How One Russian Woman Wants to Change Office Work All Over the World
How are women entrepreneurs doing in Russia?
A: You’d be surprised, but very well. The recent “Women and Business” report by Thornton International shows some impressive figures: 47% of top management positions are occupied by women, which is 16% more than these of a couple of years ago. Russia has been a global leader in terms of the number of women managers for a while and now we are experiencing some serious female entrepreneurs boom: a great number of women seems to be opening a company, trying themselves in their own businesses. The atmosphere is very favorable. I know what I’m talking about here: being in business for 4+ years already I have never experienced any gender discrimination. So, girls, stop finding excuses for not building your career, don’t be afraid to think big, go and start your own businesses. The time is just right.
You’re in IT. This industry is traditionally inhabited by men...
There definitely is such a stereotype, but to me the gender factor is not important. Only skills matter, you know, if you’re a true professional. Let’s think of someone who is both creative and critical thinker - this person is prone to become a good IT professional no matter the gender. Also, developing a working code, putting together a well structured analytical report or a user friendly interface - women don’t differ that much from men here.
Being an IT entrepreneur requires marketing and sales skills plus the ability to raise financing, plus personal traits such as persistence, charisma, leadership skills. Add the emotional intellect to the mix and this will be a portrait of a successful female entrepreneur.
Where are you with work-life balance?
In a rather dark place, sometimes. Making new product from scratch, putting together a team, launching the company on a highly competitive market - all this requires a lot of time and energy. All the time and energy, frankly speaking. But when I come back home, I try to make a switch and to concentrate on my daughter and my husband only. I am lucky: my family was always very supportive and is fully onboard with this new stage of my life.
Have you ever considered letting it go and doing something else? Or do you have some useful stress management techniques?
First, challenges aren’t problems. They are a very much needed part of life. Challenges make you stronger as a person and as a professional. I believe that when there’s no stress, no challenges there’s no progress. It may look like peace at first but then it turns to stagnation and then to regress. Of course while fighting and overcoming it’s also important to pay attention to your health, both physical and mental, otherwise your conquest will be over very soon. My personal anti-stress techniques are rather simple: eating some delicious chocolates, playing some piano, having a girls night out. But my most cherished way of dealing with stress is staying strong on the message. I want to build a successful tech company offering a unique solution for smart offices. This is it the beginning and the end of my mission. Reminding myself about it always helps.
How did you end up in IT? What did you do before Getmobit?
It happened very logically. My Masters degree is Economics and computer business was booming in Russia in the mid-90s. So while I taught and did some researches at my university I also worked as a computer sales rep for different companies. Then I met one major computer manufacturer and started learning more about the design of personal computers and laptops.
Then I was hired by a large Russian integrator company where I was in charge of promoting complex IT solutions in the state economy sector. After that I left for IBM. When they offered me a job I immediately agreed although that meant learning to sell software and be able to collect products from a very wide range serving as an analyst and architect at the same time. I earned a corporate award called The Glass Globe that is given to the best IBM sales reps and moved on.
My next goal was to become a CIO in a large company or government organization, and that was how I found myself working for the State Pension Fund. It’s a behemoth whose infrastructure is spread across the whole country, with a stunning number of solutions and technologies to run. All that infrastructure required modernization and technological growth and it was me who had to come up with a strategy for managing the entire range of activities. I accomplished my mission... and while at it understood that time has come to build my own technological company.
How did the transition from being hired to hiring people to work for you go?
Very smoothly, almost unnoticeable. I wanted to expand the limits of my familiar world, I wanted to reinvent myself, to reach some new level. The best way to achieve that ambition was to start my own tech company armed with a breakthrough idea.
After so many years in IT I could clearly see what traditional corporations, large businesses and state institutions desperately needed. This understanding, my expertise, some lucky turn of events… and here I am with a business of my own.
I should go into some details here, I think. What are these weak spots that are dooming most corporate systems today? They are only partially automated and they are decentralized. Corporations install tons of expensive equipment – computers, phones, laptops, thin clients. And then they spend millions on infrastructure to get each of these devices work smoothly with each other. Combining them might prove difficult (if not impossible), so IT directors are forced to build a full internal ecosystem just to make sure all this machinery works properly.
Another problem is that employees are not fully mobile. It’s 2018, and people are still tied to their office space by endless wires: this one for computer, this one for the phone, this is for the printer. Everyone wants more freedom, everyone wants to decide where to work from and to feel completely secure while doing that.
I started thinking how to solve both these problems with one solution and came across the “smart workplace” concept, which was already out there for a while, but found its way to Russia only recently. We came up with an idea of an alternative piece of equipment that would ultimately optimize the work we’re doing in offices today.
