Software - great potential in niche markets

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 February, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 February, 1998, 12:00am

While many people have pointed out that there is an urgent need to develop our own hi-tech industries, another important area has, so far, been neglected: software development.

While hi-tech industries are capital-intensive and centralised, software development is intellectually intensive and can be decentralised. More importantly, unlike many hi-tech industries that depend on highly trained and very experienced specialists, software development requires a collaboration of skills, all of which should be available in abundance in Hong Kong. Lastly, software development typically has a shorter turnaround cycle.

These characteristics make software development particularly suitable for this city.

By software development I do not mean database programming, the nightmare of programmers everywhere, or industrial manufacturing control systems, which are very expensive and specialised.

There are, however, many niche markets to be filled, from add-ons and plug-ins for productivity software to computer games. The two major hurdles any potential software designer must overcome are the lack of access to capital and specialised expertise.

While the costs of operating any typical software projects are far less than those of an integrated circuits fabrication plant, they are not insignificant, and often prove to be prohibitive for a person who just wants to try out an idea. The era, in which a small software company was started by two men in a back office in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and could become a giant corporation in two decades, is almost, if not entirely, behind us. Take computer games for example. A typical computer game would require the use of eye-catching graphics, computer animation, and audio feedback.

The fancier titles could include original music scores, with voices and even film clips. A typical computer game requires the skills of a graphic artist, an animator, a musician, a voice actor, at least two programmers, a project co-ordinator and, most importantly, the designer himself, the creative spark behind the whole project. All these talents are out there, but to pull together such a diversified team requires a lot of effort, particularly if one doesn't know where to look. And the top-notch experts in their fields are expensive.

The Government's role here should be threefold: 1) To maintain a database of these specialists so this information can be always at hand.

2) To provide capital and space.

3) To assist in negotiations between local companies and international distributors.

Naturally, a panel would be needed to judge all the submitted proposals, but it wouldn't cost too much to pair an experienced developer with a designer for a week or two to see if an idea had potential.

I highlighted computer games development for a very simple reason.

While in other areas, such as office automation, products compete on features and price, computer games compete on ideas and the fun factor. This means while other products require huge budgets and lengthy development time, computer games can, by comparison, be produced on a shoestring.