While the activities of the Deutsche Telekom Services Europe Slovakia (DTSE Slovakia) shared service centres in Bratislava and Košice can be somewhat difficult to understand for ordinary people, it is thanks to these units that all the invoices of clients belonging to Slovak Telekom, T-Mobile CZ and other companies are processed smoothly. But the processing of invoices is just one of the services and activities DTSE Slovakia carries out. Apart from other financial services, it identifies opportunities for the digitalisation and automation of processes and actively participates in these. The Slovak Spectator spoke with Marek Rešovský, managing director at Deutsche Telekom Services Europe SK & CZ, about the beginning of DTSE Slovakia, the milestones of its development, as well as the challenges the shared service centre is now facing.
When was Deutsche Telekom Services Europe Slovakia launched and what was the reason behind it?
DTSE Slovakia was launched as a small shared service centre (SSC) for the parent company, Deutsche Telekom, in 2009. At that time Bratislava was a popular destination for the establishment of shared service centres, thanks to an available and cheap qualified labour force as well as geographical and cultural proximity. Its first employees provided support services and basic services in accounting and finances to the parent company. Over the following years, during which this region demonstrated its potential and the SSC market grew, it gradually gained new competences, including more senior ones. The scope of clients expanded as well, beginning to provide services to the national telecom companies of DT in Europe, for example T-Mobile CZ, Slovak Telekom, T-Mobile Polska and Magyar Telekom.
Could you specify any projects on which DTSE Slovakia worked on at that time?
Our team in Bratislava played a significant role in a big consolidation project of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems used by the group’s national companies. It started in 2013 and was actually completed in 2022. Simply stated, ERP systems are accounting programmes used by national companies to register all their transactions. These programmes differed significantly as they reflected, for example, different legislative backgrounds in individual countries. Deutsche Telekom resolved to replace these with one accounting programme, One. ERP, to make the recording and reporting of transactions more effective and transparent. Working on this project and on its implementation helped us to obtain new competences, expertise and skills, as well as support further standardisation in the group.
When did you expand to Košice?
It was in 2017 when Deutsche Telekom Services Europe started its first activities here. Today we have approximately 600 employees in Bratislava and about 300 in Košice.
This was also the year when you launched the transformation of DTSE Slovakia. What did this process involve?
One of the basic supports on which we based the transformation was that in spite of extensive digitalisation and automation, the business of shared service centres is a people business. We started investing in people and leadership in an intensive and structured way, because we were aware of the connection between these factors and the company culture. In my view, it is the corporate culture that is one of the most important elements in the transformation of a company. Leadership should be the ambassador of that culture, and that was also the case for us. Although the activities our employees perform are digital activities carried out on technologies, it’s still human work. And it will remain so in the future, of course with a greater degree of digitalisation and automation. Before we transformed, the growth of our company was rather organic and not so coordinated. This resulted in situations that were neither of benefit to the business nor its clients. Thus, we further restructured the company and its processes, launched extensive digitalisation and improved internal processes. We invested in physical infrastructure and moved into new premises.
What was the result of the transformation?
One tangible result was a low, singledigit attrition rate, when this rate is usually a bit higher in shared service and business service centres, and in other companies. This helped us to maintain expertise and knowledge within the company. Another one was high scores and turnout in employee satisfaction surveys. The attrition rate has increased a bit after the pandemic, as there is a much bigger demand for jobs due to a huge wave of digitalisation. But this is a standard market situation and a matter of demand and supply. We are succeeding in hiring new colleagues. Last year alone we rose by 10 percent.
Do you also hire foreign workers?
The share of workers of other than Slovak nationality is stable at around 15 percent. The reason why it’s like this is that in Bratislava there live a large number of foreigners, and also because we are a supranational company operating in an international environment. As we work for individual national companies across Europe, we need employees with certain language skills. We have Croatians, Greeks and Czechs, just to mention a few, with the main business language being English.
What kind of services do you provide today?
We provide back-end services, especially financial ones, to our clients. Our biggest department is the Procure to Pay department, which carries out the services of operative purchasing, accounting transactions and services for our clients. The second big department is Customer Finance, where we process, manage and supervise the inflow of payments from customers. Then we have the Enterprise Data Management department, the Account to Report department, and the internal Control System for the internal processes of individual national companies. For clients in Germany, we do travel management and our ambition is to provide this service for more national companies. Our portfolio is diverse, with services in finances dominating.
Which of your services or activities can ordinary people encounter?
Since we serve more as support to national companies, customers don’t really come into direct contact with us. This can happen when some irregularities occur during the settlement of invoices, for example when some exact payments are supposed to be found and paired with reminders.
What impact did the Covid pandemic have on DTSE Slovakia?