Let’s define what a “smart” workplace is.
This is a notion from the “Internet of things”. “Smart” homes, “smart” transport and even “smart” cities are our nearest future. Every single thing around us can be connected to an online brain in order to be able to interact with each other. Speaking about “smart” workplaces they bring together all the gadgets you usually use in office so you can work more efficiently. Take WeWork, an internationally known business - they move in this direction too: you are no longer tied to the same place you just need the space to work, and the equipment will adapt to your needs.
So tell us about the device you’re making.
It’s called GM-Box! Well, you see, modern employees spend one day in a quiet office corner, next day they are with a large group of people in a conference room, next day they travel to some country region to visit company’s local offices. Anywhere they go, they need protected access to corporate information. No matter the circumstances all they now need to start working is their smartphone and the nearest GM-Box. Because of it their place of work becomes “smart”: now it recognizes the user through special authorization system, opens his or her account and gives remote access to their desktop with all his/her files and programs.
There are also some not-so-obvious perks for the companies. Because of the fully autonomous operations center based on the GM Server they are free to collect various data and analyze how the workplaces are used, what are the trends in the usage of various devices, where the not much needed equipment is located... thus saving serious money on the office space.
We began working on GM-Box in 2016. As of today, the device went successfully through several pilot tests. We are launching mass production in May and shipping in the fall.
What does GM-Box look like?
A long explanation first. GM-Box is a multifunctional dock-station with safe access to infrastructure of virtual workplaces and IP telephony with connection to smartphone. It’s that “smart” workplace that bands together several devices on your desk: all-in-one computer, laptop, telephone and thin client.
It looks like a regular phone and it sits peacefully on your desk. There’s a receiver, a small screen, and a cell phone station that authorizes you and charges your phone at the same time. You can connect a monitor, a mouse and a keyboard to GM-Box - voila, you have a fully functional computer you can use for any usual task: sending mail, watching videos, printing documents etc. We designed it to look as familiar as possible - from the outside GM-Box is like any other phone you see in any large company or state institution. By the way, we are presenting it in Barcelona at the famous Mobile World Congress exhibition.
Can you tell us more about the design?
Design is a very broad notion. For us it means several things. First, the product is stylish, elegant and user friendly. Second, it’s high tech, safe and comfortable to use. Our goal was to come up with a design that would bring GM-Box safely into both traditional and modern office spaces. It had to look in place within any interior so that people would want to use it. We printed the first models on a 3D printer for better understanding where we were with our design.
Okay, so I connect my monitor to your device. What will it look like? Does it have some special operation system or special software inside?
The device gives you a single-point access to corporate and web resources. The operating system is cloud-based: your desktop will look just like it always does. Say, you have always worked with Microsoft – everything will remain the same, just not inside the computer, but in the cloud. Each company can choose whether to allow access to the internal network only or to the world wide web too.
How do I access my personal data? What is the authorization process?
GM-Box was designed to be as depersonalized as possible. It doesn’t keep any user details, so any employee can log in to any device right after entering their password. We developed a special authentication system: you put your phone onto the dock-station, the special app recognizes you and opens your account, including your desktop with all the files, folders and programs. There’s also two-factor authentication for those who need it: with a fingerprint, a token or a password code.
So you can start working on one device then continue on another one?
Exactly so. You begin working on a presentation in your room then walk over to a conference hall, get authorized and continue with your colleagues. Or you could start talking on your cell phone while in the office canteen and then return to your room and continue the discussion via GM-Box. What’s important is that as soon as you leave your seat and pick up your phone from the dock station the session on your screen is over. So no worries about turning your computer on and off all your data is kept private and safe.
Is the connection between GM-Box and mobile phone safe?
We understand that our product will be used in corporations and state institutions that are very keen on security. To guarantee the highest possible level of it we use only well tested software, operational system with authorized loading, data protection... For those really interested I can say that data exchange between GM-BOX and the smartphone is based on Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).
Who is your target audience?
We can talk about it it terms of company format and company corporate culture. If it’s about format, then companies modernizing their IT infrastructure are certainly our clients. The transnational companies with offices spread across cities and countries too: their employees travel a lot so they need safe access to corporate network and they need to be able to work remotely. Then there are growing companies that need a more complex IT infrastructure and safety and they need the most efficient solution possible.
Now if we’re talking about corporate culture, then there are companies that are not only moving forward with digital innovations but are also ready to transform their business on the operational level. These guys are definitely our clients. Not only corporations are interested in smart offices but small businesses as well and we are ready to help them by offering special solutions and services.
Are you happy with Russian market or are you looking further?
What we are offering is a universal solution. The gaps it fills and the problems it solves are universal as well no matter the country.