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China Beckons Brunei's Budding IT Companies
2007-11-02

China Beckons Brunei's Budding IT Companies
By Azaraimy HH in Nanning

Bandar Seri Begawan - This year's 4th CAExpo has presented a lot of good opportunities to the big IT players in Brunei, especially within the huge China market.

However, being relatively small in the world means they are just testing the waters by dipping into a very large potential consumer base in China. Although the 4th CAExpo gave no firm business partnerships or joint ventures, there was definitely a strong signal 'beckoning from China.

Unlike the IT products from China and some Asean countries, those offering attractive and latest products in electronic consumer goods such as mobile phones and computers gadgetries, the Brunei IT firms showcased services and software at the expo.

In fact, this is where the Brunei IT industry is heading to, focusing on the provision of high quality services to the information technology and info-communication technology businesses.

The IT industry is something new in Brunei, but local companies have already shown that their services and software products are world class. It is just a matter of marketing them and adopting them for export out of the commercially-tiny local market.

IT companies participating in the expo believe that their products are marketable. The expo has drawn a lot of strong interest from trade buyers and Chinese companies, especially the "HI-WETSZONE VOIP" from WestEgrets and a software product "CINEMA 4D" from HAD Technologies.

These are, according to some industry analysts during the expo, world-class products that are capable of selling in the world market. However, marketing a product is a huge and sometimes expensive undertaking, which could prove difficult for budding local companies, albeit offering competitive products.

WestEgrets is the first ICT Company in Brunei to win an international award. The company won third place in recognition award in the Asia-Pacific ICT Award in Macau last year with its "Pink Point Cards" product.

CEO of WestEgrets, Hj Shari Hj Ahmad, said since the awards, there has been a lot of enhancements to the products and the Pink Point Cards is one of the products it is trying to market in China to facilitate online payment.

According to him, the product actually has a bigger target market than other products such as the popular PayPal system, because the cards do not require credit cards.

"There are different ways to buy products online. Many nowadays cannot afford, or are not yet able to afford credit cards. Unlike products such as PayPal, our system is totally independent. It is a top-up system where they can buy anywhere and everywhere which is much secure and easy to have. This kind of system can be exported and marketed in China. There have been a lot of enquiries about this product as there has been an increasing market in online payment," he said.

"There are e-commerce businesses (in China) that want us to facilitate their web sites with our online payment system, especially after our business investment and opportunities seminar, which has successfully drawn lots of interest here in Nanning," he added.

Ida Mohamad, WestEgrets Vice President, said the product is still in its infancy - in the phase I of the product development. "Even though we are implementing it, we are looking more towards testing it technically and commercially, just to have a feel of the viability of the business as a model, though it has already brought us an international award".

The main goal of WestEgrets during the expo is to introduce its 慔i-Wetszone VOIP?service, a technology that will enable mobile phone users to make high quality calls anyway in the world at a price that is remarkably cheap. This is because the technology is derived from the popular Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol system, but without using internet connection.

For example, the cost of calling from China to Brunei using the Hi-Wetszone is just 20 cents without compromising quality. The remarkable thing about the product is that the top-up cards can be used with any mobile operator in the world to make international calls using their platforms.

CEO of HAD Technologies, Hj Awang bin Hj Md Daud said, "In the technology businesses, I don't see any problem (in terms of product competitiveness). We are trying to get the people here (in China) to know (the existence and quality) of our IT industries".

Asked about the state of the Brunei IT industry, Hj Awang bin Hj Md Daud said that with the activities organised by the Ministry of Communication and the Authority of Information Technology Industry (AiTi), the local IT industry might mature faster.

"But the government needs to have a policy that prioritizes the development of local companies in the IT industries (in terms of IT projects). Once it is developed, then it would be easier to create exports for the products.

"The dilemma is that IT projects are given to foreign companies to develop, even these projects involve some local employment. It helps a little in the development of local IT industry," he commented.

He said HAD Technologies currently occupies less than one per cent of the local market, as the local IT industry depends so much on government projects. He said that the government needs to continue to feed them so that they could evolve and develop.

He said China represents a large market potential but the main problem is the language. He said his products are competitive but he could not do anything else to market the company products in China until the company adopts Mandarin in the software.

Asked for his comment on next year's overall theme, which will centre on the development of IT industry, Hj Awang bin Hj Md Daud said, "The objective of the expo is to link up with the industry here. It would be nice if the Ministry or the AiTi could spearhead next year's activities during that expo and link up and sit together with the IT industry in China and the selected IT players. In this way, it would be more meaningful and bring more fruition to Brunei's participation to the expo".

He hoped to bring along more products and activities to better showcase their competitiveness in the next year's expo.

BiTEX President, Mahathir sees the market for its products as lucrative because the Chinese are keen to learn and improve themselves. BiTEX is bringing over its training programme and its subsidiary showcased its softwar4c-LES".

BiTEX also signed an MOU with a leading company from Myanmar for its education software product during the expo. In discussions with two Chinese companies, he said he hoped to link up with a Chinese partner in one or two months' time.

For example, the Chinese would like to learn English because if they know English, they can get a higher pay.

"Our challenge is how we can tap into this market and get people to buy our products. China has a lot of products and it is competitive. But I believe we can do it. We always need to find ways to do it."  -- Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

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