Expert opinions, TECHNOLOGY

Import substitution methodology for corporate IT solutions

Two years ago, after the events known to everyone, the Russian IT market changed once and for all. The business principles of mutually beneficial partnership, the institution of professional reputation, a guaranteed level of service, overpayment for reliability – were destroyed by those who themselves brought at one time these values, which seemed inviolable, to the wild business life of Russia in the 90s. The loss of the Russian market in the turnover of foreign manufacturers seems to be not very significant, according to various estimates, this is several percent. However, most likely, this loss is forever, since over the past time there has been a fundamental shift in financial flows towards Russian (and, where there are not enough of them, Chinese) solutions.

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

There are three official registers (lists) of domestic IT products:

  • Unified Register of Russian Radio Electronic Products (RAP)
  • Register of Telecommunication Equipment (TORP) (from 2024 it is part of the RAP)
  • Register of Russian Software

Getting a product into the corresponding register guarantees preferences during public procurement. Increasingly, there is a direct ban on the purchase of any foreign product, especially for critical IT infrastructure.

A special commission under the Ministry of Industry and Trade checks the country of production of equipment from candidates for inclusion in the first two registers, the Ministry of Digital Development is doing the same for software. The criteria for passing the check are constantly tightened, the registers are updated and through this sieve more and more pure (in the sense of import substitution) “flour” is sifted.

At the moment, almost any software or hardware solutions can be found in the registry, except for very complex and highly specialized ones. And that’s a good thing.

It is not very good that the presence of a product in the registry does not mean anything in the sense of quality of functioning. There are cases when working samples were demonstrated only to commissions for registration, and the manufacturer refuses to “show the product by person” to potential customers. It is assumed that the market itself will squeeze out ineffective players. This is happening now in the process of import substitution (or, a customary term in this industry, ensuring import-independence), which is the concern of most companies registered in Russian jurisdiction.

The small size of the domestic market means limited investment in development and a limited number of samples working in real operation. To treat “children’s” diseases of any product, you need enough time – to work for failure, understand the causes and eliminate them. Before implementing a domestic solution, you should be clearly aware of what you want or not, you are now the manufacturer’s partner in the good work of improving its product. From this thought, it is necessary to build on, planning a new life in new realities.

To date, it can be argued that import substitution of IT solutions while maintaining the vast majority of the necessary functionality is possible. However, to reduce the risks of unreasonable losses, it is necessary to adhere consistently to certain approaches outlined below.

1. Don’t hurry

Prepare for a marathon. The future will definitely not be as earlier,. Put at least half a year on preliminary researches and half a year on introduction — and be ready all this time to work densely and with great dispatch together with producers and integrators. Be ready to increase budgets by capital expenses, sometimes by 3–5 times — it is connected not only with greed of producers, but also with the increased financial and logistical risks and also — with an amount of the market, the turn is less, the single sample is more expensive.

2. Update agreements with business

If the relations of business and IT in your company still weren’t formalized, it is a high time to introduce the best world practices and to begin with development of the catalog of IT services. Agree on it with all strategic and operational management, having accompanied with numerous explanations that this time what won’t be in the catalog — will stop working in reality. Spend time for making sure: you were heard precisely and your managers gave their signatures consciously because after a while they will come to you with emotional questions — and then signatures will become your protection.

3. Refresh understanding of the resources

If you still had no resource and service model, it is a high time to develop it. Ask about features of each level the operating divisions, responsible for it, and don’t listen to their talk that nothing can be import-substituted, that it is impossible, etc. Prepare them mentally and financially for the fact that the future all the same will come, but not everybody will get there. If necessary — don’t hesitate to update also personnel because they actually should receive new competences, and those who aren’t ready to it can strongly interfere with the process.

4. Experience ahead of theory

Do not succumb to the desire to plan import substitution sequentially, as it is customary to do with a classical engineering approach, for example – first infrastructure, then services, then applications… Plan in that sequence in which you will have the experience of checking the existence of working domestic solutions, preferably with people you know.

5. Simplify requirements to the limit

Start planning the work of an import-substituted solution with honest analysis: what functions do you really need, and which are “decoration.” Forget about those – at least for a while. Focus on the main thing. The most necessary, nuclear functionality, without which everything will fall apart. Go a step or two lower in your habits: think, you really are now using all the functionality of your active-active solution – or actually active-passive one in warm or maybe even in cold mode would be enough for you. The main thing is to make what is definitely needed definitely work after modernization.

6. Simplify your selection to the limit

Do not delay negotiations with manufacturers, do not try to explore everyone at once in search of the perfect, do not waste time on charm with beautiful presentations. Decisions change literally every day. Functionality is developing, stability is growing, new versions are being released. The market is very active and you can’t keep up with it. Make a quick analysis based on what you are sure of based on the results of your personal communication – with proxies, with the management company, with the authorities, with anyone. Shortlist the most promising options. The shorter – the better, for example, no more than five. Select the three most promising ones and, if you have time, test or request a demo. At this stage, choose not only the product, but also the manufacturer – how it communicates with you, responds to requests to the support service. Imagine that tomorrow you will be left alone with this decision. Based on the test results, choose one solution and be sure to start with a pilot implementation.

7. Mandatory pilot implementation

Limit the pilot to the most minimal functionality, but make sure it works in every conceivable and unthinkable situation. Spend a lot of time consciously on the development of the terms of reference and methods of acceptance tests. Make sure that exactly the functions that are described and agreed in the IT service catalog do work according to the test results. Make sure that you can answer with your head for each item in the catalog (and if you cannot, you know who can, up to specific names).

So you will “sew” consistently, stitch after stitch, technical reality to the wishes agreed with the management. This minimizes the pain of users from unexpected changes in the usual work.

8. Hold the steering wheel tight

Start full implementation and prepare to plunge into a sea of ​ ​ problems for a while, but do not lose heart – all problems are solved with modern technologies.

And, of course, do not forget to choose a reliable partner who will help at every stage. The name and experience in the coming realities mean little in themselves – everyone has little experience, and the big-headed “rock stars” in large integrators are scheduled for the years ahead. Choose a partner who demonstrates a systematic approach, does not seek to charm and calm you with stories, but offers specific plans and solutions. And everything will work out.

By Gleb Antipov, Executive Director of DCI Engineering LLC

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