In many ways, Asia-Pac still looks to the West for innovation in business technology. There is often a perception that Western countries and firms are somehow ahead of their Eastern counterparts; often this perception is quite wrong. Without the legacy systems that often slow down US and European investment and innovation, organisations in the East are better placed to innovate and leapfrog ahead of slower moving competitors.
For example, technologies like RFID are gaining ground in Asia, with Hong Kong Airport using RFID chips on baggage tags to make their tracking more reliable and cheaper. Compared with the slow uptake of such systems in the West, this is a clear example of how Asia is leading the way.
Smart grids and smart metering are also two areas where Asia-Pac companies are very active. While Europe strives for energy efficiency and the US aims for energy self-sufficiency, the Australian state of Victoria is faced with more tangible current problems. At the time of writing, Victoria's dams are only around a quarter full and with long-term water shortages likely, smart metering may well go beyond electricity metering - water usage may be real-time metered by 2013. Already utility providers are beginning to architect IT systems to manage all the complex events that are going to be created and China is also investing in smart grids. The motivation here is very much about reliability - smart grids are better able to resist the effects of an earthquake.
Focus on China
Doing business with mainland China is often seen as being very difficult, as Chinese business culture is quite different from that in the West and relationships with government agencies are always vital to make inroads. However, having a trusted local partner can bridge this cultural gap and Hong Kong is playing a critical role in this area. It is both a portal for the outside world into China and a portal for China to the West; with many companies using Hong Kong as a staging post for entry into mainland China. Whilst there has been a relative decline in economic growth in China recently; it has been nowhere near the rate of decline seen in Western markets. The sheer scale of China's market potential is always apparent. Consider China mobile, for example - it has 600 million subscribers; that's 10 times the UK population.
Software in Singapore
Financial services are definitely in focus in Singapore, at both an industry and governmental level. Singapore sees itself as a leading regional financial centre, a position it wants to strengthen. Its stock exchange recently announced that it was going to set-up an alternative trading venue and that it would offer access to not only Singapore listed stocks but also those from Hong Kong, Japan and Australia. Time will tell whether this trading venue will be successful.
On everyone's mind, both in Singapore and across the region, is regulation. Exchanges, regulators and banks themselves are all looking at how to better use technology, to not only analyse past activity in financial markets, but to see what is happening now; to actually prevent issues occurring. For example, the recent large oil trade in London which moved oil prices and caused consternation in the US Congress, or the wheat derivatives trading firm who lost $100M in a day because of poor risk monitoring. Several Singapore firms are leading the way in investing in suitable technology to carry out this real-time surveillance.
For Western software vendors, the opportunities in countries such as China, Australia and Singapore are significant. While local and regional vendors exist, there are very significant opportunities for Western software companies, however, many firms don't see Asia as a key market. When one considers the growth potential in China and India alone, even taking into account the difficulty of penetrating these markets, it presents an enormous opportunity to those firms willing to invest. Gartner already predicts a software budget increase throughout APAC for 2010 - so the question is, which companies will make the trek?
About the author:
Dr Giles Nelson
Senior Director of Strategy and Evangelism, Progress Software