SLOVAKIA, a small country with 5.4 million citizens, has already become home to a number of successful IT development companies.
Štefan Dobák, a member of the board of the IT Association of Slovakia (ITAS), a professional association representing the most significant local and international companies operating in Slovakia in the field of information and communication technologies (ICT), divides IT companies developing software in Slovakia into two groups: branches of foreign companies, launched here as an investment by international parent firms which have moved some services here to use the advantages of the local market; and Slovak software houses which primarily develop software for the local market as well as for abroad. While Ness KDC, Siemens PSE, and Ixonos can be considered among the first group, Eset, Gratex, Tempest, Anasoft and others are among the home-grown firms.
Dobák sees potential for Slovak IT companies even though the Slovak market is too small for them to make a living only selling software solutions here.
“There are prospects for software development in Slovakia,” he told The Slovak Spectator. “But there must exist behind this a strong business case, for example the price of labour.”
According to Dobák, there are countries in the world where the cost of labour is significantly lower than in Slovakia. India is a typical example, where large companies have huge development centres with tens of thousands of developers, but Dobák says cultural differences reduce the effectiveness of such projects.
“Thus it is often advantageous to have development centres which are culturally as well as regionally closer to the customers,” he said.
The Slovak Spectator spoke to Roman Klimčík, site manager of Ixonos Slovakia, Michal Hrabovec, president of Anasoft APR, Miroslav Morávek, director of 2 Ring, and Martin Noskovič, spokesperson of Siemens PSE about the operations of their software development companies in Slovakia and prospects for the future.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What are the prospects for IT software development in Slovakia?
Roman Klimčík (RK): Globalisation, cloud computing and green IT are trends which already are and certainly will be the trends influencing the whole IT industry, not only in Slovakia. Especially globalisation, linked with pressure on the prices of provided services, will affect players in the IT market in Slovakia. At the same time, it is a threat as well as an opportunity and it depends only on us how well we cope with this challenge.
Michal Hrabovec (MH): IT – as the area full of innovations and fast development – will continue to develop in Slovakia in spite of the crisis. I expect that even though some segments of the country’s economy are declining, IT will grow.
Miroslav Morávek (MM): The Slovak market is too small for packaged software and thus local software companies are destined to export their solutions and services. But the desire to establish themselves in foreign markets and in much tougher competitive environments pushes them forwards. Companies which manage to establish themselves abroad can be sure that their development, including human resources, will not stop and that in the end their ‘local’ clients will also benefit from the higher quality of services provided.
TSS: When did your company start to be dedicated to software development? In which segments is your company active?
RK: The parent company, Ixonos Plc, launched its operation in Slovakia via its daughter company, Ixonos Slovakia, in February 2007. The Slovak scene is a production software house and is specialised especially in development, testing and integration of software for mobile phones and smartphones. An important and growing part is creation and maintenance of web services for our foreign clients. We are a net exporter of IT services as all our orders are carried out for foreign and international clients.
MH: Anasoft has been engaged in software development since its launch in 1991. It develops tailor-made software according to the specific requirements of customers, extensive database, portal and integration solutions primarily for the utility, finance, automotive, state administration and administration of housing as well as non-housing premises sectors.
MM: 2 Ring has been focusing on development of supplementary solutions for Cisco and Avaya IP telephony or IP contact centres since 2005. We think that this area offers a lot of opportunities since Cisco as well as Avaya are top players in this segment and simultaneously leave enough space for their partners to develop various supplements and improvements to satisfy the needs of not only the local market. As examples, our solutions consist of call accounting systems, various directory services, and also a new way of faxing, which uses existing IP infrastructure and thus removes often the last analogous element in an office, the common fax machine.
An interesting segment in which our company is also active is the integration of a contact centre with the information system of its client, which not only makes the work of operators at the contact centre more effective but also increases the client’s comfort.
So far, 2 Ring has developed various solutions for companies active in banking, utilities and other sectors.
Martin Noskovič (MN): Siemens Program and Systems Engineering has been operating since its founding in 1990 as an inside provider of IT services in the whole range of solutions from designing and development through implementation as well as maintenance and support. We provide our services and solutions especially in the fields of medical devices and the energy sector while the telecom sector also traditionally represents a significant share.
TSS: What areas of development have good prospects for your company in Slovakia and abroad?
RK: In our segment of mobile phones we unambiguously see a trend of opening of software platforms (open operational systems such as Google Android and Symbian Foundation) as well as in hardware (producers of chipsets create more flexible solutions). These trends will open space for creation of many specific mobile apparatuses of various trademarks, which will be connected via the internet. Ourlong-term strategy is to supply solutions to this market.
MH: We assume a significant demand for security solutions in Slovakia. During a difficult period of time a need to protect data in information systems and prevent attacks from outside grows. Abroad I see use of our solutions in the automotive industry.
MM: Our scope of activities is focused on a not very large segment – applications for IP telephony and contact centres. Over the long term we are convinced that the implementation of a modern IP telephony or a modern contact centre is inevitable in each company which cares about making its operation more effective.
MN: Projects in the medical devices field are the main themes of our company for the future but we also see large opportunities in industry.
TSS: How big is your team of developers now? Do you plan any changes?
RK: Currently, we employ about 120 software specialists in Slovakia. During the next few months or years we plan to increase this number to 200 or even more. Today it is difficult to say what will be next as this depends on a lot of circumstances. In any case, we plan to continue in our activities. We are satisfied here. The high level of the specialists we have in the Slovak team contributes to this. But certainly there is some room for improvement. One such area is certainly a more active knowledge of the English language.
MH: In Slovakia Anasoft employs about 70 people. But it is difficult to distinguish programmers from other colleagues directly participating in the creation of solutions as analysts, consultants, etc. We expect the Anasoft team will grow moderately.
MM: 2 Ring currently has 26 employees of whom 22 are developers. Next year we plan to extend our team of developers by about 20 percent.
MN: Currently Siemens PSE employs 750 software engineers.
TSS: How do you perceive the level of knowledge of IT specialists in Slovakia?
MH: Their theoretical knowledge is very sound while their practical experience is mostly insufficient. Universities should care more for a bigger interconnection with practice, especially in the areas of communication and project management.
MM: Currently, 2 Ring covers Slovakia and also the Czech and Polish markets. From the viewpoint of competencies and the level of IT specialists, we do not see any significant differences in the quality of people. The question, rather, is whether a company can motivate them properly and keep them over the long run.
MN: The basic knowledge of university graduates in Slovakia is acceptable. But in spite of this we invest in their further education. We educate our employees especially in software development and put great stress on grooming specialists in the field of project management and architecture.