Software Leadership Beckons Philippines

Article excerpt

Information technology (IT) is commonly seen as the province of advanced countries, in the same way that other advanced technologies since the start of the Industrial Revolution have been accessible only to the rich. In fact, the reverse is largely true and many developing countries are already taking advantage of the relative ease with which an IT industry may be established.

This is not to say that we can expect to see new IBMs, Microsofts or AT&Ts springing up in all corners. However, even they started from small beginnings, while a special quality of IT is that there is always room for the small player to make an impression and eventually grow.

Not many people would immediately associate the Philippines with high technology. Beset by natural disasters, reeling and demoralized from decades of misrule, corruption and abuse, Filipinos struggle from year to year to rebuild their economy.

Thousands work overseas as housemaids, nannies and drivers to support their families back home. In Hong Kong alone, more than 30,000 Filipinos, many of them highly qualified university graduates, work in menial jobs because the wages, though small, are many times higher than they could hope to earn at home--assuming they could actually find work. Others are found as far afield as the Middle East.

MAN ITS MARK IN IT

Yet for all its troubles, the Philippines is beginning to make its mark in the world of IT. It is helped by the fact that it takes very little capital to set up a small business to produce computer software, not only for local use, but for export as well. Moreover, it is not necessary to manufacture packages that will sell to a mass market in order to be successful. Smaller companies frequently specialize in niche software that sells in small quantities but at high prices bearing a large margin.

The Philippines has many other points in its favor, some of them giving it a potential edge over its neighbors. English is widely used and, as a result of centuries of colonization, first by Spain and then by the United States, before finally gaining its independence, the country is in many ways the most westernized of all the east Asian nations. Certainly, business is not without its frustrations, but on the whole westerners find there are fewer cultural barriers in their dealings with their Filipino counterparts than with other Asian nationalities.

2000 NEW COMPUTER GRADS

Although the software industry is beginning to make a mark, it still has a good way to go before it becomes a true power in the region. What matters is that the potential is there. On the face of things, the industry should be going quite well. Estimates put the number of people working in IT at around 30,000. Some 2,000 new computing graduates are now entering the market each year.

Many of these are at the lower end of qualification, but the top few hundred are regarded as very bright. …