ELECTRONIC Data Systems (EDS) and other system integrators have stripped much of the mystery from computing with a simple concept - allow businesses to do business and leave computing to professionals. Successful businesses gain market share by practising their specialty. While computers can be effective tools in augmenting this strategy, complex data processing systems require special handling - this is EDS's specialty. In the role as a systems integrator, the EDS evaluate needs, catalogues legacy equipment and creates a solution based on technology from more than 3,000 vendors worldwide. ''We don't have any products to push,'' says Stephen Lau, managing director of the Hong Kong and Macau operation. ''We want to give companies what is best for their business,'' he said. This independence is itself a strong tool in the EDS plans for development throughout Asia. Because it is perceived as a solution provider without allegiances to any one hardware or software manufacturer, it has an advantage over hardware manufacturers-turned-system integrators. ''A lot of people are looking at us as a model,'' Mr Lau said. EDS has posted steady growth during its 30-year history, despite cycles of good and bad times in the computer industry. The company has grown into an invisible giant from the seed planted by Texas billionaire Ross Perot more than 30 years ago. EDS posted revenue of US$8.2 billion (HK$63 billion) in 1992, a 31 per cent increase in operating revenue over the previous year. Because much of its business involves services contracted over several years, EDS's backlog of business has topped $25 billion. This makes it the world's largest IT services provider, operating in more than 30 countries with 70,000 employees. Its customer list has topped 7,400, most of whom have outsourced their EDP tasks to EDS. The firm was purchased by General Motors Corporation as an information partner seven years ago. Almost 45 per cent of its efforts still involve projects for GM. Now, EDS has been making a concerted effort to move into the Asian market, which is only just beginning to accept the concept of systems integration and IT outsourcing - EDS's main business. Mr Lau joined EDS in February after a 24-year career in computing, including a seven-year stint as head of computing for the Hong Kong Government. He served a similar term as director of information technology for the Asian division of Citicorp's international finance and banking sector. He pointed to three reasons EDS had placed emphasis on its Asian operations now. The region was booming even as the US and Europe languished in recession, the need for systems integrators was blossoming and EDS was ready to implement its strategy of localisation, helping it understand and respond to local markets. ''We have aggressive plans for the Asia-Pacific region,'' Mr Lau said. EDS has targeted four major markets in Hong Kong - government, telecommunications, transportation and finance. The role of a systems integrator, according to Mr Lau, is to provide a total solution. Contracts vary widely, but, generally, EDS works with clients to determine their needs, then offers solutions, often integrating equipment already on site. The finished system incorporates workstations, servers, PCs and LANs into a unified whole. ''We provide a total solution, '' he said. This includes a single point of contact for the entire system; ensuring accountability, guaranteeing performance and inter-operability. The need for integrators has come largely from the increased complexity of IT needs. Basically, the integrator is a general contractor, subcontracting much of the work to specialists. Mr Lau stressed that clients were more interested in a system which worked than any specific line of equipment or software. Nearly all systems utilise client/server architecture, mirroring the evolution of the workplace with less top-down centralised authority and placing more power and information in the hands of employees. This spreads information and decision making through companies, allowing faster response to challenges and more informed choices. While this concept of computing and management style was largely perfected in the US and Europe, it is slowly changing the face of Asia. As management styles shift, so do the IT needs of businesses. Multinational IT firms such as IBM, Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems, DEC, EDS and others have recognised and nurtured this shift in developing the Asian market. In the case of EDS, the strategy includes hiring local administrators with extensive backgrounds in IT and broad contacts in the industry. As Mr Lau says, in Hong Kong and most Asian countries, contacts are not important, they are essential in making the kind of large sales which are the mainstay of companies such as EDP. EDS has developed another strategy which it hopes will help it get a foothold in the Asian region. The service personnel come out of the industry which they are serving. So, instead of coming into a bank and talking about client/server architecture and MIPS, they can talk about trends in banking and understand how improving technology can help the bank run more efficiently and cost effectively.