Vietnam’s Focus on Information and Communications Technology

When you live in California, it is easy to be a bigot when it comes to technology. Even within the United States the Silicon Valley attracts venture capital at a multiple of any other location within the country. It is easy to ignore the efforts of companies in Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlanta, or even Boston when looking at the rate of investment going into the ‘valley.

Here in Hanoi, the English newspaper “Viet Nam News” provides not only a mini-International Herald Tribune view of international news, but also a well-written review of primarily economic news within Viet Nam. Looking at the topics in this week’s papers you see a high number of articles related to both high tech investments in Viet Nam, as well as reviews on the status of technology infrastructure projects.

  • “Intellectual Property will be Protected, says VN President”
  • Articles on energy conservation and “green” strategies
  • The national telecom company (Viet Nam Post and Telecommunications/VNPT) subscriber growth
  • eCommerce and eBusiness strategies and support
  • Cooperation with other nations such as Israel, India, Japan, and the US
  • Regulating the internet “café” and kiosk industries
  • A critical article on the low rate of 31% for companies supporting web presence for their organization or business

It is all very exciting. It is exciting to know ICT infrastructure is getting a very high priority by the government, in addition to education. The marriage of ICT and education will continue to provide the country with an educated workforce, who will no doubt find their way into the international university system, and ultimately find their way home to Viet Nam.

An Internet Cafe in HanoiIt is easy to observe children going to school early in the day, and staying until their evening classes are completed. School children explain they are focusing their academic efforts on mathematics, physics, and language. Contrast this to the “soft” education our children are receiving in American schools, with a high percentage of children in cities such as Los Angeles never graduating, and you can see that countries like Viet Nam, with an emphasis on delivering ICT infrastructure and education will eventually have a major impact on the US’s ability to remain competitive with our own citizens.

In the US we fight over who has the right of way to build infrastructure though a public location, or which carrier has the monopoly to deliver services within a community. We worry about Network Neutrality and the control of content delivered over the network.

In Hanoi the government is funding, with the help of international donors and lenders, ICT infrastructure that equals or exceeds standards in many US cities – without the drama. You cannot walk a sidewalk in Hanoi without seeing major development projects, and huge bundles of conduit being buried beneath the sidewalks and streets.

Back to Education and ICT

At what point does Stanford and MIT determine they cannot meet their academic standards with American students, and have to come to countries like Viet Nam to recruit qualified freshman? At what point do the Vietnamese students return home, and begin to develop industries with funding from countries happy to encroach on the Silicon Valley’s dominance in technology and investment?

Years ago I would be offended by the high number of immigrants in cities such as Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Milpitas. Now I realize we, as Americans, need the immigrants to continue providing highly educated and qualified people to drive our high tech industries. Rather than push these innovative and educated immigrants away, we need to embrace them and hope they will stay and become Americans as well. (author)

When I review newspapers in Los Angeles, Long Beach, or the San Fernando Valley, I cannot find the level of energy related to ICT found in the Viet Nam News/VNN. Counting on my fingers, the VNN has about three times the number of articles related to technology that AI would find in the LA Times. It is exciting to see the publisher, even if it is the government (with a bit of planned media influence), evangelizing the topic. The exception may be the San Jose Mercury News, which is by default focused on the activities in the Silicon Valley.

If it was only hype, I would probably ignore the news and go on about my business in Viet Nam. But you cannot walk the streets without absorbing the reality of ICT infrastructure construction. Telecom and telecom transmission, Internet, electricity, data centers, education – it is all visible.

Viet Nam is on the right track for their country’s development. Nothing is perfect, and there is always a “B” side to every story. However to the critical observer the direction of ICT in Viet Nam is strong.

Forward

Business and Social Frog Soup – are we ready for the next decade?

Over the past couple years I have written several stories with “frog soup” as a main theme. The idea of being in cold water, and not recognizing the degree by degree Frog soup concerns for the American economyincrease of heat in the water, till at some point we are cooked, is the danger of being a cold-blooded animal. Business may follow a similar course.

In business we can follow the route of “this is the way we’ve always done it, and it works, so there is no reason to change our processes or strategies.” Innovations like virtualization or cloud computing hit the headlines, and many say “it is a cool idea, but we want the security and hands-on confidence of running our own servers and applications.”

In the United States many telecom companies continue to build business cases based on “milking” telephone settlement minutes, bilateral relationships, and controlling telecom “pipes.” Internet service providers (ISPs) continue holding on to traditional peering relationships, holding out for “paid peering,” doing everything possible to attain market advantage based on traffic ratios.

Nothing new, same ideas, different decade.

It is international frog soup.

In Vietnam the government is currently planning to build an entirely new information infrastructure, from the ground up, based on the most cutting edge telecom and data/content infrastructure. Children in Hanoi go to school at 7 a.m., take a quick lunch break, hit the books till around 5 p.m., take another break, and finish their day at study sessions till around 9 p.m.

Concentration – mathematics, physics, and language.

The children are being exposed to Internet-based technologies, combining their tacit experience and knowledge of global interconnected people with a high degree of academic sophistication.

In the United States children go to school for, at most, 6 hours a day, graduating with (on average) little capabilities in math or language – although we do have deep knowledge of metal detectors and how to smoke cigarettes in the restrooms without being caught. In Los Angeles, some locations cannot even hit a 50% graduation rate among high school students.

And oddly enough, we appear to be comfortable with that statistic.

Perhaps our approach to business is following a similar pattern. We become used to approaching our industry, jobs, and relationships on a level of survival, rather than innovation. We may not in some cases even have the intellectual tools to apply existing technology to the potential of functioning in a global economy. Then we are surprised when an immigrant takes our job or business.

