The Skeptical Informer 2013 number 8: China

The IT Skeptic's Skeptical Informer newsletter for 15th April 2013.

The Skeptical Informer

The future of ITSM has a huge wild-card in play that nobody is talking about: China.

China presents two big questions for me: 1) What is going to happen to ITSM there, in what will soon be the world's biggest economy? 2) What will come out of there, the world's biggest pool of minds?

My first IT boss, Perce Harpham, is a visionary. He was working hard in the 1980s trying to establish business in China with his staggeringly visionary IT company Progeni. In the 1980s, Progeni made stuff years ahead of its time: a PC in a molded fibreglass case with integral monitor; colourful GUI computer-based-training software. Perce was equally years ahead in his quest to do business in China. The New Zealand government didn't have a clue and he couldn't do it alone. But I listened. I've always watched China since Perce's lead.

My father was a sinophile: president of the NZ-China Friendship Society. Dad was no fool. I lived in Hong Kong for two years, and struggled with Cantonese and Mandarin. I holidayed in Beijing.

Then I had the dubious privilege of working for Charles Wang, founder of CA. Charles grew up in New York, but I met some of the management he groomed out of China: awesomely smart, smooth, sophisticated... and hard bastards.

Twenty five years later, nobody needs telling: the world's largest importer and exporter of goods; as many skyscrapers as the USA, not counting Hong Kong which has nearly as many as both put together; longest high-speed rail network; world's biggest army; ten million English-speakers (plus Hong Kong's 3M). Barring a civil war or other major set-back, China will be the biggest economy within a decade or so. In a few decades they will be the world's biggest military power, not a prospect I particularly relish. I think the world may look back on Pax Americana with fond nostalgia.

While the USA blew four or five trillion dollars pounding the Middle East, China has been building trade and aid ties with all sorts of countries like Pakistan, a whole bunch of Pacific nations, and most of Africa.

The majority of people in the world think China is now the world's leading economic power. Having seen my overseas revenues wither with the US$, I must say the Yuan is looking pretty good as soon as more countries have direct currency exchange.

So no matter what your business, if you aren't thinking about what China means to you, you should be.

What about the ITSM world?

You need deep pockets and patience to get into China. Many have been there and left, burned. I know some who operate successfully in China, and others who will never return. All the big IT vendors are there now - I'd love to know how they are really doing.

itSMF have a foothold in Hong Kong - they did the Chinese ITIL translations. But I'm not sure Hong Kong counts: we need to look to Beijing and Shanghai. It gets a bit opaque. No itSMF there. People come and go from China: Mark Smalley and John Willis come to mind amongst those I know. But what is going on in there?

People talk of the strangling effects of China's internet restrictions but I don't buy that. Their internet is rich with content. They have unlimited opportunities to interact with each other and only some limitations on external access for mundane topics like ITSM. There are hundreds of thousands of Google hits for "ITSM China" but not much enlightenment. When I did a survey of the state of ITIL (pdf) for APMG recently, I found lots of academic papers on ITSM and ITIL - in hanzi. By quantity, China is the ninth-biggest market for ITIL, ahead of the Netherlands! (India is 22nd for sales of ITIL, yet 3rd for traffic to my website: 8%. Hmmm...)

China is a sleeper. They have 300 million people learning English. Their middle class is in the hundreds of millions. 656 cities (381 in the USA), dozens of them with populations in the millions. They are galloping through their industrial era in a few decades and thundering down on a service economy as they already start to offshore manufacturing and rein in pollution.

In the next decade or so they are going to explode with ITSM activity internally, and that ITSM activity will come pouring out: outsourcing firms, software, websites, research, expert speakers, books.

Now if I could just work out how to be a part of that...

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