The information and communications technology industry in Cambodia is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years. But challenges remain before the sector can reach its full potential. The Post’s Chan Muy Hong sat down with Ken Chanthan, the chairman of Cambodia’s IT Alliance, to get the bigger picture.
How would you describe the state of the industry?
Lately, the whole sector is improving. More companies are working to provide products and services, such as software, consulting, mobile and computer applications and outsourcing for customers outside of Cambodia. The industry is bringing more job opportunities for IT students here. There is a shortage of IT professionals at the moment. What is interesting here is that Cambodia is focusing on e-government now. And the government is planning to integrate systems throughout the country to improve data management as well as public services, which is a really good chance for companies in the industry. The market will expand as more young Cambodians who are able to read in English become eager to explore what technology has to offer.
What’s kept the sector from reaching its full potential?
The ICT market here is relatively small. Total revenue is around $100 million, low compared to other countries in the region. The smaller number of internet users makes the base costs higher. The other thing that matters here is that Cambodia still lacks policy and regulation. We need a law to protect common interests for the private sector.
Limited human resources and capacity also matters. Infrastructure here includes hardware, cables, and digital devices, which are largely limited to users in the city.
What local impact does the IT field have?
It helps increase productivity and the growth of the economy. For the private sector, not only does it increase productivity, it saves time and cuts cost. Equipped with the technology, professionals work faster, communicate better, have secure data management, and the whole process becomes more effective. It allows the private sector to move faster, meaning it will also leverage economic growth too.
What IT developments should we look out for in 2014?
The sector will enjoy high growth during the Asean Economic Community in 2015 as companies will be able to expand their consumer base in the region. I think Cambodia’s industry will be able to reach its full potential in 2020 when human resources, infrastructure and language ability are all improved. There is a prediction that there will be shortage of one million IT professionals around the globe, and the shortage will reach 10 million in the next decade.
Cambodia should consider investing in human resources, infrastructure, and services as part of diversifying its economy, rather than depending on full-of-risk sectors such as garment and footwear alone. To set up an IT firm costs 700 times less than setting up a garment factory. We just need people with skills in information and communications technology. The economy can grow faster.
What should be done to improve the ICT sector?
The good thing is that, in Cambodia, there are some talented and young IT professionals out there. They make software for smaller enterprises in the country. Most of them show good initiative, but lack capital. What we need now is support from the government and relevant institutions for young entrepreneurs to start up firms.
The government needs to develop a policy to build more incentives and support for this industry. In the case of Thailand, it wants to be an outstanding multimedia producer in the region by the next five years. How about Cambodia? I suggest investment from all stakeholders.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity