Belarus Drives IT Services Value

Peter Ryan

Technology is inherently democratic in nature.  There are very few countries in which a person cannot take an interest in IT from a hobby all the way to a prosperous career.  However, the global technology services market has never been more competitive, and standing out in a crowded field is challenging at best.  This is where forward-looking stakeholders in Belarus are coming to the forefront, in the provision of various technology offerings that are definitively oriented to export markets across the globe.  The Belarusian economy is steadily being moved toward technology, and there is a quiet confidence among its players that it will be successful in this modernizing agenda.

What immediately strikes any business visitor coming to Belarus is that the country is truly connected.  It should be remembered that Minsk was designated as the USSR’s technology hub in the 1970s by the then-Soviet government, and this culture continues to permeate.  With an estimated 100,000 IT experts living in Belarus, there is a vibrancy in the country’s atmosphere. Conference rooms and cafes bristle with lively discussions that take on both tech and entrepreneurial flavors.  And, forward-looking leaders in this space have laid the groundwork for both ongoing development and profit.

Consider the recently completed Hi-Tech Park Belarus, a modern facility that acts as a strategic incubator for entrepreneurs across the IT value chain. Current tenants include application developers, hardware manufacturers, and prospective disruptors, many of the latter focusing on crypto-currencies, an area in which Belarus’ IT sector is targeting for future growth. Each takes advantage of recently-passed tax abatements designed to help boost Belarus’ IT space.  Housed on the outskirts of Minsk, such a development would easily fit into Silicon Valley or Austin’s technology hub. But despite being uniquely East European in its flavor, the aim of the majority of this initiative’s members is to firmly implant their products and services in western markets.  And, based on historic precedent, there is reason to believe that they will achieve this end.

The ongoing success of Belarus-based IBA Group is testament to the opportunity that technology players from this country can find overseas.  With a list of services ranging from transportation management solutions through to RPA for leading financial services providers in South Africa, this company (which incidentally recently celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary) has become an example of how IT services can be successfully exported from an emerging European location.  That IBA Group has recently opened a brand new campus in Minsk’s technology hub speaks to its success.

Read the full article at Ryan Strategic Advisory.

Peter Ryan visits High-Tech Park

GSA Shortlists Belarus For Best Outsourcing Location Award

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I blogged several encouraging reports from my visit to Belarus a couple of months ago including an interview with Valery Tsepkalo from the Minsk Hi-Tech Park (HTP) and Sergei Levteev, the IBA Group Chairman, however there is now some exciting news that verifies what these experts have been saying for years – Belarus has been noticed and recognised by the Global Sourcing Association (GSA), previously known as the European Outsourcing Association (EOA).

GSA Awards

Specifically, Belarus has been shortlisted as one of the best outsourcing destinations in Europe and IBA Group is shortlisted for the best European Corporate Social Responsibility programme.

The final decision will be announced at the awards ceremony in Bulgaria tonight. Whatever happens at the awards ceremony it’s a big boost for Belarus to be noticed in two important awards categories in this way. The best location and the company that is most responsible – all important, but given the information supplied by Valery and Sergei in those earlier interviews I’m sure that Belarus has a serious chance of winning the best location in Europe category.

Belarus has big local companies offering complete end-to-end solutions and expertise in systems integration, but the local startup scene is also extremely strong too. Companies like Viber and Wargaming are innovative and are defining the markets where they operate. Many services are now distributed via the app store for Apple and Android users and therefore the country of origin is noticed less than before – local players can quickly become global in this environment.

Government tax breaks and services such as the HTP are showing that even smaller nations can make a big impact in the global technology marketplace. Shortlisting Belarus as the best place in Europe for IT outsourcing is just one more step towards a more general recognition that this is a great place for running technology projects – good luck to everyone in the Global Leagership Summit & Awards tonight!

New Reality: Technology Trends for Belarus to Apply

IBA Group
Daria Kovalevskaya

On September 30 and October 1, the IPM Business School organized a technology conference in Minsk, Belarus. The conference titled A New Reality: Challenges for Belarus explored the modern trends in technology and how they are applied in the world and, particularly, in Belarus.

The first part of the conference was dedicated to crowdfunding. Speakers highlighted the advantages of crowd economy not only for small businesses and startups but for bigger companies and enterprises as well.

Crowdfunding allows for shaping the entire industries according to what consumers want to see and buy. If they want to read a book by a particular author, see a play with a particular cast of actors, or even buy a chewable ice maker, it’s up to them now to finance it. At the same time, campaign creators are able to validate their ideas (to see if the world is actually interested in what they have to offer) and create relationship with potential clients.

