Finding the sacred cows and sacrificial lambs

In the process of building a competitive environment for doing business in Singapore, the IT industry has to find out what are the sacred cows and what are the sacrificial lambs.

For instance, there is a need for IT players to better understand topics such as contracts and intellectual property rights (IPR), said Saw Ken Wye, chairman of the Singapore IT Federation (SiTF). Saw was speaking to Computerworld Singapore in the run-up to iX 2004.

The SiTF flagship event is a regional infocomm conference that focuses on business and management issues surrounding the adoption of IT for business advantage. It will cover some of the hottest topics in business computing, such as the continuing relevance of IT, e-government , outsourcing, open source and enterprise applications such as Web services and wireless technologies.

Elaborating on contractual concerns facing IT players, Saw brought up the issue of unlimited liability. Many players here are often frightened off by the clause in government contracts, and do not renegotiate the terms of the contract, he said. "They must know how to handle it. It's an educational process."

Another key area which concerns the IT industry is that of intellectual property rights (IPR).

In what Saw described as SiTF's "biggest breakthrough", it was announced last year that companies contracted for new government IT projects would own their intellectual property from Jan. 1 this year.

SiTF's position is that the government should enjoy a wide, royalty-free license to use the intellectual property produced by the IT company for the contract, while allowing the supplier to retain ownership over the IP and thus allowing the supplier the freedom to commercialize it and grow.

The government's new stand marked the culmination of more than five years of lobbying by the SiTF. While Saw acknowledged that the government was in a Catch-22 situation -- for example, it had to decide on the value it should place on the IP, and at the same time protect its rights of use -- he said the earlier IP regulations meant that suppliers took away from government projects the experience and little else.

Moving on to a more macro perspective of the IT industry, Saw said the future for Singapore lay in being a "trusted hub", to tap on opportunities in outsourcing and BPO (business process outsourcing).

"Cost is one factor when companies outsource," he acknowledged. "But trust is a bigger thing, and trust is about legislation, the people and the culture."

If you look at the growing sophistication of the countries around us, there is less of the feeling that we should be a software center per se. We do not have enough of a talent pool, he said.

Saw acknowledged that Singapore has lost some of its edge in regional IT leadership. Eight years ago, it boasted of the world's first nationwide broadband network but today, when people talk about broadband, they think of Korea.

Some of this has been an inevitable consequence of Singapore's size and scale. "That is Singapore's blessing and its curse. It's hard to reach critical mass. There is no community to form."

Pragmatism, then, has to be the order of the day. "Where can we make the money? There is some to be made in Singapore, but the growth is elsewhere," he said.

It was with the aim of tapping opportunities elsewhere that SiTF recently brought together companies to form clusters in areas where Singapore was strong in, such as logistics, transport, healthcare and financial services, to tackle overseas markets.

Last month, SiTF and the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) jointly set up the Singapore Solutions Center in Shanghai to help Singapore infocomm companies tap opportunities in the China market.

The Singapore Solutions Center will serve as a one-stop center for China companies and agencies that wish to find out more about the technologies, products and services that Singapore infocomm companies can offer.

It will also help to identify partnership opportunities for the companies of both countries to work together to deploy innovative IT solutions to meet the growing needs of the China market.

"We cannot neglect China as a market," said Saw.

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