KITC:What changes have happened to the cluster over the last two years? Which of them would you like to emphasize?
Igor: It's interesting that for the last year and a half, the changes are the same for everyone. When you ask someone, you hear more or less the same thing. It's hard to talk about the changes: because it's hard to assess whether they are positive or not, whether they are slow or quite progressive considering the situation. Nevertheless, if we are talking about the changes in one cluster, firstly, we have reorganized the Supervisory board, having companies from the Kyiv region join. This Supervisory board has become effective, invested, proactive; it started participating in life, activity, development of the organization - which, first of all, was lacking before. Everyone feels the same degree of involvement.
Today, the cluster is an organization where everyone can impact one project or another, show their initiative. This is the most important and the most positive change. After the legal restructuring, we have gotten several different models: so there is a non-profit organization, a union, that allows us to be more flexible. Also, we have people with significant international experience who also contribute to the cluster, which is positive and new.
The second change is not organizational but more strategic. We view participation or membership in the cluster not only for companies as legal entities but as a community. We are developing this cluster as a community of people who work in the Kyiv region, on whom the development of the area is dependent, to whom we should pay the most attention, so that they would feel comfortable here. Therefore, there are two levels: there are companies, and there are people, and to a certain extent, now there is a balance of a kind in the cluster in terms of what is emphasized.
These processes have absolutely nothing to do with the pandemic - it's a natural evolution of the organization. And after we have gone through the restructuring, the large, medium, and small companies can express their desires and vision of what the cluster is as an organization. From a practical perspective, the cluster as an organization should bring some benefits to the member companies.
I think it's a great success that we're moving in this direction: the support of IT companies and the development of a comfortable environment for people who work in the Kyiv region. Right now, it's just the rudiments of what we have planned, but we're hoping that our plans will be a tremendous success. And we have a superb team that has drive and vision! And that's important because you can grow boldly when you have a fantastic team that believes in what you’re doing.
KITC: What IT clusters or IT communities in the world inspire you, and you can learn from?
Igor: I often look closely at the CEO of one of the most significant clusters in Europe - Cap Digital, located in Paris and uniting 1800 members. They are so active; they have a lot going on - events, coworking, cooperation with universities, support programs, and more. This is a vast ecosystem that works. Of course, they have the support of the country, the support of cities, and the support of the European Union. In Europe, there is strong support from government and political organizations that help develop such clusters. We don't have it, and it's a problem. All clusters and similar organizations in Ukraine live on their own. Their organizational structure is such that large companies come together and do joint projects, but this cannot be compared to what they do in Europe.
The second example is in Romania, in the city of Cluj-Napoca, very similar to our Lviv. I'm talking about Transilvania IT Cluster, the СЕО of which has received the award "Best Manager of the Year of the EU cluster" from the European Commission in 2019. They have a robust project involved in all European programs. In my opinion, these two IT clusters are quite interesting to compare.
About cluster development plans
KITC: What are your plans for the future development of KITC and its projects for 2021 and 2022?
Igor: First of all, we have a development strategy. We are creating a community on our programs about attracting individuals to create value for this community. Of course, there are plans to increase the number of cluster member companies. As a platform, we're partnering with the Polytechnic Institute; some companies are running their programs through our platform. So, it would be nice for the number of such companies to increase. They could see an opportunity to interact with the ecosystem through an organization like Kyiv IT Cluster, which can help, for example, manage operations.
It would be good to restart interactions with European organizations since many projects have been paused due to global events. It would be good for them to be continued; again, we would be one of the most active clusters and organizations that participated in the overall plans of interaction between Ukrainian and European clusters. We were pretty good at it. I hope it will happen in the near future.
The interaction between the clusters is to develop joint projects: for instance, increasing the number of engineers in a particular city or region; launching vocational training in certain places. The European Commission finances such programs, but you need to gather a group of clusters for this. For example, unite 5-6 clusters of Eastern Europe from countries like Ukraine, Poland, Romania, maybe Moldova. Then they could launch a completely new training program on some topic - and it could be introduced in our region. This would power the interaction of cluster member companies among themselves at the project level, foster cluster management, and highlight new tools and new visions to the market.
