There was a time when Bulgaria was seen as the Silicon Valley of the Eastern Bloc, but, since the opening up of Eastern Europe, the country has fallen on hard times with many of its highly-skilled IT personnel having left the country or joined the ranks of the unemployed. It was to address these issues […]
There was a time when Bulgaria was seen as the Silicon Valley of the Eastern Bloc, but, since the opening up of Eastern Europe, the country has fallen on hard times with many of its highly-skilled IT personnel having left the country or joined the ranks of the unemployed. It was to address these issues that, backed by a $3m investment from international financier and philanthropist George Soros, the Bulgarian government conceived the idea of Rila Software.
Speaking at the UK launch of the Bulgarian ‘offshore’ software development company last week, chief executive Christopher Hansen said the move would mirror the successes seen in the Indian offshore market. He pointed to a pool of around 7,000 highly-skilled programmers with proficiencies in English, French and German as being a powerful magnet for investment. And the new company has friends in high places. In addition to Soros, there’s an ex-prime minister of Ireland, Garret Fitzgerald, and several vice chairman and vice presidents of large US corporations sitting on the new company’s board.
Rila currently employs 400 programmers but the fledgling company is barely a year old and there is no significant revenue stream to speak of yet. The target market for the new setup is the blue chip corporate sector. Initially, Hansen reckons the early years will involve a lot of programmer staffing contracts to IT services companies. Already the company has received praise from IBM for whom it now retains a pool of developers. Rila has also completed contracts for software vendor Paragon, financial services company AST Stock Plan, and online news agency NewsReal.
Rila Software has five core offerings in e-commerce, telecom, Oracle, Microsoft and IBM development. In the main, Rila’s Y2K work involves upgrading Oracle systems rather than legacy Cobol conversion. As such, the company is less exposed than many of its Indian rivals in terms of the currency of programmer skills and may well be better placed to convert Y2K contracts into lucrative e-commerce or even Euro conversion work. In e-commerce, Rila’s specialty is the custom design of web sites, product databases, online shopping applications, customer relationship programs, and online order processing and fulfillment systems. It also offers internet protocol-based network design services. Its Oracle division provides teams of certified Oracle Professional Developers and Oracle Professional Database Administrators who can help develop custom database applications and scalable, distributed web-based applications, it claims.
Many of Rila’s developers were expert IBM cloners for the COMECON (Soviet) technology industry and the Russian space program. Today, the company draws on this knowledge to provide custom applications utilizing OS/2, OS/400, AIX, or OS/390 operating systems. Its Microsoft practice provides custom software development, web-enabled applications migration and upgrade services using the full range of Microsoft tools and Microsoft’s Distributed Network Architecture. Rila Software’s Telecommunications Group sells services around call center operations, voice over IP, voice over LAN, and database access over high-speed packet/frame relay networks.
Rila will have to find ways of becoming price competitive with its Indian rivals, though Bulgarian programmers are not as cheap as their Indian counterparts. To date the bulk of investment in Rila has gone into setting up a state-of-the-art development center in Sofia. Rila facilities are connected directly to Bulgaria’s IBM-installed fiber optic ATM network, a setup that’s said to be particularly well-suited to providing high-speed data and voice communications over long distances.