Why is Hong Kong so biased against buying local tech?

Michael Gazeley says the government’s financial support for technology start-ups is welcome but these companies will need to overcome a prejudice against local IT products and services

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 January, 2016, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 January, 2016, 7:38pm

The Hong Kong government recently announced that it will invest around HK$4 billion in innovation and scientific research. On the face of it, that seems like fantastic news for the local information technology industry. But, delve a little deeper, and it’s clear that it is too focused on start-ups, with little or no support for established IT firms.

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The encouragement of innovation and creativity is understandable, as is the enthusiasm to generate new enterprises, but the question that has to be asked is: What is the long-term goal of the investment?

Surely it is to develop start-ups into tax-paying firms – exactly the kind of businesses that have been ignored by this initiative. The industry needs a balance of both.

Even before the announcement, the government had invested heavily in helping technology start-ups. Both Cyberport and the Science Park, without question world-class technology parks, already have impressive start-up programmes.

However, the problem the government really needs to help fix, if it wants local IT firms to gain a foothold and grow, is the way local people, local businesses and even the government itself typically view products and services offered by local companies.

Would IBM, HP or Dell have become successful if there was an anti-local bias in the US? The same goes for Sony, Hitachi or Panasonic in Japan and Samsung, LG and Hyundai in South Korea.

Yet there is such a bias here. Working in the local IT field, I have had to face this prejudice on a daily basis for nearly 30 years. It may take the form of a doctored tender document which clearly favours a particular overseas vendor. Or it may show itself less subtly in the barbed questions and
comments of an IT manager during a presale technical discussion.

This sentiment is the exact opposite of the support I see shown for local products, services and companies in almost every other advanced economy. Indeed, other governments do almost everything possible to promote and market their local IT products and services.

Overseas governments do their best to “buy local”, creating a sizeable marketplace. They also help to educate the local market to the fact that having high -quality local support is a very important home advantage.

Until Hong Kong wakes up to the fact that local technology can be the best
choice, and we create a healthy marketplace for local IT developers to thrive in, it will remain difficult for even the very best IT start-ups to survive, let alone become true global successes and contribute to the Hong Kong economy.

Michael Gazeley is managing director of Network Box, a leading global cybersecurity service provider founded in Hong Kong