Comments on Vietnam Informatics 2000

Larry Press

Fourth Informatica Conference

Ho Chi Minh City

August 2-6, 1994

The following comments were based on a short visit and a fast reading of the plan. They are based on very limited information, and may not have great relevance.

National Goals

Information Technology (IT) must serve national goals -- it is not an end in itself. For example, if a government places high priority on medicine or agriculture, IT resources should be allocated appropriately. Could IT improve agriculture by increasing crop yields, providing market information, or making distribution more efficient? The Minister mentioned that he is worried about motorbikes causing urban pollution. Since people want more motorbikes, could computing and research skills help design more efficient motorbike engines? If rapid urban growth and concentration of capital is desired, IT investment should be concentrated in the major cities. Alternatively, a policy which disbursed IT infrastructure throughout the provinces, would allow people to remain where they are. Today Vietnam is predominantly rural. An urban-centered IT policy could increase migration to the major cities, which has led to problems in many nations.

Productivity increases are beneficial, but can lead to unemployment. Many Vietnamese work in small retail businesses. Perhaps IT could increase the efficiency of distribution of goods, but if it did, would the shop keepers still have a productive role? Would they require education and retraining? The goal is not only increased efficiency and productivity, but a meaningful life for all people. (This is a problem in the U. S. today). An IP plan should anticipate and plan for changes in employment, demographics, and other areas.


The IT plan discusses applications as well as infrastructure. I would concentrate on infrastructure more than specific applications, allowing ministries, schools, businesses, and other users decide how to best utilize the infrastructure you provide. Of course, users should be involved in infrastructure design and evolution, but as experience with the Internet indicates, decentralization seems preferable to central planning.

The plan stresses government applications. This is natural since the government has been the primary user of IT, and each ministry has a staff with ideas for small networks and applications they would like to implement. However, I would make the infrastructure available to all users -- business, education, and non-profit as well as government. Fast growing, useful networks like the Internet and Relcom [2] in the ex-soviet Union have shown the benefit of openness. (Socially desirable segments like education may be subsidized).

Infrastructure should be thought of broadly -- it includes computer users, computer technicians, networking hardware and software, the telephone system and other communication links, and PCs spread throughout the country [1, 7]. The infrastructure must be planned and grow in a balanced manner. For example, you should not invest in networks unless there are users and PCs ready to use them, and the telephone system is upgraded to handle the load and speed reliably. The PTT must plan for increased capacity and set rates in a manner which will facilitate the achievement of national goals, rather than seek to maximize their revenue. Import policies should encourage the widespread availability of computers. The education system must produce users and technicians in a balanced ratio.


Networking projects should be consistent with the level of the complementary infrastructure. I was impressed by Ho Chi Minh's house when we visited. It was simple, but sufficient (unlike the lavish presidential palace in HCMC). IT infrastructure should also be appropriate to Vietnam. Since communication lines are poor and few people in the provinces have ideas for utilizing a computer network, a batch-oriented UUCP network might be more appropriate than an interactive TCP-IP network. A UUCP network would provide email, usenet news, and file transfer using PC technology and current phone lines. The cost would be a PC, modem, software, and a trained person in each province. That person would have to install and operate the system, train users, and help them find ways to use the system. He or she would need both technical skills and the ability to work well with users. (You could of course begin with a test project in only a few provinces).

With time, as people learned to use the network, and discovered ways it could help them, there would be demand to justify a communication system to support a higher speed network. Networking plans must be carried out in the context of PTT plans, policies on PC import, and so forth. Wireless technology might also be used to link LANs within the cities if the phone system is inadequate at present. A sophisticated network might be your ultimate goal, but it is not the first step. (Building somewhat gradually will also allow you to take advantage of declining prices).

Note that this does not mean you should be using outdated technology. For a UUCP network, you should the latest personal computers and modems, and graphically-oriented, Vietnamese- language software [4]. In database applications, you should use a client-server approach (not terminals connected to a minicomputer time-sharing system) for greater ease of use and as a way of overcoming difficulty with phone lines.


IT education also should be balanced with the rest of the infrastructure. Many Vietnamese professors have been trained as research specialists at European universities. This is costly, and today there are few research opportunities when they return. The same resources might be better applied to obtaining practical, bachelor and masters level education for a larger number of people. These people would be able to build the emerging infrastructure and applications, and to educate future generations of technicians and users.

While it necessary to train IT professionals, the formal and informal training of the general population is also critical. Do not overlook informal training that takes place when people have access to computers. (One of the waiters at my hotel restaurant had a PC at home). A policy that encourages the proliferation of computers in business, community centers, and homes, will result in increased computer skills in the general population. The Cuban Youth Computer Clubs [3], which place computers in community centers throughout the nation, are an example of a policy to encourage informal training of users. (Of course, some of these people will go on to become IT professionals).

IT Export

The plan speaks of the development of an IT export industry. Many developing nations feel there is an opportunity in software export, and some have had some success. For example, India is widely cited. However it must be borne in mind that Indian industry and government have been developing their software industry for many years, and, while it is profitable and rapidly growing, it is a very small percent of the Indian economy.

Vietnam may one day be a software exporter; however, it is difficult to imagine that this will ever be a significant portion of the economy, and there is much work to do today in creating internal applications and infrastructure. IT export will only occur after you develop the balanced infrastructure described here, and discover your niches and particular expertise [6]. It will grow naturally, based upon work done on internal Vietnamese projects, and will be in applications and technologies where Vietnam has specialized capabilities or problems. (For example, a Vietnamese problem like air pollution due to motorbikes, might result in an export industry if a Vietnamese solution is discovered).


Your plan calls for many activities; however, it will take time, and priorities will have to be established. Everything cannot be done at once. Still, the plan should deliver some short-run benefit, or it will be ignored. Short run results would establish your credibility, and begin the critical process of developing widespread IT literacy and a user population.

While building a modern IT infrastructure will take many years, you should be encouraged. The technology is powerful, and costs are falling. Over a decade or so, you can make much progress (as, for example, in Chile [5]). Perhaps your most important advantage is leadership which is committed to moving forward.

1.  Goodman, S, Press, L, Ruth, S., and Rutkowski, A., "The 
Global Diffusion of the Internet: Patterns and Problems," 
Communications of the ACM, Vol 37, No 8, pp 27-31, August, 1994.

2.  Press, L., "The Net:  Progress and Opportunity," 
Communications of the ACM, December, 1992.

3. Press, L., "Technetronic Education: Answers on the Cultural 
Horizon," Communications of the ACM, May, 1993, Vol. 36, No. 5, p 

4. Press, L., "Empowering Low-Bandwidth Users," Proceedings of INET 
'93, International Networking Conference, San Francisco, August 
17-20, 1993, Internet Society, Reston, VA.

5. Press, L., "A Report From Chile," Hong Kong Business Journal, 
August 28-9, 1993.

6. Press, L., "Software Export from Developing Nations," IEEE 
Computer, December, 1993.

7. Press, L., "Developing Networks in Less Industrialized Nations," 
IEEE Computer, in press.

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