A Developing Country That Can Teach Hawaii An IT Strategy Lesson

Vietnam is in the process of upgrading the entire country’s IT system. With support from organizations such as the World Bank, Vietnam is rebuilding not only physical infrastructure, but also starting from the ground up building new IT systems – including a large scale virtualization strategy.

Hawaii may not be so progressive. The first line of an Associated Press story on Hawaii’s lack of a functional IT strategy goes like this:

“In many ways Hawaii’s government runs its computers like the Internet age hardly happened.” (AP)

The story goes on to expose Hawaii’s lack of IT policy, the fact they are using old systems, a mixture of Apple and PCs for individual users, have a 1960s version of disaster recovery (offsite physical diskette storage), and other parallels with industry that add more discouraging evidence to Hawaii’s IT shortfalls.

Sensationalizing the Obvious

Information Technology in HawaiiI’ve always found it very easy to criticize. Perhaps the role of a journalist is to sensationalize the shortfalls of others, as people do tend to like watching others suffer – as long as the pain stays in somebody else’s life or reputation.

OK, so Hawaii does have some shortfalls in their IT systems. As a user, I have to say my experience using Hawaii’s eGovernment applications hasn’t been too bad. A plus in the Hawaii IT strategy column. I have never had an email rejected from a Hawaii state email server. Another plus. I could probably rack up a lot of pluses, but it is not sensational.

Now let’s look at the difficult side of journalism. Writing something positive and still trying to make it interesting to the readers.

Vietnam is an interesting case study. A larger population, and a lot more government than Hawaii. More problems to deal with – but the government is trying to drive the national IT strategy down to the city level, decentralizing actual applications and access as much as possible to promote the independence of provinces and cities – without disrupting the national IT plan to standardize IT management throughout government.

Nobody would ever suggest the US government try to standardize data strategies down to the state level, much less the city level, however there is still an interesting lesson that can be applied from the Vietnam model.

Data format standards on a national scale can facilitate information sharing and data mining. We won’t go into the personal security issues of that statement in this article, however data format standardization is a good thing for government. The commercial world and manufacturing have had data format/classification standards for many years, including projects such as RosettaNet, XBRL, and UNSPSC.

Thus a driver’s license format in Danang would look identical to the same item in Hanoi – representing 2 very different provinces. Data can easily be shared as needed for identification, reporting, law enforcement, and other data transfer.

Standardization is good.

Enter Virtualization and the Cloud

If a government bureaucracy in a state like Hawaii has extended its inefficiencies into the world of IT, and as stated in quotes the AP article included:

  • Hawaii’s department-by-department way of handling information would not work in the business world, where companies invested heavily in upgrades as the Internet and computers grew in importance.
  • It’s like we had all these little companies and they all grew at the same time, and then when the big company came along and merged everything, it never made the changes.

Beautiful Island - Not So Impressive IT StrategyWell, even in deeply entrenched bureaucracies there has to be a scheduled refresh of technology at some point. Even those precious little Macs and PCs will eventually die, become so old they cannot even load a browser, or the state will grind to a halt because a day will come when no computer in the government will be able to open a Microsoft Word 2010 document.

Maybe, just maybe – much like the government of Vietnam has come to realize, that refresh strategy could include cloud computing. The city of Los Angeles has accepted cloud, and that city probably has a larger government and bureaucracy than the entire state of Hawaii.

The AP article mentions that Governor Lingle has tried to establish an Office of the CIO within Hawaii. Good idea. One that will ultimately save the state a lot of money. Let’s push our representatives to make that happen!

A Proposal

Now select a couple of good data center locations. A couple on Oahu, maybe one each on Maui and the Big Island. Start building cloud computing centers on each island, connect them via dedicated high speed links, synchronize data and applications, then inform the state that all new editions of office automation software will be using a hosted edition of Office 2010, or other high performance hosted package.

Bang – saved money on license fees, labor for installers (those guys who are paid to update your anti-virus software and load service packs on your computer), and high performance desktop and laptop computers.

