President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon colleagues! Please be seated.
They’ve already sent me a note, which obviously shows desire to work.
Good afternoon once again, colleagues! We are gathered here today to participate in the first meeting of our Council for the Development of the Information Society. The decree that established this Council was signed in November last year. Naturally I am counting on it to play a role in the development of the information society, in the development of our current strategy and in the formulation of specific plans for the future.
Today it is obvious that any sort of progress or modernisation is impossible without information technology. This is the case in the scientific and technical spheres, but not only there: it is also obligatory for dealing with administrative issues and even the strengthening of democracy in the country. Today it is impossible to imagine a single enterprise, a single company that does not use computers or an automated accounting system, to some degree at any rate. And it’s equally difficult to imagine ordinary business activity or our enterprises existing without the Internet. Telecommunication services are available in urban and rural areas, and it is encouraging that despite everything one in four Russian families has a computer.
In recent years, information technology and information services have become quite a substantial part of Russia's non-commodity exports, something approaching a billion dollars. So why have we established this Council and why are we meeting today? Whatever we’ve done is not good enough, because judging by all the key indicators we are still terribly far behind the most developed nations in this regard. As far as our international ranking is concerned, we weren’t even in 20th or 30th place, but closer to 70th or 80th! I myself was astonished by these figures. Moreover, historically we have always had a very high potential as far as general intellectual capacity is concerned, and there has always been interest in this area and a lot of programmers. What’s more the gap between us and the leading countries is not diminishing, which seems ironic given the fact that our economy and the everyday lives of our citizens are actually improving. Here are our rankings in the category of electronic government: in 2005 we were 56th and in 2007 92nd. What does this mean? This means that we don’t even have an electronic government. All that is a chimera. Regarding our preparedness to enter the network world (there is such a rating), we had the honour of occupying the 72nd place.
As for electronic government, today virtually all federal structures are provided with modern computers connected to the Internet. Almost all state agencies have set up a database, but that is all that they have done. Our internal documents are all still circulated on paper, as they always have been. And computers are mainly used – well, you know what they are used for. They are used as typewriters, only more convenient ones because you don’t need to retype things over and over.
We are now in the fifth year of translating our work into a digital format. That means that we have been working with e-documents for the past five years. In fact it’s even more than that, because when I was working in the Presidential Executive Office six or seven years ago I tried to bring this in then, without success. Then we tried it with the government cabinet. Unfortunately, in this sense we have nothing to boast about.
We have no modern planning systems and no modern systems of financial and management accounting. Just distributing documents to departments concerning regulatory matters consumes tonnes of paper. And this is not the case in the developed countries. We are just rich, we have lots of forests and lots of paper.
In most cases for ordinary citizens nothing has changed. With rare exceptions, it is simply not possible to send in an application from a personal computer, or to trace the movement of one’s document in an office, or to get online help by means of the “single window” system. We were supposed to create a single portal for state and municipal services; it should have been up and running on 1 January of this year. It didn’t happen. This was to be the site where citizens could obtain full information on all the services provided by federal, regional and municipal authorities.
Nevertheless, on 9 February, I signed a law on access to information concerning the activities of state bodies and local governments. We need to make sure that it goes into force as soon as possible.
The strategy for the development of information society was adopted in February last year. A year has gone by, and unfortunately its plan has not yet been fully developed. We are here to discuss how to move forward on this issue and to do something about it.
I know that there is a proposal to establish a number of interdepartamental groups, groups that will be responsible for specific areas of work. I think this is reasonable or at least sensible idea – let's discuss it.
I would like us to think about other fundamental points. In the global information society of course success goes to those who are able to produce added value cost effectively, taking into account the long-term growth trend in information resources and the different roles technologies and services can play.
Today the lion's share of all the services that we consume is imported. And yet some of the programming products we’ve developed, only in some areas but in some of very important ones, are among the leaders in the developed countries, and year after year our students win the most prestigious programming competitions. Let us discuss what should be done in this area, what sort of support is needed and the forms it should take.
There is another series of problems that I want to mention and perhaps my colleagues can elaborate on this in their presentations. The issue of infrastructural constraints, including the so-called conversion of radio frequency spectrum, has been on the agenda since 2006. Here all the heads of the relevant departments need to work out a schema to harmonise work between departments: this can be carried out at the departmental level or by holding meetings of the Cabinet.
Another issue is information technology in the social sphere. We need to start a massive training programme in new technologies for school teachers. We actually tried to do this as part of the national project. We may have achieved something but as yet we are only in the initial stages. We also need to think about moving forward to the use of free domestic software. I have done something about this and there have been some results: we have already prepared programmes that have enabled us to create what is in fact a first rate product, based on free software, but linked to the Russian reality.
We need to establish distance training centres for disabled children who study at home, and of course to ensure that all these children have computers connected to the Internet. This is also a very important task.
In healthcare we have said repeatedly that it is necessary to move towards putting patients’ medical histories into electronic form and some attempts to do this have been made. We also need to bring together social charts and other forms of record-keeping. Of course we need to digitalise the major archives, library and museum collections. I am also very involved in this and I hope that this work will be pursued right to the end, in order to forestall the losses occurring in our archives and our museum collections and just to put them in proper order. There should also be a system for recording the results of research, design and development activities funded by the budget.
Another important issue that we all face when we visit different parts of Russia is the digital divide. I remember back in 2000 at the G8 which was in Japan that year, this issue was raised with regard to bridging the digital divide in the world. But we have our own digital divide. We have a very big country and very different capacities. For this reason the digital divide among the regions is a very serious, important issue. We have taken certain steps in this area already: when the decision was made to connect all the schools in the Russian Federation to the Internet it was a massive task and some people didn’t think it could be done; nevertheless, we did it, and we did it relatively quickly and by spending a reasonable amount of money. But we need to overcome these inequalities in other areas as well. Of course schools are the most important part, but we have other social institutions and lots of users who are just ordinary citizens. We understand that the ability to connect to the Internet for a reasonable sum in Moscow is one thing; to do it somewhere in the sticks is quite different. And incomes there are different too.
Of course I am not going to list all the problems associated with the nature of the information society in our country. But what I have described is sufficient to enable us to draw a simple conclusion: everybody has work to do.
Despite the difficulties caused by the financial crisis, in the next two years we have to create the informational and institutional prerequisites for integration into the global information society. This is the main task of the Council and the main function of the departments represented here.
We know what has to be done. Let us now share our views.