[VIEWPOINT]With knowledge comes greatnessI recently met a man who used to be the chief executive of a midsized firm. He had lived in the United States for 20 years before he came to Korea in 1988 to work for a local company. He currently resides in Myanmar, where he works as an evangelist.
In Myanmar, he said, he is reliving a cultural shock that as a young man he experienced in the early 1970s when he first set foot in the United States. But now the cultural shock is the other way around: He said Myanmar is like Korea 30 years ago.
In fact, Korea ranks at the top of the world in information technology infrastructure, a masterpiece of work accomplished through the government's efforts, corporations' fervor and people's zeal for education.
Standing at the beginning of the 21st century, Koreans can say with confidence that they have readied half of the competitiveness that will determine success or failure over the coming century. The world envies our high-speed Internet network, which is used by more than half of the Korean population. Two-thirds of the people in Korea carry mobile phones.
The significance of the IT infrastructure is obvious not just in terms of hardware, but in potential added value that can be generated from hardware. It is difficult to believe, but Koreans are fast adapting to the new environment, and ideas are rapidly turning into commercial products, generating added value.
We call the new trial a "business model." For example, a film developing store can expand its business areas by not limiting itself solely to developing conventional 35-millimeter film, but by also using digital photo images to print photographs, make coffee mugs and T-shirts with the photographs on them. Such development of a new business model will increase indefinitely; know-how will be a knowledge product that attracts global attention.
This is why we have to pay heed to the added value that can be generated by intangible goods. Hardware products lose value when copied. By contrast, knowledge products gain value when shared. We do not have to be stingy in sharing knowledge. Rather, the more we share the better.
When ideas are combined, new products can be created, which is why contacts with various people in various forms are encouraged. If the competition in the industrialized era was based on a zero-sum game, the knowledge society is where added value can be generated unlimitedly.
It will be a big waste of time and money if Korea cannot capitalize on the infrastructure just because it lacks the culture for a knowledge industry.
In Korea, the electronic commerce market has doubled every year: In 1999, the value of the e-commerce market stood at 29 trillion won ($22 billion); in 2001, it grew to 112 trillion won. In contrast, only 25 percent of small to medium sized companies have their own Web sites, the most basic infrastructure necessary to tap into e-commerce. This means that only the leading 20 percent of the corporations in Korea are benefiting from e-commerce. We should keep in mind that the remaining 80 percent of the corporations are valuable resources.
If the remaining 80 percent of the firms can arm themselves with the new business models and transform their competence to fit in with the knowledge society, such moves will form the core competitiveness of Korea.
I would like to make one suggestion in this regard.
In Korea, there are hundreds of thousands of young people armed with knowledge and skills in using the Internet, yet many of them are unemployed. We need to educate them as evangelists for knowledge. We need to make them lead businessmen from small to medium sized firms to the latest achievements of e-commerce. That way these entrepreneurs can have access to new business models and find new ways to generate added value.
The plan would benefit every party involved: Corporations will improve competitiveness and unemployed youths will find jobs, which will in turn aid their futures. Most of all, the plan would advance the transformation of typical businesses into knowledge-based businesses.
Why don't we groom unemployed young people into global IT evangelists, contributing to making Korea a leader in the 21st century?
The writer is the chief executive of Netian.
by Jhun Ha-jin