Why is working at Levi9 a big deal?

Worklife and homelife have blurred how we see our workplace. Office space is now sometimes with the cat in the attic. Yet still we managed to hold onto the World Class Workplace title in 2021. How? Because maybe it’s not about the work or the place. Surely, it’s not about being classy since many of us worked from home in sweatpants.

Recently, independent researcher Effectory awarded Levi9 with a 7.9 rating for employee satisfaction. That’s above the global average and we’re extra proud of the 9 😉. But what does that score mean? We asked our own people why it’s a big deal to work at Levi9. The answers were anonymous, sometimes surprising, often awesome and certainly refreshing.

9 reasons why it’s so great to work at Levi9

1. CONNECTIONS: “It doesn’t matter whether I work at the office or at home, I feel a connection with my team and Levi9 in particular. I adore my teammates and the atmosphere of the working environment.”

2. BUILDING SKILLS: “I greatly appreciate the entrepreneurial culture at Levi9, opportunities to experiment and explore new ideas. I feel that I have a lot of opportunities to apply my skills and develop new ones at Levi9.’’

3. EXPERIMENTAL SPACE: “I have the freedom to experiment with ideas that I think will bring value to the customer or the company.”

4. MINDSET: “I’m proud of the constant improvements and the growth mindset, opportunities for personal development, job dynamics, high quality of work.’’

5. EXPERTISE: ‘’Honest, supportive, great experts who push development forward.’’

6. KINDNESS & DIVERSITY: “I am proud of how many kind, intelligent, versatile and yet so different people work in our company.’’

7. KNOWLEDGE SHARING: ‘’It makes me proud that my colleagues are willing to share knowledge, to support juniors, to support others when needed and to have open communication within team.’’

8. MAKING A DIFFERENCE: “I can make a difference at Levi9 – both the company and the customers are open to my feedback and appreciate my ideas.”

9. GROWTH & IMPROVEMENT: “We are working with people that always aim to improve themselves.” “It’s the best learning ground on the planet!”

If any of these reasons weren’t awe inspiring enough, find 999 other awesome reasons why working at Levi9 has the WOW-factor: https://www.levi9.com/working-at-levi-9/


Racing into reinforcement learning with Hack9 2021 hackathon

The thunderous roar of motor engines, deafening cheers from the crowd, and the thrill of watching race cars zip across the finish line – this was the scene of the Levi9 2021 Hack9 hackathon at the Formula 1 race track CM.com Circuit Zandvoort.

Well, that’s mostly true.

In fact, the racing event took place on a miniature version of Zandvoort’s F1 circuit, with the real motorway as a dramatic (and sometimes noisy) backdrop. And rounding the track – the AWS DeepRacer, a 1/18th scale replica of a race car that’s designed to test reinforcement learning models. The grandstand was a bit quieter as the 30 Hack9 teams, with more than 160 total participants, took on the challenge from behind their computers at home. Even so, the excitement was full throttle.

“The immediacy is completely different,” says Orest Borovyi, a Levi9 Python Developer Medior. “It was my first experience with deep learning. Even though I had some knowledge of machine learning from university, it wasn’t something I could touch with my hands. During Hack9, I could see the car being trained in real life.”

Orest’s team, the Handsome Peppers, trained the fastest car and claimed the championship cup. But, his teammate Kilian Canizares Mata explains that winning (and gaining major bragging rights) wasn’t actually their Hack9 highlight.

“It was really about being in touch with the technology, having the opportunity to experience it in a competition and collaborate as a team to reach a common goal.

Kilian is a Middle Software Engineer at Visualfabriq, a Levi9 customer. That means he also works closely with his Handsome Peppers teammates on IT projects. 2021 was the first year that Levi9 customers were able to get in on the Hack9 action and Kilian says he’s glad he joined the crew.

“You can network, meet people, and get new knowledge. It was a great way to get more engaged with Levi9. But, more importantly, we all need to have fun and enjoy our work.”

The pandemic detour

Each year, the Hack9 organizers develop a different IT challenge involving cutting-edge technologies. In 2019, it was all about Cloud and 2018 explored Open Source. Hundreds of levi niners face off in an intense, 24-hour competition held across the different Levi9 offices and countries. But, the COVID-19 pandemic was a major roadblock to the typical Hack9 format.

“You have the struggle of people being apart and we wanted to bring them together, even though we couldn’t all be in the same room. Adding to that is everyone is tired of being online, so we knew we needed a component from the physical world,” says Dragan Gajic, a Levi9 Thought Leader and Hack9 creator.

So, the organizers devised a detour. They gave the teams nine days to work remotely and train their reinforcement learning model on a virtual track in the AWS online simulator platform. Then, the teams could upload the trained model artifacts to the AWS DeepRacer vehicle, enabling autonomous driving on a real (miniature) track. The event was live streamed and teams could see what their competitors achieved.

“We did it differently this year, but ultimately we gave people a proper challenge that also brought some new energy and engagement to the teams.”

