In Slovakia, success stories involving small companies without strong financial backing are rare. But the story of PosAm, an important player on the Slovak software market, shows that miracles can happen.
Established in 1991 by three people, PosAm originally focused solely on hardware supply. The company's largest hardware projects were supplying Slovenské Elektrárne a.s. (SE), Slovnaft a.s., and the National Bank of Slovakia.
Since then, the company has undergone many ownership changes, culminating in a major change in 1993 when it was partly sold to its current director, Marián Marek. "I was forced to choose whether I would buy, or let the company go bankrupt," Marek said. "Despite the fact that the company was more than 10 million Sk ($303,000) in the red, I took the risk and now there is nothing to regret at all."
After the ownership change, PosAm refocused its business strategy. Now only half of company's sales comes from the sale of hardware. This change is mostly due to its "infomatics" division that focuses mainly on office information systems, and which is considered the market leader in this field.
Now PosAm sells personal computers, servers and network elements, peripherals and UNIX systems made mainly by Hewlett-Packard (HP): PosAm is, in fact, HP's most important sales partner in Slovakia, having installed 2,800 HP computers in six years.
"HP was simply one of the most successful strategic choices for PosAm," Marek commented. "We work only with the best makes, such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lotus and Oracle."
The strategy seems to work well. 1996 sales reached 210 million Sk ($6.3 million), almost a 30 percent jump from the 162 million ($4.9 million) recorded in 1995. Equity also increased considerably, from 4 million Sk ($121,000) in 1995 to nearly 16 million ($484,000) in 1996.
PosAm's No.1 software product is the well-known Lotus Notes (LN) system which, according to Marek, offers the best intranet service so far on the market. "It is very easy to prepare customer-oriented solutions in the software and it has a satisfactory security system," Marek said. "Above all, Lotus Notes has a basic compatible scripting language which enables us to develop applications based on notes databases according to our customer's needs."
The main problem with LN, Marek continued, is the limited demand fot it, due to lack of marketing - Lotus Development Corp., recently bought by IBM, is not active on the Central and Eastern European market. "We are too small to do substitute marketing for such a product," Marek said.
LN has proven successful in SE, VSŽ Konzult and Matador Púchov. However, this success may be dwarfed after an order by the Finance Ministry, which is preparing next year's budget with the support of Lotus Notes.
"They felt they could try to ease the paper work on the budget and we have tried it," Marek explained. "Though Notes is not the best system for storing all the necessary information for the budget, it is great for communication, exchange and data processing. It simply worked with the state budget and now we can say that most of the people participating on the budget use LN and benefit from it."
However, the demand for groupware on the Slovak market is growing slowly, involving only the biggest locals and multinationals, Marek continued. The weak financial situation of most Slovak companies doesn't allow them to buy such software. But even if they had the money, Marek said, most of them wouldn't be able to get the best use out of it.
"These systems can only work for a company in which relations, duties and responsibilities are clearly and exactly defined," Marek said. "When adapting the system, we need to know exactly who is whose boss, who calls the shots, who's in charge, and who may have access to files. The lack of organization in many Slovak companies is holding us back."
PosAm's ambitious future plans are hampered by companies which aren't getting their act together. "Our vision is to transform the way a personal computer is used, from a data processing tool to a complex information terminal," Marek said. "Finally, every decision, every document, database and information sharing/exchange will be done through computers. We already know how to do it, now the market has to learn how to accept it."
PosAm spol. s r.o. at a glance:
(all figures as of 31.12.1996 in millions of Sk unless otherwise noted)
Fixed assets: 7,861
No. of employees:85
4. Dec 1997 at 0:00 | Eva Dubovská