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SEARCC Rapport Dinner

Mr Michael Yap, Chief Executive, National Computer Board Speech - SEARCC Rapport Dinner

Mr Michael Yap, Chief Executive, National Computer Board
Speech - SEARCC Rapport Dinner
Singapore, 11 September 1999

Mr Robert Iau, Secretary-General, SEARCC,
Mr Alex Siow, President, SCS,
Friends, Ladies & Gentlemen,
Good evening.

1. I am indeed delighted to share this evening with you. I am especially happy that all the key national computer societies are represented here, as well as representatives of the SEARCC Regional Interest Group on Professional Standards. I understand that you are here on a technical briefing session sponsored by the Centre for International Cooperation and Computerisation (CICC) of Japan and supported by the National Computer Board (NCB). Once again, we extend our warmest welcome to you to Singapore, and trust that you have had a fruitful series of deliberations so far.

The Digital Revolution: A Fundamental Revolution

2. In the beginning, the personal computer and the Internet have driven much of the changes in the way we do things and conduct businesses. The rapid explosion of the Net has transformed the way businesses and nations operate and compete. It goes beyond extending market reach and lowering operating costs - it is causing a fundamental shift in the way businesses are conducted.

3. The pace of transformation is quickening. In many ways, we are in the eye of the "Digital Revolution hurricane". They say that it is calm in the eye of a hurricane. This "Digital Revolution hurricane" is brought about by the convergence of information, telecommunications, broadcasting, consumer electronics, and multimedia technologies. We may no longer refer to IT and telecommunications as distinct concepts, but as a dynamic industry of ICT-or Information Communications Technology. We as an industry have to rethink our businesses.

4. The digital revolution is affecting businesses and lifestyles fundamentally. This change will be impactful and thorough. For example, the "Emerging Digital Economy II" Report, published by the U.S. Department of Commerce in June 1999, highlighted that private analysts had originally forecasted the value of Internet retailing to be US$7 billion in 2000. This prediction was surpassed by nearly 50% in 1998. Last year, forecasters tripled their previous estimates of the near-term growth expected in business-to-business electronic commerce.

5. The report also indicated that the U.S. ICT sector contributed 24% to the GDP growth in 1998, up from 16% in 1993. This is an impressive achievement, both in terms of the size of the ICT sector and the rate of growth. This is the magnitude and pace of change that we have to get accustomed to.

6. While we have been urging other sectors to adopt ICT and transform their businesses, we as the ICT sector might be in need of a major transformation ourselves, and possibly to reinvent our traditional mode of operation.

7. Traditionally, we are a nett user of IT. Our industry sector is largely involved in sales and marketing. Some of us are beginning to do software development and system integration, with some nascent of product development. However, just when we are catching up, the growth of the Internet and convergence seem to push us further behind. We are trying hard to keep up with the rapid pace of development as seen in the U.S. Many of the top e-companies, such as Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, e*Trade, did not even exist five years ago. Yet today, many of them have very significant market capitalisations, exceeding that of all of Singapore's local banks combined. Asia has yet to produce such brand names in the ICT sector. With the opportunities offered by the new Net-based economy, we believe that there is tremendous potential for growth in the ICT sector. Collectively, our countries in the ASEAN region should aim to close this gap with the advanced economies in the west.

Role of Professional Communities

8. In this regard, I would like to see how, and particularly encourage regional professional communities like the SEARCC to think about how we can contribute to hasten the pace of development of the ICT sector within the region. I am informed that SEARCC is a family and behaves very much like one. You have a major role to play in leading the region's efforts towards a world-class ICT sector.

9. In particular, SEARCC, as a regionally-linked community of IT professionals and national computer societies, can contribute greatly to creating the "buzz" that is essential if ASEAN, collectively as a region, is to become a global hub of ICT activities. Let me explain what I mean by "buzz", and why we need it.

