The tech landscape of Macau

Rui Marcelo, CIO of CTM (Companhia de TelecomunicaASSAues de Macau SARL) has spent 30 years in Macau. He talks to Computerworld Hong Kong about his IT career in Macau, the 1999 handover, liberalization of gaming industry, and the evolving IT industry

Computerworld Hong Kong: How did you end up in Macau and start your IT career?

Rui Marcelo: My encounter with Macau was very much by accident. I was flying to the area and fate brought me to Macau. I've stayed ever since. This August will mark my 30th year in Macau.

It's interesting how my career has diverged into IT, since my academic education started in electro technology, but later went into different stages of discovery. During that process, I've identified my potential in the areas of management. Throughout the years, I've chosen a path that enabled me to acquire knowledge and experience in this area, opting to exploring different sources for the promotion of technological and scientific development, which has renewed my interest and revitalized my focus.

CWHK: You've had multiple roles within Macau's tech industry, from organizing tech conferences to running IT businesses. And now you're CIO of Macau's pre-eminent telco. How did all this happen?

RM: I was working at a bank back in the early 80s and through idea-exchanges with local entrepreneurs and scholars, we came to realize IT would play an important role in modernizing Macau, instead of relying gambling as the single pillar for the local economy.

That period also coincided with the development of the personal computer industry. It was a very interesting time for Macau -- thus in 1988 I established a business together with a local entrepreneur. It was the Division of Computer Science under the Macau Business Centre. The timing was right and we had the right strategy to raise awareness in technology development locally and attract commercial investments for the territory.

That's how it all started. Since then I've focused on promoting and raising awareness of technology. Some of the initiatives with this company included the "First Seminar of Computer Aided Design (CAD)" and the "Seminar in Advanced Technology" for the Manufacturing Industry and Construction/Engineering in Macau, in 1989.

It was through this business that I established a relationship with IBM and helped them to extend their presence in Macau. I set up a company called CSSL (Commercial Software Services Limited), which is 25% owned by IBM. It was IBM's leading reseller of the midrange AS/400 solutions in Asia. The company was headquartered in Hong Kong, but we had offices all over Asia. I ran the company in Macau until March 1998. The company was subsequently acquired, in 1999, by Australia-based Powerlan, now named Clarity.

CWHK: How did you shift from being a reseller to become a CIO at CTM?

RM: From 1998 to until the end of 1999, I worked as an independent consultant and engaged Macau University for a very interesting project: conducting a feasibility study on the development of the local tech industry. The project also aimed at establishing an organization to bridge the gap between the local academic and commercial worlds.

The organization would provide incubation services for local tech graduates, allowing them to gain business knowledge and enabling an easier path to transfer their academic achievements to valid businesses. The idea was to provide incentives for students to enter the IT industry at a time when the number of students enrolling in IT started to drop.

But this plan coincided with the Macau handover in 1999. It was difficult for both the outgoing Portuguese administration and the incoming local government to implement the idea. So I have decided to continue this project using my own funding and through the recruitment of investors.

It was during the fundraising process that I came in contact with CTM. They were very interested at the idea, but given the structure of the company and timing, it would take too long for CTM to invest in this organization. We've decided it'd be quicker for CTM to take up this concept instead of me running it.

So that's how I joined the company. For 12 years, I've taken different positions at CTM, but always at the forefront of transformation. I started the e-business department, and was involved at different transformation programs in the company. In 2003, I took part in the revamp of CTM's IT department and stayed in the department, until 2008 when I became the CIO.

CWHK: What are the roles of CTM in Macau and what are some of its latest initiatives?

RM: The government has a number of initiatives to develop the local IT industry. CTM is also involved in an initiative called 'Digital Campus'. Through CTM's high-speed network, the firm has built an IT community for schools to share virtual resources. With a renewed interest in e-learning, collaboration between schools, students, teachers and parents are tremendously important. Hopefully through the support of the educational institutions, CTM and the government can create a renewed interest in technology among younger generations.

Another recent project at CTM was the establishment of a convergent portal, which incorporates all the services within CTM. It also provides different channels to interact with our customers, allowing them to learn about our services, to register for promotion and conduct e-business. It's a true converged portal and took us significant effort and investment to implement it.

CWHK: After being in Macau and growing with its IT industry for so many years, how do you see the gaming industry's impacted the IT industry?

RM: There are signs of renewed interest in IT recently. But they are still very weak signs, as the shortage of talent remains a problem. The situation has gone worse with the liberalization of the gambling industry, because the demand for talent is now much higher than what the market can offer.

Gaming was and will always be important for Macau, but it should not be a hindrance to other developments. We also need to recognize that a sustainable economy needs to be supported by more than a single vertical industry.

Like other organizations in Macau, CTM also suffers from a small talent pool. Macau is a relatively small place, so it was obvious local staff would jump on board the growth of the gaming industry. Salaries became inflated and it's difficult to compete for talent.

That said, the gaming industry has brought some positive factors. The recent development has raised interest among foreign-educated local born and raised individuals, prompting them to return. It is important to take in consideration that tertiary education was only introduced in Macau in the beginning of the '80s. So we're gradually witnessing a re-balancing of resources.

CWHK: What do you think it takes for Macau's younger generations to pursue a career in technology?

RM: The lack of interest among students in IT education remains a problem. I'm also a member of the advisory board at the local universities. We believe the problem can be addressed through the transformation of the IT industry itself.

There are a few developments that will probably boost such transformation. Things like cloud computing, context-aware computing and the new role of IT in the mobile workforce, as well as the wide spread adoption of smartphones and tablets.

These factors are likely to raise the interest among younger generations in IT, rather than the conventional image of a gloomy or geeky IT industry. We need to move away from that impression, because IT is no longer a supporting department. Today, technology is not just embedded in business -- technology is the business.

This story, "The tech landscape of Macau" was originally published by Computerworld Hong Kong.

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