Start refreshing with dumb terminals and netbooks.

Establish a real state-wide disaster recovery model:

  • Cloud-based virtualized storage
  • Central cloud-based email system
  • Distributed DR model using network-based backups in geographically separated locations
  • Dumb terminals and netbooks backup to the centralized data base and storage – not on local equipment (unless the worker is a traveler). Access to the data is still available from a distant end location through use of VPNs.

Retrain the IT staff on developing applications in the cloud – not on under-the-desktop servers.

Could it really be that simple? Actually – yes. In addition, if the state of Hawaii can build a storefront of applications (including Office 2010-like products), and make those applications available to users on a state-wide basis, and reduce provisioning time for applications to minutes rather than months, why wouldn’t we consider this as an option to what Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D, Kalihi Valley-Halawa) was quoted as saying, “Every department has IT (information technology) people, and they each have their own way of doing things.”

Nonsense

Very 1970s… So not 2020s…

Vietnam is rebuilding their national infrastructure, the US government under the direction of CIO Vivek Kundra is rebuilding the national IT strategy. Hawaii can rebuild ours as well. And we have great examples and precedent to learn from.

Perspectives on War and Conflict – Which Side is Right?

As children of the 50s and 60s, growing up in the US, we had the constant fear of nuclear annihilation riding on our backs. The “Red Threat” resulted in the construction of nuclear fallout shelters, attack drills, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the “Domino Theory” warning of the advance of communism. Every American child was taught to fear, and hate, those who lived in foreign countries considered hostile to the US because of their ideologies and forms of government.

During my first visit to China in the early 1990s, I was genuinely afraid I’d be arrested at immigration due to my past US military experience. Even though I was in my late 30s, the fear of China was so deeply embedded into my psyche that I could not shake the impending feeling of doom as my airplane touched down at the Beijing airport. Even while deplaning I could not help but notice nearly EVERYONE in the airport was wearing some kind of uniform, and they were all looking at me as a spy or person who had entered their country to do them harm.

At immigration the inspector looked at my passport, and said “welcome to the People’s Republic of China.” And that was it.

Conflict of war and perspectiveExiting the airport also meant exiting the community of uniforms, and I entered a world that fascinated me then, given the warmth and openness of the people in Beijing, and continues to fascinate me today. Occasionally a Chinese person engaged me in a debate about the differences of democracy vs. communism, but in the post Tianamen period most Chinese were concentrating on making money, working hard, and getting on with their lives.

Ditto for Mongolia. While I have to admit it was a bit uncomfortable for me to see HIND helicopters flying around, and soldiers walking around with AK-47s, I started to warm up to the idea they were defending their country, their way of life, and trying to keep enemies away from their borders. Kind of like what Americans do within our country.

In Hanoi, a name that still brings a bit of anxiety to many Americans of my generation, walking through the city and museums produced concerns that I might not be well liked, as an American, in a country we fought in a horrible conflict through much of my youth. I had the feeling everybody looking at me was wondering if I flew B52s, or had wounded or killed one of their family.

In fact, many of them do have that question. But much like other humans around the world, life is for the living, and the living get on with their lives. In fact, Hanoi is one of the friendliest cities I have been in, and continues to bring pleasant surprises every time I venture out of the hotel into the community.

The 1000 Pound Reminder

I have started rationalizing my emotions towards war. As a professional soldier I know the meaning of conflict, have been in conflict, and don’t like it very much. The enemy has no face, no soul, no name, no family, and is a slab of meat that needs to be captured or killed. Soldiers, regardless of the soft news that surrounds winning the hearts and minds, are trained to take the lives of their enemies either while advancing on their position, or defending their own position. Pretty simple.

Walking through Hanoi there are still signs of conflict. A large crater that formed when 1000 pound bombs were dropped into neighborhoods. The “Hanoi Hilton” of John McCain fame. The “Hanoi Jane” memorial anti-aircraft gun. All memories of a time many years ago when people in Hanoi were killing or being killed.

