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Apr 17, 2021
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Russian developers want to strengthen import substitution

Developers of domestic software (software) for federal bodies, state-owned companies and state corporations have sounded the alarm. The reason is a slowdown in the rate of import substitution of Russian software for American counterparts. Now Russia continues to buy foreign software worth tens of billions of rubles, which we send to the United States. Desperate to look for an answer in the Ministry of Digital Science, the developers went directly to Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov.

Let’s think about it for a minute. In the context of the ongoing US sanctions against Russia, our country does have a huge item of spending on software. After all, for several years now, the authorities have been accelerating the digitalization of everything and everyone, state-owned companies and state corporations are only increasing the pace of introducing high technologies. And in the overwhelming majority of cases, this process is not going on in the same way as, say, in agriculture, where we took and replaced imported Lipetsk or Tambov potatoes, and Polish apples with Krasnodar apples. No, federal authorities and state-owned companies continue their frenzied digitalization and, at the same time, only increase purchases of import programs.

This problem is, of course, not new. Over the past 30 years, as a result of the liberal reforms of the 90s, we have found ourselves in a situation where we have almost no high-tech products of our own. But now this situation is changing. That is, it would be okay for us to have nothing to replace the products of all kinds of Microsoft, Adobe, Intel, and so on. We have our own operating systems, and our own “offices”, and even our own processors. But somewhere there are obstacles and prejudices, as well as someone’s powerful unspoken lobbying support, because of which the lion’s share of software for state needs in our country is imported.

Significant precedent

At the end of March, the developer of the domestic software Almi Partner turned directly to Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Belousov. In its appeal, this company indicated that in Russia there is a decrease in the rate of import substitution in the public sector, that domestic developers often encounter a situation when government agencies, when placing government orders for software, indicate unnecessary or unreasonable requirements, deliberately calculated for the purchase of foreign products. That is, even at the stage of public procurement, such discrimination occurs in favor of the imported one.

In the office of Belousov, the appeal was received and analyzed. Already on April 6, from there, an order was sent to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Ministry of Digital Industry, the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Finance and other ministries to work out the problem of reducing the rate of import substitution of software in the public sector of Russia. In the Ministry of Digital Security, they were saluted, but in the Ministry of Finance they said that they had not yet seen the paper from the Deputy Prime Minister.

Nevertheless, we have an important precedent before us. It turns out that state-owned companies and government agencies do not go to meet domestic developers, although they offer them their solutions. I had to go around – immediately to Belousov, so that such an order would go down from there.

Almi Partner is a Nizhny Novgorod company that has developed its own operating system, AlterOS, capable of replacing Windows on state-owned computers. AlterOS was created on the Linux kernel, just like the Astra Linux operating system already used by the FSB and other law enforcement agencies of Russia (that is, where, by definition, no Windows can exist).

In addition, Almi Partner is one of four Russian developers of a domestic package of office solutions, that is, analogues of Microsoft Office. In Russia there is also the “P7-office” of the “New Communication Technologies” company, “My Office” of the “New Cloud Technologies” (NOT) company and the “Zircon-Office” of the Svemel enterprise. Almi is the developer of AlterOffice, and naturally, there is competition between these companies in the domestic market. And although the AlterOffice program in 2020 was excluded from the Unified Register of the domestic software of the Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications for copying the open code of a foreign “open” “office”, the court did not agree with this in the fall and AlterOffice was returned to the register. In Almi itself, the decision to exclude the “office” from the register was then called the intrigues of competitors.

We will not analyze these squabbles in detail, we will only say that if a Russian company has made its own software product that can replace the imported one, this is already good. After all, money through state purchases will not simply go overseas, but will remain in our country. There is also the issue of digital security. Such a domestic solution no longer has a connection with Microsoft servers, does not require the purchase of licenses from an American company, and in general, in theory, does not transmit information to the United States.

How bad is it?

We, of course, see the dominance of Western-made programs everywhere, so we have no doubts about the fairness of Almi’s appeal to Belousov. But still, how catastrophic is this dominance in the public sector? We decided to check on available sources how things are going in public procurement of software.

If we turn to the data of the Unified Interdepartmental Information and Statistical System of Rosstat, then we will face a really not the most pleasant picture. Let’s look at the numbers.

PHOTO: SCREENSHOT OF THE SITE FEDSTAT.RU

So, in 2019, the costs of state corporations and state-owned companies for the purchase of software (including imported) amounted to more than 4.2 billion rubles, and the costs of federal executive authorities, executive authorities of subjects and other state authorities for the same year – almost 31 billion rubles. …

How much of this money was spent on Russian programs? In 2019, state-owned companies and state corporations purchased domestic software for only 1.6 billion rubles. And the federal authorities bought Russian programs for only 16.7 billion rubles out of the almost 31 billion rubles that were spent on all software in general. Finally, there is the so-called cost share of domestic programs in public procurement. It was 38.9%.

