IT COMPANIES say they are better prepared for the global economic downturn, as they have very well-established information systems, thanks to which they can react much more flexibly to the market’s swings. Moreover, they offer clients solutions to help them make their operations more effective and reduce costs. They warn that only those companies which do not neglect their investments in information technologies will have the best starting point as the crisis ends.
The Slovak Spectator spoke to Jan Muehlfeit, Microsoft’s chairman for Europe and Miriam Madrová, spokesperson for Microsoft Slovakia; Karel Taschner, PR manager for the Czech Republic and Slovakia at Hewlett-Packard; Miroslav Řezníček, managing director of Dell in the Slovak Republic; and Miroslav Melicherčík, a member of the board of directors and the director general of DATALAN for the following brief survey.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What are the biggest challenges facing the IT sector?
Miriam Madrová (MMa): In the nearest future, only those companies which will be open to innovations and will simultaneously secure effectiveness of expenditures will be successful.
Microsoft has prepared solutions which it is able to offer to its clients and adapt to their needs.
In Slovakia we have prepared solutions for four key challenges: reduction of operating costs, increasing productivity, optimising of IT costs and optimising of cash flow. The solutions cover various situations starting from reduction of operating costs, where it is recommended to implement an integrated communications solution, via optimising of costs in the IT segment through a software audit up to improvement of cash flow via usage of consultancies.
Miroslav Řezníček (MŘ): In the current economic situation, the IT sector faces the challenge of satisfying the growing requirements of clients, both external and internal ones, when it can be said in no way that the services offered would be reduced. Quite the opposite is true. On the other hand, the budgets of IT departments have been cut radically. Dell is prepared to help its customers and find an optimal solution for their needs within the budget available.
Karel Taschner (KT): The IT sector is not an exception as it faces the same challenges as other industrial branches. However, IT companies are better prepared for the crisis than others, as they have very well-established information systems, thanks to which they can react much more flexibly to the market’s swings. For example, last year HP finished the consolidation of data centres and reduced the number of applications used.
Miroslav Melicherčík (MMe): Currently, the biggest challenge for the IT sector is to convince the market that investments in information technologies are not just a cost item, but to the contrary – that through a well-considered modernisation, they can noticeably make the company’s operation more effective. For example, in the portfolios of many IT companies, including DATALAN, you can find solutions for making document administration more effective, processes simpler and finally, to cut the costs of IT infrastructure through its optimisation. Thanks to such solutions, companies can be more competitive and can cope with the unfavourable situation of the market more successfully.
TSS: There is an assumption that the current global economic crisis will reduce investment by companies in information technology. How will this, in your opinion, affect the IT sector and what are the alternatives for the main players in the market to remain competitive?
MMa: Right now it is important to call on companies to use technologies more effectively. Microsoft Slovakia, via its network of partners, has helped many Slovak companies to more effectively use technologies that they already own. Many times nothing more is necessary than consultancy about correct attitudes to technologies which the company already owns. Technological innovations enable companies to automate processes with higher effectiveness and impact and to work at a high quality level even when the volume of resources is smaller. Thus, also in times of economic uncertainty, it is sensible to invest in technologies such as integrated communication or virtualisation, which can save companies substantial financial resources.
MŘ: Companies are having difficulty with the sale of their own products, so in order to achieve the effectiveness expected by stakeholders, they must mainly work on their internal effectiveness, and there, they cannot dispense with an efficiently operating IT infrastructure. If companies do not wish to lose competitiveness, they cannot neglect investments in the IT sector, even in this hard time. Of course, the investment must be effective and meaningful. As soon as the economy revives, it will be those companies which have not disregarded their innovations that will have the best starting position.
KT: Due to the current economic situation, firms are re-evaluating their investment plans and are shifting investment from operational to strategic projects. Especially projects to transform their data centres, which will enable them to save operating costs, have become much more desirable. The competitiveness is, to a certain degree, determined by the comprehensive character of the offer, especially in the sphere of IT services. The economic situation can lead to a bigger consolidation of the market.
MMe: We think that the current global crisis will significantly influence the IT sector, especially when it comes to clients in the commercial sphere. There, its impacts have already been seen. Our formula for staying competitive is to carefully follow the development of demand and to react flexibly to the current situation; that is, by introducing new, innovative solutions.
TSS: Does your company suffer from a labour shortage or to the contrary does it plan to slim down the staff?
MMa: In the long term we manage obtaining and keeping talents. For the time being, we do not plan any workforce cuts.
MŘ: As for the Dell team, which ensures the sale of computer technology in Slovakia, I dare to claim that we have optimally set resources to the opportunities that we see on the market.
KT: HP has been constantly looking for highly specialised experts. We do not plan to reduce the number of employees.
MMe: DATALAN employs qualified people with professional experience, and we offer them decent rewards, so we do not have any problem with lack of labour. Nor do we plan any targeted employee layoffs.
TSS: Slovak industry often complains about a weak interconnection between academia and practice. How would you evaluate the interconnection between academia and practice in the IT sector? What should the education of IT specialists look like?
Jan Muehlfeit: There are more ways to strengthen bonds between academia and practice. And sometimes it would not cost too much. In many countries there exist special professorships (tenures) enabling experts from business to teach at universities. The experts bring to students a new view on topical trends, technologies as well as the real life in companies. There is always a high interest among students in such lectures. In the Czech Republic, and I assume also in Slovakia, that this is not officially possible so far.
The second issue is science and research at universities. Here, quality must be given the first place. The tendency in Europe, and also in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, is to give everybody an equal amount of resources and to support almost all research programmes offered by researchers. In other countries, either in Asia or America, the principle of excellence is being rigidly pursued in science and research. This means that five or six best universities will receive much bigger resources than others.
The third issue is that results must be much more measured. We here in Europe produce more scientific works than America. But the problem is their monetisation, i.e. transforming them into civil value, products and services. This is a problem which Europe, during the current time, has.
MŘ: Our experience is that due to our presence in a swiftly developing sphere, we cannot afford to not regularly educate workers, who must know the latest trends in the IT sector, not only in order to be able to just sell, but especially to set an optimal IT infrastructure for our clients through good advice.
KT: HP solves the lack of apt candidates in the market by a project to support the employment of university graduates which is called the Graduate Development Programme. Last year, HP in Slovakia joined this European programme, lasting for 18 months, aimed at recruiting and developing brand-new university graduates.
MMe: I think that the connection between academia and practice is slightly better in the IT sphere than in the segment of industry. But even here, based on our experience, there is remaining space for improvements – graduates are often not prepared for teamwork, for example, during implementation of more difficult projects.