16 Feb 2022

Rosatom IT Director Yevgeny Abakumov: there is no other way but to achieve technological independence

Yevgeny Abakumov

Yevgeny Abakumov
Photo: Rosatom press-service

Rosatom’s IT Director, Yevgeny Abakumov, tells Interfax in an interview about the prospects for import substitution in the IT sphere and building dialog between customers, developers and the state.

Question: Russian Digital Minister Maksut Shadayev said at a meeting with the president that the plans of state-owned companies for import substitution in the field of IT had been disrupted, and proposed to introduce personal responsibility of managers for achieving results. What do you think of this initiative?

Answer: On the one hand, it is easier for me to talk about this subject than for many of my colleagues. We achieved all the planned targets for IT import substitution in 2021. But on the other hand, aware of the scale of the process, I understand only too well that such a transition cannot be achieved instantly. This is the most important transformational task to be accomplished jointly by the state, state-owned companies, and the Digital Development Ministry. This is because it takes more than a day to create complex solutions for large customers. And, unfortunately, we can count how many champions we have with experience in implementing such projects on our fingers.

If we look at all the solutions currently included in the domestic software register, we will not see the full equivalents of the products of world giants there, and this, of course, will influence how successfully such solutions can be applied. At the same time, we very clearly understand that there is no other way but to achieve technological independence. And in this regard, we welcome the state's movement towards Open Source as a separate area of the logic of creating Russian solutions and enhancing the domestic software register.

Last year we achieved an indicator of more than 60% in terms of purchases of domestic software in the state corporation’s Russian business. As for Rosatom's international projects, we often deal with customer requirements for the use of not just data formats proprietary to specific software vendors, but also specific systems, for example in the life cycle management of industrial construction projects. And in this regard, it will be very difficult for us to convince a foreign customer of the need to use Russian software, although we have started such work, for example, with Belarus.

Correspondingly, it seems to me that issues related to the import substitution program lie precisely on this plane: on the one hand, there are no comprehensive solutions that cover the needs of state-owned companies with a complex information landscape.

The second aspect is the need to switch to domestic computer technology and microelectronic products. And here we are forced to solve the problem of the compatibility of ready solutions and new equipment. Therefore, we welcome - and we ourselves are actively involved in the work being carried out by the Industry and Trade Ministry and Digital Development Ministry concerning the development of ‘end-to-end projects’ and means of interaction between customers, developers, operators and vendors. This is a complex task - maybe not a scientific one, but definitely an engineering task that needs to be addressed jointly.

Q.: How satisfied are you with the ‘end-to-end projects’ mechanism in particular, the unresolved issue of the contractor's responsibility? Does it need adjusting in your opinion?

A.: It is possible to elaborate each mechanism endlessly, but at this stage, the fundamental step is that mechanisms are being launched for interaction between ministries and customers, and cooperation that can provide a solution to the ambitious task of technological transformation.

Q.: Does the time frame for the transition by state-owned companies to domestic software seem realistic to you?

A.: We began the import substitution process in earnest at the end of 2019, and now we can tally the interim results. The time frame is realistic, but we have a lot of work to do in the field of integrated systems. We are talking, for example, about the control systems of large enterprises, systems for designing complex industrial facilities, instrument-making and machine-building products. This is crucial for Rosatom because we are, among other things, creating a digital enterprise, within which a life cycle management system is being developed. We believe sincerely that there are no other examples in the world when such complex processes are combined with the work of a large corporation. Take, for example, Siemens PLM: everyone knows that Siemens Corporation is not only an IT developer. If we take the Dassault corporation, it is a leading shipbuilder in France, which, as a by-product, created an information management system when designing the life cycle of industrial facilities, and now this has been spun off as a separate business. We are likely to face the same difficult path. So we will achieve an appropriate proportion, but we will have to jointly resolve the issues of replacing large systems that are associated either with new digital technologies or with sophisticated business logic for a while yet.

Q.: How long do you think it will take for such complex systems to appear in Russia?

A.: I think that three to five years, provided the sort of cooperation mechanism is implemented where the customer is interested in developing the solution, and the state promotes this partnership and creates conditions for the stability of the developer.

Q.: How does this resonate with the Digital Development Ministry’s plans to limit the share of internal development in state corporations?

