MANILA--Although the country's mobile and cloud space already have been growing at a frenetic pace over the last couple of years, local technology companies are expecting these sectors to see explosive growth in 2012 as both technologies gain mainstream popularity.
While the Philippines is already a hotbed for mobile innovations, industry observers said booming demand for Internet-capable smartphones and tablets are pushing the country's mobile sector to expand into new markets.
"The introduction of more affordable smartphones that are more powerful than most personal computers indicates that mobile phones have outdone the modern PC," said Ming Espineda, research analyst at XMG. "Clearly, there is a need to incorporate mobility in the PC and its application through cloud technology."
Ramon Isberto, public affairs head of mobile operator Smart Communications, said social media will further accelerate Internet usage in the country.
"As telcos roll out their broadband networks, more people in more areas of the country will be able to access the Internet. The challenge is how to increase the penetration of these Web devices and services," noted Isberto.
Smart's parent company and the country's dominant carrier, PLDT, is convinced mobile devices and tablets will continue to dominate the consumer IT segment next year. "As a consequence, more apps will be rolled out for these devices whether [Google] Android, [Apple] iOS or in any upcoming mobile platform," the company said.
Mobile developers should choose right focus
Local software developers also believe there will be increased startup activity, especially in the mobile and cloud space.
"Because of the low-barriers to entry for mobile and cloud startups, many developers will decide to create their own products," said Calen Legaspi, CEO of Orange and Bronze Software Labs.
However, Legaspi, who also serves as technology director of the Philippine Software Industry Association (PSIA), cautioned developers from focusing too much on mobile development. "It's okay to have those skills on your team but [don't] focus mainly in these skills," he said.
"Since projects in mobile tend to be small, these can be done by individuals. It will, therefore, be tough for companies to compete on cost with independent contractors who are easily available through online contracting sites," he explained. "Outsourcing companies should focus on server-side skills, with mobile software development as a secondary offering."
Local ICT companies are equally bullish on the burgeoning cloud computing space, with local operator Globe Telecom noting that the promise of cloud will attract organizations to explore new options.
"With cloud solutions, enterprises will have agility and mobility in acquiring, storing and doing a backup of their important data, and can subscribe to computing power and data center modules on demand," said Jesus Romero, head of Globe Business.
PLDT concurs with Globe, its lone rival in the country's lucrative mobile telecommunications business.
"Almost everybody is going to cloud computing in the IT industry. Services and applications are being shared via the Internet," a company spokesperson said in an e-mail. "[But] with cloud services, you will have an issue with IT security [so companies] will [find] a balance between ubiquitous access and security risk. And with many devices accessing the Internet, the shift from IPv4 to IPV6 needs to materialize soon."
Smart chimed in: "Service providers will have to overcome the security concerns of businesses.
"But for consumers, they have long opted for the cloud, whether they knew it or not. Social networking and e-mail are all in the cloud. The question is, can local firms develop relevant services in the cloud, too?"
For tech titan IBM, which is marking its 75th year in the country this year, the debate is long over in favor of the cloud--insofar as businesses as concerned.
"Cloud computing can increase business performance by creating new business models, enabling speed and innovation, reengineering business processes and supporting new levels of collaboration. It is massively scalable, provides a superior user experience and is characterized by new, Internet-driven economics," Big Blue said.
PSIA's Legaspi said companies should turn to cloud services to reduce their administrative headaches and costs, as well as gain efficiencies and improved collaboration.
"New Philippine software outsourcing firms should opt to focus on Groovy, Ruby or Python so they can compete within a focused niche, instead of trying to compete with the larger firms doing Java or .Net," he explained. "Opportunities lie in creating or integrating systems on top of SaaS products like Google Apps, Google Maps, Netsuite and Salesforce."
Nurturing local startups
On the outsourcing front, Legaspi said U.S.-based incubators and venture capital firms will increasingly look to invest in Philippine startups, furthering the software industry.
"Independent contracting will also lure software developers away from the job market, since they can get offshore jobs online from the comfort of their own homes," he noted. "Many of these jobs will be in remote cities and towns far away from the big cities, as long as the Internet bandwidth is available and steady."
Business intelligence (BI) is an area ICT providers are also watching closely.
Globe Telecom's Romero said the explosion of information coming from different devices will push IT vendors "to tell a story behind a vast amount of data".
"The IT industry will be inspired to become strategic partners in terms of empowering enterprises to have quantitative data and have that information used to their advantage through various BI solutions," he noted.
IBM, however, said BI tools should be deployed by enterprises and government agencies in an "integrated system that is designed for big data through advanced analytics".
"They must, therefore, collect, store, manage and secure all available data in all forms, to build a holistic, integrated vision across institutions and sectors," a company spokesperson said. "By analyzing and harnessing information from all aspects of society, governments can better collaborate internally and with public and private partners to improve existing services and pioneer new initiatives."
Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.