Experts fear what might happen, if state organizations rush to get rid of foreign software

24 september 2018

Migrating to Russian software too fast may create problems for IT business and government. That was the general consensus of the representatives of various government organizations and software developers during a round table on import substitution in the IT sector in the executive bodies of the Russian Federation, its current state, prospects and key problems.

The government resolution on the centralized procurement of productivity software, budget accounting software and information security software calls for the migration to domestically sourced productivity software in the public authorities and state organizations. Following the passage of the resolution the Ministry of Communications was instructed to organize centralized procurement, preliminary testing of software, as well as to take steps to promote domestic development of such software.

Three scenarios were proposed for how domestically sourced software can be procured for public authorities. In the first scenario, in 2018 public authorities do not buy Russian software through a centralized procurement procedure, in 2019 they test software products to see whether they meet legal requirements and then give feedback to the vendors for what needs to be changed and improved in their products. In the second scenario, software is to be purchased in 2019, while in the third scenario prospective software products are only to be tested.

Deputy Head of the Federal Agency for State Property Management Denis Solodovnikov supported the idea of testing software before buying it. Speaking about the experience of his own agency with purchasing Russian software, he called for purchases to be made on the basis of contracts with clearly defined obligations to make sure vendors can't refuse to debug and fix software free of charge after testing.

Igor Kuzmin, Head of the Telecommunications Directorate of the Federal Service for Alcohol Market Regulation also backed the idea of system-wide testing. "There is not a single Russian productivity software package available today that we could deploy on any of our workstations. I firmly believe that migrating to half-baked apha and beta versions and testing them under real life conditions is the wrong thing to do. We need to run comprehensive tests on all products we consider buying before actually committing to them," he stressed.

Alexander Chernyshev, Deputy Head of the Directorate at the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, expressed a similar position. "We're talking about a centralized procurement of Russian software but the current requirements for our workstations call for foreign software to be used on them. We're putting the cart ahead of the horse here. We don't yet have a single working product and yet we're already talking about buying something. Before we can talk about some centralized procurement of Russian software we need to make sure there actually is software out there that we could realistically migrate to," Mr Chernyshev pointed out, he also added that the use of Microsoft software during the transitional period is not an option.

Ruslan Usmanov, Deputy Head of the Information Infrastructure Directorate of the Federal Treasury talked about how when the Federal Treasury began migrating to Russian software the main problems they ran into were not in the realm of operating systems or productivity suites. Serious problems were encountered in interaction with the systems used by various ministries and agencies that they use on their workstations. The solutions offered by domestic vendors often failed to live up to security demands.

OOO New Cloud Technologies CEO Dmitry Komissarov did not agree with the other participants in the discussion. "Signing a 12-month contract to test software simply means that we're just going to keep using Microsoft software, postponing measures to implement the president's instruction," Mr Komissarov stressed. He also spoke out against the idea of a year-long free-of-charge testing of software. "Even major Russian companies like Kaspersky Lab only have limited revenue and they simply can't afford to run free-of-charge tests of their products in the public sector for a whole year," he believes. On the other hand, Mr Komissarov does not think it is possible to test Russain software for compatibility in a single region.

Another developer, OOO Bazalt SPO CEO Igor Smirnov noted that there are solutions out there that can potentially allow the public sector migrate away from foreign software. "I mean, there is no need to completely scrap the whole infrastructure, software can be replaced gradually one module at a time with the eventual replacement of domain control," he said.

Both developers and government officials are going to run into difficulties because of the decision to buy software centrally. Representatives of the Federal Service for Alcohol Market Regulation, the Caucasus Ministry and the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media complained that the licenses for some software expire in October (specifically for anti-virus software) and no purchases have been planned until January. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Communications suggests that they use their own resources, whatever that means, and sort out the issue, and refuse to answer their questions. As a result, Dr Web and Kaspersky Lab stand to lose money, while the state software systems may remain defenseless.