Feeling gloomy? Asia has space for a few more IT managers

News this week from two separate recruiters gave a cautiously optimistic outlook for ex-pat IT pros looking for career development in Asia.

If you read my piece last week, you’ll know I’m a big fan of IT professionals having a well-rounded global view of the tech market if they’re going to do their job properly. To that end, the ultimate would of course be to move to Asia – or somewhere else far afield – to fully immerse into the different working environment and  a completely alien marketplace.

First, a dose of reality from some of my conversations with said recruiters recently.

It’s definitely not easy over here. The days of the glorious ex-pat package are definitely numbered and competition for the best jobs is fierce.

Secondly, the banking sector is not doing brilliantly. It’s not tanking to the extent we’ve seen in Europe but all risk is connected globally and in general the sector is not on a hiring spree, which means lots of candidates trying to jump ship to the commercial sector, according to Michael Page’s Hong Kong boss, Chris Aukland.

His firm’s latest Employee Intentions Report found IT pros in the SAR are less optimistic than any other professionals about their job prospects.

It’s not all doom and gloom though.

Hudsons released its Q3 predictions and found that around half of HK employers were looking to hire in tech, better than Singapore’s 35 per cent but not as optimistic as mainland China where over 56 per cent want new recruits.

Good communications skills are vital and specialist tech skills such as C#, .NET and Java are still in high demand, said Aukland.

For the ex-pat IT pro there are a few things to remember:

Be flexible; show yourself to be adaptable to new ways of working; prove yourself to be a good teacher of staff; and most importantly, be here, if you get that interview.

Failing that, an internal move is the best way to get over here, so start manoeuvring if you want to make it a reality. It won’t be easy but the experience will go far beyond anything you can articulate on a CV.

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Asia Pacific falls! Western woes hit PC market

PCJust as the global PC market seemed to be getting back on track, Asia Pacific looks to be faltering.

Yes, IDC on Thursday released its predictions for Q2 shipments in the region and the results show a one per cent decline over 2011, with HP and Dell the biggest losers.

The irony in all this is that IDC is blaming economic turbulence in the West as a major cause for consumers and enterprises to tighten spending, thus sending shipments down.

It’s an interesting observation because it really highlights the global, interconnected nature of the economy, and by extension the IT market, today.

We know from the global meltdown of 2008 exactly what happens when the economic dominoes begin to fall in one region – eventually everyone gets sucked in to a lesser or greater extent.

Asian companies with risk exposure in the West or multinationals with offices in Asia may both have found recent economic sluggishness in the markets they operate in outside of Asia Pac has led to greater caution inside the region, which could partly explain the PC stats.

On the consumer side, meanwhile, IDC analyst Avi Sundaram told me the following:

This is more of a sentiment issue. Weakness in Western economies has affected growth in Asian countries as well, with GDP numbers going down across the region in the first half this year. This, in turn, has affected consumer confidence as well. Admittedly, it is not something specific to PCs, but given how PC buying is still a discretionary expenditure out here, consumers are pulling back on all such non-essential spending, including PCs.

So whether it’s shipments to Western countries being hit or the knock-on effect of economic woes in the West leading to lower spending inside Asia Pacific, bad news in the US and Europe may mean bad news for Asia.

It’s all one messed up, interconnected global market.

If nothing else, this should all serve as a reminder to the IT leader in the West that they need to keep an eye on what’s going on all over the planet and not just their home market to effectively manage risk, spot emerging trends, and basically do their job properly.


RIM’s big differentiator: staying out of China

RIM logoIn a startlingly refreshing display of honesty, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins has come out and said the firm is steering clear of China when it comes to manufacturing to reduce the risk of IP theft which could cripple its business.

It’s a bold statement, given that in my experience most tech firms – and even analysts – are very reluctant to discuss China in anything approaching critical terms, especially when cyber security is mentioned.

It’s certainly a valid point. I’ve reported in the past for The Register how many multinationals are suffering IP loss from their Chinese business units.

As RIM is teetering on the brink financially and seems only to be able to differentiate competitively from its rivals by virtue of the superior security capabilities of its handsets and infrastructure, any breach would be a huge blow.

That’s not to say it is necessarily safer anywhere else, but eliminating China from the supply chain could be a wise move.

Even the Chinese government has indirectly admitted its firms do not innovate enough themselves – the inference I’m drawing here is they nick a lot of IP instead.

Kenny Lee, a forensics expert with Verizon Business, sat down with me on Thursday to explain what hacking activity he’s seeing inside Hong Kong and Chinese firms.

Interestingly, while he did admit there was a fair amount of “low level” IP theft from firms in the region, mainly due to employees looking to set up their own businesses, there is a more insidious data leakage problem – technology transfers.

These agreements are usually foisted on foreign multinationals wanting to expand into China. The deal is that they have to partner up with a local Chinese firm by law to sell into the country’s huge market, and in doing so will usually need to share IP with them.

After a certain point, Lee explained, the Chinese partner usually has enough knowledge to pull out of the venture, having sucked all the IP it needs from its foreign partner.

There’s the rub for foreign firms such as BT, who can’t gain direct access to the market but equally reject the idea of handing over their hard-earned IP.

There’s no chance of things changing from the top anytime soon, so foreign firms will continue to have to weigh the risks and make that judgement.


Telstra is fine with VTech – nothing to see here

There’s an interesting development in the VTech scandal I wrote about last week – Telstra has decided to start selling its kit again.

Now, I don’t mean to be cynical here but the Aussie telco giant only decided to pull VTech products temporarily from its shelves about a week ago after a report broke detailing serious human rights and labour abuses.

It provided me with the following statement today:

We are satisfied with the outcomes of our investigation and we will resume sales of the handsets in our branded stores.

So a week is all it takes to satisfy the many and very serious charges levelled by the report from not-for-profit the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights?

There could be a few explanations for what just happened:

  • The report is a complete fabrication and Telstra was quickly able to establish this
  • Telstra is doing this for purely commercial reasons – Vtech apparently makes all of its fixed line phones – and is still investigating behind the scenes
  • Telstra has been made assurances about VTech conditions by the company and has naively accepted them without investigating first hand.

Given that conditions in electronics factories in the Pearl River delta are known to be pretty awful, I think the first option is pretty unlikely.

Having made the bold step of removing VTech products in the first place to presumably head off any negative publicity at the pass, Telstra has opened itself back up very quickly.

No word yet from other big name tech vendors involved, including Motorola, Philips etc. Presumably if they agree with Telstra, then we can all sleep easy. Or not.

Final word to Geoff Crothall from HK-based rights group the China Labour Bulletin who told me the following:

Of course, one week is not long enough to fully investigate such claims. The only way to really understand working conditions is to listen to the workers. But before you do that you need to gain their trust and demonstrate that their complaints will be taken seriously and that mechanisms are in place to resolve their complaints.

Methinks this one is set to run a little longer yet, and could drag the names of the big tech brands involved further into the mire if they haven’t gotten their crisis management strategies  right from the outset.