Many people believe that, as a result of the global economic recession and the bursting of the dotcom bubble, the IT industry is shrinking and its heyday has passed. In fact, the situation is not as pessimistic as it seems. As proven by the wide application of IT in both the business sector and the community at large, the industry in Hong Kong has been undergoing a process of evolution with steady growth. With existing advantages in resources and systems, plus its special connection with the mainland, Hong Kong's IT industry has great potential for further development.
"In times of economic downturn or increasing competition, it is a real disadvantage not to use information technology and computers," says Daniel Lai, president of the Hong Kong Computer Society. He explains that in an unfavourable environment, companies seek IT solutions that have business value and meet their specific business needs in order to raise productivity and strengthen competitiveness.
As a result, investment in computing as a whole has not decreased for most businesses and sectors and there is still demand for IT professionals in certain fields. Mr Lai says that while some IT people are reported unemployed, there are job opportunities for those who are competent and experienced in the newest technology, such as Microsoft.NET, Linux, J2EE, and Network Design.
"The technology is continuously renewed so if you don't keep yourself updated, you will easily be overtaken," says Mr Lai, who is a veteran IT professional with over 30 years experience.
It is noticeable that recently many companies have recruited IT staff at fairly low salaries. Just a few years ago, the public sector paid fresh graduates as much as $18,000 per month for a permanent position. That pay is now reduced to $10,000 per month on a contract basis. It is even lower in the private sector, with some monthly salaries decreasing from $13,000 to $7,000. Mr Lai explains that during the prime time, there was more demand than supply in the job market, as a result of the sudden rise of dotcom companies, which boosted salaries available for IT professionals.
"The dotcom bubble was not about technology. It was a speculative business model," says Mr Lai. Since it ended, the IT industry has consolidated but is still strong overall.
Now "B to B" has become "Back to Basics" and e-commerce is looking for more practical and competitive methods to give higher productivity and greater business value.
Hong Kong's IT industry has been developing for thirty years and IT applications have penetrated nearly all business sectors. It is a vital component in almost every industry. Despite the current poor economic climate, Mr Lai believes the situation has already hit bottom and he foresees a brighter future.
Having experienced a period of adjustment to fit the local business environment, Hong Kong's IT industry has become highly competitive and is well-poised for further development. It has a strong information infrastructure, high quality human resources with international exposure and an entrepreneurial spirit. Well-established legal and finance systems, a free trade environment and easy access to information all help.
Recent agreements like the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) with the Central Government in Beijing and the joint development of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) with Guangdong are considered as "two dosages of cardiac stimulant" that will help speed up economic recovery, providing great potential business opportunities for the IT industry.
The Hong Kong/Guangdong Co-operation Joint Conference is aiming to develop the greater PRD region into an international economic hub. Guangdong will focus on developing its manufacturing industries and building up a sound production infrastructure. Hong Kong will target developing itself into one of the world's most important service industry centres excelling in financial, business, transportation, logistics and value-added services.
"All these services require IT support. If Hong Kong can grasp these opportunities, it will be a great market," says Mr Lai.
Hong Kong already matches all the basic conditions for a successful information technology centre with excellent information infrastructure and the use of advanced IT technology. It is able to meet not only domestic needs but also those of regional and international markets. "The market in Hong Kong is too small, we should expand into the region, and beyond, to other places all over the world," says Mr Lai, adding that we have many IT products proven to be successful in Hong Kong and can introduce them with equal success in overseas markets.