It’s not the first time that Dragan and his fellow Hack9 organizers have leveled up the event. Last year, they debuted the Hack9 automated scoreboard – a unique IT platform built totally from scratch by Levi9.

“We had a hackathon for the hackathon to develop this scoreboard,” Dragan says, smiling ear to ear. “The real time, automated experience makes the competition very dynamic and also delivers completely objective scoring.”

A winning formula

For the Hack9 teams, the remote competition meant that they were often tackling separate problems at different times. Orest explains that solving the issue of being out of sync was what ultimately put them on the fast-track to the winners circle.

“In the first days we weren’t really spending a lot of time collaborating, but once we started to operate as a team our results improved. In the end, it comes down to communication and how you distribute work as a group.”

From a technical perspective, the Hack9 events are designed so that anyone who is curious and willing to try something new can participate. Orest feels that he can apply many of the Hack9 learnings to his Levi9 projects going forward.

“You need to learn quickly and make decisions based on the small amount of information that you have. I also found that the challenge was a really good starting point for sparking interest in new technologies. You can see for yourself how it works and what’s possible.”

This mix of high-octane team building and innovative tech is the exact formula that Dragan says the Hack9 organizers hope to create with each event.

“As an IT service organization, our hackathons are always focused on IT solutions instead of product development. Our vision is for people to be able to jump in, give it a try, and see immediate results. It’s about staying open to new technologies and it’s also about having fun.”

Do collaboration and IT innovation fuel your engine? Check out the opportunities to join the Levi9 team. Who knows, maybe you’ll even take home next year’s Hack9 prize.


Practical Tips for Digital Transformation from Three Innovators

Digital innovation is a crucial factor to success in business today. But how does it happen, and what does the process look like for successful business innovators? There are many hairy questions to address, but the answers are sometimes surprisingly simple. 

Levi9’s innovation strategy expert, Erik van Ommeren, recently held a webinar discussing these topics with three very different digital innovators: Ritsaart van Montfrans, CEO of Incision, Piotr Krzepczak, Co-Founder & CTO of Everon, and Maarten Witteman, IT Area manager at DPG Media, discussed in detail what they are experiencing.

The Simple Blueprint for Innovation

Innovation comes in many forms. Depending on your industry, the state and size of your company, and the market needs, the process of making it happen will be very different. Alas, no “one-size-fits-all” blueprint for innovation exists, even if many will try to sell you one. Still, there are several universal strategies that can be tailored to your industry.

As we discussed in the webinar, companies of all sizes in established markets often use separate departments to drive innovation. They have one group of people who focus on the next innovative strategy at all times.

Other businesses take a completely different route, making innovation part of everyday operation. The ambition there is to more quickly get insight into what works and what doesn’t.

Key to any innovation effort are the creation of new ideas and concepts, and validating them with real customers or users. Incision recognized this, and designed the company around their innovation process:

“We conduct innovation in collaboration with our clients, and spend time with them to truly understand their needs, developing the products they want. We also look at other ventures and investors to see what they’re doing – using research, discovery, delivery, and growth methods.” – Ritsaart van Montfrans, Incision

Working closely together with their customers allows them to get constant feedback throughout the process, ensuring their solutions are built precisely to their customer’s real needs.

‘Step out of Your Comfort Zone’ To Overcome Obstacles

Our speakers all agreed, innovation is never a walk in the park; it requires a constant devotion paired with a common goal.

The problem is; innovation is typically a long-term game, and it’s in our nature to want to stay in our comfort zone. That’s why, when it comes to innovation, decisions and goals have to be uniform, and everyone in charge has to be on the same page, willing to change.

For some, lack of focus or common priorities presents itself as a lack of time and resources. Yet, if something is important, there is always a way – even if it would require innovating without disrupting steady business too much, as with DPG:

“With clear priorities on innovation, goals, and outcomes, it’s easier to find the time to innovate. Once a path is set, we can all work together to improve our incremental innovation without disrupting our work process and revenue” – Maarten Witteman, DPG Media

Choosing between Crazy Ambitions or Realistic Goals

Opportunities present themselves every day, in many ways, shapes, and forms. But when you’re faced with a plethora of opportunities, how do you know which one to prioritise?

First, it’s critical to have a clear view of your ultimate business goal. Where do you want to be in the short-term and long-term?

Picking apart each opportunity to find how it matches these goals is the very first step. If you want your business to be the next Coca-Cola of your industry, you’ll prioritise the opportunities that have the best potential of revolutionising your market.

Or maybe your goal is to increase your sales through digital channels to a certain number; then you’ll prioritise the opportunities that drive digital business.

Ultimately, you have to focus on the value you provide. The opportunities may line up with your goals but they must give value to your customers; they are ultimately the ones who decide if an innovation will be worth anything.

“We use our business goals as a baseline; we want to connect 10,000 clinics worldwide and to help them share best practices with each other. We also try to focus on the ideas that can move us towards our goal – prioritising value, simplicity, and demand.” – Ritsaart van Montfrans, Incision

Let other Companies Fail for You

Other companies can be a great way to fast forward your own innovative process. While no business journey is similar to yours, looking at other businesses certainly provides insight into what works and what doesn’t.