What Is Buzz and Why Is It Necessary

10. "Buzz" is a concentration of talent, activity, debate, research and experimentation about a particular topic. It is about the velocity and volume with which quality information and ideas are being shared and exchanged, where intellectual capital, original thoughts, ideas and concepts are being generated. This exchange is felt not only in one small area, but will cross-fertilise and impact the whole value chain. In summary, "buzz" is the presence of a pulsating excitement in the air about the topic, and a spirit of experimentation. Such a "buzz" in the ICT sector is essential if we as a region are to become a hub of ICT activities.

11. For example, in the US, e-commerce has taken off in a big way. It has a large, more ready and relatively homogenous market. These factors have played a big part in allowing companies to experiment with various Internet business models. Significantly, the American experience in e-commerce has been characterised by the commitment of major resources in early stages to capture market share. Further, companies adapt their strategies quickly and constantly to create new value propositions and build mission critical capabilities. These characteristics can also be attributed to the "buzz" factor generated by the media, vendors and participants.

12. The Asian market, however, is fragmented by language, geography, customs and regulatory systems. As a result, it is more difficult to execute e-commerce in a pan-Asian way than in the US. While business-to-consumer preceded business-to-business e-commerce in the US, the situation in Asia might be the reverse. Further, lifestyle differences such as the widespread use of handheld devices including mobile phones, pagers and organisers mean that the Internet could take off more readily through such devices rather than a traditional PC interface.

13. There are fundamental differences between the US and Asian paths of e-commerce and e-business development. This means that there are opportunities to be the first mover with a business model that overcomes or even exploits the nature of the Asian markets.

14. So it is really important to create a buzz, a lively and interactive exchange, among the business and professional community - engineers, academia, entrepreneurs, managers, investors, lawyers and accountants - to regularly share ideas and market information, and experiment with starting new business. We need debate among business leaders, managers and researchers on key business concepts in e-commerce, such as active management, psychological re-orientation, and self-cannibalization, to hasten the pace of ICT literacy and also overcome fear and skepticism.

15. This exchange need not stop within national boundaries. We should extend the community to include our Asian counterparts. To discover pan-Asian Internet business, we need first to allow for easy meeting and partnerships of Asian entrepreneurs who understand the individual Asian markets better and can leverage on their own local networks for market penetration. The key to a pan-Asian e-commerce market strategy could lie in a concentration of Asian techno-entrepreneurs that share market information, create the network-effect amongst Asian cities and leverage on Asian business networks and competitive advantages.

16. We need to keep our "buzz" going. The industry must take the lead to bring about the active sharing and exchange of ideas. I believe that this is a role that members of SEARCC are well placed to fulfill. One of the strategies might be to attract the "new wave" IT firms to participate in our associations and help establish platforms to facilitate the exchange of ideas and concepts.

ICT Manpower Development

17. Another important role that SEARCC can play is in the development of manpower for the ICT sector. The sector can only be as strong as the people in it. The region has invested in various components of the hard infrastructure to support the new Net economy. Just as important is an understanding and continual development of the soft infrastructure, or the enormous people resources available in the region. This is the strength of the region. The potential to take a position in the global market in technological products and services is showing success in India. There is a need to look further down the road. It is important to sustain this progress through continual development and upgrading of the ICT manpower. One area that we are exploring is the establishment of international and regional certification programmes for IT project managers, to provide our IT professionals with greater recognition and more importantly, awareness for continual training.

18. I am very pleased that the SEARCC Regional Interest Group on Professional Standards has decided to undertake a survey to profile the needs and quality of ICT manpower. This is the first ever survey to be carried out on a region-wide basis. I congratulate all the 9 SEARCC member countries that are participating in the survey for their bold initiative. I am also happy that Singapore has been able to share its experiences and methodology in the implementation of the survey. This is a small contribution from us towards the advancement of the ICT sector of the region. This is only the first step. We need to put our heads to together to see how we can collectively bring up the quality of our manpower and keep them in sync with the latest developments in the dynamic e-world. I now take great pleasure in declaring the SRIG-PS Regional ICT Manpower Survey officially launched. I wish you all success.

Have a pleasant evening. Thank you.