Is Cambodia in Short Supply of IT Experts?

Seng Soputhik is a junior student in Computer Science and Information Technology Management (ITM) at the American University of Phnom Penh. Photo provided.

With the advance of globalization, Cambodia is trying to catch up with the world in terms of digital capability. However, Cambodia still faces a great many challenges in order to build a high-tech industry and also meet the country’s own needs. While digitalization has gradually become part of Cambodians’ daily life in many aspects, more and more students are choosing this field at university. During an interview, Seng Soputhik, a junior student in Computer Science and Information Technology Management (ITM) at the American University of Phnom Penh (AUPP) shared his thoughts on the pace at which Cambodia is undertaking to join the latest challenge of today’s Industrial Revolution.

Ky Chamna: With much of the world’s countries positioning themselves digitally and putting to use the ever-increasing advances in technology, in general terms, how ready do you believe Cambodia is when considering the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0)? 

Seng Soputhik: I believe that Cambodia is not yet ready when we are talking about the transition to Industry 4.0. However, I do firmly believe that Cambodia is picking up the pace and catching up. There are many aspects to consider when dealing with transitioning towards Industry 4.0. Each sector of our economy has a unique set of opportunities and challenges to exploit during the transformation. For example, in our telecommunications and finance sector, we could find that the competitiveness of the market had enabled the larger corporations to integrate critical technologies such as e-banking and even the piloting of 5G networks in the country. However, there are some hurdles in integrating Industry 4.0 into a country like Cambodia since much of the population, even among those living in urban centers, are digitally illiterate. Nevertheless, slow or fast transformation, I believe that with good regulations, continuous support from the government, public interest, improvement in education and international investments, Cambodia would be able to effectively transition to Industry 4.0 cohesively as a country without extreme societal issues such as unemployment and digital divide.

Ky Chamna: You have chosen computer science and ITM as your field of study. What prompted you to do so instead of choosing other majors such as international relations or law? 

Seng Soputhik: There are many reasons as to why I chose computer science and information technology management over other majors such as law or international relations. First and foremost, from a young age, I have always had a keen interest for the field of technology. I am amazed by how much technology is part of our daily routine, which made me want to understand more. By enrolling in this program at AUPP, I am taking a course that will enable me to be highly flexible when choosing the career that I want to pursue in the future. Computer science is a very broad but fundamental field of education and, contrary to popular beliefs, it is not only limited to coding. You can become a data scientist, web developer, cybersecurity personnel, and many other unique and demanding professions. ITM will equip me with knowledge and skills in management to solve business problems through the use of technology. As brought up earlier, the transition to Industry 4.0 will make knowledge in computer science and ITM become much more critical in every sector of the economy. Therefore, by majoring in computer science and ITM, it allows me to learn about the subjects that I am strongly passionate about as well as equipping me with essential knowledge that will be versatile and highly in demand in the future.

Ky Chamna: This major, as stated at the AUPP's website, "is designed to bridge the gap between problems of business and the capabilities of information technology, while aligning the technology with business strategies." For readers who are in high school and are interested in this field, would you please explain this to them in practical terms? 

Seng Soputhik: To put it simply, this program consists of computer science and information technology management courses in which students do not only learn about computing but also learn about the administrative side of businesses. We will learn how to strategically integrate technology into business operations to increase efficiency. Some examples that I could think of are how businesses can maximize their profit via using information systems such as databases and analytical tools to allow them to forecast sales and costs to make better ordering decisions. Another example is that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses need to invest in online communication platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Team; an IT manager would be the person to guide the institution through the investment and implementation in order to get the most benefit by reflecting on the business' needs.

Ky Chamna: At what scale should a business be considering integrating ITM into its business strategy? In present-day Cambodia, should small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) adopt ITM?

Seng Soputhik: Any business at any scale can and should integrate the use of information technology into their operating activities. While a small business can use the commonly available information systems, large businesses can use more complex tools. Many of the current information systems help to automate many of the tedious processes that require unnecessary labor such as counting stocks, calculating sales or even improving customer service. With these automatic processes, information can be produced faster and with more accuracy, leading to better decisions that are critical in a competitive market. Stakeholders would also be able to divert their effort into other areas of their business to increase profit further. So yes, any business, including SMEs, can utilize information systems to gain an advantage over their competitors, analyze sales and expenditure, and increase profitability. However, I realize that many of the SMEs here in Cambodia are still unaware of the capabilities of information systems and the benefits they can gain from it. Thus, I highly encourage them to explore the use of technology in their business operations.

Ky Chamna: Does the number of ITM experts in Cambodia meet the market's needs? Especially in coding expertize?

Seng Soputhik: From my observations, as someone who is about to enter the industry, I feel it is true that there is a shortage of experts for our current market demands. If our system doesn't produce more ITM experts, the gap will continue to grow larger. Many firms and large corporations are investing heavily into organizing, maintaining, and developing information systems all over the country. As we are transitioning into Industry 4.0, the integration of technology into businesses and daily lives is starting to become increasingly prominent. The demand for engineers, coders and cybersecurity personnel alike will undoubtedly continue to increase. If there are not enough local ITM experts, firms will continue recruiting foreign talents, which is a significant loss. We also have to mention that, as Cambodia is becoming more digitally literate, the many SMEs that are currently not utilizing any information systems will also begin to adopt these technologies in order to evolve and survive in the current market. Despite this, with Information Technology Management major in higher education becoming extremely popular among high school graduates and as the society starts to become so much more integrated than before, the number of experts in the industry will also continue to rise.

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