As an American I grew up hating the Vietnamese for torturing US airmen. I grew up hating Muslims for the terrible things they did to Jews. I hated Cubans for just about everything. All a result of the media telling me I should hate them. A media that continue s to drive the same message for other conflicts and cultures – broadcast by people with a lot of experience in war, such as Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. They do have a lot of military experience to draw their conclusions from, right?

Now, after many years of walking through countries we have at some point in our generation been at war (Japan, Korea, China, Russia, Mongolia, Viet Nam, Palestine, Israel, Germany, etc., etc., etc…), my perspective is changing. I wonder how I, as an American, would react if the war was fought, for example, in Long Beach (California). If bombers from Manitoba were dropping 1000 pound bombs on Belmont Shore, what would my reaction be?

If I caught a Manitoban flyer who had his plane shot down while dropping bombs on my neighborhood, what would I do to him?

The answer is pretty easy. I would rip him limb from limb and feed the parts to coyotes – while I watched and laughed.

When I think of the indignities a young school girl encounters while passing from Ramallah into East Jerusalem, what can I expect her to think or feel as she passes Jewish people or Israelis each day? What if I was her father? How would I react to bulldozers wiping out my neighborhood to accommodate settlement expansions? If foreigners were occupying my homeland, would I welcome them with open arms, or find a way to fight?

How do you win the hearts and minds when a bomber accidently drops its payload on a civilian community and calls it “collateral damage?” At the end of the day, it really makes no difference if it is a mistake or not – people die.

It is all about your perspective. As history has shown, the winner ultimately writes the history. It is both enlightening, and confusing to look at the perspectives of each side. We can now look at the wars of the Romans, Mongols, British Empire, and Zulus with a detached, neutral, and academic view. Recent wars are still being written, and may not be understood for another 500 years or so. And when they are written, there is not going to be a right or wrong, only a winner and body count of the dead.

My perspective is now that war is not a good thing for the living. And as Clausewitz eloquently said, “war results when diplomats are incompetent or screw up.” Or something like that. And 16 year old children implement their failed policy with guns or explosives strapped to their belts.

All about perspective, and understanding there are two distinct sides to every argument or conflict.

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.

Citizen Journalism in Hanoi

For many Americans, the idea of traveling to Hanoi brings a certain level of mystique. Our media exposure to Hanoi has been primarily press corps following politicians such as John McCain, or via the occasional human interest story that pops through via an international cable channel such as Current TV. But for most Americans our memories and images of Hanoi are from the war, whether it is a photo of Jane Fonda gracing an anti-aircraft weapon, or the prisoners of war being released from custody.

Or maybe Vietnam has simply fallen off the charts as an area of interest, while the world focuses on other areas considered more important such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Citizen journalists may serve an important function in locations such as Hanoi. With an estimated population of nearly 6.3 million, Hanoi is far from a small town, and estimates are the city is growing at about 3.5% a year. The potential of Hanoi, and all other areas within Vietnam as an economic factor within the next decade is daunting, as the government aggressively tries to bring Vietnam into the modern global community.

A street scene from old town HanoiNo Visible Restrictions on Recording Life in Hanoi

Having completed a series of meeting in Hanoi, I had a day and a half of free time to look around and experience the city. During this time I probably took 2000 photos, interviewed a handful of Vietnamese and foreign expatriates, and walked freely through city streets. Not once was I questioned, cautioned, or otherwise threatened in either an official capacity, or unofficially by residents of the city.

Along with me were large gaggles of European tourists, mainly of the backpacker and “walk-about” variety. Most were frantically snapping away with their cameras in the Hanoi “Old Town,” and like me appeared to be traveling freely, without any level of distraction.

In short, the government made no attempt at preventing anybody in my limited experience from recording any level of reality within the streets of Hanoi. Hardly the restrictive government some media outlets would lead you to believe. Or maybe that is American media outlets.

Why it is Important to record Life in Hanoi, and Other Emerging Cities

In the 1970s while stationed on Okinawa in the US Air Force I met a former Marine who was returning to Okinawa to renew his karate certifications. The Marine was always carrying a camera, snapping photos of everything. Literally everything. Amused, I asked him why he found it so important to take pictures of everything he encountered, and the answer was simple. “You never know what is important, not important, or just interesting. However you should never let the moment go unrecorded, as the value may only be known long after the event has passed.” (Ihor Rymaruk – 1981)

Thus, while walking around Hanoi, talking with people and indulging in moments of sensory absorption, Hanoi is in a period of rapid reconstruction. The horrifying examples of aerial electrical and telecom cabling currently hanging in the streets are being replaced with buried cable. Superhighways are being constructed, and Internet diffusion into the education system is a very high priority with the government.

In 20 years much of old Hanoi will be replaced with a modern city, much as Beijing has gone from a city of Hutong (old-style brick structures), horses, bicycles, and scooters to a modern city of high-rises, Audis, and Starbucks – Hanoi will go through a similar modernization and conversion. The levels of CO2 spewing from legions of scooters will be replaced with modern transportation, and the city will be unrecognizable from the Hanoi of today.

The history of Hanoi, from the Mongols, to the French, to the Japanese, to the Vietnam of 2009 will also fade with globalization and the facelift of modernization.

Citizen Journalists Have a Story

There is an argument that says “on the Internet nobody knows you are a dog.” This roughly means that in the digital age, deception be3comes even easier than ever before in history. The ease of misrepresenting facts, issues, or history is as easy as typing in your desired format, Photo-shopping a picture, and recording your “facts.”

Thus the world in general has had some misgivings on the value or integrity of citizen journalism, or when amateurs become reporters.

The other argument is that citizen journalists only record facts, and others may interpret those facts based on their in-depth knowledge of the subject matter, or the spin which will further reinforce their objectives.

In reality, experience is beginning to show that for a majority of “amateur” journalists the intrinsic reward of presenting a story or record of events in its purest form is far more fulfilling than using their effort for purposes of propaganda or an intentional misrepresentation of events. Thus the raw footage of riots and emotion in the streets of Tehran following the recent elections – those recording the events did not analyze, they simply transmitted events to the world as quickly as possible to ensure the history was not lost.

Too Close to See Reality

The final factor is that in a city like Hanoi, people concentrate on their daily lives, with little regard to something as small as the power company digging up a sidewalk to bury high voltage power cabling. When you are concerned about your children getting to school on time, you do not concern yourself with mobile phone transmission towers being placed on a nearby building. Highway construction is more of an annoyance than a historical event.

Thus, the outsider brings value to the preservation of history. When we as senior citizens want to remind the youth of our struggles during war, poverty, or explain the days when we actually chopped our own wood for cooking fuel, without a record of that history a child who lives within a future generation of the iPhone will have difficulty understanding how their life evolved into an environment where any child in Hanoi is a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the global community.

Putting the Past Aside

CNN or Fox News cannot provide the bandwidth needed to bring both fact and analysis. Americans should have the opportunity to see the real Hanoi, not the Hanoi brought to us in novels or drama dwelling on the pain and history of war. The Vietnamese know there was a war, Americans know there was a war, and of course we cannot afford to let history slip past.

But we also cannot hold a 12 year old student accountable for the human tragedy experienced in previous 500 years of history – we can only welcome the student into the global community of 12 year old students who will lead the world in a few short years. Without citizen journalists presenting communities like Hanoi to the rest of the world, the youth of Hanoi may carry an unreasonable burden to “prove” themselves.

In Hanoi, the government has offered no restrictions on recording the Hanoi of today, and hopefully a corps of citizen journalists will ensure events are recorded through interviews, impressions, visuals (photos, video, sound), and not lost to the dark age of history. And with luck we will have a similar article in the near future talking about Palestine, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Iraq.

John Savageau, Inchon International Airport, South Korea

Mentoring in Vietnam with Ian Bromage

I first met Ian Bromage while he was doing volunteer work teaching ISO9000 theory in Mongolia with the United Nations Volunteers. Having learned he was now working in Vietnam, I was very happy to have an opportunity to meet with him, and talk about his experiences and work since leaving Mongolia. We met in Hanoi at the Hilton Hanoi Opera on 2 December 2009.

