Today we present an interview with Eduard Trotsenko, director of INFOCOM Ltd, Ukrainian innovative company and one of the top automation system integrators.
L4D: First question is about how has your business changed after February 24, 2022?
Eduard Trotsenko: On February 24, when the invasion began, it was a shock for everyone in the company. We didn’t work for a week or so, and then we started to come to our senses a little at a time. Some of the company’s people left for Western Ukraine, some of the people we asked not to return but to stay abroad to support our foreign projects. We began to analyze which companies are currently working with force majeure and which are not. Overall, the company’s turnover decreased, especially the hryvnia turnover. And as for currencies – our turnover has remained at the same level and even increased. Basically, it happened due to opening a company in Slovakia – it allowed us to become more stable for our foreign partners.
L4D: Did you open a company in Slovakia after February 24?
Eduard Trotsenko: No, we started opening a company in Slovakia last year, but we waited a long time for VAT registration – it turned out to be a complicated thing to do. The very existence of the company gave confidence to our foreign partners that we are not going anywhere. I want to note that we have not thwarted any foreign project. And as for Ukrainian projects – the situation is different: some of them are frozen, there are some that were suspended in the first months of the war, and now continued. This applies more to projects of companies that are in Western Ukraine, which are not physically affected.
L4D: And how has the market changed in Ukraine from your perspective? Your market?
Eduard Trotsenko: In Ukraine, some of the enterprises are not working, and some of them have kept working. It’s like everyone else: a shock at first, but then they gradually began to work again. We have restored work at many facilities even in Ukraine, not excluding the southern part (Odessa) and the central part.
At the beginning of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, we focused on a fact that we were trying to keep the team as much as possible, because we have a narrow branch and it’s very hard to train the staff: it takes time, long training.
L4D: Second question: is your strategy now, the company’s strategy, to retain staff, or to enter new markets, to relocate? Where are you headed?
Eduard Trotsenko: At the beginning of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, we focused on a fact that we were trying to keep the team as much as possible, because we have a narrow branch and it’s very hard to train the staff: it takes time, long training. You can say goodbye to people quickly, but then you must rebuild the team. We gave our staff the opportunity to move to western Ukraine and move their families. We moved their families and parents and helped move their cars. Geographically some of the employees are in Slovakia, and some are in other countries: Germany, Sweden, Norway, Poland. We offered the employees to work remotely. We thought about introducing reduction coefficients for remote work, as in other companies (since some work not all 8 hours, but for example 6 or 5), but at the moment we leave the opportunity to keep the staff full wage.
As for new markets, we have a desire and a goal: to enter the market of electric vehicle charging stations, specifically, the production of fast electric charging stations.
L4D: And about the strategy for entering new markets: do you continue your previous projects or maybe there are some new markets after February 24?
Eduard Trotsenko: As we worked with our strategic partners, we continue to work – the volumes have not decreased. As for new markets, we have a desire and a goal: to enter the market of electric vehicle charging stations, specifically, the production of fast electric charging stations. And Slovakia is our first testing ground. In Slovakia, we are developing two areas: automation of technological processes and development of electric charging stations. Now, when we began developing this business, we are building a facility for production of fast charging stations, but at the same time, our old business lines, solar power, began to pick up. It turns out that along with electric charging stations, we are also processing requests to build solar power plants, which we did 12 years ago, when we built our first solar power plant, and we left to pursue new, more interesting avenues. In other words, we are now restoring our rooftop solar power plant business.
L4D: Do foreign partners have an interest in solar power plants?
Eduard Trotsenko: Exactly.
L4D: And with the foreign partners that you had before February 24, have the relationships changed? In any direction.
Eduard Trotsenko: You know, there were questions on the part of the partners regarding plans for further implementation of projects, so we gave the opportunity not to worry and proved that we are fulfilling all our obligations. I have to hand it to our partners – they were very understanding of the current situation and let us work according to our contracts and even conclude new ones, because they have confidence in us.
L4D: In which areas of activity are you optimizing your business now? Are you cutting costs in any direction? Perhaps somewhere you have increased investments?
Eduard Trotsenko: We are investing in the development of fast electric charging stations – now it is a costly item, because we have not reached the break-even point in Ukraine – there is demand in Ukraine, but not much. We invested a lot in the creation of software, architecture of the fast charging station system. All in all, we got the result last year and produced a pilot batch, which proved itself well, we made a workshop to produce fast charging stations and are ready to satisfy the market. The originality of our charging station in the use of quality brands, our own integrated software (mobile applications for Android, iOS). Unfortunately, due to the war we have not reached full capacity, but I would like to note that the demand for charging stations in Ukraine has remained. Due to a shortage of gasoline the demand for electric cars has increased, including an increase in demand abroad.
Our main business is the automation of technological processes – here we feel confident in any industry: chemicals, metallurgy, petrochemicals, oil, agriculture. 25 years of work and more than 1000 projects give us the opportunity to feel confident in any country.
Our main business is the automation of technological processes – here we feel confident in any industry: chemicals, metallurgy, petrochemicals, oil, agriculture. 25 years of work and more than 1000 projects give us the opportunity to feel confident in any country. On the other hand, other countries do not expect us much there but they expect professionals everywhere. When you enter a new market, it is desirable to be represented by one of the participants. For example, when we opened a company in Slovakia, we asked our colleague from Siemens, the former director of Siemens Ukraine, to introduce us to Siemens Slovakia, and after that communication with the Slovakian office got easier. It was the same for a number of other brands.
L4D: Only direct contacts work?
Eduard Trotsenko: Exactly. People don’t get to know each other from the street just like that.
L4D: What is your product policy right now? Are there any new products/solutions planned? You’ve already said about electric charging stations, is there anything else you haven’t mentioned?
