Chapter 5
How implement a 'national program' for IT?
The policy platform from which to develop

On August 4, 1993, Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet signed Government Resolution No. 49/CP "on the development of the information t echnology in the country during the 1990's". This Resolution contains Vie tnam's first comprehensive program for information technology (IT) involvin g not only the government at the central and provincial levels, but also indu strial firms, scientific and technological institutions, educational establishments, etc. It is a program placed in the new economic context, where the centra l government agencies will have to interact with other socio-economic forces to reach a national goal. "Enterprises in all sectors are encouraged and pro vided with a favorable environment to organize and implement projects to computerize their business and services." Projects using modern IT in the he alth services and, even, in the cultural life of the country "will be implemented soon".

Six months later, in early 1994, the program was promulga ted as the general conceptual model to be used in cross-sectoral promotio n of other fields of technology as well.

The national IT program emphasizes six fields of IT dev elopment or areas of IT applications:

FE IT for management of the government: Like in the private se ctor, Vietnamese decision-makers in the public sector have already begun using IT for the improve- ment of the daily administration and for short- and medium-term planning.

However, the national IT program goes several steps further. While the central government needs of a much more effective information system, this can be realized by building "an IT infrastructure" which would include swift data c ommunications networks offering email services and bulletin board systems. What is ne eded further, the program says, is a better integrated information system, connect ing different ministries, sectors and localities across the country. Such information s ystems could, for instance, link data on natural resources and the physical env ironment with technological and scientific information. This would imply lin king several management information systems.

FE IT to strengthen economic activities: Data for the management of i nvestment funding and to monitor market prices and the foreign-trade performance, etc. c an be better realized by modern data communications systems. The service sector c ould also be improved. Efforts should be made, the program underlines, to moderni ze by way of IT the Vietnamese energy sector; its transportation system; and the postal and telecom services. The "computerization" of business activities should also be supp orted.

FE IT for manpower development: IT education in secondary schools s hould be used to popularize IT applications, disseminate general information on IT, and s trengthen the use of IT as a learning tool in schools. It is necessary, the program continues, to formally train a large contingent of qualified professionals in the field of information technology. A high-priority national project on IT, education, and trai ning should be formulated and implemented. The program should also be part of a research effort "for the active application of IT in education and training" more genera lly. IT should be a working tool for at least part of the country's working force.

FE IT research and experimental development: The research on IT in Vietnam should expand, but it should be oriented towards developing modern ap plications and acquiring up-to-date knowledge from abroad. Research should be le ss basic and more oriented towards new IT products, especially new software, an d the develop- ment of a Vietnamese IT industry. Both highly-specialized research i n key institu- tions and more generally oriented R&D at the technical and other univ ersities should be promoted.

FE IT industry: Progressively, Vietnam should build its own info rmation technology industry. First by producing software for the domestic market and t hen, step-wise, for the world market. It might be necessary to use special governme nt measures to foster the software industry such as "centers for software development".

The same ambitions should guide hardware production in Vietn am. Over the next seven years, it will be necessary to introduce special policies a nd measures in support of enterprises producing IT equipment for the domestic market. Such initiatives could be linked to joint ventures with foreign partners.

FE A data communications infrastructure: The national IT program puts emphasis on data transmission networks as a national system. Such a national data communica- tions infrastructure should, from the start, be linked also to regional an d international networks. This implies that any improvements of local and national da ta transmission networks should comply with international standards and procedures.

The government underlines the 'open systems' concept to info rmation inter- change: a "computer system must follow certain standards (both th e hardware and software) so that it can be integrated into the National Network and be compatible with international networks."

The national IT program also points at a limited set of policy i nstruments that would help the Vietnamese to reach the objectives specified in th e six areas of IT applications. We will discuss these policy instruments, as well as other pos- sibilities, in the following chapters.

Observers have found the national IT program frank in it s descriptions of the Vietnam's current weaknesses, realistic in its attempt to identify and differentiate among the objectives for IT applications in various sectors, and visionary in linking its policies to the on-going, fundamental ch anges in the structure of the economy and of society. We agree. It is an exc ellent platform from which to develop a consistent, well-integrated set of projec ts and actions that could link innovative resources within the public sector as well as between government agencies, industrial firms, REED, and hig her education establishments. Over the last few years, one of us has had the opportunity to follow some of the policy deliberations behind the program. From this it is clear that the final, relatively brief document is the outcome of technologi- cally well-informed deliberations, involving many Vietnamese specialists in industry, government, and research.

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