Has the competitive landscape changed in the Nordics, given the ambitious expansion plans of some of your peers?
We don't see any international competition, but we see a change in the fact that it is increasingly difficult for the smaller national players.
We have a very special thing in the animal of Atea in the Nordics because we have such a huge market share compared with what Computacenter, Softcat or Bechtle and those guys have.
But you see CDW coming into England, for instance; Bechtle coming into England and Computacenter going into Germany and having success, so I can see some of those landscapes changing. But we haven't seen that in our region.
Can you see CDW, Computacenter or another large reseller expand into the Nordics in the next couple of years?
It is dangerous to have a stance on that. But the Nordics is not one place, it is four different countries and individually those countries are so small that, if you don't have a clear Nordic view, there's no reason for you to come in. How could they go from being Computacenter to being a fully fledged Nordic player? That's a long reach.
I think that at this rate, we are not preparing for that to happen at this stage.
Would you agree that international customers are wanting to work with fewer channel partners?
What we see - and I think everyone would agree - is that international and global customers are pushing for just one partner or fewer partners to work with. That means there are global companies based in the Nordics that we follow from the Nordics and out into the world. But we've also had some global companies that don't have their headquarters in the Nordics move in over the last three to five years, meaning you have international partners that are not in the Nordics sell their equipment to these companies.
The fact that international customers are centralising their buying is definitely a pattern, and I think if you talk to CDW they will say that a lot of their success with the acquisition of Kelway is because they have American customers that they use Kelway in Great Britain.
Customers are standardising platforms so they have one set of tools and one way of doing compute. It is difficult for them to do that if they let all 50 countries they're represented in do their own purchasing, even though they have lists of standard products and so on. Buying centrally is a tool for them to standardise rather than the fact they want to buy centralised.
Is Atea selling to more international customers today than it was five years ago?
There aren't many huge international customers with their origins outside the Nordics which have a huge operation here. They might have smaller operations so they would be more of an SMB customer in the Nordics, even though they're large international customers. For us, not delivering to them is no loss because we wouldn't have sold to them internationally and that small entity in Norway wouldn't typically be an Atea customer.
Several industry onlookers have warned that the market will slow down this year after a strong 2018. What's your stance on this?
We are certainly optimistic and we have plans that are optimistic. But of course, 2018 was definitely a good year and the comparables become more difficult to grow with the same speed year over year. But on the other hand, the speed of digitalisation hasn't slowed down. We see a very healthy market.
When I talk to some of my colleagues around the world who run bigger companies, there's a mixed signal from some regions. I think some people are being more cautious because they want to set the right expectations. Not necessarily because they feel that the market is slowing, but more that they don't want analysts and investors to make the wrong assumptions or create a linear graph out of what they're hearing.
But there are also some areas where external factors are creating uncertainty. Britain is having a hell of a discussion around Brexit - if I were running out of Britain right now, I'd probably be uncertain about where this will land and how it will work out. That uncertainty isn't necessarily the same as how the IT community is going, but it is an uncertainty and that is one of the worst things people can deal with.
Then you have the trade wars around China and the US, which also creates uncertainty in the US. If you have a toll of 25 per cent on things produced in China going into the US, the price will go up by 25 per cent and the customer might not be able to buy as much.
So there are uncertainties in the world right now which influence people's short-term view, but when it comes down to our customers and if they're still going to invest in IT, I am 100 per cent sure that will happen. In our part of the world right now, we don't see those kind of problems, so we don't see any slowdown at the moment.
How did Intel's CPU shortage affect your PC business in Q4 last year?
The chip shortage certainly did influence Q4 a little bit. All over the world I think that caused a bit of a problem. It has influenced everybody, including the Nordic market and Atea.
It got better in the last part of December, and we managed to get a lot of things out, but it did worry us and it did influence us a little bit.
You've often played down the idea that public cloud will dominate the market. Where do you stand on the debate, and is Atea building up competencies in this area?
My point of view for the last 10 years has been that yes, public cloud, which is a word people are using in so many ways, will be a part of the market and that part will grow.
But if you take a customer, they're not going to take their data and move everything to a public cloud. That's not what I believe technically and business-wise will happen. It could happen to very small start-ups and it will happen to a lot of businesses, especially those which fluctuate seasonally, or are heavily reliant on DevOps.
For us, a huge part of our business is in the public sector - so defence, police, tax, social security and so on - they will not move all of their production and data to public cloud. But they can move parts of their compute to public cloud and some will have on-prem but they will call it private cloud.
I have fundamentally, from a technical, privacy and legal point of view, believed the world will become hybrid. That model plays into the hands of the professional, bigger resellers or value-added resellers.
We resell public cloud, but mostly we build hybrid solutions. But there is a lack of people, consultants and architects who can do this. That is not preventing us from doing it, it's just slowing down the tempo.
We are building and developing this; we had 50 cloud consultants and cloud people in a one-week workshop just last week. We're building it and doing as much as we can to build capacity because there's a need for it, but we could do more if there were not a shortage of competencies.
Business analytics is an area of growth for Atea and you bought Sherpa Consulting, Norway's leader in this field, last year. How will you leverage this acquisition in 2019?
It's funny actually, we bought a company with 50 consultants - specialists, mathematicians, analytically skilled - and they sold out. They had a very good H2 last year, which was the part we owned, but they decided to sell.
I think next week they're moving to our building in Oslo and slowly they will become a division in Atea Norway. Our target is to have 100 analytics people by this summer; I think we have about 80 people right now.
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