Bangkok, 15 Oct 99 (Bangkok Post) - Thailand needs to act now to take advantage of the exploding Internet economy, according to Sun Microsystems managing director for the Asia Pacific region, Lionel Lim, who said there are opportunities for businesses here to establish infrastructure for electronic commerce and to provide hosting services and payment gateways.
Another possibility would be for Thai Internet entrepreneurs to forge regional tie-ups with startup Internet businesses in Singapore, where he noted there were some solid new companies poised to make a public share offering.
However, Thai businesses and the government must act now because Mr Lim believes that the economic and social impact of the Internet will be very divisive, with a clearer demarcation line between the haves and the have-nots.
"Thailand must do whatever it takes to make sure it never falls into the "have-nots", because if that should happen then Thailand would be relegated to the third or fourth world," he warned, adding that Thailand cannot afford to let that happen.
He said that as managing director for Sun Microsystems' regional operations, he was speaking as an an outsider looking in. "I own a portfolio of countries and I want to see them succeed," he said, adding that he was still optimistic about Thailand. "They just need to get it right. The Thai government must pull its brains together and make sure it has the relevant infrastructure," Mr Lim said, adding that Sun would be a strong partner in providing the hardware to help governments in the region to transform from being a net importer to a net exporter of technology and to usher them in to the Internet age.
"The National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec) has to be even more empowered because if Thailand doesn't have a decisive body that empowers it in the Internet age, you will just have to take too much time to lobby for this.
"When you talk about Internet time, new companies start up, and within a year they have a market capitalisation that is bigger than a small country's GNP.
"That's scary, so you have to enable certain bodies like Nectec, and give them executive power to build the infrastructure," he said.
Mr Lim noted that it might be possible for companies in the region to build an Asia Pacific brand on the Internet because, while there were only 220 million people in the United States, there were three billion people in the Asia Pacific region.
"Just assume 20 percent of Asia Pacific is wired up, that's 600 million people," he said, speculating that "ultimately, there might be two or three major alliances between Asia Pacific players, European players and US players like the airline industry today.
The strongest of the Asia Pacific brands will be the relevant ones, he said, adding that they would be the most sought-after in the global alliances because everyone would want to have a strong Asian player due to the size of the market and the population.
"If you took the whole Indochina market combined, Thailand could become a hosting service linking all the rest of the Asia Pacific players, based out of Singapore or whatever, and serving the 700-800 million population," he said. Thailand could also play in the development of services, he said, noting that there was a huge population with many foreign-trained students that spoke good English and could provide services that are relevant to the rest of the world, and there was no reason why Thailand could not develop software and services hosted in the US and here.
"But, if Thailand doesn't strike now, the opportunity will be lost. In three to four years time, forget it," he said.
"The mentality has changed in the way that services are done in Thailand, but business is still driven too much by relationships," but Mr Lim added that this would change, especially with more foreign players moving into Thailand and buying up businesses here.
"I have not seen any web hosting or service provision services based in Thailand and there is a big need for such services to serve the small and medium enterprises," he suggested.
Internet banking also has to come forward and become a lot stronger, a lot faster and when it came you would start linking businesses and engaging in business-to-business electronic commerce, he said.
We would see strong players here in Thailand and there would definitely be room for businesses to establish themselves in that space, as well as room for people to provide payment gateways.
Businesses here could establish themselves as the relevant infrastructure for Thailand, and at the same time bring Thailand into the Internet economy.
Looking around the region, he said he saw Singapore standing out from other countries despite the economic setbacks, having been focussed and with a formidable infrastructure that allowed for new types of players to exist.
Mr Lim also added that he hoped that Thailand would accellerate the adoption of English, and this would help the country to open up faster.
He added that Sun was now finalising its Star Office Portal offering, which will enable Internet service providers or application service providers to offer this service, saying that he imagined that when this was ready any ISP here would be able to offer this to customers.
Sun was also looking into localising its Star Office suite, which is offered as a free download over the Internet