Since the telecom liberalization in Myanmar, the country has gone through a digital revolution. Myanmar people are adopting new technologies at a rapid pace. More than 90% of the population owns a smartphone, 40% of the population uses the Internet. It all started with Facebook.
Back in the early days, Yangon was full of some street booths where you can get a Facebook account up and running in no time. No one was using emails. But time has changed. Myanmar consumers are slowly diversifying their digital use. According to Alexa, Google and Youtube are the top-visited websites in Myanmar.
Enterprises are also embarking on a digital transformation journey. There was a time where setting up an IT infrastructure in Myanmar was a real headache due to US and EU sanctions. In 2013, it was impossible for Myanmar companies to buy Cisco, HP, or Microsoft through the official channels. It is no wonder why there is still to date a lot of companies in Myanmar using cracked versions of Windows despite the risk that it represents.
In 2013, Cisco announced that it will establish two training centers in Myanmar. Nowadays, the US company is well settled in Myanmar with a long list of official resellers and a local warehouse for spare parts. Microsoft has also set an office in Myanmar and every company can know purchase Windows licenses through partner sales channels.
Enterprises in Myanmar are also keen to adopt cloud services. Cloud adoption is a huge business trend worldwide for multiple reasons:
- Savings: it is not easy to calculate the savings of adopting cloud as there are so many parameters to take into account. If you listen to cloud companies, the cloud is a no-brainer and will help you to save large amounts of money. But the reality is not so simple and will really depend on the implementation. What is factual is that enterprises that build their own infrastructure will face a hefty upfront investment (CAPEX). Cloud is all about pay per use which means that there is no need to spend a lot of money upfront and enterprises can simply pay as they grow. This approach is definitely helping startups launch service with minimal investment.
- Security: IT security is a major concern for any business these days. Data breaches can lead to revenue loss, loss of brand image, and even bankruptcy. Infosec professionals are in high demand and expensive. Not all companies can afford to hire a dedicated security resource for information security. The fact that cloud providers are responsible for the security of their products and services is a major advantage for small and mid-size companies with limited in-house security skills. Depending on the cloud consumption model (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS), it is important to mention that some of the security aspects will still fall under the client’s responsibility.
- Scalability: cloud providers have extensive compute, network, and storage resources at their disposal. With the public cloud, enterprises can launch new services in a few clicks against months on-premises as they would need to order servers, commission them, and put them into production. Enterprises can leverage the cloud to start with a minimal config and expand as their needs for resources grow. Cloud providers offer ways to automate this scaling (auto-scaling) and allow companies to not only upscale but downscale their infrastructure during the off-peak period.
- Remote Control / Mobility: adopting a cloud infrastructure model allows companies to work efficiently with a remote workforce. Cloud is accessible from anywhere in the world. Your application sitting in the cloud is fully available for your end-users no matter where they work.
There are other upsides of using cloud infrastructure that is worth mentioning. Cloud providers are launching new innovative products every day. By adopting cloud, enterprises can take advantage of these new services in prime time, hence positioning themselves as an innovator and possibly industry leader.
Public Cloud Providers are eyeing the Myanmar market
Myanmar being an emerging market, cloud leaders such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, Huawei, or Alicloud are investing a large number of marketing resources to convert local companies to their respective platform. They know that being the first public cloud to step foot in a new account is crucial. Training is also a key part of their adoption strategy.
Some of the largest companies in Myanmar have been offered a free trial to experience the public cloud computing platform. This strategy is usually very effective as some of the cloud products are platform-specific hence tough to migrate. There is somehow a vendor lock-in that operates and that will restrain the customer from moving away at the end of the trial.
The threat of public cloud computing for Myanmar
It could be really tempting for Myanmar companies to fully embrace the cloud, migrate their full production to a highly reliable and distributed cloud platform disseminated all over the world. Properly executed, it could be a great way to reduce the cost while improving immensely the service availability for their internal and external users.
That being said, Myanmar should not forget where it is coming from. Not so long ago, the country was under severe sanctions from the US and the EU preventing Myanmar companies from buying western technology.