Pacific-Tier: Today we have Ian Bromage, Organization Effectiveness Advisor with the Voluntary Services Overseas/VSO, part of the UK government. Hello Ian! How are you doing tonight?

Ian Bromage VSO in Hanoi VietnamIan Bromage: I am fine, thank you, and very much enjoying the evening!

Pacific-Tier: Why don’t you give us a little about your background – how did you get to Hanoi?

Ian Bromage: Well, my background really is in telecoms, I worked for British Telecom for a very long period of time. But a few years back I decided I wanted to do something different, so I went and did some traveling, and then went to work in Mongolia as a small business advisor for the United Nations Volunteers/UNV.

Then I really got the development bug, I went back to the UK and did some further studying, and decided I wanted to go abroad again, and that’s how I ended up in Vietnam, Hanoi, with the Voluntary Service Overseas. And I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here so far.

Pacific-Tier: That’s very interesting. Going from a corporate environment to a volunteer environment, primarily outside of your home country. What is the incentive, and what is the interest to take you outside of your own country, work in developing areas like Mongolia, Vietnam, or emerging economies?

Ian Bromage: Really I guess I’ve always enjoyed traveling, and it’s been a fascination with different cultures – that’s one of the key motivators. And I think you get an entirely different experience working in a country abroad than you get as a tourist. You get to know the people more, you get to know the issues more, and I enjoy working as a volunteer. Both because I quite like the ethos of giving up my time to help others, but also because I do actually just enjoy it.

So being a volunteer isn’t about being a martyr or suffering, or anything like that – it’s nice to have a good experience as well.

Pacific-Tier: That’s great. Having many years with a company like British Telecom, it does give you a lot of organizational expertise, a lot of training, a lot of tacit knowledge and experience that is impossible to get through school. And you’re turning that into a product you can deliver today to your Vietnamese counterparts. How do the Vietnamese themselves respond to your mentoring and direction, are they what you expect?

Ian Bromage: yes, and I certainly enjoy working with them, and alongside them, and I think it is important to emphasize the fact it is working with them, not managing them. I here to help, I am not here to direct their organization.

I think you mentioned the word “tacit knowledge,” and I think that’s the key. I think we forget how ingrained things are in our culture, like meeting deadlines, like planning things in a certain way. Things are done differently here. Some of those things are very good, and some of those things need to change if the organization is going to be effective, if they are going to meet their objectives from both their donors who are giving them their money (if they’re talking of the NGO sector), and more importantly their beneficiaries that they’re trying to help.

Pacific-Tier: That’s very interesting. You mentioned the NGOs, so we’ll drill into that in just a moment. But even with the NGOs, or governmental organizations, you’re starting up a new organization, you are starting up a new way of doing things, that could roughly be parallel to commercial startups, or entrepreneurs… What is the entrepreneurial spirit of the people in Hanoi, are they excited about what you are doing with them?

Ian Bromage: yes, I believe so. I think in general in Hanoi, I think you can see there is a huge entrepreneurial spirit. I mean you look at the streets, and there isn’t a bit of space that hasn’t been turned over to some sort of private enterprise. So that entrepreneurial spirit is definitely there, and in the NGO sector, that (the entrepreneurial spirit) is there too.

There is a lot of competition for resources, a lot of NGOs are operating in the same space. That brings advantages of competition, they have to be effective, do what they do well to survive, which is an ongoing concern. It also brings problems in the fact it causes a lot of fragmentation. Sometimes I think the organizations cloud learn to collaborate with each other better, and to work better together to see the advantages to working towards common goals.

Pacific-Tier: You’ve been primarily in a mentor’s role. Have you learned anything, either Mongolia or Vietnam, have you learned anything (yourself) by being in the countries?

Ian Bromage: To be patient is certainly one of the skills you learn in a developing country. You realize sometimes that people’s values are different from your own. Sometimes you learn the importance of family relationships and familiar are often more important than the relationships at work. I think that is something we could probably learn.