Looking closely enough, you might find the reason why a product failed or spot exciting changes in your industry spanning from another business’s service. With knowledge like this, you’re much more likely to succeed in your next innovative launch.

“It’s important for us to recognise the mistakes other companies have made so we don’t replicate them. But we never copy and paste. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for us. We want to go our own way, but we use other companies’ successes and failures to define our blueprint.” – Piotr Krzepczak, Everon

Summary

Levi9’s mission is to help you find your source of innovation; maybe you need to find the right value proposition for your customers, or perhaps your ambitions are greater, and your goal is to revolutionise your market.

This webinar highlights some of the significant challenges and solutions synonymous with digital innovation, and this article only scratches the surface. 

If you want to find out all the inside tips that these businesses can offer, make sure to view the entire webinar here.

About Our Speakers

Maarten Witteman, IT Area manager, DPG Media

DPG Media is a large family company covering all types of media. Their company is in the middle of an existential crisis. As printed media is being enhanced or replaced by digital channels, innovation has become essential to succeed in their industry. DPG’s mission is to innovate, to transform their services and products into a more digital approach that is now central to modern media.

Maarten gave interesting insights on how innovation takes place in a 6000 people multinational media company with a long history.

Ritsaart van Montfrans, CEO, Incision

Incision is a scale-up company with 50 people based across the world. They provide what they call a performance platform for Operating Room medical teams and hospitals. 

Their solutions educate the world’s top hospitals in the best ways to deliver surgical care. To stay on top, they have made innovation a core business concept – they develop products with their clients to ensure they can provide the best possible solutions.

Ritsaart took the floor to explain how innovation takes place in a company that relies heavily on innovation in order to succeed – and provide the best possible innovative performance platforms for medical teams and hospitals.

Piotr Krzepczak, Co-Founder & CTO, Everon

Everon provides a platform for flexible and scalable charging solutions to businesses that operate charging facilities for Electic Vehicles. They offer solutions for different segments in the market, residential, workplace and commercial. The company was founded in 2009, consists of 750 people from several different nationalities and is in a high growth phase.

Piotr explained how their company innovates in a market where innovation is so abundant that it has to be carried out in a very unique way.


What do women in IT want?

Spoiler alert: Opportunities to take initiative, a feeling of pride in their projects, and enjoyment for the work they do.

Ladies in IT are becoming more and more prevalent.

At Levi9, over a third of our employees are women. And within our Serbian leadership teams for Belgrade, Novi Sad and Zrenjanin, six out of ten of our leaders are women. Given that even our CEO is a lady, it’s clear that ours is a business environment where women are not only prevalent, but also successful.

With International Women’s Day this week, we had to ask ourselves the question, “What is really important to women in IT?”

If we look at the results of our Employee Satisfaction Survey, we see that what women in IT most want is to be able to take initiative for improvements, be proud of what they do, and enjoy their work.

Following that, women also want to clearly know what results are expected of them. They feel that their efficiency at work as well as opportunities for personal growth and development are equally important.

When we look at what they focus on within their job, Levi9 women prioritize the client first, then their effectiveness in work and leadership, and finally satisfaction and dedication to work. If we compare that with their male counterparts, we see a great similarity; Levi9 men also focus first on the client, then leadership and effectiveness, and finally work satisfaction.

In terms of teamwork, IT women most appreciate when their team contributes to the success of the project, and it is important for them that work is done efficiently, with a focus on the right things. Customer focus, or rather Customer Intimacy, is most important when working with clients, as well as good cooperation with the client and being able to respond to their needs.

Women achieve multitalent through hobbies

The concept of “Girls in STEM” is still just as important in 2021. We see that organizing various activities and efforts both on a company and personal level, truly makes a difference in inspiring girls to engage with the natural sciences. One of the activities we recently engaged with was the GirlsHack hackathon for female students in Serbia, where our own Sladjana Tufegdzic, Java Software Developer at Levi9, mentored the winning team. This hackathon is part of the AFA community program, an organization dedicated to the economic empowerment of women through innovation and technology and their active involvement in creating a future digital civilization.

Sladjana worked with the student team of Angelina, Milena, Marija, Sladjana, and Jelena; she supported them as they designed solutions using Design Thinking methodology techniques. We asked her for her thoughts on the participation of girls and women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in Serbia, also given her international experience in life and work.

“I see the dominance of web technologies as the biggest obstacle. Not everyone is interested in programming and there are so many occupations in the IT world that are not purely technical. I think it’s important to organize presentations about what professions exist; that some of them are very creative and that there are many other areas such as Internet security, gaming, the virtual world, IoT… ”

Marina Stupar, who spends her days at Levi9 as a Test Developer, is also very successful in dance sports – recently becoming a certified coach. Commitment on both sides inevitably yields results, and Marina also explains her love of dance:

“I started dancing at the age of 7, out of a great commitment to movement and music. I trained folklore, then rhythmic gymnastics, and for the last 10 years I have been practicing dance sports (Latin American and standard dances). When you consider a hobby as an indispensable part of your day, then it is very easy to fit it with other obligations, such as college or work. I consider my recently obtained coaching diploma as a way to pass on the knowledge and experience that I received from my coaches. ”

Natasa Vukovic is known in Levi9 as the best make-up artist among developers, and probably the best developer among make-up artists. This interesting hobby, in addition to drawing, Natasa, who works by day as a Java Software Developer, is one of her favorite activities. As she says, both programming and make-up require creativity and sometimes dealing with almost unimaginable client requirements.

“My original love for drawing has developed over time into a love of makeup, which I have been actively professionally doing for a little over 2 years. For me, it’s an extremely creative job and my favorite mental break from programming. In addition to beautifying clients for events that are important to them, I also have time for some of my crazy ideas from areas that currently interest me a lot, such as high fashion makeup and beauty photography. ”

Milica Knezevic, a colleague from the Zrenjanin office who works as a Test Developer, is a travel enthousiast. Milica is the author of the blog “Izaberi da živiš (Choose to live)” and an inspiration to many. She lives life to the fullest and enjoys pushing the boundaries while realizing her dreams.

“Each new trip is an opportunity for me to learn more about the world around me, explore new places, meet different people and ways of life, as well as always find myself in a new situation – and all of that together makes each trip a special adventure. Working from home has also given me more flexibility when traveling, because I only need a laptop and internet connection; that way I can work from anywhere. The most interesting trip for me is always the next one, “says Milica with a smile,” but if I really had to choose, it would be either Niagara Falls or Prague. ”


First Class Service: Helping Travix Broaden Its Payment Possibilities

First Class Service: Helping Travix Broaden Its Payment Possibilities

Payment processing. It isn’t sexy. But travel? Now you’re talking! Anything that makes flight and hotel booking simple, effective, and easy brings travellers that one step close to their getaway. And that’s exactly what the Levi9 team helped Travix do.

Travix is an online travel company operating worldwide selling flight tickets and various other travel-related products. At the heart of their business is payments processing, which is used as part of a larger infrastructure, to enable flight reservations, customer tickets, and payment settlements.

Effective payments processing is also crucial for detecting fraudsters. Our journey together started back in June 2017 and finished in December 2020.

From Monolith To Microservices

When we began working together, Travix was developing a suite of microservices to serve payments processing and fraud checking. As a small company, their payments services had been contained within a single solution – the monolith. But as the company expanded, the process had become heavyweight, error prone, and extremely complex.

To this end, Travix had extracted a suite of microservices from their monolith to make the deployment process more powerful and less difficult. This shift meant that the rollouts were faster and less error prone. However at that time, their payment platform was restricted to a single provider, Ogone, which offered customers a limited range of ways to pay.

Global Customers And Local Markets

When it comes to processing payments, different nations trust and prefer different payment options – different Payment Services Providers (PSPs) – such as Visa, iDeal, and PayPal.

Due to Travix’s global expansion plan, they needed to increase the number of payment methods in order to provide lower cost, geo-located, popular payment options that could increase trust and optimize currency conversion rates in local markets.

Another business goal set by Travix was to further B2B integration. Although Travix only sold through its website, the aim was to become a payment service provider itself and offer services as a third-party through other sites.

By increasing the number of payment providers on offer, Levi9 was able to help Travix extend their reach in countries like China and Turkey. To achieve this goal, Levi9 and Travix teams joined forces to integrate two more Payment Service Providers: ACI and WorldPay. In some instances, this led to an increase in payments of up to 60%.

How Our Collaboration Worked

Levi9’s involvement began as a distributed team. We had four developers working alongside a team of four from Travix. There was a high workload, but we worked closely together and helped to bridge knowledge gaps. To do this, we organised Scrum training in Romania to help identify pain points. The whole team came over and we used the time to share our own knowledge and skills to help work out issues.

In a way, it was scheduled as awareness training, but we also used it as a chance to take action. We didn’t only help from a technical perspective; the session helped increase the team’s rapport and productivity; enabling all to work more effectively together.

Having the team meet face to face helped us to realize that we could work incrementally; we could be more organised and we could have a better way of driving things forward. It gave both sides greater discipline and focus; plus there was a better camaraderie between team members.

After migration, we faced some challenges – there was a lot of business logic – but Travix had already fitted the Payments Service Providers into the existing infrastructure, monitoring all of the features delivered and solving issues such as all of the processes behind the payment.

In our last year of collaboration, we also helped build a new platform for both B2C and B2B users.

What We Learned From Our Collaboration

  • Experience has taught us the value of meeting people face to face and establish a team spirit.
  • By being open and honest with each other you can overcome challenges. Technical skills can be acquired, but soft skills really help to build a strong collaboration.
  • Giving constructive feedback – to say when things aren’t working – and to show gratitude when they are, means that problems can always be overcome.
  • And of course these values also apply and cary through in current work-from-home times!

Travix & Trip.com

Travix’s payment platform now provides a wide variety of payment methods like credit cards (such as Visa, MasterCard and Amex) and alternative payment methods (like PayPal, iDeal and Trustly) through the external PSPs – Ogone, ACI, and WorldPay. It also uses a mobile wallet. Apple Pay was integrated when it launched in the Netherlands and Apple even showcased Travix on the Apple Pay site.

In recent years, Travix has embraced B2B integration – allowing other companies to use their services and process the payments through Travix’s system. And since being acquired by Trip.com, Travix has had plenty of opportunities to grow and expand in the market to more locations with a high volume, low margin approach.


Effective Product Discovery (And Pitfalls To Avoid)

We recently held a webinar about product discovery with Nina Stanic and Dragana Stankovic from Levi9 – inviting guest speaker Raimo Van Der Klein, Chief Product & Technology Officer at Incision along to share his thoughts too.

With a focus on the user story mapping technique – along with real-life examples from hands-on experience – the webinar covered methods of effective product discovery and offered advice on dodging the pitfalls that normally slow things down.

But first – what is product discovery?

What Is Product Discovery?

Product discovery is a process that helps businesses to deliver the right high-quality product or service to the right customer. Teams use the process to discover users and customer needs. It's about building the right thing rather than building the thing right.

In the discovery stage, your main goal is making sure you meet your customer needs in the best possible way. It can be tempting to jump into ‘how’ to solve the problems, but without first understanding and analysing the problems that users have – to prove or disprove the assumptions you have – you’re in danger of building the wrong product. This is why it’s a critical stage in the product design process.

5 Most Common Pitfalls To Avoid

  • Not doing any discovery
  • Not directly engaging with your end users to gather insight
  • Not running discovery and development concurrently
  • Focusing all of your discovery efforts on validating your opportunities
  • Using one method to test your assumptions_

Product Discovery Phases

There are different phases within product discovery. While most are quite well-known, it’s important to understand that product discovery can begin in different stages, depending on your thoughts and actions.

The first logical step is to start with Alignment, which often is the most important but also challenging task for product managers who need to make sure all organizational levels understand what to expect during product discovery.

Next would be the Research phase. Here you begin to start thinking about 'why' you are developing something. Maybe you are improving an existing product or building something from scratch – these need to be carefully considered when you're building something (and can be helped by user story mapping -- see below).

The Ideation phase should be when you start thinking about the solution – but it can be tricky to navigate. One of the most common pitfalls is that as soon as a viable idea comes up, development teams tend to organize their thoughts and suggestions around that idea.

To ensure openness to new ideas, it makes sense to hold individual brainstorming sessions before focusing on a single way forward.

In the Creation phase, it's time to start transferring your requirements into (Jira) backlog items. At the end comes the Validation and Refinement phases. Depending on the level of quality you want to achieve before releasing the product, it is common to go back and make further refinements. But, as with most software-based solutions, continuous improvement is part of the ongoing process.

User Story Mapping

As mentioned above, user story mapping (USM) is an essential part of the Research phase, but it has an overall impact on the entire product discovery process.

In essence, it is a simple and yet effective technique that helps project teams to visualize a user journey and different activities throughout that journey. It starts by defining user personas and then mapping the journey for each of them. The objective here is to keep a constant focus on the users' perspectives, focusing on their needs.

But there are more benefits to the USM technique. For starters, it gives the development and project teams better clarity on overarching business goals – while managing stakeholders' expectations. It also ensures common understanding, mapping out why you’re building something.

The USM also acts as an information hub, giving every team member access to the user journey at all times. As a result, the development team can better understand what they’re working towards, and get oversight of potential technical opportunities and limitations early on.

Incision: Product Discovery Experience

Incision approached Levi9 to help with their product discovery. Incision is an online learning platform for improving surgical skills, founded by medical professionals.

With much knowledge in producing medical content, they had less knowledge about technology. This showed in their slow legacy platform, which was in dire need of migration to accommodate improved future products.

To get the whole Incision team on board, they started with product discovery to brainstorm what Incision wanted to solve for their customers and familiarize Levi9 with Incision, products, and functionalities.

The preparation phase included the:

  • Environment
  • Team
  • Customer

With a meeting room set that everyone could attend, they also needed necessary workshop tools, like markers, sticky notes, flip charts, and whiteboards.

If knowledge was lacking, the team was briefed and informed.

Finally, Levi9 searched for input from Incision's customers, which could further help the product discovery process._

Outcome

The outcome of the workshop was detecting all the user journeys by telling stories about expected user behaviors. This helped Levi9 and Incision move towards effectively developing a new, viable product.

After seven months of development, the successful Incision academy was live, with mobile-friendly versions to follow. "I think it's a good sign, that no one looks back," reports Raimo. After the migration and a fruitful, smooth delivery, Incision left the old times behind and embraced the new platform.

