With the announcement that it is to be the first provider of photocopiers to the Soviet Union general public, Rank Xerox (UK) is claiming to be at the forefront of trade between the Eastern Bloc and UK computer industry. The company’s Eastern Export Operations division has formulated a joint venture with Vnesghtorgizdat, the international division of the Soviet State publishing organisation; under the agreement, Rank Xerox and Vnesghtorgizdat will open, equip and train staff for what Rank Xerox describes as the USSR’s first High Street Copy Shops, to be called Reprocentres. They will operate in Moscow by the end of the 1988, and subsequently in other major Soviet cities. Supplementing Rank Xerox’s existing 20,000 copiers in the USSR, the Reprocentres will provide copy services for the foreign business community in Moscow, payable in convertible currency, and for Soviet citizens, payable in roubles. The development is a real example of glasnost in action: under the Brezhnev regime, copiers were regarded as little printing presses for producing subversive tracts.
ICL head start In terms of trade with the Soviets, ICL may have something of a head start among UK – and indeed Western – companies, having had a Moscow office for over two decades; ICL claims its orders from the Eastern Bloc have risen by 50% in the last 12 months, with demand predominantly for its ME29s business computers and Quattro personal computers. In addition, it has recently doubled its permanant Moscow staff to four. ICL has also won a contract to supply ME29s, minis and Quattros to CAP Group, which has won a UKP6m deal to supply integrated computer management systems to Stockport, Greater Manchester-based Simon Carves – part of Simon Engineering Group – which itself has that UKP260m contract to build a programmable controllers factory in Yerevan, Armenia. However, ICL sees no prospect of manufacturing in the Soviet Union, despite setting up a joint manufacturing venture for ME29s, out of production in the West, in Poland in August (CI No 986). Meanwhile, Erskine House’s Quest Group hopes to build on UKP20m of annual Soviet business for its computer systems. Quest, which also distributes a small number of Apricot 10MHz 286 machines in the Comecon countries, sees particular potential for Western CAD/CAM hardware suppliers. It has been conscious of Soviet ambitions for collaborative deals with Western firms – rather than merely importing, the Soviets are seeking assistance in manufacturing and assembling their own hardware and peripherals. Other areas of particular Soviet interest include computer management and methodologies, as well as a general extension of computer technology from financial to manufacturing applications. Although the Soviet Union has developed the technology to build its own supercomputers, Quest’s financial manager Tony Ebel forecasts one major stumbling block for increased technological development in the Soviet Union – that Soviet production, unlike the West’s, is not based on a system of subcontract. Other UK firms with joint ventures agred in the Soviet Union include Gerald Computers, with the State Committee for Printing and Publishing for software production, and Videlcom with the Ministry for Electrotechnical Industry for Gamma camera and Tomagraph scanner development.