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IT / Telecom

Sprinting to success


Samson Tam, chairman, Group Sense (International) Limited

Extensive research and development lies behind every new consumer product that reaches our stores

Instead of lowering their prices, Hong Kong electronics manufacturers are now enhancing their competitiveness by shortening the product development process. In addition, as outsourcing has become a global trend, the work pattern has changed from merely following clients' instructions to actively participating in product design.

Time is therefore as significant as design in manufacturing electronic consumer products, according to Samson Tam, chairman of Group Sense (International) Limited (GSL). Mr Tam says the product development cycle has been shortened from six to eight months to four to six months, adding that he has faith that Hong Kong can stay competitive because competing with time is "what Hong Kong people are good at".

In addition, the expected post-SARS recession has not occurred and the industry outlook is positive. Indeed, Mr Tam notes that most local electronics companies, especially listed companies, received many purchase orders in the past six months. Over the next two to three years, he believes that the Pearl River Delta will continue to see steady growth of about 20 percent a year, as the region has already become the most important production base in the world. The foreseeable competition will, he says, be from the Changjiang region, as many Taiwan and international investors have set up operations in Suzhou.

Last year, GSL spent HK$6.1 million on research and development (R&D) and has already spent HK$4.4 million for the first half of this year. Mr Tam says the estimated increase of investment in R&D will be 20 to 30 percent, with resources mainly allocated to new products with shorter product cycles, such as smart phones. A staff increase of 10 to 20 percent will also be required to build a team of 100 R&D specialists.

Product design and software are equally important in this field. The team consists of engineers and project managers, most of whom work on software as this determines the electronic products' success. However, GSL is also continuing to hire software quality control staff.


The industry outlook is positive

Senior engineers pick the most updated technology from the international market - such as Flash, MPEG-4, MP3 and different operating systems for applications in products - while project managers monitor the manufacturing progress, control quality and handle budgeting.

Experienced telecommunications engineers are, however, hard to find. Mr Tam says that, although the demand for those familiar with radio frequency and communication protocols is increasing, the supply remains severely limited. For this reason, GSL occasionally sends its engineers to its Singapore-based R&D centre to exchange technological know-how. However, Mr Tam hopes that local universities will consider organising sandwich courses to satisfy demand.

Since R&D work requires experience, engineers should have at least two to three years' experience, with higher expectations set for senior positions. Those with over five years' experience are usually more stable, according to Mr Tam, who prefers not to see new recruits leaving the company shortly after acquiring knowledge.

Issuing share options is an efficient motivation tool - and one very commonly used by information technology companies. Mr Tam regards this as a win-win deal, because staff members have an incentive to grow with the company and gain more - on top of their salaries. However, as Hong Kong and mainland engineers and project managers' salaries are inching closer, another option is to work in mainland China. Currently, says Mr Tam, Hong Kong candidates' stronger marketing sense is enabling them to occupy leading positions.



Taken from Career Times 05 March 2004

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