Hewlett Packard is known widely as a global leader in the computing industry. This week, The Leader spoke with its general manager here, Lorenz Hilmar, to find out his assessments of the future of information technology in Russia and the prospects for Russian development in this important sector.
You mentioned Russia's intellectual capital as a key factor in the country's economic development. One of the sectors of the Russia's economy that has recently been in the spotlight is the IT sector. In your opinion, what are its prospects for the next few years?
Of course, computers will become much more powerful in the future. But what is most important, in my opinion, is that fundamental changes should occur in attitudes toward information. In the future, we will have intellectual systems and resources that will be available on the Internet and that help solve problems related to the environment, health and other vital issues, including, of course, business tasks. This will happen in the next 10-15 years. Another important thing is that a higher degree of security will be ensured for Internet users, and this not only in the field of data protection but also in protection of personal interests, etc. Of course, this will require more resources.
Hardware is developing at a fast pace, including computational resources, processors, data storage systems, data-recording density and quicker access. But progress in software development appears even more important because it is software that allows use of the Net for business purposes. The problem does not lie in mastering manufacture of microchips with 0.18 mkm or 0.13 mkm element size: The most difficult task is to develop new algorithms and solutions.
The prospects of the Russian market are closely connected with all what I mentioned above. In the last decade, we have fallen behind in the field of hardware and 0.18 mkm and 0.13 mkm technologies. (I say "we" because I have worked here for a long time and associate myself with Russia.). What follows from that? Yes, it is true that we do not produce modern processors, but we have them here. Thanks to the market economy, we have access to hardware. Therefore, our paramount task lies not in developing hardware but in achieving a breakthrough in software. We need a new thinking and new understanding of algorithms and not to follow an already-trodden path, but find a special one of our own.
In my opinion, at this stage Russia is better prepared than other countries. It is much easier to develop new solutions using a computer than sitting and thinking over a blank sheet of paper. Russia still has many strong minds and, looking into the future, I can say our prospects are better than those of our Indian or Chinese friends. The Indians and the Chinese set themselves the practical task of training programmers and they have succeeded. In Russia, science was developed, and in the present situation I place my stakes on Russia. Our company supplies hardware to Russia — computers and printers — and provides technical support. In order to be successful on this market we need to promote its development. In my opinion, we should organize domestic manufacture of products that are in demand here. Why should we ship them in?
The most important task is that of software development — first of all, creating programs adapted to the needs of Russia. After all, Russia has its own legislation and its local requirements. An English-language product would be O.K. in Moscow, but not in the provinces. Now, with powerful processors, it is possible to create very convenient and user-friendly interfaces. I consider this task to be of importance for this market and I plan to work to fulfill it.
Russia is a huge and growing market. This is not only because oil and gas prices are strong, but also because domestic industries are developing. Industrial growth is continuing in Russia, something that is confirmed by the fact that IT solutions are in demand. We should be aware of the fact that this market has a huge potential.
In the next 10-15, years we will be no longer spending a lot of time on software adjustment, because systems will be created that will "understand" tasks. For example, let us say my task is to get an air ticket to Minsk. An intellectual system will search the Web and suggest variants, such as "Domodedovo," "Sheremetyevo," etc. Let us assume I have chosen "Sheremetyevo." The system will make another search and report: "If you plan to go tonight, keep in mind there is a traffic jam on the Leningrad Highway, therefore, you had better choose the Domodedovo option." Then the system will advise me on hotel options in Minsk and so on and so forth. In other words, instead of wasting time on searching information for choosing the best option, I will use system’s prompts. I believe a breakthrough will occur in this field — information will be treated in a totally different way. What will be important is business, not just abundance of information.
What is the situation with managers for the IT sector in Russia? Are there enough qualified specialists?
The biggest problem with Russia’s IT market lies in the fact that companies are all-too-certain that they can do everything on their own. They believe they have enough specialists to implement solutions. But the truth is that these specialists are unlikely to possess the same level of knowledge and expertise as the employees of a specialized consulting firm. Yes, information is accessible these days, but those companies that decide to implement solutions on their own lack one very important thing — experience. At the same time, companies specializing precisely in the implementation business do have such experience. This is true not only in the case of Western consultants — there are a lot of Russian companies that have been in the business for five to 10 years now, which is a fairly long track record, especially considering the business’ specificity. Moreover, Russian IT consultants are often better at understanding customer’s problems because they live and work in this country. IT consultants should not only provide professional services in the spheres their potential customers really need, but should also charge reasonable prices for that.
What skills and personal qualities are vital for a manager in an IT company?
Intellectual capital is the most precious thing for Russia’s IT market. It should be developed and put to use. Why will a Russian programmer be better than an Indian one? Because a Russian programmer possesses a much stronger educational base. But, in India, they have been developing a market for computer programmers for five years or more now. Unfortunately, Russia has not.