28 June 2006

The Web
Business Today

Going soft, playing hard

Software development companies are fast becoming part of the economic set-up of this country. James H.A Catania, managing director of Softual Developments talks to Business Today about his company’s success and what propelled him into the world of IT

When was Softual Developments established?
Softual, was established in early August 2004. I was adamant from the start that Softual would be different from the other experiences I had with business. Good planning and help from the appropriate business consultants made sure that this venture will be successful. I personally have worked locally and internationally in IT for the past 10 years and with my personal expertise I built my team of developers around the company’s aim to become a market leader in e-Business Solutions. Another important point for me was that my employees would have a friendly environment, as I had experienced myself while working off-shore.

What is Softual Developments’ main line of business?
Our main and only line of business is developing cutting-edge e-business applications. In lay man’s words we develop large software applications which run over the internet.
Due to the smallness of scale of our country, it was very hard to focus on only one area and as is common knowledge with small states such as Malta, if you’re going to focus on one area it must be export oriented.
The decision for concentrating on e-business, came at a very early stage, before even the company was actually formed. This was mainly due to the knowledge I and my business partner at the time possessed.

Why your inclination towards IT?
I would like to say that I knew immediately that IT was my line of work and specialty, but it wasn’t the case at all. I was one of those students that went to Junior College and still had no idea what I was going to study. Having said that computers and the logical reasoning of their process always fascinated me.
After I experienced almost all types of work, entertainment, manual labour, law and medical, for me the obvious choice was programming. When citing theories by Roberts and Law, I believe that the labour market and the community at large choose the individual’s career path and not the other way round.

What is the market positioning of Softual Developments?
At the moment I am proud to say that Softual is the only company in Malta which specializes in e-business development. As I said before, smallness of scale plays a big role in the business line of work in Malta. Usually, one cannot afford to offer just one service especially if you’re concentrating on the local industry.
Softual is very strong in the local market we have about 60% market share from the local e-business development and we are proud to say that we have a 50% market share of all the online shops running in Malta due to our Virtual Merchant application.

Are there plans to tap foreign markets?
Yes, as I said, in Malta when you specialize, your specialty must be export oriented. Foreign markets have been in our targets since the conception of this company. However I must admit that it was harder than I expected and the progress was slow especially due to the financing you need at your disposal to take a real initiative. However as with all types of business the climb at the start is the hardest, once we had a proper plan to infiltrate foreign markets it became easier to assess.
At the moment our service footprint includes, the USA, Canada, the UK, Italy, Germany, Australia and our biggest service country being Holland.
Future plans include a bigger effort on Nordic European countries, the Asian market and Softual is going to start offering its two major products for export in early 2007.
Apart from that we are also currently building a physical presence in Canada to address the high demand for e-business systems in the American continent, mainly the USA and Canada.

How would you assess the Maltese market?
Well, this is quite a hard question to answer for us. We all know that the Maltese market is not a happy place at the moment, with concentration to bring more investment into Malta, while doing nothing internally to really assess and start mending from within. Privatisation is on everyone’s lips presently, however this isn’t necessarily the hidden evil everyone thinks it is. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure that Malta will get what I call “thank you” money the main drawback being that we are being denied from the real income these companies are making.
From the seat I am in, as director of a completely avant-garde system provider, the impression that Malta is still very manufacture based is still quite vivid considering the way financial aids are distributed and the general image portrayed.

What future prospects do you see for the company?
Well, since the beginning of the company, the ultimate aim was to have a physical presence off-shore and the ability to continue working on our e-business applications. However a very important point which I haven’t mentioned is our obsession with Research and Development. We invest heavily in R&D and as a company are already seeing the benefits of this decision, having trademarked and are in the process of patenting two internet technologies, one called HT(s) and one called xGUI which you will hear about very shortly.
A harder concentration on off-shore outsourcing and the exportation of our products will surely keep us busy in the future.
Also I would like to see more exposure for our company locally and will keep investing in the Maltese society as we have done in the past.

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