About the changes
KITC: What changes have taken place in the IT industry in Ukraine and worldwide over the past year?
Igor: There's the Ukrainian Startup Fund, which has financed small and medium-sized enterprises. It works and has worked before. They made their first startup offline, and the rest of them worked online and funded projects despite the pandemic. It's an excellent example of an initiative that keeps developing further, despite facing obstacles. And it's a fantastic initiative that has worked.
Also, our Diia City. No matter what some people feel about it, whether their opinion is good or bad - I don't want to comment on it - but it's a change, and that change is affecting the industry whether there is a pandemic or not. These changes support the image of Ukraine as a technological country, and that's a great thing. Whatever some people feel about it is entirely another matter.
Out of the things that have happened in the last two years, of course, the most significant is that everyone has switched to telecommuting. And this switch to telecommuting can have an organic effect on the need to build a community because humans are social creatures one way or another. We used to have an office - and now we spend more time out of the office, and clear communication is necessary, in whatever form it can be. People want to share ideas, learn new things, and this nudges the development of various communities.
KITC: Do you think there are any distinguishing local features of the IT-business development in Kyiv as compared to other Ukrainian cities?
Igor: I'd guess there are. Firstly, Kyiv is the largest city in the country with the largest number of companies and IT engineers. There's a competition between IT companies in Kyiv, and they're pretty closed off, independent. It's harder to unite them than in smaller cities. There is a big difference between starting or developing an IT community in a small town or a big city. In Kyiv, everyone is highly self-sufficient. There are many offices of global companies, and it isn't easy to unite them.
KITC: What do you think is the reputation of Ukrainian IT specialists in the world today, and what are your expectations in 3 years? Why do companies turn to Ukrainian developers?
Igor: I work in the Middle East, and I don't quite see how Ukrainian IT engineers and specialists in Europe or America are perceived. However, this question can be better and informatively answered by HRs and recruiters. I have experience working with IT professionals from the Middle East, Asia, China, India, Africa, Europe. In principle, most people involved in the Ukrainian IT industry and Ukrainian IT professionals have fire in their eyes. When a person sees a great project, great opportunities, they get involved - and are ready to work not only from 9 AM to 6 PM, but all the time: generate ideas, initiatives, willing to scrape information, and do it with a desire to learn something. You can feel it. At the same time, other people have a rather bland attitude: there is money, there is a salary - and that's it. This sets us apart from others.
Why do they want to work with Ukrainians? Because Ukrainians have a desire to be involved in creating something better - not just getting paid. I am talking about the human factor: how Ukrainian specialists are ready to interact with business and the customer; not about the examination, speed of writing the code, special skills, or something else.
KITC: Why should IT companies join the Kyiv IT Cluster? What is the importance of the cluster for the city?
Igor: Firstly, it is creating a unified culture and environment, the connection between companies in the community, and involvement of the specialists in a specific company and for something more. It is done when you create a comfortable environment for the specialists in the first place; secondly, it cannot be made by the cluster or its management team - it is created only by the companies. If companies want their specialists to feel comfortable in the region, to feel better than they would be feeling being abroad - because this is their home - then it must be done through the interaction of companies, and it can't be local. For example, in Pechersk, everyone will be comfortable, but in the KPI, they will not be comfortable anymore. To do this, you need to have a regional association of companies, and they should create these conditions together.
Besides that, when you must decide on some project or initiative, you need a union of companies to be heard - so we can speak out when we are addressed with a question - and it is incredible. How can you address the community in any other way? If you address every initiative in every company, then none will move forward. When there is an initiative at the state level, the city is a union of companies. You can work together on this initiative to make it work for the city and the organizations. To do this, you need to join organizations like the IT cluster.