Chapter 6
Three more players in Vietnam's 'IT policy community'
Industry, research, and higher education

While the state sector in Vietnam has lost some of its weight in the Vietnamese economy, the government still appears to be an important actor on the national economic scene. In 1989, when our previous report on Vietnamese microelectronics and other information technology was prepared, we identified three other centers or clusters of influence in (a) industry, (b) research, and (c) higher education. We also encountered an emerging fourth interest grouping: Vietnamese electronics engineers and other information technology professionals which -- in the late 1980's -- were just organizing themselves as a nationally. Five years later we found this association effectively serving as a forum for IT professionals, sponsoring national conferences, regional workshops, newsletters, and computer journals. Although influential in some policy matters, the Association has not entered the national policy arena in Vietnam with the same weight as the three other interest groupings.

In 1989 we identified a multi-polar Vietnamese 'IT policy community' with both separate and common interests, and attempted to show how differ ences of opinion on Vietnam's IT matters were anchored in particular needs. As it was in 1989, it should now be possible to generate a common under standing of what the prime national goals for IT development in Vietnam are. In 1989 the central ministries in Hanoi were certainly not alone as a moving force in policy-making towards high-tech in Vietnam. Other players active in the emerging Vietnamese information industry were also effecting policy -- they are even more active now, five years later.

As is the case in other countries, the leading advocates for each of the three IT interest groupings in Vietnam mentioned above have all been able to influence decision-makers at the national level about what to do next in support of Vietnamese information technology. If these groups manage to coordinate their efforts, they will represent the single most powerful interest group besides the government itself. In the previous report, we noted that the central government needed to be more sensitive to the needs and concrete suggestions formulated by these outside interests, acting either alone or as a group.

In 1994, we can still observe the same three major IT interest groups besides the central government. They have become very important partners, in some sense senior partners for the government in implementing any national plan for information and communications technologies:

FE The industrial interest groups has changed significantly over the l ast few years and will change even more, we believe, in the next few years. It is likely tha t the private IT industry -- Vietnamese companies, foreign-owned companies, and joint-ventures -- soon will have more influence on government policy than the state-owned enterprises.

At present, in early 1994, major industrial interests in IT are coordinated by what-could best be called a state holding company. Based in Hanoi: The Union of Electronics Industries is under the Ministry of Heavy Industry. Although the influence by politicians and government officials on the country 's industrial development has weakened, the Union of Electronics Industry remains an important instrument for IT policy for the Ministry. Recently, however, the Nat ional Assembly decided to limit the direct influence by the Hanoi ministries o n state-owned companies. (This principal decision will also affect the management conditions for companies owned by provinces and cities.) Eventually, the decision may lead to a privatization of the public-sector companies and thereby to a break- up of all the unions of industries including that of electronics.

From the examples we have seen, it seems as if foreign vendors and investors prefer working with state- or city-owned IT firms, although the level of technology in these firms is generally low.

FE The research interest group, which represents Vietnam's long-term efforts to create capabilities in the broad field of electronics and information technology.

The major research and development institutions have their prime IT facilities in Hanoi and HCM City areas.

FE The higher education interest grouping, which has modified its position over the years and never really reached the same degree of influence on the natio nal IT policy as the two previous groupings. It may gain influence on national IT polic y in the near future.

The third interest grouping consists of several scores of instit utions in the higher education sector plus some in the private sector such as t he Thang Long University in Hanoi and the Lotus College of Information T echnology and Management in HCM City. The biggest and most resourceful institut ions are the ones located in the two metropolitan areas. There is a variety of reasons why it is important to treat the three interest groupings separately. The interests of each of the three clusters -- in indus- try, science, and higher education respectively -- yield differ ent priorities for Vietnam's information technology. There are obvious caus es for this behavior: they perform their own activities for different o bjectives and within different socio-economic settings.

At the same time, however, they do have interlocking in terests. For specific purposes, the collaboration between them could become q uite intense, e.g. for manpower development and in diffusing better technolog y and know- how. This may be of importance for the government's implementa tion of its policies, since the government more and more has to rely on the active participation of more resourceful players.

More and stronger players may complicate the orchestration or coordi- nation of separate government policies. It should be realized that the nature of coordination and planning in the field of information technology in today's Vietnam is different than five years ago. The national program for IT has to be implemented through the structures of government, the companies active in electronics and IT, and some of the foreign vendors of technology. This will be very difficult to achieve unless all major interest groupings agree on the goals and means of such a national program. Strong support by the three interest groups will be critical to the policy implementation. The government will not be able to implement any national IT program by its own capacities.

Unlike the previous report, we include a chapter in this report on an even more resourceful group of players, namely the foreign vendors in IT products and services. This external group was already well-represented on the Vietnamese market in 1989-1990, while the macro-economic situation was being stabilized. But since the economic reforms and the opening of the Vietnamese market, they have become much more active in pursuing their own corporate strategies, in building service organizations, and in creating customer relations in Vietnam. Some of them have gone further and created joint ventures with local partners; others are planning their own production facilities.

Today, no element of a national IT policy can be designed and imple- mented without considering the role played by foreign companies. In the near future, the foreign companies might become considerably more important.

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