Greg Ansara is general manager of Derivco which recently celebrated 10 years on the Isle of Man. Here he talks about artificial intelligence and cracking the US - one state at a time...

We’re sitting in a meeting room with picture windows that have mind bending views of the Nunnery and the sweep of hills beyond, stretching almost to the Braaid.

It’s on the fourth floor of Sixty-Two Circular Road with its enviable communal area which Derivco employees, headquartered in the building next door, share with the staff of other tenants of the buildings.The two buildings are connected by a sky bridge that runs above the road that separates them.

When the Sixty-Two Circular Road was first completed in 2017 it caused quite a stir, especially the fourth floor with its canteen, barista bar, dartboard, pool tables, poker table, table tennis table and staff library. There was also a gym downstairs and a rooftop garden.

It immediately became the place where everyone would have liked to work.

It’s nearly six years on now and it still seems like a place where the magic might happen.

It provides an environment where people can collaborate, be creative and feel valued and, for Greg, it really is all about the people: ‘We value our employees and their contribution: there’s no substitute for people and the people that we have at Derivco really make the company what it is. It’s the people and the collaboration of the teamwork that pulls the people together.

‘That is our culture and that is why we’re able to do the things that we do.

‘It’s a super fun place to work: there’s lots of team builds and activities that we do outside of the office together and I’d like to think that everybody who works here enjoys their job.’

Derivco is an international development house, with teams across four global locations, including the Isle of Man, and established in South Africa.

Ten years ago Derivco set up an office on the island with fifty of its employees relocating with their families. Greg was one of them.

He says: ‘Initially we came over as a product support team and so it was quite a shift and quite a change to our organisation here on the island when we started to do development and started to do infrastructure. That was probably about five years ago and it was quite a change to our internal culture, what we did and how we did it, and it’s gone really well with the talent that we’ve been able to attract.

‘The products we’re able to deliver for the Derivco group from the island have been instrumental in Derivco’s future.’

The Derivco Isle of Man team has continued to grow throughout the last 10 years and now employs more than 240 staff.

‘We’re running out of space so we’re not sure what that means whether we will expand our head count in the future or remain the same, it depends on what we can do with the space.’

Derivco Isle of Man’s headquarters at 26 Belmont Terrace has recently been completely refurbished to give the same look and feel as Sixty-Two. So whilst the building might look unchanged from the outside, inside it is just as groovy as its near neighbour.

Whilst work on the was going on, everybody was moved out of the building. Greg says: ‘We had people all over - everywhere. We put a few people in Rose House across the road, we asked people to work from home, we shuffled around.’

The came the pandemic and, although staff were again able to work from home and the business continued to operate almost seamlessly, Greg says: ‘It was a difficult time to run a business and of course it impacted on our ability to collaborate and work together.’

What has evolved from that is Derivco’s current hybrid model of working which means three days a week in the office and two days ‘wherever you are most productive’.

But the collaborative element remains key.

Greg says: ‘We do find that collaboration and productivity are closely linked and tied together. The strength in Derivco is our people and, if we’re able to get them together, that makes things run smoother.

‘In all software development there’s some creativity element. We’re mostly back end developers for product delivery and infrastructure teams and the product support team and there’s creativity there in the sense that, the way we deliver those things, we need to leverage artificial intelligence. So we spend a lot of time investigating how we can use that and how we can improve our delivery with AI.

‘At the moment we’re still exploring how we can use it and how it can change what we do but the intention is to do more and deliver more easily and quicker.

‘Artificial intelligence is growing at such a rate and the rate of improvement is exponential so we really want to be at the forefront. AI is coming to make all of our jobs better, not to take our jobs away, and I think the future is bright. We need to be on top of that.’

He goes on: ‘Derivco will always be exploring new technologies, it doesn’t matter what they are. We have time allocated to all our engineers and software developers to explore them. If we give technical people the time to deliver and work on innovation and new technologies like artificial intelligence you’ll be surprised what they can bring to the table.

‘We have a principle called “fail forward”,, which effectively means that we encourage people to try new things and if doesn’t work it’s OK as long as you learn the lesson. Don’t just fail, it’s got to be fail forward, but if you don’t try new things you can never explore or find new ideas or new ways of doing the same thing. You really need to be experimental in your thinking about how you do this.’

The other big nut Derivco is currently looking to crack is the USA which has been a tricky market for online gambling companies. When it first sprang up, the industry was unregulated but in 2006 Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, effectively banning online gambling, and all the operators were required to leave the US. More recently, however, Federal laws have been relaxed and now each state is able to legislate for itself on whether or not to allow it.

Greg says: ‘We are laser-focussed at getting into the US market: that market is really key to us. We spend a lot of time and energy getting into individual states as we have to meet the requirements of the Gambling Commission in each state. It’s a very regulated environment, there are a lot of hurdles to overcome, and we are doing that one state at a time. We’re currently in four so, with 52 states, there’s a huge opportunity to grow our portfolio and our products and our customer base.’

Like the majority of Derivco employees who left South Africa to come and live here, Greg feels that the island is ‘absolutely’ his home now. He says that, of the people who originally came here from South Africa, the majority are still here, either working for Derivco or having set up other businesses.

He says: ‘We recently opened an office in Malaga and we had to move a few people out there. Malaga is lovely but, you know, the Isle of Man is even more lovely. When you think about where you want to live and how you want to raise your children, there’s something about the island that gets its hooks into you.

‘You need to embrace the island for what it is: I’m certainly happy to be here, and grateful.’