Mon, 16 Oct 2000

BaliCamp gears up to become Indonesia's Silicon Valley

By Zatni Arbi

BATURITI, Bali (JP): I just spent two very interesting days in Bali. The second day would perhaps be interesting only to me: I spent the whole day in the Bedugul area, which I had visited more than 20 years ago and had been intensely dreaming of revisiting.

Of course, as you can understand, it was quite a disappointment for me to see so many hotels and resorts sprouting wildly in that area. It was also a disappointment to find how noisy this place had become -- with all the motorcycles on the road and the jet skis on the water. Well, what can I say? These are the changes that we, unfortunately, have come to label as "progress".

However, what brought me in the first place to Baturiti, some 20 minutes before Bedugul, was what I would consider real progress. I was invited to witness the official opening of BaliCamp, a software development center owned by PT Sigma Karya Sempurna, a Sigma Cipta Caraka company. It is a high-tech campus where programmers work on various different projects while enjoying the natural beauty of Pacung Valley.

Even before it was officially launched, BaliCamp was already serving 10 companies in North America and Europe.

"So far, we have received US$2 million in revenue from these projects," said Otto Toto Sugiri, the visionary engine that has been driving the progress of Sigma Cipta Caraka and all the companies in the group.


Indeed, Toto is known among the Indonesian IT community for his ideas, most of which are ahead of their time. Selling software and services to the global market from the beautiful island of Bali is one of them.

"When the crisis hit us, we thought that there was still something that we could do, and that was to export software," he said. He mulled over the idea, talked it over with prospective partners and then set out to find the best location for the campus. He ended up in Baturiti, Pacung, right in the center of the island.

When the colorful fireworks went off in the sky with a lot of bangs that Saturday evening, less than half of the total project was completed. Yet there had already been about 95 programmers pounding on the keyboards in the cozy rooms -- which each of them probably look like a family living room to you -- in the well- equipped complex.

"Creativity is the essence of software development," Toto reasoned, "Our developers need a work environment that can stimulate their creativity."

That is, undoubtedly, why Sigma's own workplace in Menara Dea, Mega Kuningan, Jakarta, is also designed in a very similar way. You'll not find any cubicle in the coffee shop-like workplace.

What is perhaps another extraordinary thing about this center is that Sigma has been building the campus without any bank financing.

"Our shareholders don't believe in taking out loans," Toto told me when I first met him a couple of months ago. This is where the Sigma Group seems to be really conservative -- for a commendable reason given the fact that almost all other startups would think first of applying for bank loans. The US$3 million investment that has been made in BaliCamp so far has come from the group's own equity.

In the "work modules" at the camp, programmers, developers and others provide various services to their clients, including integration, localization, testing and quality assurance, migration, software and application development and project management. A direct satellite uplink to Hawaii provides a large conduit to the Internet for all the bits and bytes they produce.


Those who were present at the opening ceremony, which was preceded by a Balinese performance, would find it hard to believe that they saw top-level executives from Microsoft, IBM and Oracle sitting next to each other. These three are real competitors -- always trying to grab each other's customers. The fact that BaliCamp was able to build partnerships with the three of them is perhaps an indication of how much confidence these major software vendors have in this company.

What about human resources? As if to provide yet further testimony in support of my conviction that Indonesians are just as capable as other nationals when it comes to software development, Sutjahyo Budiman, BaliCamp marketing director, told me that they had had no problem recruiting good talent.

"Every Thursday, we invite those who are interested in joining us to come to BaliCamp and take our job test. On average, we have 10 people coming each week, although our hiring rate is still around 10 to 15 people a month. We also visit the computer schools at Indonesia's leading universities regularly to find more talent," added Sutjahyo.

By the end of 2001, BaliCamp expects to have between 400 and 500 people working at the center -- one third of them programmers.

"In addition to a comfortable work environment in a naturally beautiful surrounding, another attraction is the way remuneration is determined. BaliCamp is a result-oriented environment, so how much one earns depends on what he delivers," explained Sutjahyo, who was the second person to join BaliCamp.

Local opportunities

Needless to say, BaliCamp also creates new opportunities to the local Balinese people living around the complex. The driver of the minibus that took me to Bedugul the next morning, for example, told me that four BaliCamp programmers were boarding at his home.

But that is not all. "We have also been introducing the computer to the local community," said Sutjahyo. "About 10 to 20 village children as well as adults come to BaliCamp each evening, and we teach them how to use a computer and the Internet."

What are their most significant products so far? One of them will be a product very important to us who use Microsoft Office to prepare documents in Indonesian. "Microsoft has asked us to develop an Indonesian spell-checker for MS Office," Sutjahyo told me in a one-on-one interview after the ceremony.

Two Bahasa Indonesia professors from University of Indonesia's Faculty of Letters have been working closely with the company on this application. "The beta version is already completed, and we are hoping to release Version 1.0 soon."

BaliCamp may not have been the first software development center that has capitalized on what Bali has to offer. A couple of years earlier I also had the privilege of visiting PT Mitrais, a software development center in Kuta owned by PT Mincom Indonesia. Bali is the most preferred place for these companies because of the easy access through its international airport, a relatively stable and safe environment and a local community accustomed to having foreigners among them.

However, who was the first to set up a software development center in Bali is not an issue, since what we all would like to see is more and more similar initiatives like BaliCamp and Mitrais emerging in this country. We have a local pool of talent, and IT is a dynamic and constantly changing industry with abundant opportunities.

Needless to say, all of these initiatives will need government support in the forms of advanced, reliable and cost-efficient IT infrastructure, a totally overhauled education system and a far more conducive environment.

Until then, let us all wish the best to those who brought BaliCamp into being. Their work has just begun. (