Chapter 13
Software production in Vietnam
Small scale today -- large scale tomorrow?

Standardized computer applications are easily available world-wide at relatively low costs. By starting late, Vietnam may find considerable advantages simply by being able to exploit better the whole range of more or less advanced software without being locked into particular systems solutions.

In both HCM City and Hanoi a growing number of firms provide increasingly advanced software services. Most of these firms are newly established, but a few have operated for more than ten years. Some of their customers may have a long-term experience in computing. Others customers merely need help in better using existing information technology systems. These software and IT service firms could be treated as the embryo of an advanced IT service sector in Vietnam.

Besides the two metropolitan areas, the size of this IT service sector is still small. If the IT specialists working in universities, and inside the computer departments in city, provincial and government administrations, considered alongside the private firms, the sector could be considered to be larger. In-house software services are still relatively important in Vietnam. For both small and large customers, the trend is now to buy services from IT service firms. This trend follows what is happening in other countries. Some vendors offer package deals which include not only hardware, software, and systems design (i.e. systems integration), but staff training, software mainte- nance and upgrading, and around-the-clock technical service. Undoubtedly, this part of the IT sector will expand very rapidly over the next few years.

Like in some of its neighboring countries, Vietnamese software development may take off from local customer adaptations of standardized computer programs. As is the case with most personal computers and their applications, the first such tools to come to the market are geared toward the handling and processing of the local language and its writing system. Such applications may ease the penetration of computer usage among all sectors of society, and serve an important role in popularizing microcomputers. Hence, more user-friendly software, customized for the Vietnamese language, could facilitate a rapid diffusion of computer and communications application among industrial firms and public institutions.

There are several examples of new software products that have reached the domestic market such as a low-cost word processing program in Vietnamese written by a Hanoi scientist, who now runs his own software firm. Although many more Vietnamese-language applications are already available in the marketplace and exhibit the creativity of Vietnamese programmers, the level of software development and systematic integration into the computing environment remains very limited, partly due to the lack of diversity of computer platforms and limited access to detailed and thorough technical information. Much remains to be done with respect to Vietnamese-language processing.

Already five years ago there were clear ambitions in Vietnam to create a broader and more coherent base for the future development of 'information industries'. Software production and related services were seen as an obvious candidate for rapid industrialization. These ambitions, which were recognized by the central government, have yet to materialize. The way by which they will be implemented may have direct implications on the success or failure of any IT development strategy.

As of 1994 the Vietnamese software industry is still very small. There are no radically better facilities for training of software engineers at the technical universities. The number of engineering and mathematics students specializing in computer science and informatics at the universities has not grown significantly since 1989. Despite ambitions to launch a Vietnamese software industry, the most relevant manpower development has not been a part of the government's modernization scheme for the industrial sector.

To sum up: Software development in Vietnam has not advanced by the speed expected in the late 1980's. On the contrary, the imports and diffusion of information and communications equipment has grown nearly exponen- tially and software imports have followed -- though not quite at the same rate. With few restrictions and virtually no rules for intellectual property rights, it has been easy to copy and distribute standardized computer programs and software packages at very low costs. Although local demand for software better adapted to local needs is now rising, the current shortage of highly-skilled software personnel, which was projected already in 1989, is still a limitation to any ambition to build a fully-fledged software industry in Vietnam.

It is a general opinion among Vietnamese specialists in computer science and software engineering that there is a quite sophisticated and expanding demand for software of all kinds. However, if we compare Vietnam with neighboring countries, there are still relatively few customers and software demand is not as diversified. Although small, the software demand of Vietnam is now expanding rapidly.

Due to on-going organizational changes throughout society and the application of IT technology to the new conditions in Vietnam, many new jobs for software specialists will be created simply because of changing technical configurations. In other words: the software and IT service sector will continue to grow. But it is far too early to expect many jobs being generated in Vietnam by more advanced, innovative software demands such as parallel processing, multi-media, and expert systems.

The demand may be growing, but there is no well-functioning software market in Vietnam, as we have already underlined in Chapters 8 and 12 of this report. The rules and regulations needed for a software market to really work and perform well are not yet in place. The government provides only limited institutional support to its new market economy. If the institutional shortcomings are not offset by government policy, they will continue being a real barrier to the software industry development.

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