Russia goes digital - stakes are high

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Pavel Cheshev
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Potential for further Russian economy growth through localization and import substitution policies to leverage on increasing consumption has exhausted. In 2017-2018 the economy grew on modest 1,5% (OECD), below pessimistic scenarios. It is evident that without drastic changes in the economy the country risks facing stagnation. The government recognizes labor productivity improvement as the key major factor for the economy growth in near future. GDP per person employed in Russia is $52.000/year on average, which is 30-50% less than in OECD countries. Digitalization of the economy is thought of as solution to overcome growth trap and was officially proclaimed top national priority in March 2018. Current share of digital economy in Russia is around 2.1% GDP (2017), still 3-4 times below levels observed in developed countries. Starting from low baseline, it is estimated that digitalization may add up to 120 billion euro to Russia's GDP by 2025, responsible for over 30% of overall GDP growth*.

To cope with the challenge, Russian government has announced "Digital Economy" program, with $18 billion expenditures foreseen from the state budget alone for 2019 – 2024, that are expected to be matched by similar volumes coming from business. As much as 50% of that sum will be allocated for information infrastructure development, for which the state is the major contributor. Digitalization program shall also reform the government and the state themselves, into so-called service state 2.0 concept with strong focus on UX and security and wide application of AI and data analytics. In course of the reform, the Ministry of Telecom and Media has already been transformed into the Ministry of Digital Development. One of the first announced activities of the ministry is stimulating and monitoring the development of at least 30 digital transformation strategies for major state-controlled corporations by 2021.

As Russian state controls over 70% of the economy, it naturally plays the main role in promotion of digital transformation in state-controlled corporations. "Digital economy" national program has been developed for the purpose and it is the major driver for digital transformation in such corporations. 

While most of the state-controlled companies are pushed by the government, the majority of forerunners in digitalization are private companies, pro-actively developing digitalization strategies and products based on modern digital technologies. The most notable ones, setting the role model are: Yandex (Digital transport, e-health, e-commerce), Sberbank (maybe the only exception of a state-controlled digital leader; Fintech and e-health), Telecom operators (MTS, Megafon, Beeline, Tele2: in 5G, e-health, fintech), Zyfra (IIoT,  Big Data and AI for industry), Mail.Ru (e-commerce, e-health), Tinkoff (fintech).

Digitalization status of different industries vary significantly. B2C market - focused service industries are the first ones to undergo digital disruption. The most digitalized are: banking, telecom and retail industries, followed by transport which is in active digitalization phase right now. Digital disruption of healthcare in Russia has just began and will accelerate over the next 3-5 years. Digitalization of energy industry is yet in its early (planning) days, but we may expect drastic changes there within the next 5 years.  All these provide lucrative opportunities (on different levels of development)  for Finnish digital solution providers.

Summary of the report prepared by Higher School of Economics (Moscow) above. Full report available by contacting


* McKinsey