Indiegogo Co-Founder Slava Rubin Talks About Crowdfunding

At the second part of the conference, speakers presented the Internet of Things, drones, and chat bots. The most exciting part was the presentation of Smart Cities, a project by Philips, which uses recent advances in communication and data analysis to make big cities more livable and sustainable. Small sensors and devices work together to collect information that can be used later to save energy and help citizens feel safer.

Advantages of drones and chat bots were also mentioned. The potential of drones cannot be underestimated, as the drone market has recently hit $127 billion. While mostly used in the entertainment area (photography and video shooting), drones operate in construction, agriculture, transport, and security. They can cover areas that are either unreachable or unsafe for humans and substantially reduce the human factor risks. The only stepping stumbling block for drones is the government and rigid drone registration policies.

Chat bots are presented as alternatives to mobile apps. Similar to AI assistants like Siri or Allo, bots provide instant information. The main advantages of bots are multiplatform usage (opposed to mobile apps, bots don’t require different coding for each operating system) and low prices for their development.

The last trend discussed at the conference was Blockchain, a technology that allows for making and verifying transactions instantaneously without a central authority. A great example of Mycella, a company created by singer Imogene Heap, shows benefits of using the blockchain technology. Artists could release their music themselves, gaining control over their earnings and additional information about their songs.

Countries like Belarus may easily adapt to these technologies if they accept them and introduce changes to their institutes.  Crowdfunding is already a triumph here, with the biggest Belarusian platform, Ulej, funding over 40% of successful campaigns since its launch in 2015.

New reality has already made its way into the modern life. Customers, creators, and mechanisms of interaction between them are changing, and those who will be the first to embrace these changes will gain the biggest benefit.

Predictions for IT services in 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The industry analyst Gartner recently published their predictions for technology in 2015. It’s an eclectic list that includes such announcements as 90% of consumer product companies using 3D printing for personalised products and digital disruptions being created by algorithms.

Of course every analyst and pundit is making their predictions now and so if I am going to add to this end of year commentary then I would suggest the following for IT services.

I can see four broad areas where technology products and services will boom in the next year or two:

    Health; particularly remote access to doctors, and wearable monitoring technologies. Health care technology is advancing so rapidly that we will see average life expectancy rates rapidly increase in the next decade.

    War; the world is becoming more unstable and cyber crime (such as the recent Sony hacking) is becoming an issue of national security. War will increasingly rely on technology as much as soldiers and missiles.

    Privacy; since the Edward Snowden revelations, people have become more concerned about their own privacy and the use of their personal data by corporations and government. This will create issues for industries such as advertising and yet create new opportunities for those who can help to preserve anonymity or confidentiality.

    Government; consumers have a greater expectation on their governments, both as democratic legislators and as providers of public services. Both will be dramatically changed through the use of technology with services improving and greater access to information.

    The traditional market for IT services has already changed from what we saw in the past decade. I visited IBA recently and learned how some of their projects are more valuable after deployment because they can then capture and utilise user or customer data – the real value is in the data not the fee for building the system.

    Based on what we have seen recently I believe there will be three major factors that continue to exert major pressure for change on how IT services are delivered:

    Contract flexibility; the old days of very tight SLAs and KPIs have to end because the world moves just too fast for service partners to be relying on measures that might have been designed a couple of years earlier. This is particularly important in industries that are changing month by month – customer service technology for example. IT service companies have talked for years about being ‘partners’ – now they need to truly design contracts that reflect this partnership model because tight contracts are too restrictive for the modern world.

    The app store model will continue to develop in the enterprise. Consumers are used to using apps and IT service companies need to consider how services can be bundled into the same kind of structure for the enterprise.

    The cloud will continue to dominate areas such as storage, but with complex services such as ERP and CRM all available via cloud based tools, is there anything that cannot be delivered this way? We will see every possible option explored soon.

    I think these are the three main drivers within the IT service space at present. Earlier ideas about IT outsourcing being cost-driven and with many concerns about the development location feel dated now. Nobody cares that Skype was developed in Estonia, Angry Birds was developed in Finland, Tweetdeck was developed in London, and Waze was developed in Israel.

