The 1997 Asian financial crisis greatly affected the performance of many Hong Kong businesses and the information technology sector was hit particularly hard. Some 10 years on, with the Hong Kong economy thriving once again, the IT industry has also bounced back.
"There has been an enormous transformation in our industry," says Samson Tam, chairman, information technology division, the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE). "With the booming of Hong Kong's economy, the numerous opportunities posed by China's rapid development and the influx of globalisation, the IT field has moved forward expeditiously to acclimatise to the trend."
According to Dr Tam, who is also chairman of Group Sense (International) Limited, IT has become an important component in both the public and private sectors as they depend on modern technologies to manage and administer their daily operations. "The finance, retail and logistics industries are the top three in Hong Kong that have experienced rapid growth in the recent years. They have shown the biggest demand for engineering talents," he explains.
Dr Tam believes that IT professionals will play a predominant role in sustaining Hong Kong's position as an international financial centre. "As the demand and the expectations of customers sharpen, financial institutions call upon IT engineers for assistance in the development of innovative banking products, strategic planning for their business and creation of software programmes to perform accurate calculations of their revenues," he says.
He predicts that IT will become key to preparing the retail and logistics industries for the many opportunities coming their way. "It is vital that these industries provide accurate and efficient services for their clients. Logistics companies need to ensure that goods are delivered in the most cost-effective and efficient way. The retail industry requires software that will enhance its capabilities and accuracy when it comes to processing customers' orders and managing their inventories," Dr Tam notes. "IT is the key tool for such improvements."
As IT professionals have become more involved in the various industries in Hong Kong, their roles and functions have been reconstructed. "Previously, our profession revolved mainly around technical duties, such as software programming, and more administrative responsibilities," Dr Tam says. "As IT became indispensable in business developments and strategic planning, the engineers' call of duty became more proactive, acting also as communicators between clients and companies. It is essential that we become knowledgeable not only about the products we devise but also about our customers' needs. It is our obligation to provide professional consultations for our clients."
For this reason, communication skills are essential for IT engineers who anticipate succeeding in their fields. "Everyday, we encounter a dynamic pool of people. They range from our own colleagues, to clients from different cultures and backgrounds. Without effective communication, projects cannot be smoothly carried out," Dr Tam remarks. "Sales and customer service skills are also incorporated into our job nature. Through relationship-building with clients, we can gain a more in-depth understanding of their needs and ultimately be able to provide them with the products and services they desire."
With Asian economies advancing in full volume, opportunities abound for IT engineers not only in Hong Kong but also in many other locations. "Our professionals will likely find themselves more engaged in the building of IT infrastructures for companies based in mainland China," Dr Tam says. "Several large projects require the participation of IT engineers and we expect there will be more in the future. However, opportunities are not only limited to China, with countries that have mature economies, such as Korea and Japan, also boosting their economies into another level."
Nevertheless, IT engineers do face challenges. "During the economic crisis in 1997, IT engineers became sceptical with the uncertainties of the industry's prospects. Many actually joined other industries. Today, even with our economy flourishing, we still find our talents being outsourced by other sectors," Dr Tam says, adding that recruiting and retaining engineering talents will therefore continue to be a major issue for the industry.
On the positive side, however, there is much evidence that Hong Kong IT engineering professionals will maintain their advantages over their mainland counterparts. "It is true that the engineering profession in both Hong Kong and China are progressing at almost the same pace. However, China shows a great demand on senior IT engineers who have the capabilities to take on major projects. Hong Kong's IT engineers, on the other hand, have the relevant experience, leadership skills, management knowledge and most importantly, an international business network. It will still take some time for engineers in China to acquire all of that," concludes Dr Tam.