It turns out that the share of imported programs is incomparably greater, as is the amount spent on them. If we take only data on government purchases and only for the public sector, then every year Russia sends abroad 16.9 billion rubles as payment for software. But there are also other consumers of software – large private companies, banks, corporations. That is, in reality, the amount withdrawn from our economy is several times more.

Are we not going according to plan?

At the same time, in Russia, for example, there is a government plan for achieving the national development goals of Russia until 2024 and a planning period until 2030. This document incorporated not only the parameters of the famous May 2018 decrees of Vladimir Putin, but also many others, as it was repeatedly corrected.

This document is also one of the main ones, including parameters for import substitution in software for the public sector. Back in the fall of 2020, when government offices were actively revising this plan, the project drew attention to the fact that the share of purchases of domestic software in government agencies fell from 62.2% a year earlier to 55%, and in state-owned companies and corporations – from 65.2 % to 38.9%, which we talked about above. The goal was to increase the share of Russian programs in state-owned companies and corporations to 50%, and in government agencies to 70% in 2020.

The Rosstat data system does not yet allow us to see whether these indicators have been achieved, however, the appeal of the domestic software developers themselves speaks for itself. If the share is growing, then, probably, not at such a pace that these developers feel in demand when they want to replace imported developments with their products.

Note also that only one of the four companies that developed the “Russian office” filed a complaint with Belousov. Another, for example, in October 2020 was able to convince Rosseti to buy its “office” product, and not Microsoft. The tender on the state procurement website says that Rosseti bought the P7 office of the New Communication Technologies company for 153.9 million rubles. At the same time, Rosseti was previously the champion in purchasing Microsoft programs. The Rosseti tender for the purchase of programs from this American corporation for as much as 2.1 billion rubles in 2016 became at that time the largest of its kind.

And, finally, I would like to say about the rules of the game. It is important for us not only to increase the share of domestic programs in the public sector and accelerate import substitution, but also to put things in order with the very concept of “domestic software”. After all, the most egregious example is when the Ministry of Digital Industry applies the procedure for the simplified entry of a product into the register of domestic software, without major modifications (our developers are offered preferential terms). Often there are foreign programs or their clones, and this is done in order to get preferences as a “domestic developer” – a reduction in income tax from 20% to 3% for IT companies and a decrease in insurance premium rates from 14% to 7.6 %.

That is, in an amicable way, no one prevents this or that enterprising “developer” from simply localizing a foreign program, registering it with Rospatent and trying to implement it, receiving preferences from the Ministry of Digital Science. After all, such a program will be considered domestic until the court proves otherwise.

Thus, we state that the developers’ appeal to Belousov is a very important moment. This is a precedent. It is imperative that other developers are not afraid to follow this example and draw attention to the problem. After all, somewhere in high offices, perhaps, there is a lobby of the same Microsoft, which advocates the renewal of licenses of this corporation, and not for the purchase of domestic programs. And this is a question of both our digital sovereignty and security at the state level.

Expert opinion

Vladimir Vladimirovich Ulyanov, head of the analytical center Zecurion:

– As for import substitution in the field of software development, I disagree with the thesis that this is not the case. On the contrary, the transition of companies and government organizations to domestic software is quite active now. That is, this is not some distant prospect and initiative that will be implemented in the future, no, this is what is really happening right now. Many companies are actually switching to Russian software.

Another thing is that there is a historical attachment to the ecosystem, which is on Windows, and this must not only be put up with, but it must be taken into account. Because at once to transfer all the personnel of a huge organization to a new platform is not only a non-trivial task, but perhaps it is also impractical. A lot of problems will arise, and this may affect just the final consumer. Imagine that a person comes to a state institution to issue a paper, but they cannot give him it, because just now everyone has switched to new software and do not really know how it works. Therefore, everything needs to be done in a planned manner, accurately translated, it is not necessary to jump abruptly, it can be very harmful.

At the same time, I do not see any rejection of domestic software, on the contrary, Russian software is rather positively treated not only in Russia, but also abroad. Of course, not in all classes of programs there are substitutes for the best foreign analogues, but at least in the field of information security, Russian products are really competitive, including on the world market. These are anti-virus solutions and products for protection against information leaks. They are really highly ranked in the world.

Egor Kucher



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