For example, where I work at the moment, everyone sits down to lunch together. They make sure they all have their lunch, then eat together. There’s a lot of conversation, there’s a lot of jokes, that is very different from the environment I come from where so often these days people just grab a sandwich, eat at their desks, get to their work and don’t speak with other people.

Pacific-Tier: We do need to sit back sometimes and understand that we have to balance our lives a little bit as well. So how long do you expect to stay in Vietnam?

Ian Bromage: My assignment is for two years, so it is a very good, long period. I’ve been here for three months so far. I think that two years does allo0w you to develop those relationships and develop trust with people. And as some things take a lot longer you have that time and space that makes you able to put processes and procedures in place and watch those take shape, which you can’t do in a short consultancy where you are just coming in to fix a particular problem.

Pacific-Tier: have you found your calling now, or do you find yourself slipping back into the corporate world at any time in the future?

Ian Bromage: I would like to continue to work in the developing (nation) field. I think there are aspects of the corporate world that I miss, but I think I could find those in the development arena as well. So I don’t see myself going back into the private sector in Western Europe.

Pacific-Tier: It’s a very big world. Mongolia and Vietnam are only two countries. With your experience there’s probably a lot of other places you can go. Will you continue to work with organizations such as the Volunteer Services Overseas, or do you see doing this as a commercial enterprise? What do you see in the future, or are you just living day-to-day now?

Ian Bromage: I would like to do a mix of work, I think, in the future. I would certainly like to continue work with NGOs. I would certainly like to work at, what is termed the grass-roots level. But I would also like to get involved with policy work, and other aspect of work with governments and things. So I’d quite like to develop a range of skills, and have a mix of opportunities to be able to move up and down at different levels and move across in different regions or geographic areas.

But we’ll see. Who knows what the future holds!

Pacific-Tier: We normally talk about entrepreneurship in this series. Working with a lot of young people today in Vietnam, and formerly ion Mongolia, do you have any advice for any UK, or American, or Vietnamese, or any other developing countries where young people are jumping into the market. Do you have any advice for them as entrepreneurs?

Ian Bromage: Well I think the key thing is to always look at fresh approaches to come up with new ideas. And that’s not just in the technical field in terms of inventions and things. It’s to look at new approaches to social problems, look at new techniques, look beyond your world, look at the way other people do things. Try to travel and experience other cultures.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – I think that’s very key. Everybody makes mistakes. You need to learn from them, and move on. So I think that’s a very important skill for young people to have. Not to be disappointed when things don’t turn out the way they expect them to.

Pacific-Tier: I would agree. I think that taking the risk and moving ahead is probably the best training somebody can get. You can’t pay for the training you get when you make an error, or if you have a failure in our plan, it’s the best training you can get.

Any other final worlds for people who may be listening to you from Hanoi?

Ian Bromage: Well if they are listening from Hanoi, I am thoroughly enjoying my stay here. I think it’s a great place, it’s an exciting place, it’s a fast moving place, I’m really enjoying it and I am looking forward to spending the next couple years here.

If anybody wants to come and visit Hanoi, I would thoroughly recommend it.

Pacific-Tier: Well thank you very much, and I sincerely hope that someday you will be able to take the time and do a few guest blogs for us.

You can listen to the entire audio interview at Pacific Tier

A Day in Hanoi – Moving On to a Tech-Fueled Future

How do you get 6.2 million people up every morning, feed them, send them to work or school, and put a roof over their heads every night in a country where the average income of a worker is around $800 a year? Then answer is easy. Hard work, sacrifice, innovation, and an entrepreneurial spirit that is partially survival instinct, and mostly hope.

Motor Scooter Covered with HatsIn Hanoi it is easy to be confused while walking down a main street where many shops offer the latest in wide screen TVs and mobile phone technology, while navigating sidewalks busy with vendors trying to scrape a living by selling used books and bowls of dumplings.

