The country manager for Microsoft in Cambodia, Pily Wong says Cambodians need to embrace technology to drive the economy forward.
“The challenge for Cambodia is to fully enter the digital age,” said Wong, who also serves as the president of the ICT Business Assocation (ICTBA).
“To me and the association we see high technology, in addition to entrepreneurship, as the way out from poverty.”
Wong and Microsoft were among the sponsors of the Startup Weekend Cambodia event at Yellow Tower the weekend before last.
“Cambodia started its development about 15 or 20 years ago and because of the lack of infrastructure, we had to start with basic industries such as garments and tourism. Those are low value-added industries, and it is very labour intensive,” Wong said.
“Now things have changed a lot and a lot of people have invested in infrastructure for high tech. We have tens of thousands of fibre optics around the country and good internet backbones.”
Wong said the price of internet services as well as computers keep dropping, which makes getting involved in high technology industries easier all the time for students and first-time users.
“Cambodia has gone through quite a number of steps. Now, lots of people have iPhones and most students have access to the internet via an internet café or their own subscription. The stage is more or less set for Cambodia to take a big step into the digital age,” he said.
For Wong, education is the main challenge along with goodwill from the government.
Wong said Cambodian people needed to work on creating a Khmer online universe, with all the rich linguistic and cultural content, otherwise the culture faced “digital colonization” in which other, stronger high tech cultures could overwhelm Cambodia.
“Since last year, Sabay and some mobile operators have put a lot of effort into this. Unfortunately it is not followed by many people or many companies. We need more content; otherwise we will just lose our culture. Language is part of it and so are traditions and social behavior.”
Wong said he hoped the cost of electricity would come down by whatever means. He also said the respect of intellectual property should receive more attention in Cambodia.
“We have 95 per cent of rate piracy. A 2008 study by the Business Software Alliance estimates that every year $41 million dollars lost for the software industry because of piracy. Piracy in general in Cambodia especially doesn’t only affect multi-nationals, but also the local industry,” Wong said.
Feedback from local vendors indicates an attitude of why should they pay US$1,000 or $2,000 for something they can get for $2 as a pirated copy for HR or payroll or point of sales.
Wong says piracy has the effect of retarding innovation because people won’t get rewarded for their work that everybody just copies.
“A lot of young creators don’t feel rewarded for their innovation for their work. That’s why we don’t have proper content and innovation in this country.”
Wong said Microsoft had very good prices on software for schools, NGOs and other charity organizations.
“For Microsoft student partners, we pick groups of students from different schools and we give them all software for free. We give them online training, and for startup companies we have a program called BizSpark, and they can enjoy two or three years of free software to kick start their projects.”
BizSpark includes Windows Asia, in which users get free access to powerful servers.
“They don’t need to buy their own server and save costs on their hardware as well.”
Wong said Windows 8 would be released soon.
“I see all these young Cambodians who are in their most active age from 18 to 40 years old. They are wasting their youth in the garment factories. In Cambodia we a young population and we are wasting their youth in labour intensive industries with low added value. We should help them to plan for a better future; a better tomorrow. I think starting some programs. Initiative taking these people to the digital economy would be so much better. I don’t want to see those people still using sewing machines. I want to see them using keyboards,” Wong said.
Regarding Microsoft’s entry into the personal computer hardware business with the Microsoft Surface, undoubtedly owing to huge market share loss owing to the wild success of Apple products including the iPad, Wong said Microsoft wanted to enter that market to avoid lagging behind.
“A lot of people are surprised why Microsoft is going to PC business, and think it will upset Acer, HP, and other PC manufacturers. I think for us we needed to do it. iPad is a fantastic product and it created a new paradigm. Of course at Microsoft we don’t want to stay behind and we want to enter that market. iPad is a good product, and I think we need to also put our heart and soul into competitive product.
We are still strategizing on how to sell it, not compromising on quality. It comes with Windows 8 and we are still strategizing how to sell them,” he said, adding that the Microsoft Surface would not be available for another six months.