By Atom Markarian
The world’s leading computer software manufacturer, Microsoft, opened an official representation to Armenia on Tuesday, underscoring its interest in the country’s growing information technology (IT) sector.
Vahe Torossian, Microsoft’s ethnic Armenian vice-president for Central and Eastern Europe, said the company is keen to capitalize on the “amazing” level of education and skills of local computer specialists.
“One thing which amazed me when I started my role here is the amazing quality of high technical, engineering, mathematics, physics and other skills that we have in the region and especially in Armenia,” Torossian told a news conference in Yerevan. “We are here to demonstrate and try to develop a very wealthy and healthy IT system,” he said.
Microsoft’s decision to open an office in Yerevan was welcomed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian who met Torossian and other top company executives earlier in the day. Markarian, according to his press service, proposed that the Armenian government and Microsoft form a “joint working group” that would deal with concrete ways in which the U.S. giant could contribute to further growth of Armenia’s fledgling IT industry.
Speaking to reporters, the French executive of Armenian descent said Microsoft will boost the sector by commissioning computer programs from local software developers. He said it has already placed orders with five Armenian firms
“It’s thoroughly clear that from every dollar that Microsoft will invest in Armenia, every single partner will generate around seven or eight dollars,” Torossian said, adding that the company intends to create a “very strong” network of such partners.
Armenia’s IT industry employs thousands of well-paid specialists and is seen as the most advanced in the region, having expanded substantially over the past decade. Foreign and mostly U.S. companies involved in software development and other IT-related activities have been the main driving force behind the growth.
IT experts warn, however, that the sector’s further expansion could stall unless the Armenian government embarks on a sweeping overhaul of its system of higher education. They say the number and especially the professional level of young people graduating from the IT programs of local universities still leaves much to be desired.
Armenian officials hope that Microsoft’s plans to release Armenian-language versions of its world-famous products will spur greater computer use in the country. According to Torossian, the company will complete the ongoing translation of its Windows XP operating system into Armenian “before the end of the summer.” The Armenian versions of other, more advanced systems will be available next year, he added.
Torossian admitted that Microsoft sales in Armenia and virtually all other parts of the former Soviet Union are seriously hampered by poor protection of copyrights. He estimated that as much as 90 percent of software sold in Armenia is pirated.
“We have very good laws,” said Grigor Barseghian, the newly appointed head of Microsoft’s Yerevan office. “They simply need to be enforced. That is the main obstacle to our activities at the moment.”
A government statement said the problem was also on the agenda of Markarian’s meeting with the visiting Microsoft executives, but gave no details.