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How Ukrainian Integrators and Developers survive during wartime. System integrator SAS Ltd supports the operation of critical infrastructure.

Today we present an interview with Andriy Gumennyy, chief engineer of SAS Ltd., leader in the creation of automated systems for operational management of production.

Ltd. “System Automation Service” is an engineering company operating in the field of industrial automation of critical and hazardous technological processes. The company has extensive experience in working with high-risk facilities, is an expert in the selection and configuration of equipment for explosive areas and harsh environments.

L4D: How has your business changed since the start of the full-scale invasion? (changes – from market changes to changes in your company)

Andriy Gumennyy: I believe that the changes are not over yet. Changes are happening every day, the situation is changing rapidly, in the city, in the company among employees, among customers and equipment suppliers. The planning horizon has shrunk a lot. The changes that we have now are forced changes, we do what we have to do, what customers and employees expect from the company.
Almost all employees are not in Kharkiv, at least not in the office, the office has not been working since February 24. Our production was destroyed, we transported it, first to Poltava, then returned to Kharkiv. Now it works in another room, optimized, but it works. People go to work when they need to, the mode of work has changed a lot.
The IT system of the company was previously built in such a way that people were not tied to the place of work, the storage of all data was centralized and on remote servers, there were no issues with this. There were problems with computers, they had to be taken out of the office and sent to people. It is a bit more difficult to work at the facilities. Some of the facilities were in the occupied territories, we had facilities in service at Arabatska Strilka, in Severodonetsk. Suppliers were from Severodonetsk, Nova Kakhovka. One of our largest general contractors was a company from Bucha.
There are many changes, we are adapting to the situation.

L4D: Is your strategy now aimed at retaining staff, entering new markets, relocation or other options?

The interests of employees are now above the interests of the company, perhaps this is not very correct from the point of view of doing business, but in the current conditions – the physical safety of staff is the number one priority.

Andriy Gumennyy: Everything now revolves 100% around the staff, if it is necessary to take on a project for the financial and physical safety of the staff – we work, if it is risky – we do not take on such a project. The interests of employees are now above the interests of the company, perhaps this is not very correct from the point of view of doing business, but in the current conditions – the physical safety of staff is the number one priority.
As for new markets – we have a small niche company, it is the market of control systems for hazardous industries and critical infrastructure facilities, this market is enough for us, we want to work in this market, where we have the greatest qualifications and experience.
We work with oil and gas, now we are starting to work more with thermal power facilities. Moreover, we are a Ukrainian company, we are a company from Kharkiv, we want to stay in Ukraine, and we understand that now it is impossible to work in markets outside Ukraine. We understand this very well. We have no illusions that we can start working in other markets.
We had and have projects in Kazakhstan. We see what is happening with these projects. We are very grateful to our Kazakh partners for continuing to cooperate with us, understanding the risks, but this regime is not normal. We try to do something remotely, develop software, participate in commissioning, but this is nothing compared to how these projects were before the war. What we used to do at the on-site commissioning in 10 days, now it is done remotely with the help of local workers, but it has been 3 months.
We can’t talk about efficiency until the fighting is over, until we can travel outside the country, and now we can’t do it because most of the employees are men of military age. The risks are very high and today it is impossible.
We have employees who are now abroad, but their number and qualifications are not enough to allow us to start projects in other countries. Our company is small, 25 specialists.

L4D: Have your relations with foreign partners changed?

Andriy Gumennyy: As for our partners-customers, the only work that we had active is Kazakhstan, they support us very much. But today everyone understands that our involvement in the next projects should be paused in order to reduce risks.
And they must reduce the risk of not doing the work, and we cannot take such responsibility without understanding where we will be tomorrow. As for foreign suppliers of equipment, there are a number of companies with which we cooperate directly to supply explosion-proof equipment, where the relationship has not changed, as long as we pay the money, they supply us with everything.

L4D: In which areas of activity do you optimize business and reduce costs? Are there areas where you have increased investments?

Andriy Gumennyy: We have already been optimized by our neighbors, unfortunately, there is no more room for optimization.

That is not new markets, but to support our current customers, because this is all oil and gas industry, critical infrastructure, gas transmission system, it all affects the course of the heating season, these are all very important critical works and they need to be done.

Costs have been reduced to a minimum, and are limited only to salaries and expenses that are necessary to fulfill obligations under current contracts, it is very important for us to support our general contractors and customers who started projects before the war, or they had obligations under signed contracts immediately before the invasion, they must fulfill these obligations one way or another. We help them as much as we can. Fortunately, we managed to assemble a set of control cabinets for these ongoing projects over the summer. They are now at the stage of commissioning, we hope to complete these projects by the end of the year, this is our number one priority.
That is not new markets, but to support our current customers, because this is all oil and gas industry, critical infrastructure, gas transmission system, it all affects the course of the heating season, these are all very important critical works, and they need to be done. It is important for all of us.