With the events in Rakhine, foreign firms are seriously reconsidering their commercial operations in Myanmar. For instance, Japanese holding Kirin has recently stopped paying divid payment to Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company (MEHL).
International organizations are also expressing their strong disagreement with the way the conflict in Rakhine is handled by the Myanmar government.
Freedomhouse declined Myanmar’s status from Partly Free to Not Free due to the shutdown of the telecommunications in Rakhine state and the prosecution of social media users for expressing their views on specific topics.
With the ongoing elections being disputed, there is a non-negligible risk to see the situation escalated.
The consequence of this escalation could possibly be new sanctions. If the United States for instance decides to prevent US companies from doing business with Myanmar, this would mean that AWS, Google Cloud, Oracle Cloud, and Microsoft Azure would have to immediately shut down all the cloud resources in use by Myanmar companies. There won’t be any notice or grace period, it will be immediate with no recourse.
It is crucial that companies in Myanmar get prepared for this possibility. As a company executive of a company operating in Myanmar, the three questions to ask yourself are the following:
- If such events happen, what will be the impact on my business?
- How long would my team need to restore my business capabilities to full production? This is called the Recovery Time Objective or RTO.
- Is this RTO acceptable or would this lead to my company bankruptcy?
If the latter response is “it will lead to bankruptcy”, then there is an urgent need to deal with that issue. It could be through the implementation of an in-country disaster recovery site, or the complete repatriation of the cloud resources in Myanmar.
The case of Chinese public cloud computing
The two Chinese tech giants Huawei and Alibaba also own public cloud platforms. In the event on the western embargo on Myanmar, some may consider these platforms are viable alternatives for their business applications.
For instance, KBZ Bank cooperated with Huawei to provide the KBZPay digital wallet.
Global Wave Technology, one of the biggest human resources payroll providers in Myanmar is also running on Huawei Cloud since April 2020.
The main problem with Chinese public cloud is data privacy.
In June 2020, India decided to ban Tiktok and several other Chinese apps as they pose a threat to sovereignty. The United States also decided to ban TikTok and Wechat from the app store due to data privacy concerns.
It is really concerning to see companies such as HR payroll providers in Myanmar hosting customer data in a cloud infrastructure hosted in China.
Payroll in Myanmar not only contains all the employee personal information but also the number of people in the household (descendant and ascendant) for tax calculation.
More and more countries in the world are pulling the plug on Chinese apps as they have intel that China companies are mining personal data for profit.
Last month, the very first draft of the Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) was submitted to the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China for review. The PIPL is largely inspired by the European GDPR which is good news.
However, looking at the draft, the scope of application of the PIPL does not apply to companies who process personal information for the purpose of providing products or services to individuals located outside of China.
Hence it appears that Chinese companies will not be entitled to respect this law while dealing with Myanmar individual’s personal information.
Conclusion: Adopt a multi-cloud strategy
In our article “A Major Brake on Myanmar Digital Economy Plan”, we stated that the recent censorship moves of the Myanmar government put at risk the development of local ICT infrastructure. But on the other hand, running your complete infrastructure out of the country is a hazardous move.
Enterprises in Myanmar are truly caught between a rock and a hard place.
A viable option would be to opt for a hybrid cloud strategy by running business applications in a private cloud in Myanmar with a second instance in a public cloud infrastructure out of the country.
The alternative would be a multi-cloud strategy operated between a cloud provider in Myanmar and a cloud provider outside of Myanmar.
Few cloud providers in Myanmar exist, most of them leverage VMware technology such as GTMH Telecom and SCSK Myanmar. There are serious options for companies looking to repatriate their data in-country.
In conclusion, the technology roadmap for Myanmar companies is definitely not an easy one and should take into consideration the political climate and the potential risk that the situation deteriorates in one way or the other. Nevertheless, this roadmap shall definitely include the adoption of cloud computing. Going “all-in” with one specific provider will not be a smart move. A multi-cloud or hybrid strategy seems more tailored to Myanmar’s fast-changing environment and should eliminate the risk to become collateral damage of a political move or change of regulation.
Herbert is a nom de plume.
I am an experienced telecom professional blogging about the fastest growing Internet market in the world: Myanmar.