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Source: State University Higher School of Economics – State University “Higher School of Economics” – Source: State University “Higher School of Economics” – Source: State University “Higher School of Economics” – State University “Higher School of Economics

Whether Vyshka will be able to create its own commercial software products, what the newly created Center for Software Development and Digital Services is doing and why a hackathon on business robotization technologies is being held – all this was discussed in an interview with “Vyshka for its own” by the Senior Director for Financial Technologies. Leonid Novikov.

– Leonid Vladimirovich, a year ago, when you first came to the National Research University Higher School of Economics, we came to take you on the same way interview. Please tell us what has happened this year, what has changed?

– When I joined the financial service a year ago, we had a great desire to improve the efficiency and quality of the division’s work, but we needed to formulate tasks more clearly and solve the problem of resources. Despite the fact that Vyshka trains a large number of valuable specialists for the IT market on the basis of the Faculty of Computer Science and the Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics, for which there is literally a queue, we are losing the competition for personnel to large technology companies. The idea arose to involve in our work students and graduates of MIEM, who are already to some extent engaged in custom development. The MIEM development program included the creation of the Center for Software Development and Digital Services. We joined this initiative, and this decision was supported by the rector, after which the Center’s team got involved in the implementation of our digital projects. At the first stage we are making projects for internal use of Vyshka, and in the future we would like to offer them to other universities as well.

Also, the strategic goals of the financial service were formulated for which development projects should be implemented:

ensuring the required level of security of financial transactions;

Increasing the financial sustainability of the university;

providing high-quality operational, in-depth financial and economic analytical information for management decision-making;

improving our own operational efficiency;

development of customer-oriented interaction with consumers of financial services.

– Do you think other universities would be interested in such solutions?

– Most of the top universities write down in their development program that they will be able to sell their own products to other universities. There are already several individual attempts to put this into practice, but they are all isolated stories. HSE takes part in various conferences, where we also talk about our projects. People often come up to us after the report and ask us about the possibility of ordering our products. For example, colleagues from Skoltech and the Association of Leading Universities were interested in our developments.

To summarize the interim results, we consider the start of the center’s work a success. It has promptly joined the implementation of a number of our central projects and has already demonstrated the first results. In the future, we see its development in offering services to other departments of the university and entering the external market.

At the same time, if we are talking about the potential opportunity to sell our own products, we have chosen our own niche – the development of open-source solutions. When many foreign brands left Russia, Russian and open-source solutions began to occupy the vacated niche. However, any such products require revision, and we at the Higher School of Economics are successfully doing it.

In the near future, we want to test the theory with practice, to make sure that applications developed by our own efforts can be sold on the education market, that they will be in demand.

We clearly realize that we will not create a product that will allow us to build a technological giant next to Vyshka. We are creating a product that covers our needs and can also cover other people’s needs. If we can recover at least part of the development costs in this way, it means that it will be cheaper for Vyshka to create products.

– What does the Center for Software Development and Digital Services do now?

– If we take major directions, one of the most interesting is the creation of an analytical system of dashboards (information panels that display data in a clear form. – Ed.). When interacting with the heads of faculties and major departments, as well as their deputies responsible for finance, it turned out that they have a request for control of current limits and forecasts of their use until the end of the year. The planning was done in Excel and the data from the financial and analytical system was quite difficult to interpret. Whether there was enough money for current expenditures, whether specific KPIs would be met, whether units would have time to make the necessary purchases – all planning was done with a high degree of assumption. That’s why we suggested collecting this data into unified dashboards. The first version of the dashboard was tested on MIEM data, and now we are running a trial on FKN and FKI.

Also, as part of the strategic goal “Provision of high-quality operational, in-depth financial and economic analytical information for management decision-making”, we are developing a university management dashboard. The management staff of the Higher School of Economics also has its own KPIs and requirements to the work performed. About 360 indicators are requested from Higher School of Economics as part of various reports, and the work of the university and the rector is also evaluated through them. We have identified 130 of them as key ones for which development is currently underway. Visualization of the current state of the processes will significantly improve their manageability and efficiency.

