Local software parks
บทความของ ผอ.เขตอุตสาหกรรมซอฟต์แวร์ประเทศไทยที่ตีพิมพ์ใน The Nation วันที่ 5 เมษายน 2011
During the recent award ceremony for the Microsoft Imaging Cup, Mechai Viravaidya, the former minister and chairman of the Mechai Viravaidya Foundation, made a remarkable speech. He said: “Our education system has failed because we have taken graduates from their home towns to the city. We need to help rural areas by bringing in ICT to reduce the [digital] gap and also create more job opportunities in these areas.”
His words made me think about the concept of the local software park. The success of any software park is dependent on three main factors: the park has a pool of talented software workers; it is located near excellent academic institutions; and companies in the park can easily get access to venture capital. The location of the park is not the most important factor. This is why the software industry has been so successful in countries such as India, China and Russia. Software parks in many Indian cities have helped that country’s economy grow because India’s most important asset is a plentiful source of highly skilled, English-speaking software-engineering staff, available at a reasonable cost.
Software Park Thailand was established in 1999. It aims to become a top-rate learning organisation that supports entrepreneurs in the creation of a strong world-class software industry. Software Park Thailand has so far successfully supported many new software entrepreneurs, but the number is still low compared to the entrepreneurial output of software parks in our neighbouring countries. More importantly, most software companies are still located in Bangkok and local talented software engineers must still migrate to the capital.
I was a part of the team that established the E-Saan Software Park more than seven years ago. Our idea at that time was to create work for Khon Kaen graduates within Khon Kaen. Although I worked at the E-Saan Software Park only very briefly, when I returned this year I found, much to my pride, that many small software companies had started up in the city, owned by Khon Kaen University graduates.
We may have to accept that it is too late to promote Thailand as a major software-export country like India because we have fallen behind in producing talented software workers. But local demand for software is still high and the industry remains an attractive investment, especially if we take in to account additional demand from neighbouring countries that still rely on human-to-human contact, instead of computer screens and voice-response systems.
The software Industry has no boundaries and its most important asset is skilled workers. It can fulfil our dreams of high-technology industries springing up in many provinces, through the work of local software parks. Many cities are now establishing small software parks, including Nakhon Ratchasima, Chon Buri, Khon Kaen, Chiang Mai and Phuket. They face many problems, such as a lack of local understanding of the industry, budgeting and regulations.
Countries that can boast cheap and plentiful labour may be able to develop basic labour-intensive software industries, but moving into higher-value business often requires government policies to develop other assets, such as a telecommunications infrastructure, suitable higher-education institutions and a liberalised regulatory environment.
Thailand has many universities that produce good ICT graduates every year. It is time now to sharpen our policy so that we can allow our graduates to work in their home provinces via local software parks.