Microsoft Corporation pledged to step up its contribution to Armenia’s burgeoning information technology sector on Tuesday with a new regional software development center to be opened in Yerevan soon.
In return, the Armenian government promised stronger protection of the U.S. giant’s world-famous products against widespread software piracy in the country.
The two sides formalized their mutual commitments with a package of agreements which Microsoft’s top executive for central and eastern Europe, Don Grantham, signed in Yerevan with Armenia’s ministers of economy, education and defense. Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian and the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, Richard Mills, underscored its importance with their presence at the signing ceremony.
“The agreements signed today will serve as a basis for even closer cooperation between the government of Armenia and Microsoft,” Abrahamian said at the ceremony.
A statement released by Abrahamian’s press office said the deal calls for the establishment of a Microsoft-sponsored “regional” center” in Yerevan for mobile applications and so-called “cloud computing,” which allows such software to be operated over the Internet. It said Armenian students and engineers working there will use Microsoft’s technological resources to develop more advanced solutions of this kind. This will make Armenia more competitive in global hi-tech industries, it said.
According to the statement, the new facility will operate in conjunction with the Microsoft Innovation Center Armenia (MICA), an enterprise “accelerator” that has assisted in the growth of dozens of local IT startup firms. The MICA, which is partly funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has provided them with free office space and equipment and even helped some of them secure funding for their innovative projects.
These and other startups have added to recent years’ rapid growth of the Armenian IT industry, the most dynamic sector of the country’s struggling economy. According to government data, the sector currently employs over 11,500 engineers. Its overall business turnover was equivalent to about 5 percent of Gross Domestic Product last year.
The MICA set up was set up in 2011, one year before launch of the Microsoft IT Academy at the State Engineering University of Armenia (SEUA). The academy helps to address the still inadequate quality of education at the IT programs of the SEUA and other state-run Armenian universities.
Abrahamian stressed the importance of the upcoming new Microsoft center in Yerevan, expressing confidence that it will solidify Armenia’s status as a regional IT leader. Grantham, for his part, said it will enable Armenian software engineers to develop their skills and eventually result in new jobs.
According to the statement by Abrahamian’s office, Grantham went on to emphasize the Armenian government’s commitment to a stricter enforcement of Microsoft’s intellectual property rights in Armenia.
Mills was reported to make a similar point. The U.S. ambassador said that a more effective copyright protection will help Armenia attract more foreign investors into the IT sector.
Major U.S. companies such as Synopsis, National Instruments, Mentor Graphics and VMware are already present in the sector. Oracle, the world’s second largest software developer after Microsoft, inaugurated its Armenian branch late last year.
Cybersecurity will be another new area of the government’s cooperation with Microsoft. Under agreement signed by Grantham and Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, Microsoft will help Armenia protect its online databases and resources against hacker attacks.