The president and vice-president of the ICT Business Association, Pily Wong and Eric Mousette, answer some questions about what’s happening in Cambodia’s high-technology sector.
What issues is ICTBA working on now?
Pily Wong: The number one priority of the ICTBA is to boost the business in the industry. A lot of IT companies in Cambodia are not making enough money to expand their operations and increase their competitiveness. There is no synergy in the industry, everybody works on their own and fights with prices. The idea of the ICTBA is to assist companies to increase their revenues by linking them with potential customers and suppliers and by sharing business intelligence via the association’s platforms (monthly meetings, website, database, ICT Expo, business missions).
And in 2015, when all ASEAN countries are opening their borders for free circulation of goods and workers, we need to be ready to face tough competition. Without a strong industry, there are simply no jobs, and that’s why it is essential to promote business first. In that sense, we constantly think of new ways to strengthen our members’ business.
Eric Mousette: Human resource management is regularly reported as a sensitive point by local IT entrepreneurs. Issues include difficulties with finding fresh graduates with appropriate qualifications, mobilising appropriate budgets or resources for HR training and resisting aggressive recruitment campaigns from competitors. Rivalry is so intense that software developers with a few years – sometimes only a few months – of experience can be approached directly by a competitor, ie, without using the services of a recruitment agency, nor engaging in corporate-level negotiations.
Examples of companies losing staff for a difference of 5 percent in annual salary, or less, are common, not to mention globalisation spillovers, such as higher profit margin offshoring service providers launching salary-based attacks to attract talents. Such practices result in salary inflation across the entire IT sector, combined with higher turnovers.
ICTBA is currently working on a number of mitigation measures, the first of which will be to agree and adhere to an ethical charter among members. Such charter will encourage executive or manager-level negotiations around each case of direct recruitment, in parallel with the salary negotiation between the employee and the new employer.
In addition, IT is planning to publish a categorisation of IT roles along with experience and salary benchmarks. Mediation and unfair practice reporting may also be considered, where applicable.
Pily Wong: Many people would think that enforcing IPR would benefit the international software companies; I think we should dig deeper. Currently when the local software companies go to visit their customers to introduce their accounting software, the customers would say: “I’ve already bought Peachtree, QuickBooks for US$1.5 at Russian market. I don’t need your software.” So, there are too many lost opportunities for local software developers because pirated products are too easy to get and the people aren’t afraid of being caught for using illegal copies since there is no action at all. Government often say that there is no complaint, so does it mean that if there is no complaint, they don’t need to run proper surveillance or proper investigation?
How do you see the future of ICT in Cambodia?
Eric Mousette: ICTBA founders share an ambitious vision, namely: “Cambodia to become one Silicon Valley in the ASEAN.” What such a metaphor entails is gathering all necessary conditions for a thriving ICT Industry, namely: an Intellectual Property (IP) regulation that is conducive to local creativity; attractive entrepreneurial and investment conditions; an emphasis on ICT education; and a sincere interest by the Royal Government of Cambodia. We choose to adopt the “glass half full” attitude. Striking advances have already been noted on most fronts. An example is that of a 3D animation school that is due to open in the next few months, placing Cambodia in a leading position on that particular front.
For the ICTBA vision to realise, challenges will have to be overcome that require stakeholders to join hands and forces. We believe that is achievable within four years from now, in synchrony with the ASEAN economic integration calendar.
Pily Wong: I agree with what Eric says and to me: “The Future of ICT in Cambodia will be made by the ICT in Cambodia of today.” ICT is also the “better future for Cambodia” if there is a will from the government to pay a bit more attention in this industry. I want to see in 10 years that most of the people make their living through the strong added value industry using keyboards rather than still doing sewing in garment factories using sewing machines or doing farming. We have the chance to have a very young labour force, let’s not spoil their future, let’s be more ambitious and maximise the potential.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of Cambodia in the IT sector?
Eric Mousette: A first and significant strength of the Cambodian ICT sector is its demographics. Young brains are known to be more plastic, hence their natural inclination toward technology. Also, technology education assumes less peripheral knowledge from students, compared to social sciences, for example. Choices made now pertaining to Cambodian ICT education are determinants of future strengths and weaknesses of the ICT sector as a whole. A second strength of the ICT sector is the existence of a critical mass of highly capable local ICT enterprises, able to respond to the needs of households, family businesses, SMEs, and also corporations.
Current weaknesses are a reflection of Cambodia’s complex developmental agenda which implies skillful priority management. From a regulatory point of view, the local ICT sector certainly looks forward to a law on e-commerce, a regulation for software IP and a regulation for IP of digital artifacts. From an infrastructure point of view, availability and cost of electric power still take a toll on competitiveness of IT businesses, on both domestic and international markets. We are confident that all such barriers lower or fall in a near future.
What areas do you see as growing? Outsourcing? Data Centers?
Eric Mousette: Mobile applications, smartphones and tablets are highly likely to reshape the ICT landscape worldwide, and in Cambodia. Entertainment, social networks and gaming applications, let alone 3D animations, are often quoted as high potential too.
In parallel, it is fair to anticipate a shift in attitude from customers, increasingly regarding ICT as a public commodity, eg, internet connection and bandwidth; availability of connection in public spaces; cloud-based storage or hosting.
Pily Wong: Basically all these things are growing in ICT. The average growth is around 30 percent every year which shows great potential in the ICT industry for Cambodia.