With tens of thousands of people joining the new, improved platform and nothing breaking – the whole team is happy and continually adds new interesting features.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Do

  • Focus on the "why" and "what"
  • Involve different roles
  • Write just enough details
  • Capture dependencies and risks
  • Note down action points
  • Focus on fewer features > more impact

Don’t

  • Go into technical discussions or the "how"
  • Conduct USM without software development team representatives
  • Assume that the complete map should be realized
  • Assume that the conversations end with the USM session

Preparation Is Key

For the best results across the product discovery cycle, preparation is key. You first need to determine your agenda and goals to distribute them to your participants. Also, make sure you have invited relevant decision-makers, representatives, and information experts to participate in upcoming sessions.

By planning a schedule, your team will know what to do and when to do it, ensuring no time is wasted and everything ticks along according to plan. Ensuring your team understands the techniques and tools, which might be new for some, is also key. Go over the do's and don'ts in detail and make sure everyone understands.

Of course, your team needs to access their tools and materials. Make sure they can do so before it becomes an issue later on. It's also important to set expectations for your team, which makes goals and the vision more tangible. Before each session, it can help to set out simple rules to keep things in order. Raising hands when questions arise and letting one person speak at a time can do wonders for overall productivity and focus.

Agreeing on who will be the facilitators is also an important matter. Make it clear who will do what, and make sure it gets done.

Conclusion & Follow-Up

After thanking the participants for their contribution at the end of each discovery session, make sure you have agreements on the action items, assignees, and next steps so you can distribute responsibilities to everybody involved. Of course, it's important to follow up on any open questions, and doing so can help assess risks and make better improvements and ideas possible.

Also, ensure your roadmap is easily accessible by all who need it. Agree on how to manage updates to the map and how these will be communicated. Gathering feedback from your participants is also key, as it will set you up for even better, more productive sessions in the future.

Overall, product discovery is an incredible way to frame the user’s pain points, interact and learn from them, create and prototype solutions, and both test assumptions and new concepts.

But innovation never sleeps...

Want more information on effective product discovery? Contact us today.


How We Brought Our Annual Cyber Security Event To The Digital Space

How We Brought Our Annual Cyber Security Event To The Digital Space

As a tech business, we set cybersecurity high on our agenda. Not just our own security: making sure our customers are safe is what drives us.

That’s why we want everyone in Levi9, not just to be aware of the topic, but also to feel ownership. To achieve that on top of awareness programme, we run an annual cybersecurity event – Secure9. The event lasts a whole week and is a mix of sessions, competitions, and challenges – we make sure there’s something for everyone!

Normally we would do this in each of our offices – across all Levi9 locations, but, well, y’know… COVID had other ideas. But we didn’t let that stop us from pursuing our plans. Instead we asked ourselves: Could we bring the event to the digital space? Would it work even better online?

When it came to doing things like inviting customers to participate in the activities, getting the best speakers from all over the world, and hosting the event in one place, the answer to both questions was… Yes! After all it is not a space that connects us – it’s having the right mentality. But could we inspire everyone?

Active Engagement

At Secure9 everyone has the opportunity to participate in the sessions they’re most interested in. And as we want as many levi niners as possible to get involved, we went the extra mile in preparing some truly insightful content and arranging engaging activities.

For example, we held ‘Special Agent 009’ challenges throughout the week, and a ‘Capture the flag’ competition – a simulation where teams needed to exploit vulnerabilities in a system in order to understand a hacker’s mentality. This experience helped everyone better understand what we can all do to make the life of an attacker more difficult and to protect ourselves and our customers from potential threats. And a hands-on approach is a lot more memorable than an hour-long seminar

Together With Customers

Given the online format of this year’s events we were able to invite all of our customers – not only as keynote speakers but also as participants in our activities. While we’re in constant dialogues with customers around cybersecurity, having teams where customers work together with levi niners gave them a totally different experience and a truly deep insight into our approach to security at Levi9.

Admittedly, inviting customers meant some logistical challenges (like ordering pizzas and Happy Hour packages for the participants - everywhere from Iceland to Ukraine). But it was definitely worth the effort and we were happy to see the dialogue about security continue naturally also after the event.

Same Time, Same Place, Next Year?

Holding Secure9 totally online was a fantastic experience, and it was great to see everyone engaging in the same way, at the same time, in the digital space.

And on top of that we learned that:

  • holding an online event can lead to even better outcomes and attendance than on-site event (according to the evaluation, most people would prefer an online format for next year’s event)
  • including our customers in events like this help strengthening your partnership
  • cybersecurity can be a topic that brings us together, if addressed in the right way.

So see you at Secure9 2021? Same time, same place, next year?


Casual day at work

Futureproofing an E-commerce champion

Online retail is a massive growth industry, boosted by the global pandemic into a wildfire of digital transformation.

With physical stores facing enforced closure or restricted access, consumers have been converting to shopping online like never before at breakneck speed – sending shipping costs off the charts, along with profits, price competition, traffic declines, inventory overages, and overstocking.

Based on annual Twinkle100 ecommerce data, in 2019 Wehkamp was ranked 5th biggest Dutch e-commerce with a total of 530 millions Euros online turnover with more than 11 million orders processed annually. Wehkamp is one of the oldest online retailers in the Netherlands, starting as a mail-order company in 1952. Today is one of the Netherlands’ online market leaders in fashion, lifestyle, beauty and baby/childrenswear.