In general, the pandemic resulted in a very dynamic and strong push forward on many topics. It actually unlocked huge potential for improvement, suddenly allowing things that were unthinkable before or about which there was a lot of controversy. This was the case of home office or remote work, for example, but not just this. Covid triggered a huge digitalisation wave where suddenly everything was possible. In terms of our company, given the high extent of digitalisation and usage of modern technologies, the switch to remote work was very smooth. Of course, we had to calibrate the way we operated and other matters; but this was a new situation resulting in a large share of new energy and willingness to search for solutions, not to obstruct things.
Has this atmosphere persisted to this day?
After the pandemic years during which we were working remotely, the links established between our employees and departments in the past began to loosen, and the ability to interact diminished. Even though we use the latest technologies for virtual work, they cannot fully replace the human aspect, body language and spontaneous communication that helps to prevent misunderstandings in physical functioning. This is a challenge we have to address now.
Do the shared service centres that Deutsche Telekom operates in Europe differ from the one in Slovakia?
Apart from Slovakia, Deutsche Telekom has shared services centres in Germany, the Czech Republic and Romania. The Bratislava centre is one of the oldest and most experienced, and it keeps benefiting from the expertise and skills built here. In comparison, the shared service centre in Brno in the Czech Republic is newer, with which we have shared management since August 2022. Its employees are younger and mostly digitalisation experts, data analysts, experts at artificial intelligence and so on. Their skills are different, making them perhaps better equipped to respond to the dynamics the pandemic has ushered in, i.e. new technologies and digitalisation.
Does the ratio of accountants and IT experts change over time?
Certainly, yes. In the past, accountants in our Bratislava centre absolutely dominated. Now in Brno the share might be somewhere around 50:50. Simple transaction operations are disappearing and the impact is on more senior positions. Actually, we are trying to bring teams from Brno and Bratislava closer, as a digital expert does not understand accounting and an accountant does not understand new technologies. This is one of the challenges we face: to bring accounting and IT experts closer to identify new opportunities for further improvement and further digitalisation.
Do you develop digitalisation and automation on your own or do you take these from parent or national companies?
As DTSE we operate as one international group across four countries, but also in Slovakia we do have competence centres where we participate with our employees and our competencies. DTSE SK also benefits from working as an international team together on improvements where we have a strong footprint.
What impact does automation and digitalisation have on the need for labour in shared service centres?
As in other shared service centres, we have launched a number of robots and digitalisation is not a question of time any more. It’s a question of to what an extent we will digitalise so that it still makes sense. But for me this business remains a people business. Robots and technologies just free up their hands and capacities for other, more meaningful activities with more added value. We are not even halfway there. This, of course, changes the qualities we look for in new employees. In 2009, when we started as an organisational accounting unit, we looked exclusively for hard skills and knowledge in accounting. Today, we are largely looking for people with different backgrounds: data analysts, process managers, digital experts, data mining experts and so on. We are looking for profiles oriented towards the work of the future. Of course, accounting remains our core business, but we are looking for a different blend of skills and expertise.
Would an accountant with an IT education be an ideal candidate for you?
I myself studied accounting, but I hated it in the form it existed at that time. But today you don’t need to hand over a paper receipt from a petrol station after refuelling a company car to an accountant anymore for them to stick it into accounting books. All the data are somewhere in a cloud storage; what you need to do is interconnect the cloud storages. The infrastructure is already built for this. What is necessary to resolve are the various geopolitical matters, data privacy and so on. Actually, I would like to hire a kind of ‘accounting hacker’ for each department, i.e., an accountant that hates accounting and looks for completely new ways to do it differently. This is actually what we are doing, but in a more systematic way.
Is accounting an easy field for digitalisation and automation?
Accounting is strongly defined by a legal framework and this is maybe the reason why it’s more difficult to push through new technologies in accounting than somewhere else. Everything has to be done very consistently, as this may have an impact on reporting, the market and so on.
In 2021, compared to 2020, both sales and profit of DTSE Slovakia decreased. What were the reasons behind this decline?
The year 2020 was successful for our company in several aspects. One of them was the successful completion of the ONE. ERP roll out project. This had a positive impact on our sales and profit that year. However, some of the works were not carried out in the next period after the successful completion of the project. This resulted in lower sales in the area of project activity and profitability in 2021.
How did DTSE Slovakia fare in this regard in 2022?
In 2022, we gained several new opportunities within the group. Most of the new activities started in the second half of the year, and we will reach their full potential in the fall of 2023. During that year, the company grew by more than 10 percent in the number of employees, and we crossed the threshold of 900 employees.
What are the plans of DTSE Slovakia for the future?
We want to continue to take over new competences where the ambition is to perform not only fragments of processes, but to perform them end-to-end. As we have the know-how and expertise, we can take over entire departments. Under this we want to increase our labour force, in Bratislava and Košice, up to 1,000 this year. The strategic direction is basically to further standardise and digitalise.