Eduard Trotsenko: Electric charging stations are devices that require a lot of power, they need somewhere to be located, and not all locations have the necessary power for them. To that end, we’re developing another business – energy storage solutions. Before the war, we made the first sample of a container-type energy storage unit for energy storage and created a catalog for different capacities of storage units. We are also not giving up on collecting solar power-green energy. What we’re saying is that there has to be a combination: electric charging stations with their satellites – energy storage units – as well as energy production. For example, harvesting solar power, which can be produced along autobahns. This is an idea to which we are committed, and we have developed a business plan for this for Ukraine to develop EPS on the main electric highways of Ukraine, where we have worked through the issue of creating clusters (independent energy hubs) every 80-100 km. But this is an industry that requires very large investments. In this case, we act as developers, but we also need a financial mechanism for working with banks and government agencies. There are players in Europe who have long been known, they already receive subsidies from Eurofunds, and they are developing. We constantly analyze the market and try to be on top of the requirements. Another area we are considering is production of small electric cars. Because of our experience with unmanned cars, we want to create a people’s car of the “tuk-tuk” type, which is quick to refuel, with the ability to quickly change batteries. At electric charging stations, we suggest not only charging, but also providing battery replacement services for fast refueling – this is possible for low-power cars.
This is how we envision our company’s areas of work: this includes automation, design of substations under license up to 330 kW and switchgear up to 7000 A. Our interests: generation, distribution, energy storage, and electric charging stations.
L4D: If you go from company projects to the ecosystem, the community. Has the level of cooperation in the community changed? Have companies become more consolidated or compete with each other within Ukraine?
Eduard Trotsenko: There has always been high competition inside Ukraine, sometimes Ukraine reminds me of “crabs in a barrel” – the market is small and there is no culture of European business, work on minimum rates and manipulation with customers to increase the cost of work. In Europe, everything is somewhat different. Now there is much more talk about consolidation, but mostly by Ukrainian companies abroad, when parts of the teams moved. There is a saying: better weak cooperation than confrontation. It is clear that you can’t make all the money, but each CEO has a responsibility to the people who work in the company, they need to be provided with the frontline of work and wages. I would like to say that our company in 25 years in the market has never been in arrears on wages, we have never had debts, because I personally believe it is “sacred” and that this issue can not be manipulated. We pay evenly and on time, we do not lose the trust of our employees.
L4D: Do you mean that the consolidation of Ukrainian companies grows abroad?
Eduard Trotsenko: Yes. Because we have some specialists, our competitors have some, and there is an offer to connect, for example, someone’s installers and our programmers and work together on a project for one facility. So far it is at the level of negotiations, but I think that is already a plus.
L4D: What is your prognosis for your market in Ukraine? What do you think?
Eduard Trotsenko: I want to say that I am an optimist and I think that everything will be fine in Ukraine. At the beginning I was in shock for the first two days, but on Monday I came to work with a desire to act. It was then that we began to move people and distribute resources. As a result, I am optimistic about the development of Ukraine. I am sure that we will win, because each of us: the manager and the employees, we work for the front and the guys are highly motivated. Employees overseas understand that we have to work harder and provide jobs for others, some of our guys are on the front line. We try to help and support our mobilized employees, we also take patronage over a number of brigades, including those in hot spots. Ukraine will become even stronger, companies with a closed Russian market will come here, I expect more investments in Ukraine, and we have to get ready to be useful for Ukraine: there will be many reconstructions, new factories construction. It’s important to keep our team and attract new people for that. For this purpose, we cooperate with universities and look for “prodigies” for our fields.
L4D: Positive forecasts give confidence in the future. Do you think foreign partners in your market have prospects for cooperation with you in the Ukrainian market in the future?
Eduard Trotsenko: If foreign companies come to Ukraine, they will come with technologies, this has always been the case. And such companies always look for local partners who can realize production, and this is not the first time we have worked this way. This is how Siemens and many other companies work. After all, not all foreign specialists want to go to Ukraine for installation, but they look for local partners-integrators. We do the same when we do projects in Africa or Indonesia, for example. And we have just certification in all directions, and we will always be very interesting.
L4D: So you are integrators of new technologies in Ukraine?
Eduard Trotsenko: Yes, we are integrators and after-sales service company. Foreign companies are interested in attracting a local participant and in this way they can also provide after-sales service.
We have worked on external projects before and outsourced our specialists. For instance, we took part in the floating platforms project in Norway and developed software for hazardous production facilities – our specialists with knowledge of English and more than 10 years of experience are in high demand on the market.
L4D: What are your main cooperation suggestions for foreign partners who may read the interview. What are the main areas you would like to promote further?
Eduard Trotsenko: We have knowledge and experience in CAD systems for design, automation systems, power supply. Another area is software development for automation, application of such software as PCS7 from Siemens, this is software development for Schneider Electric controllers – we have huge experience in that. We have worked on external projects before and outsourced our specialists. For instance, we took part in the floating platforms project in Norway and developed software for hazardous production facilities – our specialists with knowledge of English and more than 10 years of experience are in high demand on the market.
We have an area that has been actively developing over the past 3 years – energy audit.
L4D: Does the company offer both services and individual specialists?
Eduard Trotsenko: yes, we have an area that has been actively developing over the past 3 years – energy audit. It is concluded in complete energy audit of the enterprise, first of all it is a project audit (whether the automatic devices, cables, capacities are selected correctly, whether the transformers can withstand), then we check compliance of the project and its implementation, give recommendations on further development, analyze power adequacy, give recommendations on network adjustment and prepare a complete report using special US special software like ETAP, Neplan, which allow us to qualitatively make energy reports. We have customers who involve us in such works and let us stay afloat this way.