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03 February 2023

Digitalization and the adoption of artificial intelligence based projects have accelerated recently, and companies in the technology field are looking to offer as many such solutions as possible both locally and abroad. Case study: Optima Group.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more companies have migrated to online and requested digital solutions to facilitate working from home. A (increasingly) visible trend in the turnover of the technology company Optima Group - owned by Gabriel Chiva (46 years old), from Bucharest, and Ovidiu Pintea (55 years old), from Cluj-Napoca -, a business that recorded an advance from under two million EUR in 2020 to 2.7 million EUR in 2021, with solid growth forecasts for the current year as well. In the middle of this year, the company's revenues were over 1.8 million EUR, and Gabriel Chiva estimates that this year the turnover will be close to 4 million EUR.

Optima Group has two major business lines: technology and its own software solutions, respectively stocktaking and asset inventory, Optima being the main market player in the latter segment. "Many do the inventory with paper and pen. We have developed a solution that is based on barcodes or RFID tags (technology that identifies objects with the help of radio frequency, n.r.)", says Gabriel Chiva.

 

The need for digitalization

Inventory software solutions have been on the market for several years, but have started to be more in demand with the acceleration of digitalization. The entrepreneur says that a company has more serious costs only when it does the first digital inventory of assets, because this involves the application of barcodes or radio frequency reading systems. Then, in subsequent years, costs drop by about 60%-70%.

Chiva says that this type of contract is carried out with large companies in the banking, retail or utilities area, but also with public institutions - a segment that only generates 5% of the business. "This is basically an asset management service that addresses not just inventory, but any asset from purchase to scrapping. Whatever happens with the respective fixed asset can be seen in the application", explains Gabriel Chiva.

For example, he says that this type of service is highly appreciated by banks that have many branches and have to inventory tens of thousands of fixed assets, the software developed by Optima providing information about both their condition and their movement

from one side to the other. For such inventory services, Optima also provides personnel who deal with the chipping and labeling of the goods.

Optima Group's operations are ensured by two large offices, one in Bucharest and another in Cluj-Napoca, where almost 50 people work. About 60% of the staff is in Bucharest, and 40% - in Cluj-Napoca, the entrepreneur says.

 

Well researched programming

Gabriel Chiva does not hide that Optima Group also develops research projects that are implemented with the help of artificial intelligence solutions. Such a project, with a value of seven million RON, is being developed together with the machine learning (automatic learning) team of the Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca. Concretely, it is about a platform that can predict the achievement of some business indicators depending on certain internal or external factors and sales history.

Daniel Chiva gives as an example the beer producer Ursus, for which he has developed various software solutions over time. To schedule a production volume for a certain time interval, says the entrepreneur, the representatives of the brewery can enter into the system, from specialized platforms, data about the weather forecast for the coming months, which sports events or live concerts are taking place during that period or any other external elements that can influence the consumption of beer, and based on artificial intelligence algorithms they can decide what quantities they can produce for a certain time interval and how they can organize the distribution. "We implemented this system for Ursus and they basically plan their beer production according to all these factors," adds the entrepreneur.

He says that such a platform is also useful for bricolage retailers, that based on indicators such as the evolution of construction materials prices, exchange rate variations, the evolution of orders and sales volume, can determine what product stocks they can establish for certain time intervals. Moreover, they can also calculate in which stores they need to provide higher volumes of products. Gabriel Chiva states that this kind of platforms will be increasingly sought after in the future, the market of the solutions based on artificial intelligence being estimated at the moment at over 1,000 billion dollars globally.

 

 

From Microsoft to Optima

Gabriel Chiva entered in entrepreneurship in 2005. He is a graduate of Automation and Computers at the Polytechnic of Bucharest, and after finishing his studies, in 2000, he got a job at Microsoft, being responsible for relations with partners. "I worked for Microsoft for

five years and that period was like a school for me", he says. It was the early days of Microsoft in Romania, and at that time there were just over 20 employees, compared to over 1,400 employees and a local turnover of over 113 million EUR in 2021.

In those days, Chiva had regular meetings with the company's partners, to whom he made presentations about the new products entering the market. At such a presentation at a partner in Cluj-Napoca, he met his future associate, Viorel Pintea. Their first customer was Ursus, who proposed them to develop a software solution for the automation of the sales department.

The brewer offered them financing for a period of one year, and Chiva hired five more people to carry out the project. The proposed solution was a success, and the two later started looking for new clients. "Ovidiu Pintea was a more technical person, a good project manager, while I was in charge of sales and marketing", says Gabriel Chiva.

Basically, Optima Group has developed customized solutions for its customers since the beginning. At the moment, Gabriel Chiva is thinking of focusing on the foreign market, which now provides about 12% of the turnover. In this sense, he is also thinking about attracting an investor and is even considering the sale of a business line if the situation requires it, but he will make a final decision only next year. Until then, he will continue to grow the business with his own resources. He says that he is not nervous, because in the middle of this year, he already has orders of around 2.5 million EUR for 2023, and by the end of the year he is convinced that the number of contracts will increase.

 

What, how much, where

The software and services industry has a contribution of almost 6.2% to the gross domestic product (GDP), which amounts to around 13.6 billion EUR, according to a study by the Employers' Association of the Software and Services Industry (ANIS).

• IMPACT. The software and IT services industry brings to the state budget revenues from contributions and taxes of around 1.3-1.4 billion EUR.

• GROWTH. In the period 2015-2020, the IT industry registered an average annual growth of 17%, while, in the same period, the Romanian economy had an advance of about 6%, according to the ANIS study.

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