– What other projects does the center have in the works?

– Another important area of the center’s work is the creation of a task and assignment management system. Not all the tasks that are solved by our employees are in the electronic document management system (EDMS). In addition to official correspondence, there are paper protocols, tasks that are set in e-mails, there are verbal orders, orders that are received in messengers, etc. At the moment it is hard to control the deadlines and the quality of their fulfillment, as well as to determine the overall load on the employee. Some tasks of an employee are reflected in the EDMS, but when you start to figure out whether you can assign him something else, it turns out that he is busy performing a large number of other tasks, but only they are not displayed in the system. Our task was to understand what each employee was doing.

Let me give you a concrete example. When a person simply answers a question, it may not be entered into the system. But if he spends time, for example preparing a letter, we want this to be reflected in the system. This will make it possible to control the deadlines for the execution of orders. For this task, we have chosen the Russian business management service Bitrix24, and we are now in the process of customizing this system for our needs. We want it to collect all the tasks of the finance department, including those that are not displayed in the EDMS, and to receive reports on their execution.

Another area of our work is RPA (Robotic process automation), or robotic process automation. These are programs that mimic the activities of people, allowing them to solve a number of typical tasks. For example, if a person regularly goes somewhere, opens one table and copies and pastes data into another, or prints a document from the mail, all these typical operations can be digitized. This is a means of small-scale digitalization. A robot can go into the EDMS as an employee and retrieve the necessary data, while accomplishing other tasks. For example, it can recognize handwritten and printed text using artificial intelligence.

We have a large number of primary financial documents in our accounting department: acts, invoices, bills, invoices and so on. All documents require careful checking, for example, so that the contract and the act are identical. Now accountants do all this manually. And in this case there are two ways of solving the problem. The first is to introduce a full-fledged electronic document flow with counterparties. But it is not yet possible to actually agree with all suppliers so that, in addition to a paper document, they send files in the required format. But it is possible to make a robot take over all this routine work and transfer the data into our system.

– In September, the Financial Directorate announced the launch of a chatbot. Could you tell us what kind of project it is?

– Indeed, we have a direction of creating chatbots. On the website of the Financial Service, this service is designed for students and employees of the National Research University Higher School of Economics. It allows you to get instant answers to financial questions. In particular, the chatbot will tell you where to look for the generated payslip and the methodology of calculating personal income tax, whether there are free rates in the division, how to get certificates on scholarships and salaries. For now, it can answer a limited number of questions, but its knowledge base will expand over time. It is very important that our chatbot is trainable, every answer it picks up to a query will facilitate the search process in the future. That is, our system learns from queries and each next time selects answers more accurately.

There is already a request for the creation of a chatbot from the Department of Affairs, and a number of other departments are also interested in this area.

– Are these all major ongoing projects?

– No, there are quite a lot of projects. For example, the center is engaged in evaluating various hypotheses and testing them. Let me give you an example. The financial service has a need to switch to electronic document management for business trips due to the emergence of Federal Law 61. There are several companies on the market that offer such solutions. The Center tested them and prepared recommendations on which solution would be more rational to purchase.

Another of our projects is the creation of a system for conferencing. During the pandemic, MIEM developed a video conferencing service for itself, which we eventually successfully replicated. Now you can use your own service at meet.miem.hse.ru to hold video conferences remotely.

Another area of the Center’s work is the development of educational courses in cooperation with MIEM. On the one hand, we have a real need to improve the qualifications of our employees in digital areas, and on the other hand, we would also like in the future to sell educational courses developed for financiers, which would, in particular, address issues of budget accounting, work with government contracts and budget requests.

– Are the teams involved in project implementation composed exclusively of students? How did they prove themselves?

– Each team has a faculty member or researcher in addition to Vyshka students and alumni.

As for the staff of the center in general, I can say one thing: they are all creative and motivated. They are all interested in meeting challenges and solving super tasks. I can say that we took two students who worked with us on one of our projects as interns in the financial service in our development unit. This makes it possible to solve our tasks in conditions of limited resources and severe overheating in the IT market.

