Interview: Michelle Simmons

How advanced is Myanmar in terms of its ICT infrastructure development compared with its neighbours in the region?

MICHELLE SIMMONS: Myanmar’s “last-mover advantage” is unique among developing countries in South-east Asia, and this presents the country with an opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of its neighbours to grow and modernise its ICT industry. Since 2014 the liberalisation of the telecoms sector to bring in international competition has seen rapid changes. Since then, government sources report that mobile penetration has jumped from 10% in 2013 to 90% in 2016, which is among the highest in the world. Corresponding with this growth, the internet user base has leaped from 2m to more than 39m, spurred on by the low prices of handsets and SIM cards, with many mobile users owning more than one SIM card. However, significant challenges remain in fixed-line broadband and other infrastructure, such as proper data centre facilities.

What are the main digital development priorities to serve growing demand in Myanmar?

SIMMONS: Myanmar’s ability to leverage the global trend of digital transformation is an important step in enabling transparency, regulatory compliance and innovation in the public and private sector – all key factors in improving the country’s global competitiveness as it opens its doors to economic progress. One of the top priorities supporting Myanmar’s digital transformation is developing the cloud to overcome deficiencies in basic infrastructure development and more effectively serve the public and private sectors. With the cloud, emerging economies can leapfrog the technology life cycle to adopt advanced technology, take advantage of the lower costs for building infrastructure and access enterprise-quality technology that will drastically increase productivity and agility. For example, Myanmar is one of the many countries where banking services and microfinancing for small business owners have long been unavailable.

Another key priority is in developing the next generation of Myanmar professionals to enable this growth and digital transformation. Through our work in the Asia-Pacific region, it is clear that the youth face an opportunity divide – a gap between those who have access to skills and training, and those who do not. As Myanmar develops economically, the transition from education to employment will be one of the main obstacles facing the youth, as too many young people in the region are failing to develop the right skills for today and tomorrow’s job market.

In what ways can Myanmar’s intellectual property (IP) laws be improved to encourage a local software development industry?

SIMMONS: A comprehensive IP regime – including patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets – is needed to create a sustainable environment for future innovation and creativity. Ultimately, fostering the protection of IP will promote technological innovation and transfer, drive economic growth and foreign direct investment, and protect consumers and businesses from malware, cybercrime threats and other risks associated with pirated software.

Myanmar’s copyright law is a few decades old, but a comprehensive IP regime is currently in the drafting stage. Providing a robust regulatory framework is extremely important, not just for a local software development industry, but to encourage local entrepreneurship, innovation and foreign investment. Usage of non-genuine – including low-end, pirated and high-end counterfeit software – continues to be a major contributing factor to cybersecurity risks. With the rapid rise of cybercrime, leading to data theft, financial losses and disruptions, the need to have a clean, genuine, current and protected IT environment is paramount in terms of cybersecurity.