Information technology development in Vietnam

Exact from writing of Mr.CHU HAO
Deputy Minister
of Science, Technology and Environment

" Computers appeared in Vietnam in the late 1960s. They were used in many areas and with high effectiveness from that time. However, it is only in the early 1990s that people became fully aware of the importance of information technology. Since then, IT in Vietnam has received more attention and more active steps taken both in application and development. The initial results have helped create favourable premises for the on-going developments.

The whole country now has 200 mini-computers and about 700,000 personal computers, averaging one machine for 100 people; in every 10 machines, one machine is linked up to Internet; 75% of computers lie in the State agencies and businesses, 10% in the research and national defence security institutions, 10% in the educational and training establishments and 5% in families. The capacity of using the machines is yet to be high and the effectiveness of their use remains low. In many places, computers are still used mainly for compiling documents. This has been clearly reflected in the investment structure with over 82% being reserved for equipment procurement, 12% for services and about 5% for software.

Computer networks are being set up rapidly in service of the State management. There are now about 113 local networks with different scopes at 61 offices of the People's Committees of provinces and cities under the central government and 52 ministries, branches and mass organisations with over 600 servers and over 10,000 work stations. There are 94 local networks being linked up to the government's WAN (Wide Area Network) administrative information network. About 30 local WANs have been linked up to the provincial and municipal services, districts and precincts. About 20 WANs of ministries and branches are linked up to the subsidiary units. The WANs of the Party's offices have also been linked up to 15 local networks in the Party Central Committee area and 60 local networks of the provincial and municipal Party Committees. Also some of the State agencies relating to the international relations such as civil aviation, banks and, telecommunications have been on line with their partners at home and abroad. The present drawback is that the capacity of network system use is still low and has yet to be really connected to the process of administrative reform.

At present about 3,000 system software packages have been used and 10,000 applied packages. Many ministries, branches, agencies, enterprises, businesses, educational, training and research institutions have applied IT built into their database that serves the specialised management activities or the management of professional operation. The government has also concentrated on guiding the construction of a number of national databases concerning socio-economic statistics; finance-budget; land resources; State employees and priority policy beneficiaries; residents; the Law and legal documents. However, the information technology systems in service of the State management have now stopped at only the database for reference and simple Web pages, with poorly updated, repeated, incomplete, imprecise information, unattractive to users. The software industry in Vietnam does not have the stable market needed for its development.

On March 5, 1997, the government issued a decision on the establishment of a National Internet Co-ordinating Committee in Vietnam. Under the guidance of the Committee, the Internet service in Vietnam was officially launched on November 19 1997. There is now one company (VDC) supplying Internet access services and five Internet services supply companies of VDC, FPT, Netnam, SPT and Vietel. There are 16 Internet information suppliers. There are now over 80,000 Internet subscribers, mainly for scientific, educational-training, tourism and trade research. The number is not very large because of high service charge while the people's income remains low, as well as slow log-on speed, poor information content in Vietnamese while information content in English has yet to be so popularised. Also the Internet service quality is still has much to be desired, the number of Internet service suppliers is still small and not competitive. At present data exchange through the Internet has only happened through the Internet at the gates linked up to Vietnam's Internet. Some new services such as the Visible Private Network (VPN), news, Voice through Internet (VoIP) and many support services to develop software on the Internet have yet to be popularised in Vietnam. Even though Vietnam has a relatively modern telecommunication infrastructure, the development of the software industry on this infrastructure has still met with some hitches and difficulties. Quick improvement of the telecommunication infrastructure concerning prices and conditions for accessibility and further expansion of services are considered indispensable conditions if we want to develop information technology.

At present, on a nationwide scale, there are approximately 20,000 cadres working in the information technology area and about 2,000 specialists in software. On the other hand, about 50,000 Vietnamese Overseas are working in the information technology area. The whole country now has 15 schools for basic training in information technology: seven big schools in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and several central provinces that are able to receive State investment in the information technology departments with the aim of training 2,000 IT graduates and engineers each year. There are about 3,500 people getting fundamental IT training. However, it is still far cry as compared with the requirement of human resources for information technology. The number of annual graduates has not yet satisfied the requirement of agencies and businesses.

The computer hardware being used in Vietnam is mainly the imported. Vietnam remains a market for foreign-made computers. Since 1998, more computers have been assembled in Vietnam, but the quantity is still small with most of the spare parts and chips imported at a high price. At the same time, Vietnam has yet to build any computer standardising centre or any quality control room. The 100% foreign owned business, Fujitsu (Japan) has manufactured CD Rom with export turnover being put at over US $400 million in 1996, but 90% of material was imported.

As far as the software area is concerned, there are about 25 companies specialised in software production and 25 others getting involved in other business operations, besides software production. The number of each company's staff stands at about 10 to 20, while some others have about 45, and rarely does a single company have 400 employees. The total number of people involved in developing software nationwide now stands at 2,000, and if we include those working in software, the figure is about 3,000. Vietnam's software industry is still small and its force dispersed. On June 5 this year, the government released a Resolution on building and developing software technology for the 2001-2005 period in Vietnam, in which the government reaffirmed that the software industry is a new, important industry and it undertook that the State will encourage the development of this area with the best possible preferential policy.

On 17 October this year, Vietnam released instruction 58CT/TW on acceleration of application and development of information technology in service of industrialisation and modernisation. This is an important orientation concerning the application and development of information technology in the new period, an eventful period in the world with great challenges and also great opportunities. This has reflected the determination of the nation not to lose any opportunity to grasp one of the newest achievements of science and technology, so as to able to resolve the practical problems of Vietnam, thus making a contribution to building Vietnam's economy into a knowledge-based one in the new period, integrating into the international community.

The instruction also showed the main reason for the slow development of information technology in recent years as being a lack of awareness of the important role of information technology in the new time by the levels, branches and the whole society. Also the State management of this area, particularly of telecommunication and computers, remains incomplete. So now Vietnam is striving for the next 10 years to raise its information technology to the advanced level in the region with widespread application in all the socio-economic, national security and defence areas, thus rapidly developing the national network and building the information technology industry into a key economic branch.

Deputy Minister
of Science, Technology and Environment )