Software and consultancy provider Synergy International Systems has been operating in Armenia for over 20 years. The company has a significant contribution to the development of business and education in the country’s IT and Tech sector.
Synergy and the Armenian IT sector grew “hand in hand”. Through its activity and projects, the company has made a huge contribution to the development of business and education environment in Armenia’s IT industry.
Synergy creates customized solutions that improve data utilization and management, decision making and delivery of services, as well as enhance the social impact of development programs.
In the interview with Mediamax, Synergy International Systems CEO and Founder Ashot Hovanesian recalls how the company was created and established, as well as talks the specifics and prospects of Armenia’s IT sector.
Dr. Hovanesian, you have established Synergy International Systems in the U.S. in 1997 and opened a representative office in Armenia just two years later, in 1999. How would you describe Armenia’s IT sector of that period? Did it have any specific features? How did you decide to start operating in Armenia?
I was born and raised in Armenia. For many years I worked in different countries, on different continents – in Europe, in the United States, etc. At one point I realized it was time to give back to the homeland, because I was not comfortable with the idea of just emigrating and advancing the sector in a different country. I thought about the possibility of opening an office in Armenia and developing the business from there.
In the beginning, it was hard, because the poor state of telecommunications sector was among Armenia’s chief problems: the speed, the quality of services was low. We used to not sleep for two or three nights in a row just to be able to send one project file from Armenia to the United States.
Had I approached my idea only as a business, I would have closed the Armenia office right away and tried to open it elsewhere. But I knew that we could surmount the obstacles and I knew that Armenia had to change. I believed in Armenia and in its potential, because I knew of the qualities of the people living here.
We were a small group of people starting an office in the bedroom of a Yerevan apartment. That tiny business worked very well and started to grow, so we moved into another apartment in the downtown. Finally, after moving the office to several different locations, we realized something had to change and, in 2005, I started building our new office.
Dr. Hovanesian worked at G7 Support Implementation Group, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Health Organization (WHO), and the Ministry of Health of Armenia.
In 1997, he founded Synergy International Systems, Inc. in the United States. Under his management the company created Intelligent Data Manager™ (IDM), a patented technology platform.
If you had to sum up the achievements of Synergy and Armenia’s IT industry of the last two decades, what would you highlight?
I can’t say that the industry had a gradual, logical development. It was a sudden rise and I believe the main cause was the emergence of competition in the telecommunications market. Fast and reliable internet and telecommunications are very important in the IT industry, because we work for foreign markets. The rise of telecommunication was followed by the accelerated growth of IT companies. Following these improvements, Synergy was more confident in making investments, and now we have quite a large company in Armenia.
What is your formula for establishing a good brand and a good company?
Synergy is a very important word for me, it is close to my heart. their is no coincidence that I chose that name for my company. We could see that the initial core of our enterprise, our team had a true synergy. Together, we created something bigger than ourselves. Grouping five people does not create a team, but if they work together, share ideas and have a real unity, you will get synergy. I believe that the name “Synergy” truly reflects the essence of the company.
Currently, the information technologies sector of Armenia features plenty of companies. What sets Synergy apart?
Our advantage is that in our Armenia offices, we can provide end-to-end services. We do not deal with just a specific part of the project, contrary to the Armenian branches of other international companies, which have their full operations abroad and only send a segment of the work to Armenia.
Around 10 years ago I realized I had to make the Armenian office an independent company. In other words, it had to be equally advanced in all areas and capable of conducting the entire cycle of software development: marketing, research, design, coding, project management, etc. It means that a project can be born and developed in one place – the Armenian office of Synergy. I think it is important that Armenia is known as a country with good specialists who can complete entire software projects, as opposed to a country that only provides coding.
Synergy has implemented projects in over 75 countries, and as a result of that cooperation, representatives of various organizations from those countries visited Armenia and learned about peculiarities of our country and its IT sector. Many countries already work directly with Synergy’s Armenian office and view Armenia as an IT center of the region.
The idea of turning Armenia into the “Silicon Valley” of the region gets thrown around a lot. In your opinion, how can Armenia establish itself as a hub on the world IT map?
It is a bit difficult for Armenia to take a spot on the global IT map, given the country’s size. We cannot compete in terms of quantity, as large countries have millions of experts. Therefore, we need to clarify our place in the global IT industry first. We have to be able to provide products of much higher quality than the others and we cannot allow ourselves to be satisfied with common software solutions prevailing in the market.
Synergy is working dynamically towards providing high-quality services for AI-based projects, analytical software, monitoring and assessment. These are types of services where quantity is not essential and can provide a small country the opportunity to claim its spot on the world’s tech map.
You opened branches in Artsakh and Gyumri, so it is safe to assume that you are trying to expand nationwide, instead of focusing solely on Yerevan.
Yerevan has become a megalopolis, hasn’t it? One third of Armenia’s population lives in the capital, which is not right for a small country like ours.
Young people come to Yerevan to study because this is the only place in Armenia to offer high quality education. Afterwards,, they can’t find employment in their hometowns, so they move to Yerevan.
Our idea is that young people should not migrate from their hometowns just to find good jobs. You feel your best in the place where you were born and raised, but there must be opportunities for people in their hometowns. This is the notion underlying our idea for opening branches in Gyumri and in Artsakh. We might create more employment opportunities in other regions, because there are many talented youth out there.
Initially, software developers in the regions of Armenia used to lag behind in terms of competence due to lack of experience. In our practice, the developers in the regions of Armenia lived a rapid professional growth and today we see very little difference in the quality of work between our employees in our office in Yerevan and our branches in the regions.
The culture Synergy has instilled in its Artsakh and Gyumri branches is our employees’ dedication to their work and the understanding that the job they are doing is important and truly makes a difference.
Synergy particularly focuses on developing technological education, regularly organizing summer schools and courses. What is the significance of these initiatives?
Our summer schools are quite well-known and popular in the country. It is always difficult to select participants because there are so many applicants! We make job offers to the best graduates and the others leave with an increased knowledge and expertise.
Unfortunately, Armenia’s higher education institutions do not give the full scope of required tech knowledge and skills. The IT Summer School organized at Synergy complement the university courses. We are currently discussing with universities the prospects of joining our efforts. Our universities should provide substantial fundamental knowledge which the students can later use to advance AI, data science and other areas.
We have to find the right ways to engage the private sector in supporting education, because higher education cannot go too far without the support of the private sector. Currently, large-scale, significant software research and development work is achieved in private companies and the gained experience should be definitely shared with educational institutions.
What is your vision for the further development of Synergy?
I believe Synergy has found its place in the global IT industry. We are more involved in the public sector – we work with governments and international development organizations. There are solutions and sectors where we are considered a leading technology provider.
We aim to be a technology leader in such areas as monitoring and evaluation of public projects and expenditure, electronic case management systems that automate entire justice sectors, to mention some. For instance, if we have a budget of hundreds of millions which are spent on small-scale projects, we have to evaluate if the money is spent efficiently. It is very important to measure and evaluate the impact of used resources. This is an area, where we surpass many other companies and where we intend to keep our leading position.
Marie Taryan talked to Ashot Hovanesian
Photos by Emin Aristakesyan