MANILA--As the country prepares to hold its first automated elections, the local technology industry is hopeful a successful implementation of the computerized polls will boost the sector and attract investments in key areas, particularly, cloud computing and mobile.
The Philippines has reason to be bullish this year as it emerged relatively unscathed from the financial meltdown that devastated most countries last year. The country's export-oriented semiconductor industry--the hardest hit in the local tech sector--is already sensing a rebound with shipments in PCs, mobile handsets, and automotive electronic systems expected to return to growth this year.
Narra Venture Capital (NarraVC), a local venture firm that invests in private high-technology companies, said like last year, the company will still be on the lookout for promising startups that develop software for Web and the telecom market.
Francisco "Paco" Sandejas, managing director of NarraVC, said the "power electronics" field is also one area that has the potential to attract investments in 2010, as renewable energy and green technology trends penetrate the mainstream market.
The firm, which works with Silicon Valley-based partners such as Tallwood Venture Capital, poured about US$5 million in investments on ICT-related ventures last year. Sandejas added that the company expects to spend the same amount this year.
Aside from investing in tech startups, he added, NarraVC also incubates its own firms--two of which, Alphion and Inphi, received funding from last year's investment pool. NarraVC also funds startups in other Asian countries, and is backed by business conglomerate Ayala and Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur Diodado Banatao, among others.
Mega mobile hotspot
The highly-lucrative mobile space is a perennial hotspot that continuous to lure investors and technology investors alike. In December last year, local investment firm LINQ Information Entertainment Quadrant, gobbled up Mega Mobile, the mobile communications subsidiary of technology conglomerate IPVG.
A few weeks prior to the acquisition, Mega Mobile President Manny Fernando said at a briefing that the local market for mobile applications could be worth between 8 billion (US$171.5 million) and 10 billion pesos (US$214.4 million). Fernando noted that in 2008, data revenues for mobile operators increased by 50 percent.
He said business opportunity in the mobile space is promising, considering that only 36 percent of current mobile users in the country are using VAS (value-added services) such as mobile applications. He cited a survey that revealed 49 percent of subscribers said they "can be encouraged" to use VAS, while 58 percent were "open to trying out content propositions".
Meanwhile, the local consumer PC market will see mobility and green technology grabbing user attention, Vicky Agorrilla, president of the IT Association of the Philippines (ITAP), told ZDNet Asia.
"The focus on environmental soundness is moving toward energy efficiency as businesses and consumers seek to cut energy costs and carbon footprint. So, environment-friendly gadgets will be important in 2010," said Agorrilla, who is also the country general manager of Lenovo Philippines.
She noted that there was also a growing trend toward all-in-one desktop in the sub-form factor category. "The desktop PC market has evolved swiftly over the past few years, with strong demand for the all-in-one form factor providing a persuasive alternative to traditional desktop PCs consumers," she explained.
As for the upcoming national elections, Agorrilla said the automated poll exercise would serve as a test not only for the country but also for the IT industry, "to check if indeed it can be a reliable tool" in bringing technology across the Philippines.
"If this is executed seamlessly as everybody hopes it to be, with rare number of untoward incidences, then the country will have a major and historical breakthrough of running elections," she said. "This will set a stage for other government agencies to consider automation in their processes, and for make government officials who are non-supporters of ICT to take a second look and give it a shot for economic development."
Analyst firm XMG Global, however, noted that due to the involvement of local politics in the country's voting process, the automated elections would not flourish or be as effective as seen in most countries with centralized voting processes.
"In the short term and leading to the 2010 elections, the transition from traditional to automated process poses an extreme pressure for government to address illiteracy in ICT education," explained XMG.
Nonetheless, it added, the adoption of the automated election "is one big step for Philippines to bridge the digital divide that has been impeding opportunities and privileges among urban and rural poor".
Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.