For the latest #25×25 Interview, a special editorial project powered by Schoenherr si Asociatii SCA, featuring 25 companies that have been in business in Romania for 25 years, Business Review talked to Răzvan Stoica, the Managing Director of GTS Telecom, one of the main IT&C service providers in Romania.
- Starting with a bit of historical background, what can you tell us about your company’s entry into Romania back in 1996 and about your industry as a whole back then?
The foundations of our business have been laid since the 1990s when small companies were creating, with minimal investment, products and services that met various local needs. That’s when the development of cable networks started. Romtelecom’s coverage of terrestrial telecommunications allowed the satellite and cable communications business to flourish. These generated the first wave of local entrepreneurs.
Providing Internet access to customers took a lot of work in the absence of an access infrastructure. Help was obtained through collaborations with industry colleagues in Western countries. This was also the case for the EUnet Romania network (now GTS Telecom), founded by Liviu Ionescu. EUnet set up the first commercial ISP in 1993, at a time when the most requested service was e-mail, used for remote file exchange.
In 1996 GTS was operating under the name of EUnet Romania, a small company part of a European group of Internet companies, early adopters, aiming to democratize the access to internet. It was 3 years old already. Recalling that period, speeds of access were a joke compared to just 10 years later. No comparison with today. Counting was done in Kbps! And everything was accessible via satellite. Latency when loading web pages was significant. Users had to wait many seconds to get displayed a web page on their screens! And above all, it was normal at that time. Digital information was rather young in Europe. Internet access was primarily offered via dial-up connections until late 90’s. Data communications were performed through complicated synchronous equipment, at low speeds as well. Packet based communications were used by wealthy customers, usually banks, exchanging information via X.25 international networks. Such standard was to be made useless by IP protocols after year 2000.
In general, idea of high speed and video content was hardly imaginable in 1996. Latency and stability of connections were still barriers to overcome for the operators and vendors. Compute power was increasing faster, more data were available and it was a big push towards the idea of broadband, yet it was longer to wait until then, at least in Romania.
Think about movies only! Distribution of movies on hard copies was done via couriers!
On the other hand, it was a period of new horizons, technologies from 70’s or 80’s were eventually to reach a very end.
- How did your company navigate during all those years in Romania in terms of goals, achievements, challenges and opportunities?
Obviously, the market has evolved a lot, fuelled by technological developments. Also important was the emergence of mobile operators on the market in 1997, which led to growth in services and capabilities. The first generations of real telecom professionals emerged after 2000, based on the need for complex investment and capital formation in the market. Since then, telecoms have evolved steadily, producing both vertical and horizontal effects – economies of scope / of scale, and becoming today the flagship sector of the local economy.
Our industry has been in a constant state of change, with technology becoming increasingly sophisticated and complex. The GTS business has also evolved considerably in our 25+ years in business, moving from being the first local internet service provider to becoming a trusted partner to medium and large companies today, offering a wide range of complex technical IT&C services.
GTS positioned itself from the beginning as a reliable partner, whom customers can trust based on the quality of delivered services and the relationship GTS’ employees established with them. Putting the customer first and keeping our promises were valuable principles guiding the development of services towards the real needs of our customers. GTS did not services to be sold to customers but understood the needs and adjusted services and technologies to match those needs. That is why GTS evolved as knowledgeable consultant, facing difficult challenges while improving the satisfaction levels when such challenges were pursued.
Consequently, GTS has organically grown year over year, with the confidence provided by satisfied customers, staying along with GTS for 5 or 10 or even 20 years. Listening to our customers rewarded us. GTS has invested in a national network early after 2000, understanding its customer needs not for data transport capacities only but for flexibility and availability above all. GTS made an early step on the market when deciding to invest in a Datacentre in 2006, becoming a reference on the local market in terms of service levels. We did the same early move when we decided to invest in a local Cloud platform, in 2013. All these decisions, and many more, followed the needs, the worries and the dreams of our customers. They indicated us where the opportunities were, for which we are so grateful.
- What is the proudest moment for your company in its 25-year history?
Oh, there were so many! Being proud of GTS is a way of life among our employees. They are GTS! They do special things for our customers on a daily basis, under the name of GTS.
In our company, when speaking about pride, you automatically think to the team, to the people with their astonishing ideas. I may recall moments when, after a period of intense work of a small team, they announce internally: “…it works! You may start selling it!”. They have just set-up a big thing – a device or a platform or a project – silently, diligently and their modesty at the end simply fills you with joy. I remember some turbulent moments as well, when GTS people managed to fix a bug or a trouble in minutes, solving an issue that buzzed some of our customers. Their fight against the odds, their capacity to find a solution where no solution was expected excites you, make you proud of being their colleague. But the best examples come from our customers. Once we received a thank you message saying like “… I would like to let everyone knows what your colleagues did for us, with calm, competency and real focus on our issue… GTS, thank you for existing!”. This is the kind of messages that make our day and keep us striving over and over.
- Moving into the present, how would you describe your company’s role in the current social and economic context?
Well, we can all agree the pandemic accelerated the digitalization. For some it was a real acceleration, for many it was that moment of truth: we need to start! What customers grasped in the last 18 months was that going digital is not always an easy task. Beyond the inner strategy and intent of decision, there is the complexity of choices. There are many, many choices to evaluate and that brings not only complexity to the process but also complicates it.
That is exactly where GTS shows up and brings value: we select technologies, filter choices and qualify solutions to fit customer needs and expectations. GTS simplifies the complexity of today’s technology, it makes it a lot less complicated.
We firstly use new technologies for our own, while testing them to understand the real user experience. That is a valuable benefit for our customers because we are not the vendor, seeking to promote that single technology but qualify it instead, based on our customers’ criteria. And there is the idea of proof of concept that customers may overlook, based on GTS’ experience. As a consultant in ICT spectrum, GTS role is look beyond the decisions customers make today. We assist our customers to evaluate and align their future needs with what they consume today, we assist them to shape their growth strategy, when it comes to technology, how that should scale in the future, what the barriers and threats could be once they plan to implement or adopt a certain technology. So, apart from systems, devices and applications, this is the value GTS brings.
- No one has a crystal ball, so we won’t ask about the next 25 years. But looking into the future, how do you see the road to 2030 for both your company and the industry you represent?
GTS will continue to extend its competencies in sync with the evolution of technology. Commoditization of classic telecom services has already forced the incumbents to seek new revenue models, brings new services to the customers and combine the wide range of features into valuable bundles to secure their revenue streams. 5G will multiply the options and the possibilities to transport various types of data practically everywhere. Development of IoT will open exponential use cases for sensor-based technologies. Intelligence of devices will increase, I hope not at scary levels J We produce inconceivable amounts of data already. Navigating among such huge oceans of data will considerably improve. Captain is AI. And he will need a security service to protect such deep-water journey. So, cyber-security will follow the development of platforms and applications to be protected, along with the threats to come. If I may continue to personify the actors on the road to 2030, I would say software development or coding is the king and his power will grow. Everything tends to be coded now, made open and accessible, changeable through few (or more!) lines of code.
We look to this journey with confidence, as GTS will simply continue to assist customers to win from applying to the latest technologies.