Some universities, such as Stanford, aggressively recruit students from foreign countries, as they cannot attract enough qualified student s from the United States to meet their desired academic threshold. And once they graduate from Stanford, they find their way into Silicon Valley startups, with an entrepreneurial spirit that is beyond the scope of many American graduates.

Those startups have the intellectual and entrepreneurial tools to compete in a global economy, using innovative thinking, unbound by traditional processes and relationships, and are driving the center of what used to be America’s center of the global innovation world. Except that it is only based in Silicon Valley, and now represents the center of a global innovative community. Possibly due to the availability of increasingly cheaper American labor?

Frog Soup

Us Americans – we are getting lazy. Innovation to us may mean how we manipulate paper, and has nothing to do with manufacturing and business innovation. We are starting to miss the value of new products, new concepts, and execution of business plans which end up in production of goods for export and domestic use. We believe concentration on services industries will drive our economy into the future, based on products and other commercial goods imported into our country.

Except for the painful fact and reality we do not have a young generation with the intellectual tools to compete with kids in Hanoi who are on a near religious quest to learn.

The temperature is rising, and we as a country and economic factor in the global community is being diluted every day.

Time to put away the video games and get back to work. No more “time outs,” only time to roll up our sleeves and learn, innovate, learn, innovate, and innovate some more. Forget comfort, we are nearly soup.

Leveling the Intellectual Playing Field with Stanford’s eCorner

What? Leveling the intellectual playing field with Stanford? The home of elite, wealthy, and over-privileged?

While eLearning is nothing new to the Internet generation, traditionally eLearning content was dull, “uninspirational,” and in many cases an ineffective alternative to Learning by Lectureresidence or classroom learning. Commercialized or neutralized to make lessons suitable for the masses, or in a worst case part of an uninspired project by religious or international organizations with motives more focused internally than for the benefit of their own organization – rather than the ultimate users of their product.

So we compare access to intellectual stimulation and development a student may have in residence at Stanford, UC Berkeley, or MIT to a kid growing up in Ramallah (Palestine), and the playing field appears far from level. Stanford will continue to pump out global business leaders, and the kid in Ramallah will learn to survive.

Good news for the kid in Ramallah – the Internet now extends to their home. Whether at an Internet café or kiosk in the city center, a library, at home through a wireless connection, or if their school is one of the lucky institutions with Internet access, the student now has the global network tether extended to their eyes and minds.

How the Playing Field is Extended

Being one of those lucky people with the means to enjoy MP3 players and easy access to the Internet, occasionally I unexpectedly stumble upon a “gold mine” of valuable resources. Accessing Zune’s library of free podcasts is a great way to not only harvest great music, but is also a gateway to podcasts related to the arts, business, education, entertainment – you name it, there is a podcast for it.

Having recently left the corporate world to jump into the entrepreneurial world, I did a search on “entrepreneur” in the Zune podcast directory, and was shocked to see a response of about 100 business entrepreneur, startup, advice, and news streams pinging on the keyword.

Stanford had a series listed as “The Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Lecture Series.” OK, cool. Let’s give it a shot and I can listen while on the treadmill.

What a shock. Suddenly I am inside an auditorium at Stanford University, listening to guest lecturers speaking to a class at the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. The lecturers included Steve Ballmer, Craig Barrett, Greg Papadopoulus, Sheryl Sandberg, Jensen Huang – all people we read about in the papers as the thought leaders and business visionaries leading the technical world. These lecturers were giving their most secret strategies on how to build businesses, where the economy is going, what is important, and genuinely inspiring the students.

Just a few years ago, these lectures would only be available to the elite. The ideas, visions, strategies – all the most powerful thoughts of our intellectual leadership in an informal venue, with an extended question and answer period with students poised to start the next generation of technologies and dreams to lead the business world.

Now, with the Internet, and the benevolence of Stanford University’s leadership, this level of access to the highest levels of education is available to the kid in Ramallah with an Internet connection. Now that kid in Ramallah can be inspired by global thought leadership, enlightened at a level now exposed though the veil of a domain restricted to the elite.

The intellectual playing field is now being leveled.

Not Just Stanford

While Stanford’s program is the first which triggered my middle-aged head to explore this new ocean of resource, many other universities are delivering extremely high quality video and audio casts of their lectures and classrooms through similar venues. Stanford offers online lectures on topics such as the “Introduction to Linear Dynamical Systems, ” UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, and many others offer lectures on everything from the sciences, to dozens of foreign languages, to Business 101.

All free to anyone with an Internet connection. All available to kids and adults in Ramallah, Ulaanbaatar, or South Bend, Indiana.

AcademicEarth.Org

No sooner do I get over the hangover from looking at podcasts available through the Zune directory when I stumble on AcademicEarth .Org,

Academic Earth’s objective states “We are building a user-friendly educational ecosystem that will give internet users around the world the ability to easily find, interact with, and learn from full video courses and lectures from the world’s leading scholars.  Our goal is to bring the best content together in one place and create an environment in which that content is remarkably easy to use and where user contributions make existing content increasingly valuable.”

  • Participating Universities include:
  • UC Berkeley
  • Harvard
  • MIT
  • Princeton
  • Stanford
  • UCLA
  • Yale

With subjects covering all areas of a typical university curriculum, our subject in Ramallah now has access to as many lectures as time will allow – the same lectures students attend at the best universities in the world. While no video will replace the face-to-face experience of classroom interaction, contributions universities such as Stanford and participants in the AcademicEarth.Org provide a global resource that is unprecedented in quality and depth.

And leveling the global intellectual playing field

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