IT entrepreneur Christian Pacheco on the cusp of launching digital engineer Pia

IT entrepreneur Christian Pacheco on the cusp of launching digital engineer Pia

Virtual IT Group and Pia founder Christian Pacheco.

With its debt facility from a Big Four bank more than doubled to $60 million, Wollongong-based Virtual IT Group (VITG) has slated ambitious goals to roll out its patented "digital engineer" technology known as Pia following strong global interest garnered from a beta launch.

As a separate company that sits under the umbrella of VITG, Pia stands for 'predictive intelligent agent', allowing managed service providers (MSP) and in-house IT teams to remove repetitive tasks such as user creation, password or virtual private network (VPN) resets, domain name system (DNS) flushing, and active administration changes.

Described as a "hyperautomation company for MSP", Pia has a global technology patent for its automation platform that utilises artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing and intelligent process automation to absorb workload from service desks, delivering "significant operational efficiencies".

In the space of three weeks of the beta launch the company secured 45,000 user sign-ons from Australia, the UK and the US, ahead of plans for an official commercial launch in August.

"The reason we put Pia together was we found it hard to break free of the traditional IT service desk and IT service management techniques and methods," says VITG and Pia founder, and three-time Australian Young Entrepreneur Awards Technology category winner, Christian Pacheco.

"We searched high and low, and we just could not find anything that did the end-to-end functionality that we required, so we started building it.

"It took a few years but we’re at a point now where we’ve got a very interesting platform and a very unique product."

The entrepreneur explains the system is 100 per cent customer focused, with Pia able to read tickets that come into an IT management system and immediately perform actions based on a confidence rating.

"If PIA is highly confident that it can execute and resolve the ticket, then it will ask permission to do so," says Pacheco, who recently returned from the Kaseya Connect IT conference in Las Vegas, where within just a few days the company had interest from more than 50,000 end users who are currently doing demos with the product. 

"What that allows us to do is first and foremost remove repetitive tasks from the service desk, and automate those actions to give the end customer a much better experience.

"Where there’s been a lacking in terms of our space is a lot of other organisations are focused on system of work and system of record – that’s around capturing data and how the information presented can help you accelerate work; we've designed all that in Pia, but then we’ve actually created a system of action and this is where the differentiation is."

Pia chief operating officer Nic Ferraro says to date the company is seeing 30 to 50 per cent of service tickets being solved by the autonomous assistant, allowing service desk staff to process close to four or five times the amount of tickets they normally would and up to eight times faster ticket resolution times.

"Ultimately this has delivered a fantastic uptick in customer and employee satisfaction, as we are able to refocus our staff on bigger and more complex projects, rather than the repetitive nature of the service desk," Ferraro says.

Last year the group received a $25 million debt facility from a major Australian bank to support the development, and Pacheco notes a further $35 million has just been approved.

"We've been made numerous offers by venture capital and PE (private equity) firms to come in and take a piece of what we're doing with the managed services side of the business which is VITG, and also Pia," Pacheco explains.

"The biggest reason we turned it down is because the integrity of my shareholders is the most important thing to me. We want to step into the future owning as much of the business as we can, if we can do so.

"The debt facility allows us to be really strong in our development and future growth of the MSP and Pia, and we’re taking the step forward rather than diluting shares. I think it'll eventually get to the point one day where we will get a decent sized VC firm to come in to fund the global growth appeal."

VITG now has 205 staff of which 169 are based in Australia, with the remainder spread across offices in the UK and new offices in Vietnam and Sri Lanka for developers and business analysts. 

"We've got a 12-month target to get between 750,000 and a million endpoints on contract. That's a big target," Pacheco says.

"One of the other targets is actually breaking into the US, which we have done slowly but we are going to open up an office in Florida in the next six to 12 months - predominantly a sales team. We'll have people starting there in November.

"We want to try to get Pia into Asia – it’s a little bit of a more difficult market to penetrate, but we’re looking to get Pia into Asia in Q4 this financial year."

One of the challenges with expanding into Asia is the language as Pia has been developed around English, but Pacheco says strategy work on developing Pia in other languages is likely to start in December.

"We think there’s a big opportunity for us to get PIA into China, but time will tell how long that takes and how successful that can be," he says.

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