Wednesday, September 13, 2006

HKICC Panel on ICT Industry

This afternoon, I served as the moderator for the panel on "ICT Industry" in the Hong Kong International Computer Conference 2006 of the Hong Kong Computer Society. Our excellent lineup included:

Dr. Kenji KURATA, Professor, Public Policy School, Hokkaido University, Japan
Mr. Vincent CHAN, Managing Director - North Asia, JAFCO Asia
Mr. Michael GAZELEY, Managing Director, Network Box Corporation
Ir. LEE Wan-lik, Managing Director, Azeus Systems Limited
Mr. York MOK, Chief Operating Officer, New World Telecommunications Limited

Dr Kurata spent twenty years in MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry, now METI, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) of the Japanese government, and is extremely knowledgeable on public policy for ICT. In his presentation where he summarized the evolution of Japan's ICT support policies, the Japanese government is now moving toward building an environment condusive for total community adoption for ICT, rather than targeting to drive the development of specific technologies or product areas.

Vincent is the immediate past president of the Hong Kong Venture Capital Association, and he is virtually "Mr VC" in Hong Kong. (Well, indeed, VC is his name!) His message from the investors' viewpoint for the ICT industry is that the focus is definitely in China and India (with India getting even higher valuation than China now). But, for Hong Kong and our ICT professionals here, the way to go is to focus on what we know and do best, and translate that into a business model in China that we can build scale and prove that we can execute. This is still what Hong Kong excels -- in our people.

Our panelists from the industry responded with their views on the obstacles they faced and where they saw the industry going. Michael has built a company with awards-winning security products that is still proudly Hong Kong based with operations in 15 countries -- but adoption within Hong Kong including from the government sector is just so much more disappointing than even elsewhere. Is it because we still prefer buying foreign imports no matter what? To me, this sounds like another evidence of why we must urgently build Hong Kong's brand in ICT excellence.

Wan Lik's company is the first in Hong Kong to obtain CMM Level 5 certification. His company also has to be listed in Singapore before Asian customers no longer question him about the commitment of his company in development. Yet another one biting the bullet in fighting for an image of Hong Kong ICT excellence. York's company is of course a subsidiary of the New World group, and of course the biggest problem he faces now is the high competition in telecoms. While this is somewhat inevitable and somehow a side effect of deregulation, something must be done to create a better market environment that is more suitable for operators and service or content providers to collaborate to educate users and develop new services and markets. Otherwise, there are reasons to believe that the market for content and applications for certain sectors, for example, wireless and mobile services, is no longer functioning or competition has "failed" -- right?

Not that we have found answers, but I would make two observations if I have to. First, government policy should be refocused to simply provide the incentives to push for the highest level of adoption as possible in all major public applications of ICT, from healthcare to transportation, and that way the market forces can come into play by reacting to the opportunities created. Second, our industry must come together and play a role in coming up with our development strategy -- rather than purely relying on the government to make one up, as they simply would not know how -- and push for its adoption. This would probably be most ideal for our "IT Matters for Hong Kong" coalition to take up.


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