Following 10 years as leader of the ICT Association of Hungary (IVSZ), Tamás Laufer, its president, stepped down in early August. His successor, Balázs Vinnai, who has vast amount of experience in founding, operating and investing in ICT companies, brings with him a different outlook that will further add to the scope of the organization. Secretary general Attila Molnár talks to the Budapest Business Journal about the expanding roles of the organization.
BBJ: How will the arrival of the new president shape the workings of IVSZ?
Attila Molnár: During the past 10 years, the continuity granted by the previous president, which I dare call the Golden Age of IVSZ, allowed for very a stable operation. We have evolved a lot and have transformed substantially. From an association of IT, telecommunication and electronics companies, in line with the way digitalization has changed, we have stepped out of this “trinity” and by now have turned into the sole organization representing the entire scale of digitalization for the interest of its members, promoting new technologies and improving competitiveness, both our members’ and the country’s.
The new president, Balázs Vinnai, has a solid track record in this sector; not only did he build remarkably successful startups, he also had the chance to follow the operation of these as an investor abroad. He is bringing a fresh viewpoint and approach with him and will probably incorporate some of it in the organization as well. With him, the representation of a younger generation of the market will also be more enhanced within IVSZ.
BBJ: During the past five or so years, IVSZ has been best known for devising a number of digital strategies. Will the market experience of the new leader shift the focus more towards the market?
AM: What IVSZ does is create demand, encourages, catalyzes a whole ecosystem. A digital strategy forms the frame for the digitalization of an entire sector. Once the government decides to spend on that specific sector, then the market will move more there as well. When we started to create digital education strategies, several new firms specialized in digital education were established. Recently, their work came to attention and became in demand when students were forced to study from home due to the coronavirus. But we do have a few other strategies that receive disproportionately less (media) attention. One is digital agriculture. Precision sowing, spraying or growing of plants has a myriad of benefits, from saving pesticides to improving crops; they are less prominent in the news, but these programs exist.
Regarding the focus on the market, what most of our members would be the happiest about is that we provide them businesses on a silver tray. IVSZ’s job is to do this not directly but to create the opportunities for them to find business by, say, organizing an event, creating a platform where they meet potential partners, etc. And I believe we have done well in this field. From a five-member organization in 2010, we vaulted into prominence in 2014 when we cooperated with the government in creating several strategies in the Digital Welfare program. Now we are 25 members, responsible for GINOP projects and several significant events on top of our standard activities.
Of these, three main areas have stood out: education (also as a response to acute labor shortage in the sector); industry digitalization and SME transition to industry 4.0 and sectoral digitization; and, last but not least, innovation. Once the main strategies had their responsible person at the ministry, the work at IVSZ changed. Every technological field has a member of board responsible for it and they more closely follow what is going on. So, to answer your question, I am not expecting a change; we will likely continue on this path and will probably add new fields (such as mobility and fintech) to the list.
BBJ: You talked about IVSZ’s role as an organization. How active are its members and how effective is the cooperation between the parties?
AM: Actually, when the virus started, most IVSZ members became very active. Everyone gave feedback and contributed with their own means to the solution of the problem. When working from home was introduced, the telecommunication networks in the country had to bear 1.5-2 times the normal load, something IT experts also had to deal with from home. We saw all our member taking actions, offering help, member work was buzzing. Over time, as the virus receded, they all returned to the issues of their companies, so it is our job as well to keep the activity levels up.
BBJ: How well did digital education function during the pandemic?
AM: IVSZ’s education workgroup have pointed out in several interviews since then the difference between digital and remote education. What we saw was the latter, normal education using digital tools. Digital education is about developing digital skills, where the tools, although they matter, of course, are not in the focus, nor is physical distance. In this field, we have a long way to go, from training teachers to establishing this type of education in schools, to actually training students. There are some good examples: at Székesfehérvár, for example, last year a dozen teachers were trained on a scholarship for a year, who then passed this knowledge to their fellow colleagues. This spring, the shift to digital education in their school was smooth. We have to invest in it, but if we do, it delivers results.