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‘You must always be learning’

Last update - Thursday, July 24, 2008, 00:00 By Metro Éireann

In the latest instalment of Metro Éireann’s MEET THE BOSS, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Isam Khalaf, the founder of Kinzna Technology Partners, based in north Dub.

Being headhunted sounds an ominous proposition, but it in reality it offers opportunities to the ‘hunted’ that may otherwise not have come their way. Isam Khalaf was working in Jordan for a company that represented international firms in the local IT market when he was headhunted to work for software solutions company CR2 in Ireland.

He came for an initial two-week training period in 1999 “to see what it was like” – and decided to stay. The company soon put him in charge of the market in the Middle East region, which involved some travel back to the Gulf, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. Khalaf had studied computer science in the US and was now spearheading the internet banking market. A period with a telecoms company followed, where Khalaf learned the mobile business and saw the huge potential for banking services online via mobile phones. But even with a successful career in internet banking systems and development, Khalaf always felt “that there was more I could do and that I could do it better”.

With more trust being placed in internet banking and with mobile phones proving even more secure, banks were looking to transition their business to the mobile market. Khalaf was perfectly placed to deliver solutions to the industry, and he decided to strike out on his own. His company, Kinzna Technology Partners, is structured on an organic and progressive style of management. Workers are treated with a partnership approach. “People work with us in different capacities,” says Khalaf, “but the key people have a share in the company.

These stakeholders have an influence in all decisions, we sit and discuss things.” One of those decisions was to not have a traditional structure. “We decided that there is no need for us to establish an organisation of sales, management and support all over the world. We do not sell our service to banks; we sell to those who sell to banks and we provide the providers.” These providers are the companies that sell the likes of ATM services to banks, and Kinzna targets these companies to take on its product. “There are only five of these companies in the world,” says Khalaf. “We started talking to them; they are our gateway to the market.” The internet banking process itself cannot be patented, but the service that Kinzna provides is to “streamline and adapt” to banks’ specific requirements.

Mobile internet costs are also coming down, and Khalaf says that there are some Irish companies offering broadband on your mobile for as little as €4.50 per week with plenty of speed and storage. He defends the size of mobile phone screens for banking purposes, and says it is not really an issue as layouts are designed specifically for that size (not to mention that phones with much larger screens are available in growing numbers).

Further education is still on the agenda for Khalaf, who holds an MBA from the Michael Smurfit School of Business and a newly acquired Master’s degree from Dublin Institute of Technology in new business development. Yet he does not believe in putting many letters after his name. “You know what you know and that’s it. In business you can think that you know it, but you don’t, you must always be learning,” he says.

Problems and their solutions must be looked at from many perspectives, he explains, adding that one of the lasting lessons he learned during his MBA was “to get the full picture”.

The only regret Khalaf has about starting his own business is that he did not “do more things in parallel”. With his next venture he says that he will be talking to more people all at the same time, “to speed things up”. He also admits that being an entrepreneur can be a lonely occupation, with its ups and downs. Confirming that technology is changing fast, Khalaf says it behoves a company to always move, change and look forward. So what is his next big thing? “I cannot tell you that at the moment,” he smiles.

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