(English) Sometimes the best thing to do when you are so far behind you can’t possibly catch up is to leap forward. In a big, splashy way. I recently spent a week in Russia talking to IT managers and business strategists about the challenges they face as their country gingerly plots its path through the open market. You can guess at some of their obstacles, but you might be surprised at how well positioned they are to move ahead. It may take the Russians a while longer — OK, maybe a lot longer — to grasp customer service, but they get the value of aligning IT with the business strategy. And they are doing so with highly skilled IT labor, at a fraction of the cost borne by Western competitors. This is critical in a country struggling to catch up with the West on multiple fronts.
The IT managers I talked to at some of Russia’s leading commercial entities made it clear that they aren’t sitting in some back room waiting for orders and the rubles with which to carry them out. They’re making the decisions and getting the funding somehow.
Nor are they starting with the basics. There’s no point.
The knee-jerk tendency is to dismiss the former Soviet states as a technological backwater — and to some degree, that’s true. The percentage of people who own their own computers or who regularly visit, never mind transact on, the Internet, is still tiny. (Which explains in part why the B2B revolution will precede B2C in Russia.) It’s only within the past 10 years that Russian banks literally retired their abacuses and automated routine transactions, and it’s true they’re still wiring the country — though with fiber optics and satellite communications.
This state of virginal automation combined with a highly trained IT workforce is actually Russia’s ace in the hole.
It’s a free pass to leapfrog over the legacy infrastructures that Western companies and governments constantly trip over, and it’s what will enable the Russians to at least catch up technologically sooner than we’d expect. They may even forge ahead in some areas where they’re free to install the latest technology. They have an opportunity to think big, and they know it. It may take the country a while to amass the commercial know-how and mind-set needed to become a global, economic powerhouse, but you can be sure the IT side of the house will have done its job.