Cambodia’s Thriving ICT Sector

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The Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) sector in the Kingdom is growing with dizzying velocity, with a 414-percent annual growth in internet users and with 1 in 3 adult Cambodians already owning a mobile phone with email capabilities.

Ashish Fitkariwala, country manager for the Thakral Group in Cambodia, shares his insights on the state of the Cambodia ICT industry and gives valuable advice on starting a technology-oriented business in the Kingdom.

B2B: Some experts have mentioned lack of professionalism and ethics in Cambodia’s ICT industry as major hurdles. What’s your opinion on this?

Fitkariwala: Every challenge comes with an opportunity. There is software piracy and a lack of professionalism and ethics, and hence a need for improvement. Cambodia is one of the fastest emerging markets in the region and needs proper education in this regard. Faster growth poses threats, and places more responsibility in the hands of important stakeholders in the market.

As an organisation, we engage with customers from across the  industry to provide or educate about proper requirements. We have witnessed a positive change with more customers going for genuine software and looking for the automation of processes. There is still, however, a long way to go.

B2B: What impact has 4G coverage had on Cambodia?

Fitkariwala: The first and foremost change would be the perception of the market. While previously many players from other countries would worry about Cambodia’s infrastructure and facilities, now 4G has boosted faith in the market’s capabilities. There are many developing nations still struggling with 4G coverage and so Cambodia provides a lucrative option for both investors and users. It brings in competition between operators, which, as an end result, benefits the consumer. With 4G network coverage accelerating across the globe, Cambodia has put itself in the picture with the rest of the world.

B2B: How have the roles of telecommunications companies evolved over the last few years?

Fitkariwala: It has been a very exciting journey to watch. With mergers, acquisitions and new entrants, this industry has been at the heart of the news for the last few years. The services and reach have improved, but there is a lot more to be done to make it more affordable. There is huge room for improvement, which may come in three to five years. It would be good to see more cooperation between operators, with the ultimate goal of enhancing the experience of the consumer.

B2B: What is the significance of EZECOM’s undersea cable and how will it affect the ICT industry?

Fitkariwala: It will entail a giant and significant step towards the development of the telecommunications industry and the overall economic growth of Cambodia. The connectivity will be faster and cheaper. Across the world, companies will start considering Cambodia as a more viable place to do business, and the country will eventually become a hub for regional communications. It will also bring with it an improved perception of Cambodia’s infrastructure that is set to beckon foreign investment.

B2B: To what degree is staff retention a problem for your business?

Fitkariwala: It’s has been a bigger problem in the last couple of years. There are a few things to it. One, it shows that people are getting multiple opportunities, which is a good sign. On the negative side, aspiring candidates and students are not looking at a sustainable career path and are fixated on seeking a higher salary, which prompts them to jump from job to job, a practice that severely undermines their chances of having a fulfilling career. Job hoppers will eventually realise that they lack the skill set necessary to successfully join any industry.

B2B: How is your business currently investing in Cambodia, both to ensure better service and to remain competitive?

Fitkariwala: Our investment is both in technology and education. For technology, we intend to continuously bring in relevant solutions for the market. The Cambodia of 2010 and the Cambodia of now are different, and so are business needs. Organisations are scaling up and need automation to manage their business. Industry-specific solutions are in focus as each sector has its own unique requirements. Having a regional presence with a localised approach helps us bring in the right solution to cater to the needs and sometimes generate requirements for industries.

For education, we continuously engage with local business partners and organisations to showcase the growing trends in the ICT industry globally, and develop local skills to deliver efficient and sustainable services. We believe that working with students leads to sustainable growth later.

B2B: What advice would you give to someone planning to open a business in the ICT industry in Cambodia?

Fitkariwala: There are immense opportunities in Cambodia’s ICT industry. My advice would be to start by identifying the area that you’d like to specialise on: education, development or deployment are some examples of areas that you may choose to target.

A key to success is to come into the market with a long-term view of your return on investment. The dearth of specialised skills among the local workforce for a variety of ICT areas makes it necessary for the organization to come up with a sustainable training and skills development plan.

B2B: What challenges has the Thakral Group faced since it began and how has it overcome these?

Fitkariwala: It has been a long journey of more than two decades since the Thakral Group entered this market. Over the years, there has been a lot of diversification. Challenges and opportunities have come hand in hand. There are bound to be challenges in any market, more so in an emerging economy such as Cambodia. There are challenges that pertain to governmental policies, regulations, the skill level of the workforce, education, etc. However, it is in those challenges that opportunities lie. Through the years, we have faithfully followed our belief that one should engage with relevant stakeholders to the best of one’s ability, and we have always strived to deliver quality.