Fundamental Shift In Wehkamp’s IT Infrastructure

Just ahead of the pandemic, Wehkamp had undertaken a year-long digital transformation – to enable agile development of its core processes across the business: from warehousing, stock control and dispatch; to procurement, invoicing, and supply chain management.

The journey had not been a simple system replacement. At every step, an evidence-based methodology was needed to demonstrate the need for such a radical approach – and how it would benefit the organisation.

With all of this in mind, Wehkamp partnered with Levi9 to bring about what became a fundamental and radical shift in the organisation. The task very quickly morphed from what at first seemed straightforward – a systems upgrade to futureproof and make processes robust enough to cope with increasingly sophisticated demands.

Top Down Buy-In To Change Hearts & Minds

From the outset, a team was established and tasked with changing the way people were looking at things, from the very top (Wehkamp’s CTO) down. The fact that the project gained the full backing of the board was strategically important for future development and profitability.

In practice, digital transformation required substantial planning and investigation in the discovery phase – through painstaking attention to detail to deliver bite-sized training and implementation handover to Wehkamp’s operational teams.

The legacy system was built on Microsoft’s BizTalk platform. Whilst adequate for the business up until then, it is an expensive solution and tied into processes that needed also upgrading and maintenance.

The alternative – that both Levi9 and Wehkamp team established as the most effective option – was an open-source system, NiFi. This is a software project from the Apache Software Foundation designed to automate the flow of data between software systems – one that’s based on the “NiagaraFiles” software previously developed by the US National Security Agency.

The rationale for the move was demonstrated through the discovery phase, after an extensive search and trial of options in the market, and Proof of Concept workshops that established the operational and business case.

Making The Case For Exploration

Initially, the project wasn’t getting the same high level of support from all teams – mainly because the new way was so different, both in terms of the architecture and processes used.

These factors made the project appear high risk with little chance of success. But thanks to some intense explanatory workshops and demos, the implementation team of both Levi9 and Wehkamp made the case.

From the outset it was understood that in order to hand over such a sophisticated and very different system at the end of the project would not just be unfeasible, but would also create an unfair burden on the operational teams.

That’s why the implementation team adopted weekly integrated scrum and iterative training sessions to bring the operational team up to speed – which helped to create and sustain enthusiasm across the year-long project.

Overnight, through implementation across NiFi, Wehkamp’s systems and digital teams were free to use a range of platforms. This had the added benefit of slashing costs – with no need for licences – and the ability to develop incremental implementation as and when the business needed to deploy or upgrade various processes.

Distributing Data Processing

Probably the biggest challenge was organisational. The move to a distributed environment meant that data could be accessed at various geographical locations and available locally most of the time.

A positive outcome is that data and software processing will become distributed – actively reducing the impact of any particular site or hardware failure.

Most importantly, this strategy empowered smaller teams – providing ownership and installing agile processes – as opposed to the existing centralised team, which although had the expertise, could potentially be a bottleneck.

The spin-off benefit for the smaller operational teams – and also advantageous to the organisation will be the ability to migrate flows; as well as faster problem solving, decision-making, and implementation. This required a substantial leap of faith from the senior team, who had previously considered a radical change to be too risky for an organisation totally dependent upon efficient processes and flows.

Ultimately, the joint Levi9/Wehkamp team proved the benefits of Workflows-As-A-Service – as a cost model for Wehkamp. Maintenance is minimal and there’s no dependency on a single point of failure.

With online retailing only ever increasing, Wehkamp is now set up to provide superior customer experiences, efficient organisation, and can now take on competitors in one of the world’s most dynamic markets: online shopping.


Levi9 Smashes Giarte’s Outsourcing Performance Review Out Of The Park

Giarte is a leading research and consultancy agency, operating in the field of IT services and IT outsourcing. Its annual Outsourcing Performance (OP) is the most extensive benchmark study of IT managed services in the Netherlands.

We’re ecstatic to report that we’ve recently scored great results for the 9th year running in the 2020 Giarte Outsourcing Performance review.

As it turns out, customers rate us very highly when it comes to reliability, communication, skills, empathy, willingness, and openness. Not bad, huh?

This year’s theme was IT experience benchmark, and with our customer focus, it seemed like a match made in heaven!

Obviously, we’re thrilled with the news but we´re never one to rest on our laurels. That’s why we’ll continue to strive forward and keep improving in all areas. That’s just who we are!

Three Big Outcomes For Us

There were several key points about our performance that we were particularly proud of.

1) Trust We achieved very high marks on Reliability and 85% of customers would also recommend us.

The average Levi9 trust score is above our peer group of service providers. This score is curated from trust indicators such as reliability, communication, competence, empathy, willingness, and openness.

According to Debby Jansen, our Chief Customer Officer, “Trust is everything in this game. We treat trust as a currency. If it’s in short supply, then the team does poorly. If trust excels between our customers and us, we all have access to great talent, energy, and creativity. We’re able to innately understand our customers, their business, and build great relationships.”