– A hackathon among students on RPA has recently ended in Vyshka. Could you tell us, please, why did you decide to organize it?

– At MIEM, students learn information security, networks, encryption, communications, and so on. There is no own direction of work with robots, and, moreover, most students do not know what it is. To popularize this direction, we held a hackathon on RPA technology. As part of it, we solved problems that allow students to understand what this technology is, and those who are interested, we will train and involve in our work.

By the way, during the preparation of the hackathon, we noticed a very interesting thing: those hackathons that had been held at MIEM before were quite individual. That is, each student showed himself in something by himself, and there was a huge interest in them. As for our hackathon, where teamwork was implied, initially there was not much interest in it. We started to figure out what this was due to. As the students themselves explained, after the pandemic it became more difficult for people to unite in spontaneous teams. If students study in the same specialty in the same department, let’s say information security, then when it is necessary to take part in an event in this area, they can still unite and agree. But when it is a completely new field, it is harder for them to come together as a team.

– Isn’t this the last hackathon of its kind to be held at Vyshka?

– This is our first hackathon, and we would like such events, similar to the April HSE conference, to be held regularly as part of Technoforge. The minimum task is once a year, the maximum task is once a quarter, or as needed to show students new technologies that they have not yet encountered and that are used by us. For example, we would like to do a hackathon on chatbots or biosystems as part of the technoforum. The next hackathon could be held in the spring.

– Are there any other projects that students can participate in?

– We have an area of project activity, when students solve project problems in the course of their term papers or graduation theses. For example, together with students from the School of Finance, we are currently trying to develop criteria and methods for evaluating digital projects.

We are also actively engaged with the School of Design. Space determines perception, and students can make a financial reception area that will streamline all processes.

– What are your plans for project development?

– The development plans, I repeat, are to maintain and deepen what we have already done. Next is the commercialization of these projects. I would like to emphasize once again: at the moment we do not have the goal of making all projects commercially effective at once. The most important thing is to create an interesting product and try to offset some of the costs.

We believe it is very important to act in line with the general agenda of the changes taking place in Russia. Not so long ago, the national project “Digital Economy” was transformed into the national project “Data Economy”, which correlates with the thesis “smart financial management based on data”, which was chosen as the strategic goal of the financial service a year ago. And our projects, such as, for example, dashboards, make it possible to collect and visualize this data.

I would also like to note that one of the major blocks of the Data Economy project is quantum technologies, and MIEM is actively engaged in them. In particular, it successfully implements a joint project with Russian Railways, and I believe that there are all the prerequisites that this direction will develop dynamically in Vysshka.

– How do the Financial Services development plans correlate with university-wide plans?

– We do not actually separate one from the other. Finance is just one way of looking at the processes at the university as a whole. Our task is to make this area as efficient, transparent and convenient as possible, which will allow Vyshcha to continue its successful development. The Financial Service is an integral part of the administrative support system of the National Research University Higher School of Economics, which, in its turn, is aimed at ensuring the functioning of the university’s main income-generating activities.

How the IIEM management assesses the effect of the Center’s establishment

Evgeny Avramovich Kruk

Director of the A.N. Tikhonov Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics. A.N. Tikhonov

Any university nowadays has to think about additional sources of funding. Finding such sources is an important and difficult task. But improving the efficiency of university functioning is no less important, because by speeding up business processes, you, in essence, also increase the amount of available resources by reducing costs.

Anton Valeryevich Sergeev

Director of the Center for Software Development and Digital Services

It is very important for me when the work has tangible results and brings value to the university – its staff, students, partners. That is why I am grateful to the financial service, which evaluated the potential of MIEM in terms of practical developments, and I am sure that our cooperation will develop for the benefit of Vyshka.

Also read

Leonid Novikov – on the finblock modernization program

December 19, 2023.

“Vysshka” in Telegram

Please note; This information is raw content directly from the source of the information. It is accurate to what the source states and does not reflect the position of MIL-OSI or its customers.

Please note; This information is raw content directly from the information source. It is accurate to what the source is stating and does not reflect the position of MIL-OSI or its clients.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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