Innovative companies are often established as spin offs from the research organisations like universities or institutes. The Prague company T-SOFT is in this respect a typical case, however, quite unique within Czech conditions. This is bringing a story based on my interview with Jaroslav Pejcoch, T-SOFT co-founder and director, reporting on how it successfully managed its first EU trial.
Jaroslav Pejcoch worked as the IT director in the Tesla VUST division, which was involved in computer graphics and design system automation. This division previously used to design systems being under embargo, e.g. in the area of design and simulation of integrated circuits. At the beginning of the 90s the state orders finished and the institute was in threat of redundancy. Therefore, together with other colleagues he decided to start a new private company focused on advanced technology – (geo)graphical information systems and risk management systems. In 1991 they gained the first big orders from Unisys, CSA, Cesky Telecom, army and the Ministry of Finance.
Presently T-SOFT is one of the leading companies on the Czech market in the area of crisis management. Crisis management requires mission critical information systems, where any failure can jeopardize the infrastructure existence itself or to impair public safety. This involves areas such as banking, environment and rescue and military bodies of the state. The key features of the IS then must be security, robustness and reliable data back-up emphasis.
Besides development of these systems T-SOFT focuses also on system integration and according to the words of the director, Mr. Pejcoch, it has a competitive advantage in the fact, that it can offer client help with funding, as their source of finance often come from EU funds.
The MEDSI Project
The MEDSI project represented the very first experience of the company with the EU projects. It is a strategic research project (STREP) from the 2nd IST call of the 6th EU Framework Programme submitted in the Improving Risk Management area. The project budget is 4.6 mil. EUR (EU contribution is less than a half) for 18 months and 11 partners from 7 countries (e.g. companies operating in the GIS area, one of them is the Romanian Intergraph, two German companies, further organisations from Portugal, Slovenia, Turkey etc.).
The objective of the project is to develop the web-based integrated set of software services as a tool to enhance the capabilities of crisis planners and crisis managers in both private and governmental organizations. The main effort is put into lowering threats, critical infrastructure protection and also effective and fast support in case of emergency situations. The emphasis is put on standardization (military standards already exist, others often need to be defined) and openness, assuring the interoperability with other systems on national and international levels. The project will be tested in a real environment on the pilot situations of flooding and the terrorist attack in Magdeburg, Germany and Holon, Israel.
Next to the interoperability the solution also involves information accessibility and the ways of sharing information between individual organisations. Presently, when the critical infrastructure of states is mainly private-owned, it is essential to ensure the cooperation of civil and military bodies on the regional and international levels. Another key task is to somehow engage the actual operators of various systems as the banks, utilities and telecommunication companies and others and to offer all these players the corresponding technical support.
“Everything began when we took part in the Technology Centre seminar and started to follow the Ideal-IST database”, said Jaroslav Pejcoch. “The offer to participate in a consortium arrived circa 3 weeks before the project proposal deadline.” We had to make a key decision to leave immediately to Madrid for the coordination meeting, which was the breaking point. The thing was that the non-participating companies weren’t invited to take part in the project and T-SOFT then gradually became one of the key organizations of the consortium. At the end the project went through significant changes before it was finally approved. The original coordinator was during negotiations replaced for the reason of bigger financial stability of the consortium by the operator Telefonica.
The objective of the research projects within the framework programmes is not usually a product ready to market (there are other EU programmes to support innovation of this type), but the methods, procedures and pilot applications. And what were the main benefits for the company? First of all valuable contacts, becoming more confident, gaining professional know-how, international marketing and recognition of cultural habits. The co-funding from the EU side is also beneficial, however, it is not the key point.
T-SOFT was nicely surprised by the positive experience with the competent and professionally skilled EU officers and also by the fact that it managed to gain the project already for its first trial. A large portion of the preparation of the project proposal was done via Internet (T-SOFT provides consortium with extranet SW support). As it is usual, on the whole project composition mainly representatives of four parties participated, while others made comments on the document.
For those interested to participate in EU projects
“If the company does not have European ambitions, it shouldn’t even try for EU projects”, warns Jaroslav Pejcoch. This is an absolute condition, however, not sufficient. Further it is essential to choose the research area, which is currently open in the call (i.e. where it is possible to submit the project proposal to). Last but not least it is necessary to find partners for consortium, e.g. via the Ideal-IST service, and to clearly define project benefits for ourselves and what the company can offer to others (its role in the project).
As far as the rules go, which should be change in the 7th framework programme, he mentions the tax relief for the research outcomes and the need of co-funding the input costs for the project proposal from the side of the national government, as it happens in some countries (the project proposal is accepted in very few cases and that means, that especially a small company takes a big risk). The problem is also in the management cost, which in the case of international projects with many partners reach at least 20% of the total cost. The 7% limit defined by the European Committee is then rather amusing.
T-SOFT has already prepared project proposals for Structural Funds, it was involved in the projects within the PHARE and Copernicus programs. Its biggest interest is aimed at Preparatory Action in Security Research. T-SOFT is eager to cooperate with foreign partners in the area of security, knowledge management, GIS, telecommunication and interoperability.
Jaroslav Pejcoch (53) is the T-SOFT director and co-founder, the founding member of the Czech branch office of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and a member of the board of directors of this branch office, a member of the Czech National Committee of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and a member of the presidium of The Czech Association of the Crisis Managers. He is an author of a wide scope of publications focusing on computer graphics, PC user interface, information logistics, systems for population and environment protection, system interoperability, risk management and critical infrastructure protection.
Ms Michaela Havlova
Tel. +420 261 348 738