    More broadly, as Gartner suggests, we will feel the impact of technology far more on our daily lives whether we are involved in the technology industry or not. Think of many normal activities; choosing a political leader, finding the best price for a new car, finding a new partner, studying for a new degree, reading the news, almost every activity we undertake now engages us in technology. Almost everyone is a technology user and this penetration into every part of society means that for those of us who do work with technology, there is a bright future – every other industry depends completely on technology today.

    Have a great holiday season and enjoy the start of 2015. There will be more comment on the blog in the New Year!

Belarus: Old Masters of IT in Europe

Mark Hillary

Last month, I visited Minsk in Belarus. It’s not a place that too many Europeans visit because a visa is required to enter the country and at this time of year it is bitterly cold. But I wanted to see what was happening in the technology industry in Belarus so I went as a guest of IBA Group along with Peter Ryan, an analyst from Ovum.

My first impression on arriving in Minsk was astonishment. I have been to many countries in Eastern Europe and several that were behind the old Soviet Iron Curtain, so I had a preconception of what I might see, but the first thing I noticed was that the road from the airport into the city was so smooth and new, it would be a skateboarders dream surface.

I had expected to see an environment similar to that in Moscow, plenty of historic buildings and many examples of the old communist architecture – big concrete blocks in my non-architect view. However, my first thoughts on seeing the buildings in Minsk were that it resembles East Berlin. The city is felt very European and very modern.

Minsk Independence Square
A local described to me how Minsk has been completely renovated over the past twenty years. Naturally this is the period since the end of the Soviet Union. Many churches that are hundreds of years old, but fell into disrepair during the Soviet era, have been beautifully restored and there is an enormous resurgence in worship. The Orthodox and Catholic churches that I took a look at were all busy even during daytime in mid-week.

During our stay, Peter and I visited one of the development centres of IBA Group. This company was born in Belarus in 1993 and now has almost 3,000 people all over the world and customers in 40 countries. They are now headquartered in the Czech Republic, which means that they are based inside the EU, but they maintained a software development facility in Minsk – a team that is growing so fast they have commissioned an entirely new building that is under construction now.

IBA Group is an interesting company because they are focused on complete solutions, rather than software development alone. A good example is the public transport ticketing system they developed for use in Minsk – it’s very similar to the Oyster card system in London. However, they put together all the card readers, terminals, and software needed to make it work. They are also able to earn from the knowledge the system provides on how people move around the city – sometimes this data can be more valuable that the IT system itself.
Minsk Central Post Office

Minsk does have some distinct advantages for the technology industry that are not obvious unless you have explored Belarus in person. During the Soviet era, Belarus was the IT and technology hub for the entire USSR. Belarus supplied over 60% of all the IT and technology systems used in the Soviet Union meaning that there is a long heritage of technology knowledge as well as deep expertise in a variety of technologies.

This heritage of working with technology may also explain an important cultural difference with other technology hubs, such as India. When teams of techies are assigned to a project in Belarus they usually feature a range of ages, experience, and knowledge of many technologies. The culture of being an engineer or technician remains strong in Belarus, so an expert programmer doesn’t feel shame in remaining ‘just’ a programmer and not pushing for promotion to systems analyst or project manager.

This is a big difference in my opinion. I have worked with many software development teams and trying to maintain some stability was always a challenge with people quitting for a few bucks extra at a competitor down the road or angling for promotion just because their family believe it’s time they had a ‘better’ job title.

The autocratic nature of the Belarus government counts against the international image of the country – this cannot be denied. However, I asked several people about the reality of living there and everyone I talked to dismissed the ‘last dictatorship of Europe’ mantra as a cliché.

The government doesn’t like political opposition very much, but is extremely supportive of international business and it struck me that it would be hard to criticise Belarus and then feel comfortable doing business in China, Singapore, or Vietnam. All countries where the government is far more controlling than Western Europeans are used to and yet it cannot be argued that the regular man on the street is oppressed in any way in Belarus.

I went to Belarus to learn more about the IT industry there, and I learned far more than I expected to. It is certainly a place worth considering for any organisation that needs expertise with a few knowledgeable “grey beards” on the same team as the young technology wizards.

I also reinforced the experience I have had in the past of prejudice and preconception about places. Places that I have worked in the past include Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka. Countries that often suffer negative stereotyping and yet were ready for business when I visited.

Belarus is the same. I’d love to return and perhaps take the train from Minsk to Moscow. I believe that anyone involved in IT, or the services supported by technology, should take a look. But maybe go and visit in the summer because that cold wind doesn’t care how many jackets you are wearing!
Minsk Yakub Kolas Monument
Minsk, November 25, 2014