With the influx of globalisation, companies of every size must take advantage of new developments in technology to improve productivity. Such innovative breakthroughs can affect virtually all industries, whose development plays an important role in the long-term sustainable growth of Hong Kong's economy.
For the electronics industry, one particular aspect, the design and development of integrated circuits (IC) are the cornerstones. To help existing IC companies win over new investments, the IC Design & Development Support Centre of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) provides end-to-end services throughout the entire IC product development cycle, from initial design to production release.
There has been a remarkable increase in the number of IC companies in Hong Kong since HKSTP was established in May 2001, with the total rising from 20 to 147 up to February this year, of which 56 are in the design stream and the other 91 focus on systems. "It is encouraging to see the great expansion of the industry in the past few years, although this represents only a small portion of the whole picture," says SW Cheung, HKSTP's vice president, business development and technology support.
To illustrate the "bigger picture," he points out that in 2006, global IC business was worth US$250 billion, US$100 billion of it involved in China including Hong Kong.
Hong Kong's IC industry is favourably placed to move forward for several reasons, says Mr Cheung. "Firstly, we are able to obtain sophisticated laboratory equipment from the leaders in the field, particularly the US." While for some countries the acquisition of the most advanced technologies may become a political issue, Hong Kong has no problems about purchasing the very best hardware necessary to run state-of-the-art test and support centres.
"Secondly, our solid experience in the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights has given Hong Kong a good reputation internationally," Mr Cheung adds.
Since Hong Kong already has a complete and practical set of IP protection laws, international IC companies wishing to step into the big China market can be confident that their design data, their most important intellectual property, will be secure here.
Moreover, he points out, Hong Kong is an established international financial centre, a highly efficient logistics, transport and aviation hub, and a recognised legal centre in Asia — all necessary qualities for IC companies considering moving here. Further, by calling on the facilities of the IC Design & Development Support Centre, such companies can enjoy lower costs and save time when setting up operations in Hong Kong.
The main objective of the centre is to effectively support local firms as well as to attract foreign companies, says Mr Cheung. To achieve this, HK$3 billion was spent for tools and related equipment in the initial stage. The centre also outlays HK$30 million a year to hire the specialised team of engineers to maintain its technology support services.
Keeping the faith
As a government-funded organisation, HKSTP had the capital to build up the technical innovation infrastructure from the beginning, but the challenge has been to acquire the necessary pool of talent, especially locally, due to the nature of the industry. "Our work doesn't involve the quick rewards offered by investment in real estate or the stock exchange. Returns from IC investments take much longer. Generally, the first nine to 12 months of developing a new product are the 'hard time' period, when there is no profit for the investors," Mr Cheung stresses. "However, if the product is successful, the long-time rewards for those who kept their faith will be very substantial."
HKSTP is expanding its recruitment efforts to attract more talented engineers, and recently hired 80 at a job fair in Xian, China, after interviewing 1,200 applicants there. Similar recruiting exercises are held from time to time in different mainland venues.
Mr Cheung believes more should be done to educate parents as well as students about opportunities in the technology field. "Almost every month I go to local secondary schools to talk to students about such opportunities," he says. "Also, at HKSTP every weekend we stage an event titled 'Science Park Open to the Tech Public' that allows the general public to come here and see the interesting work we perform. Through such efforts we try to spread knowledge and understanding of what we do, and arouse the interest of secondary school students in choosing science subjects in their pre-university studies. It is not correct that a person must be a budding genius like Edison or Einstein to enter the field. All you need is a sound foundation in mathematics plus a logical mindset and good problem-solving techniques."