We’ve been here before. Guangzhou in the early 1990s. Ulaanbaatar in the 1990s. Jakarta. Locations that are now littered with a Starbucks on every street corner, Mercedes Benz jamming the streets, and a hunger for opulence that has literally flipped the economy and quality of life on its back.

Does Hanoi have the same opportunity and appetite for success as other Asian countries? The intellectual and institutional tools to make s it happen?

Absolutely.

In the 1900s foreign tech companies would go to China to set up shop. Most had a twisted idea that if they sold a comb to one billion Chinese they would become wealthy, but others saw the potential of China as a place to build new business, and new business models not possible in their home countries. In the telecom Telecom and Power Cabling in Hanoibusiness we found university graduates with strong backgrounds in math, science, and physics – but had never actually touched a laptop computer or telecom switch.

Within a few months, with their strong academic training, the Chinese employees were overtaking their (in our case) American counterparts in both understanding the technology we were deploying, but also having a view into the future that was not nurtured in our home offices.

As a company we made the decision to let the China-based branch offices of our company loose to develop new products, software, and services based roughly on our company’s target market. The China office blew past our home office vision, and led the company into new areas of business that ultimately changed our entire service line – until we were eventually throttled back due to our business being contributed into a merger.

I see the same intelligence, capability, and burning hunger for success in Hanoi. The university graduates I meet are smart, really smart. Unlike the 1990s in China, Hanoi (and I assume many parts of Vietnam) already have some access to Internet technology. Very low cost Internet cafes dot the city, and a peek into the café reveals users are not playing games – rather they are using Facebook and other social media to communicate with expatriate relatives and friends, as well as making new contacts around the world.

Well-educated, and globalized.

Prioritizing Hanoi

There are several arguments possible on where and how Hanoi should focus their innovative efforts. The city infrastructure is appalling. Raw sewage floats down the sidewalks and street where children are playing. Tens Motor Scooters at an Intersection in Hanoiof thousands of scooters spew CO2 into the air. Low quality coal is used in homes for cooking and heat, spewing terrible levels of particulate into the air, as well as increasing the potential of illness due to CO2 poisoning in the home.

Clean water is also a commodity, and there is no assurance even tap water meets minimum international standards for health.

High voltage power lines are frequently running along the top of city sidewalks, and bundles of telephone and power cables drape their way across streets and intersections creating a situation that makes you pray there are no typhoons, earthquakes, or even irresponsible lorry (truck) drivers that may cause one of the utility poles to tumble into a crowded public space.

So the dilemma – should a city like Hanoi focus all its effort on rebuilding city infrastructure, or jumping into the 22nd century exploiting the capacity of their youth? Rhetorical? Maybe. Necessary? Definitely.

My suggestion would be to let the international agencies work with government to develop a strategy to rebuild the city’s infrastructure, and let the private sector develop the youth of Vietnam to build the basis for an economy and society for the next generation.

It would be a tragedy to force the youth of Hanoi, or any other developing country, to miss the opportunities of living in a global social and economic future driven by technology – and be forced to look forward to a life of selling used books to foreigners standing outside of the Hanoi Opera House, scraping enough money out of the sympathies of passing tourists, to find enough money to buy food to live through the next day.

Maybe there is a place for both. Maybe the youth can be trained to develop technologies that will help rebuild Vietnam’s infrastructure. The only problem that arises is that building infrastructure does not build products, provide exports, or support a market economy – it is merely a national cost center in a country that clearly is not in a position to afford a US-style deficit.

Back to the Future

But, when walking past an elementary school it is easy to become excited at the future of Hanoi. Young people must be smarter than our “baby boomer” generation, and they are being presented with basic intellectual tools to run with their dreams and visions. This will not be in competition to America or other country, but rather a new partner in developing a better world.

Given the experiences of China and Mongolia (my own experiences), I have deep empathy for the current sacrifices being made each day by the people of Hanoi, and great optimism that Hanoi’s quality of life and place in the globalized social community will level with the international community within the next generation.

John Savageau, Hanoi

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