 8 years, we’ve been in a crisis. In my humble opinion, I don’t believe the financial issues of Greece have yet been solved. If you look at the bonds, the debt and the budget, the issues will continue. The major characteristic of the crisis continues to be unemployment. Greece has a very well-educated population. Unemployment is quite prevalent among the younger Greeks. What can we do about this? There is a shortfall of ICT professionals in Europe and in Greece we available human capital. I believe we must invest heavily in our younger population in educating them to become programmers and ICT professionals.

The question is whether or not we can create half a million ICT jobs in Greece within the next 10 years We commissioned a study to investigate this and the result found that it is possible; we can create this many jobs in Greece within 10 years. We just need to create the opportunity for the existing pool of unemployed people and the co-operation of both government and the private sector. To accomplish this, we shouldn’t view Greece as a revenue centre, but as a cost centre. If, for example, I am a UK company and I want to create a cost centre in Greece, it is very feasible. You have easy access to a highly-educated workforce. Secondly, the great thing about ICT is, you don’t have to be in a physical office – you can work from home. You can work from anywhere in Greece, including the islands, to work for any company anywhere in the world – right from your home.

Employers, foreign and local, are committing to ‘boot-camp’ vocational training. We have already matched up a lot of employers with new employees. These weren’t people with technical backgrounds – we train them in-house. When they participate in our program and finish it, 10 hours per day for 10 months, they then sign with new employers. It is a life-changer. We are creating ICT professionals in-house through vocational training. We’ve now finished two such pilot “boot-camps” and are currently busy with the third one where 110 people are being trained to be ICT professionals. When this third one finishes, we will open it to the public at large. Overall, my personal aim is to convert Greece into an IT hub within 10 years. We have the programs in place; we have the support of the government and the private sector and we have the workforce. I believe this can succeed. And now we are seeing many similar boot-camps and projects taking place all over Greece.

Do you believe, then, that the 500,000 new ICT Jobs in Greece target is on track to be met?

Mr Nicolaides: I hope so! What I would also like to see is more females in the ICT sector. Currently about 10-12% of the workforce is female. As far as age is concerned, the average age in Europe for an ICT professional is 50. Why? Because it isn’t considered a very interesting or “sexy” job. We want to address this and lure younger people towards the industry. We want to change this wrong perception. Age and gender is very important for us. At the end of the day, in the future, 50% of the jobs, in general, will be ICT related. Therefore, the population and workforce must adapt.

In 1999 British entrepreneur and visionary, Kevin Ashton, coined the term the “Internet of Things” More recently, the term has been expanded to include “The Internet of Everything”. Cisco estimates that this will consist of 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020. In the context of Greece, what specific niche areas do you believe The Internet of Everything will be most relevant to?

Mr Nicolaides: One of the things this revolution will be most relevant to, is it will eliminate boundaries. Borders don’t count anymore. Licensing and licenses will continue to change and will veer strongly towards being more globally-orientated. IT is making everything more global. Within this context, I believe Greece will play a very prominent role in the Internet of Everything revolution in Europe.

Are there any specific areas that might provide new opportunities for entrepreneurs and start-ups?

Mr Nicolaides: One of the things we strongly considered was whether we should become an incubator for entrepreneurs. We understand this quite well. We are a nation that values creativity and ideas, however, due to the crisis, the opportunity to take risks is low. Morale is still low among the workforce. However, as far as FDI is concerned for investing in Greek start-ups, I believe, it will bring a great return on investment.

Investment in R&D in Greece as a percentage of GDP is just 1% when compared to “high-tech economies” such South Korea or the United States, who dedicate between 4 and 5% of total GDP to R&D investment. What strategies can work to tighten the relationships between universities and the private-sector?

Mr Nicolaides: In Greece, the majority of R&D investment is related directly or indirectly to the public sector. Research within the private sector is small. For a real push in R&D to occur, we must see politicians focus more on the value thereof. The solution for it, in Greece, lies in adjusting the budget. However, given the current ensuing crisis, we can’t see that necessarily happening. However, my advice to the private sector in Greece, would be that the future is innovation, disruption and new ways of thinking. This is directly linked to R&D and the only way I see this happening is if Greek companies look beyond Greece and even beyond Europe. They must become globally-minded; they must think digital and think technology.

On behalf of Peoplecert, this is your opportunity to share a powerful message with the business and investor community of the UK.

Mr Nicolaides: I would like to thank the British authorities and the British private sector. I recently spoke at an event on the influence of British contributions to ICT and our sector as whole. Their influence is massive. Greece needs a partner such as Britain in order to make a global impact within our sector. Our holding company is UK-based. Our success is linked to our prominent UK branding. Secondly, the British system truly works; it has helped us a lot – the UK tax system, banking, the legal system all work in our favour.

Thirdly, a lot of our success rides on the high quality of UK standards and our British partners. We won a massive British tender, thanks to British transparency and us truly serving British interests. We have excellent British staff and excellent British academics at universities such as Cambridge helping us. The British Embassy in Greece has been a great partner. We believe our partnership with Britain has and will continue to be win-win. Greece, as a whole, needs the UK and the UK needs Greece. We, as a Greek company, we were able to go global thanks to Britain. We will continue to invest in the UK and will continue our strong relationship with the country.