Technical standards

Among Vietnamese companies installing computers and providing IT services to the government sector, we hear about ambitions to attain a higher degree of technical standardization. The idea behind is to reach economies of scale (primarily for the after-sales services), to be able to move computer programs from one application area to another, and to exchange different kinds of data. Yet, until recently, little has been done in Vietnam to create such standards even for data exchange.

In the early 1990s the standardization issues seem to have caught the attention also of senior decision-makers in government and industry. Much effort has been put into the endeavor to promulgate Vietnamese standards in information technology, of which two -- TCVN 5712 on the 8-bit character encoding, and TCVN 5713 on Chu Nom -- have been accepted by the govern- ment and published in 1993. These are actually the first national standards in Vietnamese IT.

The Vietnamese national standards agency, TCVN, has several work items in progress for 1994, including standards for Vietnamese keyboards, computer terminology, and local area networks (LANs). In 1993-94, the TCVN has upped its involvement in international ISO activities, becoming a 'participating member' of the key ISO/IEC JTCl body.

We agree with one member of the standardization agency that "it is regrettable that these activities have yet to gain much visibility, and, hence, have not yet triggered a much-needed wider participation from users, practitioners and vendors in Vietnam." Much may depend on reforming the work style of the TCVN itself to more fully reflect the needs of a modern market economy.

The national IT program of 1993 clearly underlines a need for 'open systems' -- at least within the government sector. This concept should promote, the program says, compatibility of systems and products and should facilitate their further development and expansion. Moreover, Vietnamese 'open systems' should be the same or similar as in the rest of the world. Cf. Chapter 9 for the discussion of 'open networks' meaning large, connected wide-area networks, where many different users as well as telecom service providers can interact without principal technical restrictions. At present, within the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, deliberations take place on how the 'open systems' policy should be implemented. Among the objectives under discussion, the following could be listed (1)

The government's push for 'open systems' may also reflect changes in the Vietnamese IT market. As we have already seen in Chapter 1 of this report, the dominant feature is a wider use of decentralized, low-cost equipment, mostly PCs. And, like in other countries, the PCs and the stand-alone work stations have already created a demand for better data communications services. Among users we have interviewed in industry, government and RkD, data communications are regarded as necessary to attain a more optimal use of the existing technical facilities.

Bringing many different elements of an information system into line requires both standards and the development of norms. Vietnamese IT users cannot expect standardization of computer hardware in the next year or two. Hanoi has no procurement policy in place, but a policy being prepared within the State Planning Committee. In principle, it could be launched in 1994 and implemented in 1995. Singapore and Hong Kong experts have provided some inspiration to the Vietnamese deliberations. But we have noticed signs of resistance to centralized control of IT hardware procurement. Different ministries and government agencies want their own way of organizing their IT equipment and applications to attain optimal technical solutions.

Standardization of hardware may not be needed, if standards for functionality, formats and data exchange protocols are generally accepted and implemented in the Vietnamese government sector. Compliance with standards could mean that a system would deliver messages in a format which can be effectively processed by a different system elsewhere. For a Ministry, this could imply standards for the electronic format of texts, for data trans- mission (e.g. X.25) and the address structure of the messages. (2)

Other advantages in being a late-comer in the use of information and communications technology (ICT) should not be underestimated. Vietnamese users do not have to suffer with some of the pioneers in installing large, capital-intensive main-frame computers, which created centralized and rather inflexible institutions and other organizations. Some of these organizations -- in both government and industry -- face problems in adjusting to a techno- logical environment where small work-stations and PCs gain a greater share of the IT market. The typical Vietnamese IT users could face a technical environment with a much more widespread availability of PCs and portables, which are combined with effective data communications networks.


Foot Notes:
  1. UNISYS. A strategic rcvicv of national information technology development, Vol I, Hanoi, 1993, P. 24.
  2. Cf. the European Procurement Handbook for Open Systems. See also Id';T Magazine, Brussels: The European Commission, DG XIII, Winter 1993, p. 6-9.

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