L4D: What is your product policy now – do you have plans to release new products or solutions?

And one of these phases, which exists now and will continue later, is the confrontation in cyberspace, and in this matter it seems to me very important for technological and industrial companies to build protection against potential threats, existing and future.

Andriy Gumennyy: As for our services and solutions for industrial automation, as I have already said, we are focused on works for hazardous facilities and industries, in these works in the list of solutions we are fully tied to our customers and manufacturers of technological equipment. For 15 years of work, a list of our qualifications has been formed, customers know what we can do better than anyone else. We would really like to deepen our work in the field of functional safety, especially now.
Everyone wants the active phase of hostilities to end, but everyone understands that the confrontation will not end there, it will simply move to another phase. And one of these phases, which exists now and will continue later, is the confrontation in cyberspace, and in this matter it seems to me very important for technological and industrial companies to build protection against potential threats, existing and future. In our opinion, functional security can be a vaccine against the virus, you will get sick, but you will not die. If the facility is equipped with an emergency protection system, it does not mean that it will not be broken or harmed, but at least you will be protected from the occurrence of an emergency, your facility will stop, but it will stop safely, but not because it will explode.
Customers also understand this, but not everyone has the ability to implement these safety measures now. This is the direction in which we would like to develop further.

L4D: Has the level of cooperation in your community changed? Has consolidation among Ukrainian companies in your sector increased, in which areas, or vice versa – competition has increased?

Andriy Gumennyy: Competition has not increased, as for cooperation, I would not call it cooperation, it is a normal relationship of people who have common problems. It is still far from cooperation, but at least we can talk. That is, all companies now have a number of problems that do not allow them to participate in the work in which they would like to participate, they simply do not have the resources, or people of certain qualifications, or production facilities, or finances, or documentary evidence of qualifications, the same certificates. Against this background, it has become easier to communicate, everyone understands these problems and meet each other halfway. You need to locate production somewhere, no problem, you can find it. Someone turns to you – help with qualifications – you help with qualifications. Somewhere you see that the project is too big, you can’t pull it alone – you turn to partners – let’s do it together. It has become easier here. This is not yet cooperation, but normal relations, you are not perceived as an enemy.

L4D: What are your forecasts for the development of the situation on your markets in Ukraine? In your opinion, is there a prospect for foreign partners in Ukraine – in what way?

We all hope that one day the country will turn into a large construction site, we will build everything that we lacked and the level of quality that should be.

Andriy Gumennyy: Everything will be fine, but not immediately. These are more emotional expectations. Everything will depend on when and how much money will appear to rebuild everything destroyed and what the state lacks.
We all hope that one day the country will turn into a large construction site, we will build everything that we lacked and the level of quality that should be.
For this, the overall risk of staying and doing business in Ukraine should be reduced. We can talk now about any projects or equipment, but only until we need to come.
Until there is money, and no one will go, the process that is now called the Marshall Plan for Ukraine should begin.
Maybe not within the framework of the whole state, but within the framework of individual industries, the reconstruction of destroyed energy facilities, or something like that. It should be something really large-scale, the risks at some time should become less than the benefits. So far, we take all the risks, despite the benefits.

Now to participate in a tender where you have no advance payment or it is very small, a fixed price in hryvnia, the delivery time of components is 8 months, and in 10 months you have to do everything, there may be no benefit at all – only Ukrainian companies can work in such conditions now.

L4D: What are your main proposals for cooperation for foreign partners?

Andriy Gumennyy: Any foreign company needs local partners to work in another country. It does not matter what kind of partners they are, construction company, installation company, system integrators.
If there are any projects from our industry, oil and gas, or thermal power, we are potentially a partner that can help implement their project in accordance with technical legislation and technical requirements of the customer. We are ready to be an integrator not only for local but also for foreign companies. Without companies like us, it will be very difficult for foreign companies.

L4D: What about engineering outsourcing?

Andriy Gumennyy: Of course, we considered it, it was attractive for us. It would be great, but the reality is different.
What we do is very difficult to separate from the technological object. It is very difficult to separate the HMI software from the controller software, in turn, from the technology, algorithms and the hardware itself – this is the first barrier, the second barrier is insufficient knowledge of English.
At the beginning of the invasion, there was such an initiative, we collected data on Ukrainian engineering companies about free resources in order to try to involve our engineers in the projects of foreign partners, integrators. Already at the time when we were doing this, I realized that we do not have many engineers in our company, most of them are not able to work on outsourcing. Some of our engineers are now unable to work at all, and others are involved in our projects in Ukraine. That is, yes, it would be nice, but right now it is more important that they complete current Ukrainian projects.
This is the situation in our company now.
It is quite difficult to turn a local integrator into an outsourcer company.

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