Software Park's First Resident Readies Web App

BANGKOK (05/31/2000) - Charles "Chuck" Katherin, president, ProIV Software (Thailand) Co. Ltd, should be given the keys to Bangkok for his perseverance with the Software Park.

As the first company to become a resident of the park, he has heard the lot when it comes to stories -- both good and bad -- about Thailand's attempts to emulate India and capture a slice of the world's offshore application development market.

Today, his company has grown from a veritable small firm to one that sees brighter times ahead for the country and the IT industry, as well as those seeking employment in the software field. ProIV, has and continues to hire students straight out of local university ABAC, and has found several new staff that have previous ProIV application experience. By not turning to foreigners to fill the technical and development jobs available, ProIV has been able to build a strong team spirit in a relatively short timeframe.

Now with the company ready to push its new product, WebAccess, out to customers there is a feeling of achievement. However, the company cannot sit back and just watch the cash roll in, it has to go up against e-tools such as WebSphere from IBM, Cold Fusion and Silverstream.

Bill Wilkins, chief technical officer, ProIV Technology who was in town to help promote the product spoke exclusively to Thai Computerworld about the company's aspirations for the product.

"We're going up against the big boys with this type of product, but we'll be targeting the small-medium enterprise sector. We'll be offering the product at a very cheap price; in fact, we may even give it away at the start to create a base. After which we could collect monies on a royalty basis. This has been dubbed the viral approach."

"The WebAccess application has been designed to be simple. We used JavaScript to build it and for those that want to get in there and get their hands dirty they can call in embedded Java scripts, build fresh apps or import legacy applications," he added.

WebAccess sits behind Web servers and interprets requests and queries from users accessing the server. Intelligence has been built in with the application providing double-byte support through Unicode/UTF8. Unicode is a superset of the ASCII character set that uses two bytes for each character rather than one, and is able to handle more than 65,000 combinations rather than just 256.

Furthermore, by utilizing this code, WebAccess is able to detect what language an individual is using and call up the correct page in the language of their choice and not just English. Called Code Conversions, the application does conversions on the fly and remains unseen by the user, the Language Content Switch then pulls the preferred language as set in the browser, while Token Substitution writes to one page in one language and then fills in any new language dynamically.

"This is a real advantage for companies in Asia that want to create e-business applications. There is a real pent-up demand for this is Asia, and what's more important is that you have a cheap labor pool to make it happen. We're prepared to operate on a shared-risk basis with customers that use WebAccess so they get a solution at a low cost and we build a customer base," added Wilkins.

Life in the e-commerce pool is not exactly easy even if you are a big fish.

Point in case: Boo.com. After securing more than US$120 million in funds, the online retail company set of on a course to build the best e-commerce site money could buy. However, things never panned out as planned with delays to the opening of the site and then reported bugs and finally bankruptcy.

"If the business principles are not right it doesn't matter what technologies you're using, you're bound to fail. Just look at what's happened to Boo.com in Europe. I really think that the 'bricks & mortar' companies are going to come back with a vengeance. They will either compete head-to-head or buy up failures such as Boo," he said.

ProIV has kept well away from bundling any kind of security product with the WebAccess, instead the company has tailored the application so that it works well with all the industry standards out there today.

"We don't want to build a new product line just for security. That's not our business, others have more expertise in this field. Our product works well with SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and other solutions can be wrapped around WebAccess," added Wilkins.

As with the internationally recognized industry standard ISO, the software industry also has its standards usually referred to as CMM or Capability Maturity Model. CMM consists of five maturity levels that form a framework for software houses to abide by. Independent software vendors can use this to determine their ability to develop and maintain software by exposing weaknesses in your software products.

"ProIV has attained CMM level I and now were building for Level II," said Katherin. "Obtaining this certifications allows us to prove to companies seeking to outsource software development that we are of international standards. In fact, we've already received an accounting package contract from a Singaporean company to run an ASP model and are in discussions with Thai companies to franchise the package here."

"This is a great example of what benefits the Software Park can bring to a company. We're already seeing the fruits of this and have started working on a project we sourced in Australia where they are shipping the whole project to us, lock, stock and barrel," added Chuck.

Rom Hiranpruk, director of the Software Park, took time out to give Thai Computerworld a tour of the building and all the companies based there. The park hosts weekly meetings called SPIN (Software Process Improvement Network) Groups, where companies based there thrash out problems facing them.

"There are now 35 people from 20 companies attending these meetings. For those companies that survived the economic crisis life has been hard. We try to help them by providing facilities at a reduced rate. The park can help start ups in four key areas: reduction of costs, upgrading the skill sets of personnel, joint marketing with the Board of Investment (BoI) and coordinating with venture capital companies for funds," said Rom.

Things are not all doom and gloom at the Software Park either. It has firm commitment from Hewlett-Packard to develop WAP applications; IBM will set up its e-commerce facility, while Sun will help sponsor a Java workshop.

The park is also helping to arrange for CMM instructors to come from the U.S. and India to train locals. This is very expensive for SME's to do alone, one instructor alone cost $10,000. Some time ago the country used to import ISO specialists to inspect Thai industries, today we've trained enough to do it here.

"Thai software companies have to be brought in to the fold of the international standards," said Rom. "We have to introduce this early on even though the expense is crippling. Knowing what CMM is and can do helps developers find weaknesses in their products. We have 14 companies today and expect to have around 35 by the end of the year. More than a dozen venture capital firms have approached us looking for opportunities."

As reported by Thai Computerworld, most Thai start-ups fail to find venture capital due to poorly laid-out business plans. To help combat this, Rom and his team have joined forces with Kasetsart University to offer courses on writing business plans for software companies. Expect to see both the island of Phuket and the northern city of Chiang Mai to feature heavily in the IT industry in the next couple of months.

We'll leave the final word for Rom.

"Those companies seeking a future in software development all I say is get to CMM Level II and outsourcing work will come your way."

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