A.: I don't see any contradiction here. This refers to a situation where state corporations do not place orders on the market and do not put local solutions on it. And in this context, Rosatom backs the idea of limiting in-house development, proposing to include the solutions we create not in a special section of the domestic software register, but in the market one. In terms of letter and spirit, we support the idea of limiting in-house development. This is a matter of commercializing solutions so that they can be used by colleagues for whom similar tasks are relevant. This approach means you don’t have to write the same thing for everyone. We do not have that many resources for this.

Q.: Recently, the regulator allowed Rosatom to buy from SAP. How does this case differ from that of Transneft, which was banned from purchasing Microsoft products?

A.: We have been doing business with SAP for a long time, including in the international market. They respect our choice in favor of domestic solutions for many projects. But this transition does not happen instantly. In addition, we have legal obligations regarding license rights, which we comply with in this case. New users have appeared in our landscape, which means that we are obliged to purchase licenses, according to existing agreements. This is an issue of compliance with copyright laws in Russia and abroad. And the regulator respects our position. So it's not an issue of the broad application of the solution, but one of operations.

Q.: You mentioned the transition to domestic microelectronics. Sber recently said that the present performance of Russian processors cannot meet its needs. Have you done similar testing?

A.: The position of our colleagues is not close to me, although I understand it. There is no need to conduct complex comprehensive performance tests to say that domestic software and infrastructure have certain functional shortcomings. And I believe sincerely that there will be no development in those areas that are critically important to us if we do not apply these solutions in complex infrastructure. Therefore, it is necessary to agree to these costs in the broad sense of the word - technical, organizational, economic - so that Russian developers can grow. The same goes for any decision: no matter what test you conduct now, whether it’s complex business processes and a complex infrastructure part - I'm afraid there is still a lot to be done. Therefore, we participate in end-to-end projects, we test equipment from the Russian software register. So far, without domestic processors, but nevertheless we understand that they should appear there.

As a large company, we can argue for a very long time that this is functionally not enough, and wait for the developers to either die or do what we need, but I'm afraid that this is not a win-win position in the long run.

Q.: Does the transfer of critical information infrastructure (CII) facilities to domestic software affect Rosatom?

A.: The state’s approach to categorizing CII assumes that different assets of the company may belong to different categories. But we are of course a CII operator.

Q.: How do you assess plans to make this transition by 2023?

A.: I won't contradict myself. We believe that this task can be accomplished and now we need to do everything possible so it can be accomplished in our infrastructure. So we are in contact with the Industry and Trade Ministry and the Digital Development Ministry, and with domestic developers. The public council under the government commission on digital development, which considers these issues, including end-to-end projects, plays a key role. Such extensive dialogue was launched probably for the first time in 2021. Previously, either developers, or consumers, or the Digital Transformation Ministry and Industry and Trade Ministry tried to negotiate with each other, but there has never been such a comprehensive approach.

Q.: But you are talking about a horizon of three-to-five years, while the Digital Development Ministry is insisting on 2023...

A.: There is no doubt that all the deadlines set down in documents will be met. This is the biggest challenge facing developers as they will need to ensure software that meets the register’s requirements is available.

Q.: Do you have import substitution targets for this year?

A.: Yes, we have to buy 70% of domestic software this year. We will achieve indicators for the use of Russian equipment. Also, according to the current resolution, we must ensure for certain categories at least 50% of Russian products in the information landscape.

Q.: Only in Russia?

A.: We are trying to achieve this in general, especially in terms of software from the register. But we also have purely logistical issues: for example, not all vendors are ready to work in Bangladesh or Egypt, this is also related to the pricing policy. We’re working on it.

Q.: What do you see as the company’s mission?

A.: Rosatom is fully involved in the processes that the state is undertaking to ensure technological independence. Moreover, there is the issue of exporting Russian solutions. I believe sincerely that there will be no breakthrough in this area without adapting to major domestic customers. We need economy of scale. If you supply your solutions only to medium and small enterprises, then large companies will not enter the foreign market.

Because there is no experience and knowledge in this area. I'm talking about complex business process solutions, for example, design automation systems or facility construction management systems, and not the range of IT solutions that the biggest Russian developers are already successfully promoting on the world market.

Q.: So you are acting as a catalyst for the development of domestic developers?

A.: I am an advocate of the idea that the mechanism of interaction between the customer, the developer and the state, which has been found in recent years, should have a serious effect. With all the difficulties of establishing mutual understanding between different parties, the very existence of such dialogue enables us to move confidently towards our goal.