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ST intranet takes workers into e-sphere

Ladislav Petényi's slightly stiff demeanour softens as he eases his chair up to the monitor to demonstrate Slovak Telecom's new cutting-edge computer system. The system project manager at Slovak Telecom, Petényi accesses the database like a child anxiously opening a box to find a favourite toy.
But just as quickly as it arrived, Petényi's slight smile gives way to a frown. "Access denied," he says flatly. "My access code has been changed."
More fine-tuning is on the way for Slovak Telecom's IT network, which began its third and final stage of implementation in the first week of November. One of the most significant implications of the new system, which is expected to be fully functional by the beginning of 2001, will be its impact on human resource management at the state fixed line telecoms monopoly. ST is Slovakia's third largest employer, with about 15,000 workers.


Despite Slovak firms discovering the advantages of intranets, experts say they are still not used to the full.
photo. Ján Svrček

Ladislav Petényi's slightly stiff demeanour softens as he eases his chair up to the monitor to demonstrate Slovak Telecom's new cutting-edge computer system. The system project manager at Slovak Telecom, Petényi accesses the database like a child anxiously opening a box to find a favourite toy.

But just as quickly as it arrived, Petényi's slight smile gives way to a frown. "Access denied," he says flatly. "My access code has been changed."

More fine-tuning is on the way for Slovak Telecom's IT network, which began its third and final stage of implementation in the first week of November. One of the most significant implications of the new system, which is expected to be fully functional by the beginning of 2001, will be its impact on human resource management at the state fixed line telecoms monopoly. ST is Slovakia's third largest employer, with about 15,000 workers.

"Our expectations of the system are that all information on human resources from all our offices around the country will be online and in a single database," said Rozália Židziková, executive vice-president of human resources at Slovak Telecom. "This will enable easier, quicker and more efficient access to employees at all our subdivisions from ST headquarters here in Bratislava. We will be able to get information readily - such as personal data, career development, job specialisation, training programmes - on all our employees, from A to Z."

Slovak Telecom is not alone in its upgrading of HR technology, as companies throughout Slovakia continue to catch up with the business practices of the developed West.

At present, the majority of HR upgrades for Slovak companies remain well below the level at ST, whose new system will integrate all sections of business, from finance and accounting to inventories and purchasing. Instead, said Steven Kelly, partner with the HR firm KNO Slovensko, most Slovak companies are focusing on upgrading data collection techniques, rather than linking departments.

"When you talk about HR systems in Slovakia, there's not a lot of cutting-edge things being done. Activities such as integrating HR databases onto the Internet - where people can pop onto a web page and check out how much holiday time they have left or see the different types of policies and procedures that might affect them - are going on in the US and western Europe and many international companies. This is only just now trickling down into Slovakia," Kelly said.

Slovak Telecom's high-tech endeavour, however, transcends simplistic database applications, and the system's integrated information promises to be accessible to approximately 1,300 end-users at company subsidiaries around the country.

"The main advantage is that all control methods will be the same. It will be faster, easier to manage communication and much easier to implement and control changes in the company," Petényi said, adding that other benefits include increased productivity, and the fact that the company can compare its operations to those of other businesses around the world using a common system.

High-tech problems

While ST will soon boast one of Slovakia's most advanced company intranets, western nations are looking even further to the future with new, cutting-edge HR technologies, said Peter Manda, sales manager for systems solution provider SAP, which is installing the system for ST.

These new developments, Manda said, focus on informing and empowering employees. "The trend is towards self-service. This means that employees are responsible for maintaining their own data, which helps minimise the central functions of the organisation," he said. "Technology is more accessible to users who are not 'computer freaks', both inside and outside the office, and can utilise mobile phone capabilities."

Manda added that these developments would also give employees a clearer picture of their individual roles within a company, thus increasing the tie between employee and employer.

But with the development of new advanced HR systems, problems have arisen for companies trying to implement them. Michal Ohrablo, senior consultant for AMROP Jenewein human resource company, said that many company heads made a major mistake from the outset by being overly ambitious about the possibilities relative to their business.

"When the board sits down to discuss what kind of system they want, they usually come up with something that has a lot of components and a lot of possibilities, but they need to keep in mind that these systems require a lot of data entry, otherwise they are not functional. The projects are too ambitious and do not keep in mind the common users who will have to work with them," Ohrablo explained.

Ohrablo's thoughts rang true with Manda, who felt that a lack of expertise in the HR field could have managements taking on more than they could handle with new technologies. Ohrablo said the more advanced systems included programmes for HR theory, which calculate what, how and when processes should be implemented; most Slovak managers, however, are not up to speed on HR theory and cannot use such programmes to their full potential.

"There is quite a lack of experience in advanced HR in Slovakia compared to other countries in western Europe - this is a major obstacle. The problem is not necessarily the technology, but how to use this technology," Ohrablo said.

At ST, Petényi explained, an extensive training programme is currently underway for management and end-users in order to optimise the capabilities of the new system. One problem ST may not be able to overcome, however, is the inevitable evolution of the technology itself.

For his part, Kelly felt the rate of technological advance was an obstacle that companies implementing new HR systems must simply come to terms with.

"The pitfalls are that the systems can be very expensive and they can take a while to implement. With today's advancing technology, it's very likely that by the time you go through the process of getting everything going - which can take up to 18 months to two years - the system may already be obsolete," Kelly said.

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