Has coronavirus given impetus to Russian IT industry?

Has coronavirus given impetus to Russian IT industry?
Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

On 13 May, participants in CIPR 2020 forum met at an online session hosted by Tina Kandelaki. During the teleconference, they discussed telecommuting and talked about the probability of growth of the digital economy in Russia. The theme of the creation of a world-class Russian IT product arose several times during the talk. The experts found out if Russian WhatsApp or Zoom were possible. It is symbolical that this high-tech session began with troubles and ended with them.

Does coronavirus pandemic favour digital economy?

TV host and producer Tina Kandelaki opened the online session. Interference this discussion began with suppressed the voice of the famous TV host who talked about the strategic importance of the digital industry.

The first speaker, Director in Sectoral Development at Digital Economy ANO Pavel Anisimov talked about a manifold growth of consumption of digital services. Internet traffic has increased by 20%, moreover, consumption of offices and enterprises has reduced, but those of households has gone up.

Vice Minister of Communications Maksim Parshin said that during the pandemic and self-isolation regime, Digital Economy national project had a chance to improve the indicators.

“The programme Digital Economy was launched before the pandemic, and now we don’t have a chance but implement it more intensively,” claimed the vice head of the Russian ministry of communications. He noted that demand for digital services in new conditions had risen. Consideration and project support have accelerated in Digital Technologies project supervised by Parshin.

It is also planned to change the ratio of support. Now the state gives projects 50% of the money that is necessary to implement them, the remaining 50% must be their own money. Parshin announced a transition to 20/80 where the budget will provide most investments.

The functionary didn’t manage to clearly answer Kandelaki’s question: “Does the pandemic favour the digital economy?” He stressed that amid the growth of some spheres, there is a reduction in effective demand. Also, companies often begin to cut budgets on IT, first of all, during a crisis.

Russian WhatsApp

The moderator decided to ask Co-owner and Vice Board Chairman of Hi Tech Group of Companies Sergey Chernykh why Russia still didn’t have world-class IT products. For instance, why is not there a national messenger yet? The expert replied teleconference services were actively growing at the moment, including Russian. However, “there is no magic”, and Russian WhatsApp must appear consecutively, with the state’s support too.

“The investment climate in our country to create a new Zoom with private capital only. It can be created organically somehow, for long, but again, when it is created, our western and eastern colleagues will already be flying to Mars,” Chernykh said.

The vice communications minister added that Digital Economy programme envisages finance of projects on communications technologies. However, in answer to the question of how to get this money and how much it was, he advised entrepreneurs to turn to the Innovation Development Fund, Skolkovo or Russian venture companies.

Online education

Online education became a separate topic for discussion. However, the participants mainly shared impressions about what their children’s lessons were like. Tina Kandelaki herself complained that her children who are students still shirked online lectures.

Vice Minister Parshin considers that when schools became online, the load on teachers has increased, and he promised to include a compulsory module about support for teachers to requirements for educational online projects.

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Vice President in Mass Market Marketing at VympelCom Irina Lebedeva talked about her observations of her daughter who is a primary schoolgirl. She noted that during the first week students and teachers adapted to the new method. Even a special supervisor was introduced in their school who supervises if children are distracted in class.

Sergey Chernykh and Pavel Anisimov also explained that children love to study but they had to get used to the process.

Recipe for telecommuting

“Is human contact in some processes necessary in general?” Director General of HeadHunter Mikhail Zhukov began his speech. He said that after the introduction of the self-isolation regime, all job interviews instantaneously became online. The number of vacancies on the website has fallen by 15%. Now there is slow growth, said the top manager of the biggest HR service in the Russian Federation.

Zhukov named four criteria that allow a company to telecommute quickly and without consequences.

  • Serious and long-term investments in IT infrastructure.
  • Provide a company’s cybersecurity.
  • Very strong HR department.
  • Developed corporate culture.

Discussing the last clause, the participants in the discussion mentioned another important threat of telecommuting: blurring boundaries between personal and working time. Everybody agreed that now nobody was against holding important meetings at 10 p.m. and a requirement to do a task till late at night. This entails emotional burnout.

Vice communications minister’s bad connection

At the end the interlocutors answered Kandelaki’s question if COVID-19 would lead Russian IT companies to the world level. Pavel Anisimov thinks that issues in the global market are resolved a bit slower than in the Russian.

“As for exports, it is becoming unclear how we will interact with the world,” he said.

Zhukov doubted such an opportunity. Chernykh named it unclear, Lebedeva shook her head. However, everybody agreed that the coronavirus became the trigger that pushed the company to work with digital technologies and IT more. At the end of the session, Parshin lost audio. We can consider symbolic that the vice communications minister had a bad connection. He showed gestures that it had nothing to do with equipment.

By Yevgeny Kalashnikov