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"The government is doing enough to justify its ambitious plans"

0 15 January 2014

Earlier this month the Russian Communications Ministry published a road map outlining its plans for the IT-sector from 2014-2018. We asked Valentin Makarov, the President of the Russian Software Developers' Association (RUSSOFT), for his thoughts on the government's plans.  

"Before I go on to explain what I think about the road map, it’s worth giving some background information. 

The individuals currently running the Communications’ Ministry only started work in May 2012, and they have managed to put together a strategy for the IT sector and a road map for its development in a relatively short space of time. 

The most important thing, is that unlike in the case of the Soviet Union’s 5 year-plans, the Ministry organised a dialogue with the industry. It created an advisory board made up of more than 20 representatives of the sector, including the directors of a range of IT-associations. The IT-sector strategy and road map are, in large part, a result of this dialogue. 

It is also worth remembering that until 2011 Russia didn’t have any strategy related to the IT-sector, although the industry wanted one. In the absence of an official strategy APKIT (the Information and Computer Technologies Industry Association) took it upon themselves to develop one, and enlisted experts from McKinsey to help them. It is pleasing to see that many of the ideas formulated by APKIT and McKinsey appear in the government’s strategy and road map. 

As the targets set out in the government’s strategic documents were set in consultation with industry representatives, I think that they are definitely achievable. For example, the export target ($9 billion by 2018) was based on RUSSOFT’s annual IT-export reports, which we have been producing since 2003. 

I’m also pleased to say that many of the measures described in the road map have already been implemented. 

  • the extension of tax breaks for IT companies (the minimum number of staff for a firm to be eligible for tax breaks was reduced from 30 to 7).
  • The annual minimum salary for foreign IT-workers was reduced from $62,500 to $31,250, making it easier for Russian companies to employ foreign specialists.
  • A grants competition was established to fund IT R&D centres. 

However, a number of measures recommend by the IT industry did not make it into the government’s strategy.

  • The road map does not include the industry’s request for an official state support mechanism for promoting the interests of Russian companies abroad (like APEX Brazil, Finland’s FINPRO and the Enginnering Export Promotion Council in India).
  • The IT industry would like to see further measures that promote private investment in training and education, as universities alone will struggle to produce the required number of IT specialists. 
  • The way that the government funds R&D needs to change. Funding is currently provided by the Education Ministry and the Industry and Trade Ministry and is mostly limited to state institutions, universities and corporations. An alternative option would be to introduce a funding system based on the decisions of independent IT experts, like the one used by the Skolkovo Foundation. 
  • IT business leaders also believe that the government isn’t doing enough to help the IT sector really become the driving force of the innovation economy (biotech, nanotech, IT) and to modernise traditional sectors of the Russian economy. That requires not only documents and strategies, but also real programs that make IT penetrate the economy, social life and the state.

It is hard to say whether all that is included in the road map will be achieved. I think that the industry and the relevant government departments have done enough to justify such ambitious plans. However, another global crisis or problems within Russia might prevent us from achieving our goals. But does that mean that we shouldn’t give it a go?"

Top image via Shutterstock

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