No one can doubt that in the time of Covid-induced lockdowns and quarantines, modern technologies have played a crucial role in keeping societies functional. In an exclusive interview with Khmer Times, Sok Sopheakmonkol, co-founder of Codingate, a Cambodia-based business solutions company and the winner of the Smart Technology Entrepreneur Award in 2016, shares his thoughts on how significant IT is for the survival of businesses in Cambodia.
KT: In the past six months, from your observation, how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected business operations in the Kingdom?
Sopheakmonkol: Even before the pandemic, many businesses had already shifted from traditional business methods to an IT-based approach. Some businesses are beginning to understand the situation and have started employing the new approach after the pandemic first emerged. All of these businesses have survived the economic calamity brought about by the public health crisis. Many businesses which have not adjusted or failed to adjust to modern technology are closing. Examples include restaurants that have not joined online food delivery platforms and also traditional retail shops.
KT: How do you think the pandemic is opening more opportunity for IT operators in Cambodia?
Sopheakmonkol: Many businesses now are still trying to adjust by bringing in automation and establishing online bases, whether they want to or not.
First of all, this helps them to reduce operational costs amid the financial crisis, including spending on raw materials, staff and communications.
Secondly, as the level of competition is rising, businesses are in need of good branding and social media management to boost their visibility and of course, sales. It is not an exaggeration to say that automation is the key to survival in today market.
KT: With such an increase in demand, do you think Cambodian IT service providers have the capacity and capability to meet it?
Sopheakmonkol: I see that there are many providers in the Kingdom, but quality is what we really have to question. In other words, providers can create apps but it seems that they do not really understand how the technology can be applied in the business environment. In addition, service providers need to keep up with the new business models the entrepreneurs are coming up with every day. Another problem is human resources. We have plenty of IT graduates, but again, the level of their skill is to be questioned. What they learn at schools or universities does not match the demand in the current market. Obviously, at the moment, there is a big difference between what businesspeople want and what the IT people can do. This difference could lead to ineffectiveness and failure in the adaptation.
KT: As Cambodia is pushing for Industry 4.0, do you think the country is ready for this new era? Why?
Sopheakmonkol: What I can say is that only a small percentage of businesses can transform their operations into digitalised platforms to catch up with this push. Most of the local businesses do not possess the necessary knowledge, skill and technologies. More resources need to be redirected to the investment on information technology and digitalisation to overcome this challenge. I can see that many investors are not afraid to invest in this sectors in Cambodia, in which majority of the population are young and enthusiastic, but they need a preferable environment to thrive, including clear information on the market and comprehensive openness for innovation.
KT: What do you think the Cambodian government should do to improve the IT sector in the Kingdom?
Sopheakmonkol: The government has shown great effort in pushing the sector by creating new laws and directives to allow both the service providers and clients to move smoothly toward digitalisation. However, more has to be done, including pushing for more training and retraining of IT technicians as well as bringing technology to school as early as possible for children so that they can be prepared for the future labour market and businesses’ needs.