TBY talks to Teymur Akhundov, General Manager of Microsoft Azerbaijan, on the IT sector, industry challenges, and the problem of piracy.
TBY What have been the challenges in Azerbaijan since Microsoft decided to open a local office in 2005?
TEYMUR AKHUNDOV Microsoft has both the same demand and the same competitors here as it does in more developed markets, like in Western Europe, or the US; but here, the major competitor that we face right now is piracy. Other than that, our experience has been rewarding and we have acted somewhat as a pioneer, as we have done in many other software markets, and have encouraged other large companies such as Oracle to also take the plunge.
Microsoft recently signed a memorandum with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in order to fight piracy. What are the ongoing results of this campaign?
It is one of our most interesting initiatives in this area actually. We started to work with USAID and some of our local partners in the anti-piracy field, and we drafted a document that specifies the different phases of the project. We have already completed phase one, in which we trained some auditors in this area. We are now expecting the next phases of the initiative, which include a large PR campaign aimed at the whole country in the area of intellectual property (IP). The next stop is working with the young generation, and there are many other initiatives that we have implemented and plan to implement in the future. We understand there is a long way to go to get rid of the piracy culture, but we don’t have much other choice, as pirated software currently represents 88% of the entire market. This is one of the highest figures in the world.
Has the development of Azerbaijan’s education system contributed to the development of Microsoft in the country?
Yes. First of all, Microsoft considers globally—not only in Azerbaijan—that education is one of the most important areas of the company’s activities. This is not for purely economic reasons, Microsoft considers it a long-term investment. From the get-go in Azerbaijan our aim has been to collaborate with the Ministry of Education. It was not so easy, but we reached an agreement whereby Microsoft provides licensed software for a symbolic price. It is a long-term investment in the future of the country and the company itself.
The government has declared IT a priority sector to further Azerbaijan’s development. What is the significance of this move?
For a country with such rich natural oil resources, even the idea of designating the IT sector as first priority means a lot for companies like Microsoft. The government’s understanding that, sooner or later, the oil and gas reserves will be depleted is very important. We need to begin work now to ensure that Azerbaijan’s economy is ready for that eventuality. The declaration has only recently been made, and the plan is still only in its formative stages. We expect to begin seeing more concrete steps over the coming years.
What potential is there for e-government in Azerbaijan?
Microsoft has just completed a nationwide project, along with its local partners, to develop an e-signature system. Its launch was announced along with the government in April 2011. The government considers this project a solid base for the development of other e-government initiatives. We have witnessed several real steps toward such a system, but there are still many things to be done.
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