Alibaba’s Jack Ma was named UNCTAD’s Special Adviser on trade this week. Mr. Ma was quoted as follows; "It is an honor to serve as UNCTAD’s Special Adviser on Youth Entrepreneurship and Small Business," said Mr. Ma. "I have spent my career working with entrepreneurs and know the positive social and economic impact when people are given the opportunity to participate in the global economy."
Mr. Ma, we have a problem. UNCTAD is actually preventing my fellow entrepreneurs, start-ups, and technology firms (who build solutions for border processing and trade facilitation) from the opportunity to participate. In short, they have created a barrier to market entry. The playing field is not level.
UNCTAD has built a declaration processing system (called the Automated System for Customs Data or “ASYCUDA” that is now being marketed as an Electronic Single Window (ESW), a Risk Management System, and more. In reality, the application is missing key ESW utilities as well as the key functions that can declare itself as a true risk management system for customs purposes. Under your new role, can we request that you please coach UNCTAD on best practices in software development, and advise the organization so they understand it is disingenuous to announce an application with functions that are never actually developed. We understand this is done to keep ASYCUDA clients from switching to competing products but is it even in the role of the United Nations to build, deploy, maintain, and support software? Many think it is not. We think you would agree.
UNCTAD has created a barrier to market entry for the technology sector in this market vertical through encouraging sole source/no bid contracting to developing nations. Under your new role, can we please request that you advise UNCTAD on good governance, and transparent procurement guidelines -as we all know that sole sourcing/no bid contracting to governments in developing nations only increases opportunities for corruption, reduces integrity and transparency, and discourages fair market competition to obtain the most value at the best price. It’s just not the best way to see a return on investment.
We all believe there is a role for ASYCUDA going forward. We don’t necessarily believe it needs to be replaced in its entirety. We just seek a more transparent solution where ASYCUDA is offered under an open source licensing model. This would allow any technology firm to deploy the system, integrate with other systems, maintain it, support it, and build upon it. Together we can make this application so much better. Can you please coach and guide UNCTAD accordingly? My firm and the firms of my partners and competitors would like a fair opportunity to participate, and see the playing field leveled. It’s time to remove this barrier to market entry because it is being vehemently defended. The following quote from Geoffrey Moore’s book “Crossing the Chasm” is a good summary of this market barrier.
"To enter the mainstream market is an act of aggression. The companies who have already established relationships with your target customer will resent your intrusion and do everything they can to shut you out. The customers themselves will be suspicious of you as a new and untried player in their marketplace. No one wants your presence. You are an invader. This is not a time to focus on being nice. As we have already said, the perils of the chasm make this a life-or-death situation for you. You must win entry to the mainstream, despite whatever resistance is posed. So, if we are going to be warlike, we might as well be so explicitly.“
Moore, G. A. (1999). Crossing the chasm: Marketing and selling high-tech products to mainstream customers. New York: HarperBusiness.