HONG KONG has never laid claim to being a world centre for software development. Yet, in certain niche markets - notably in manufacturing - the territory is increasingly seeing its expertise being channelled into software creation. Hong Kong is known for being a competitive manufacturer. That reputation was built on an efficient and cheap labour force. However, rising rents and wages have eroded the competitive advantage, first compelling manufacturers to relocate to China, and more recently, into computerisation. The potential rewards for Hong Kong software developers in the manufacturing industry are tremendous, as Hong Kong remains a service and support centre for the legions of multinational firms setting up in China. One company that had taken full advantage of this trend is Integrated Solutions, an indigenous firm specialising in the manufacturing industry. Most recently, Integrated Solutions completed a deal with one of Hong Kong's biggest toy makers, Silverlit Toys Manufactory, worth $1.2 million to computerise the entire production process from procurement, product design, distribution and billing, linking the firm's various sites in Hong Kong and China. Integrated Solutions' product, called Manufacturing Information System (MIS), was developed in Hong Kong. It is a UNIX-based system made up of modules covering such needs as sales, purchasing, inventory control, as well as accounting basics such as accounts payable, accounts receivable and general ledger. Silverlit managing director Kevin Choi said the new system - running on Hewlett-Packard's RISC-based HP 9000 computers - would be used to link the company's three sites, including a new factory complex in Dongguan. Silverlit is an ISO-9000-certified company. Mr Choi said its computerisation programme was aimed at supporting the ISO certification requirements. 'Rapid expansion of our business had outgrown the capability of our current manufacturing system,' Mr Choi said. For its part, Integrated Solutions uses the ultra-trendy term 'business process re-engineering' as a primary marketing tool. The company has differentiated itself from other developers through its long-standing commitment to ISO quality standards. Rather than simply selling software solutions, it also provides management support as well, taking the unsurpassed manufacturing expertise of Hong Kong, and translating it into manufacturing software packages. A few years ago, Integrated Solutions sold its MIS package to the Hong Kong-based relay manufacturer Million Spot, a firm that was similarly committed to following the ISO specifications as its corporate strategy. Like Silverlit, Million Spot needed a system that would link China-based factories with each other and with the Hong Kong-based headquarters. Both companies maintain that efficient communications between sites and the ability to share databases are all the more important in China because of the generally under-developed management skills and immaturity in computing. That lack of China-based expertise made it important for Hong Kong-based executives to be able to 'trouble-shoot' potential problems through the network. According to Integrated Solutions managing director Ricky Leung, the deal with Silverlit would draw heavily on the resources of the company's support office in China, where a lot of hand holding, support and training would be required. 'Unlike in Hong Kong, where most workers are acquainted with ISO 9000 and computerisation, workers in China know little about either,' he said. 'That is why it is important to supply training and technical support, not just the hardware and software.'