2) Customer Focused Levi9 has taken third place in the Customer Focused category.

“Finishing third in a very competitive landscape is a big deal for us. We have daily collaborations with our customers, and by having a clear customer focus, we can now see it’s making a positive difference. Our goal for next year will be to reach the number one place!” says Debby.

3) Knowledgeable and Competencies We scored a whopping 83% in the Knowledgeable and Competencies section, an above-average score compared to our peer group.

Debby goes on to say, “We continuously invest in our people, offering them learning programmes and 360-degree mentorship opportunities where everyone can learn from everyone else. We also offer several online learning resources and certifications, as we believe learning never stops.”

How To Stay On Top When It Comes To Customers Debby, like all of us, is passionate about customer-centric culture.

“By looking at each score and focusing on the improvement areas from last year, we were able to increase our overall score, year-on-year. Giarte´s independent research and IT experience enables us to continuously improve ourselves,” she says.

“This year, 39 people responded from our customer list, which is a vast number and says a lot about our relationship with our customers. They are willing to participate and for that I am very grateful.”

One of the main reasons for participating in Giarte´s Outsourcing Performance report is to benchmark how we’re performing internally and externally, so that everyone understands the real story behind our business.

To The Future

Levi9’s healthy development over the past years has been a testament to all the hard work from all our levi niners. Because we’ve placed our customers at the heart of our strategy, we´re even more responsive to our customers’ needs.

Overall, this very positive result reflects Levi9´s confidence and customer-centric philosophy. We can take pride in how our customers express their appreciation – which is testament to all levi niners who work with passion every day to deliver the best possible result.

We would also like to thank all our customers who have placed great trust in us and all our levi niners over the years. That is a massive compliment to us all!

A Bit About Giarte

Since 2002, Giarte Research and OP have recorded customer organisations’ experiences of their IT service providers and currently works with around 42 service providers. They ask their customers all sorts of questions around collaboration, gain detailed insights and analysis on market position, and advise IT organisations on both the supply and demand side.


Walking The Talk With NetDialog: Open Communication Is Key To Success

Agility is a way of life for software and service providers like NetDialog – who work with some of the world’s biggest brands. To do this effectively, they rely on partners like Levi9 to help them keep pace. And does it work? Well, we’ve been working together for 15 years, so…

Custom applications are key to success for global enterprises, where there is no margin for error in today’s highly competitive markets. A major player in this fast moving and dynamic area is Utrecht-based NetDialog.

NetDialog provides a range of business solutions for an impressive list of 1,000 plus customers worldwide through major network service providers like AT&T and GTT.

Given the rapid pace of change and on-demand requests, NetDialog needs partners that are equally as flexible and quick to respond to often short-notice end user requirements: partners like Levi9 who can help end users gain full control over their applications and service delivery; allowing them to optimise and increase the efficiency of their ICT infrastructure.

Longstanding Collaboration

As a service provider, NetDialog offers a managed service to map the performance of the latest and most demanding networks, data centres, applications and chains.

To support the performance journey throughout the chain, NetDialog works in close cooperation with trusted partners.

That’s where Levi9 comes in. Essentially, we continue to support NetDialog as software architects – developing, building, and enhancing its products and solutions. The partnership between NetDialog and Levi9 stretches back to 2005 – and has largely involved the same teams working together: in particular, Tim Rühl, NetDialog’s VP of Engineering; and Dragan Gajic, our Delivery Director.

Levi9, primarily through the development team based in Novi Sad, Serbia, has helped build NetDialog’s flagship SaaS product: NetX – a platform that gives enterprises complete visibility and control of their applications across their WANs (Wide Area Networks) and private cloud environments.

Clear Communication

But, technical expertise aside for a moment, what is it that has kept the two teams working alongside each other for so long?

It wasn’t all plain sailing. When the financial crisis hit in 2009, work paused for nearly a year. However, when the worst was over, the two teams reconnected and picked up where they left off.

The key to this lasting relationship is open communication, shared expertise, and continuous learning.

Another key aspect to making sure that an agile, iterative approach takes precedence is the fact that the Levi9 team aren’t afraid to ask questions. If they need more information or if an aspect requires explanation, they simply ask for one.

This open relationship and interaction enables both partners to be agile and react quickly – to support product development and the rapid deployment of new integrations.

Regular reporting, communications, and face-to-face meetings – or now, in the post-COVID era, through online conferencing platforms such as Skype – keep NetDialog up to date on often complex and multi-layered projects.

Typically this includes development of WAN-specific deliverables such as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), specific reports, actionable dashboards, and data visualization.

The Road Ahead

Post-pandemic, NetDialog plans to rollout other new products – and of course, sees Levi9 as playing a key role in the business’ future, as Tim Rühl explains:

“We have tonnes of ideas – time and resources permitting! The great thing about our relationship is that the Levi9 team can help with our business development strategies too. It’s hard to tell what will happen in 6 to 12 months, but it’s good to know Levi9 is by our side to help us respond to current changes.”

You can’t ask for a better endorsement than that.