Today, more companies than ever are looking to information technology (IT) to achieve diverse business goals, save costs and improve productivity. As a result, technology suppliers are doing everything they can to adapt to the needs of business. They are becoming solution and service providers aiming to resolve business problems and increase profitability for their customers.
There is growing momentum towards the use of enterprise solutions that can integrate technology with business processes, people and data, according to Arics Poon, managing director of Oracle in Hong Kong and South China. He believes that the seamless integration of technology with business services can help streamline operations, reduce costs, enhance customer satisfaction and create revenues.
"Managing the transformation from being technology-driven to business-oriented is a major challenge for IT professionals, who now have to serve as both technical and business consultants," says Mr Poon.
As the world's largest enterprise software company, Oracle offers a variety of business solutions from database management to enterprise resources planning, supply chain management and customer relationship management. Most importantly, these solutions must tie in with the business process of a company.
"Among the various business applications, security solutions is also a fast-growing product category," explains Mr Poon. "It is driven mainly by increasing security threats such as virus attacks and network intrusion."
From a technical point of view, he expects increasing demand for business applications running on the Linux platform which has cost advantages.
IT professionals serve as both technical and business
After the recent economic downturn, the IT market is expected to revive in 2004. Mr Poon predicts that, "Small and medium-sized businesses will see robust growth as business solutions are getting more affordable, flexible and easier to implement. Also, large corporations will continue to replace their obsolete proprietary systems with standard-based products."
According to market research firm International Data Corporation, the Asia Pacific IT market (excluding Japan) will grow by eleven percent to US$88 billion in 2004. Over half of the region's incremental IT market revenue will come from China, which is expected to grow 18 percent.
Oracle presently divides the China market into three strategic regions: Northern, Central and South China with Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong offices as headquarters of the respective areas. In terms of industries, they focus on six major sectors - telecommunications, banking and finance, government and public services, process manufacturing, transportation and discrete manufacturing (assembly of complex components).
In order to benefit from the massive business opportunities in mainland China, Oracle plans more recruitment. This year, they are extending their China Graduate Development Programme to cover key universities in Hong Kong. This trainee programme began last year with 33 graduates from top mainland institutions - Tsinghua University, Peking University and Shanghai Jiaotong University. Trainees undergo one year's training with actual work assignments in Oracle China's industry, pre-sales, consulting services and support services teams.
Graduates from the different locations have their own strengths and weaknesses, says Mr Poon, who thinks Hong Kong graduates are more open and worldly. "They tend to have broader general knowledge and better skills but are not as attentive to detail," he says. Mainland graduates, in contrast, are more patient and diligent, have a better understanding of mainland culture but are more conservative, he continues.
With the growing importance of the mainland in the global economy, IT professionals should be prepared for frequent travel and need a good command of Putonghua and to be adaptable.
The variety of opportunities in the IT industry give scope for anyone to develop a career based on their own interests and competency. In Oracle, for example, an IT professional can choose from one of at least four different paths including pre-sales, consulting, support services and research. Internal transfers between different departments are also possible.
While there are different requirements for specific positions, IT professionals need certain essential qualities. Firstly, they require good communication skills, says Mr Poon. "It is all about teamwork in the IT industry. We need to work closely with people to achieve our common goals."
Continuous learning is the key to maintaining competitiveness and making progress. Oracle expects employees to undertake training courses every year making use of abundant online resources or traditional classroom teaching. Training may cover technical and product subjects, business practices or the development of soft skills such as decision-making, time management and communications.