Suggested citation format:
Ciolek, T. Matthew. 2007. A review of 'Rowen, Henry S., Marguerite Gong Hancock and William F. Miller (eds). 2007. Making IT: The Rise of Asia in High Tech. Stanford: Stanford University Press.' In: 'Book Reviews', Asian Studies Review, 2007, 31:2, 208 - 210. URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10357820701373325
HENRY S. ROWEN, MARGUERITE GONG HANCOCK and WILLIAM F. MILLER (eds). Making IT: The Rise of Asia in High Tech. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007. xviii, 388 pp. Diagrams, statistical tables, bibliography, index. US$30.00, paper.
Making IT is a complex, difficult to read, incomplete and ultimately disappointing publication.
The book belongs to a larger monograph series of academic and policy-oriented studies stemming from Stanford University's Project on Regions of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SPRIE). Making IT analyses a variety of political and economic processes underpinning the recent explosion in Asia's "information technology". The authors treat the double entendre "IT" in the book's title very flexibly so that it denotes both material products (e.g. silicon chips, hardware components, computers and the peripherals, operating systems and software applications), and the less tangible services offered in the fields of information-processing and IT-consulting. The language of Making IT is dry and dense. It is also encrusted with acronyms and the jargon of technical reports. Two random examples illustrate this point: (i) "Another innovation indicator is the flow of money for technologies as measured by fees paid for licences and royalties among unaffiliated entities" (p. 29); (ii) "'Software first' is a term [...which] implies that 'we need to change our hardware-first mind set now' and move to 'software-first technology'" (p. 71). Fortunately, most of the acronyms and specialist terms are fairly clearly defined in each of the 12 individual chapters of the book. Unfortunately, they have not been collated in a single comprehensive glossary.
One of the most frequently used terms is "cluster" (aka "camp", "valley", "park" and "corridor"). This primary term is then used to form derivatives such as "cluster strategy", "high-tech clusters", "industrial clusters" and "new clusters". All of these terms refer to a small geographical area that holds a densely packed synergistic mix of technical universities, research and development labs, broadband telecommunications infrastructure (both cable and wireless), support services, factories and production centres, marketing consultants, banks and venture capital firms. Economists and business analysts postulate that such self-sustaining geographical agglomerates of skilled workforce, enterprising businesses, and novel scientific ideas constitute an especially congenial environment for the conception, incubation and finally commercialisation of high-value technical innovations. Such knowledge-intensive agglomerates may coalesce spontaneously -- i.e. through the natural operation of the autocatalytic market forces. On the other hand, as Making IT amply demonstrates, a high-tech cluster can also be deliberately willed into existence and then carefully nurtured by a farsighted, deliberate governmental decision.
The centres whose socio-political contexts are dissected and inspected in the book are: (1) Japan's Aichi ("the Toyota"), Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Sapporo, Sendai, Tokushima, Tokyo and Yonezawa; (2) Taiwan's Hsinchu; (3) Singapore; (4) Korea's Daeduk cluster and "Teheran Valley" in Seoul; (5) China's Zhongguancun cluster in Beijing; and finally (6) India's Bangalore and Mumbai clusters. The core of the book comprises seven chapters, with case studies by sixteen authors: Rafiq Dossani, Jun-Woo Bae, Zong-tae Bae, Ken-ichi Imai, Jong-Gie Kim, Kark Bum Lee, Noboru Maeda, Sam Ock Park, Chintai Shih, Sang-Mok Suh, Toru Tanigawa, Kung Wang, Yi-Ling Wei, Poh Kam Wong, Yasuhisa Yamaguchi, and Mulan Zhao. All of these researchers have had strong links to the SPRIE program. Each the seven chapters analyses the deliberately constructed political and economic habitats of the information technology industry as practised in a different Asian country or region. Thus Chapters 2 and 3, as well as Appendices 1 and 2, deal with the recent situation in the so-called "Early Developer: Japan". Chapters 4, 5, and 6 focus on the habitats of the "Three Asian IT Tigers": Taiwan, Singapore and Korea. Chapters 7 and 8 of the book analyse details of "The Recent Arrival of the Two Giants"-- that is, high-tech profiles of IT research/development/production centres in China and India. These individual country studies are complemented by an excellent historical overview of the precarious position of the newly emerging venture capital industry in Asia (Chapter 10; by authors Martin Kenney, Kyonghee Han, and Shoko Tanaka), and by a US/Asia comparison of contacts between technical universities and industry and their role in furthering the exchange of technology (in Chapter 11 by Jon Sandelin).
Finally, there is a contribution by the volume's editorial team. It comes in the form of a summary of the main findings of the country studies. This summary is repeated three times. First, there is the 'Overview' (Chapter 1 by H. S. Rowen), which gives a quick catalogue of the book's basic themes and conclusions. Second, there is a leisurely and elaborate discussion of the country-specific findings. This discussion is offered in a chapter entitled 'How Governments Shaped Their IT Industries' (i.e. Chapter 9 by H. S. Rowen). Finally, all these meta-observations are restated once more in the guise of 'Concluding Remarks' (in Chapter 12 by H. S. Rowen,M. Gong Hancock andW. F.Miller). Taken as a whole, the book is rather poorly integrated. This is partly because the individual chapters and appendices from the book's core are based on a series of separate seminar papers and reports originally prepared for the SPRIE Workshop held at Stanford University on 27-28 October 2003, and partly because any subsequent editorial input into these papers was very limited. Consequently, the documentary core of the book does not seem to follow any common research strategy apart from addressing (via individual geographical prisms) a general theme of governmental impacts on "innovation and entrepreneurship" in the "Asian IT industries".
Moreover, the publication feels incomplete. True, it concentrates mainly on the practical effects of government initiatives as practised at both national and state/provincial levels. However, all these analyses are done only for a handful of successful countrywide attempts at the creation of profitable IT clusters. Regrettably, due to the book's very narrow focus, we do not hear at all about the problems associated with failed or struggling projects. The result is a lost opportunity to understand the actual extent to which entrepreneurial success is ephemeral -- i.e. something that is hard to plan for, even harder to accomplish, and extremely difficult to keep alive. Of course, the logic of each big failure is the necessary obverse to the logic of circumstances of each successfully minted cluster.
To comprehensively identify chief ingredients of the business success of the well-to-do IT clusters, we need to look at the full range of life histories of information technology projects in Asia. First, we need to look at the still anaemic (but healthy) IT projects in Hong Kong (Hong Kong Science Park), Vietnam (Hoa Lac Hitech Park in Hanoi, and Saigon Software Park in HCMC), the Philippines (Cyber/IT Parks, Davao Region ICT Cluster), Thailand (SoftwareParkThailand in Bangkok) and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai Internet City in Dubai). Next we need to turn our investigative gaze to the much nurtured and much promoted (since 1995), and nowadays much ailing, Malaysia Multimedia Super Corridor (in Kuala Lumpur). Finally, to round off our education, we need to carefully consider the background cultural and socio-political climate of so-far non-existent but greatly hoped for software development clusters in Pakistan.
T. MATTHEW CIOLEK
Australian National University
(c) 2007 T. Matthew Ciolek