Archive for the ‘Korea Computer Center (KCC)’ Category

North Korea Google Earth (Version 7)

Friday, December 14th, 2007

The most authoritative map of North Korea on Google Earth
North Korea Uncovered v.7
Download it here

koreaisland.JPGThis map covers North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks. It is continually expanding and undergoing revisions. This is the sixth version.

Additions to the latest version of “North Korea Uncovered” include: A Korean War folder featuring overlays of US attacks on the Sui Ho Dam, Yalu Bridge, and Nakwon Munitians Plant (before/after), plus other locations such as the Hoeryong Revolutionary Site, Ponghwa Revolutionary Site, Taechon reactor (overlay), Pyongyang Railway Museum, Kwangmyong Salt Works, Woljong Temple, Sansong Revolutionary Site, Jongbansan Fort and park, Jangsan Cape, Yongbyon House of Culture, Chongsokjong, Lake Yonpung, Nortern Limit Line (NLL), Sinuiju Old Fort Walls, Pyongyang open air market, and confirmed Pyongyang Intranet nodes.

Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. These efforts include pouring over books, maps, conducting interviews, and keeping up with other peoples’ discoveries. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds as to what they see. I cannot catch everything and I welcome contributions.


North Korean Children Have to Learn Computers As Well

Friday, December 7th, 2007

Daily NK
Han Young Jin

In North Korea nowadays, individual-use PCs concentrated in Pyongyang and Chongjin, Shinuiju and other large-size cities have been gradually increasing. The trend has been rapidly increasing due to the propagation of computers by North Korean party organizations, the administrative committee office and middle schools.

The computerized citizen registration project by the North Korean village office was completed around the Local People’s Assembly representative elections last July.

A source from Shinuiju, North Pyungan said in a phone conversation with DailyNK on the 5th, “Provincial organizations and the village office are taking on computer-based projects. Large-city wealthy people are also acquiring computers left and right due to their children’s education.”

The new-rich class, who have made huge profits from recent trade with China, believe gradually that “The outer society cannot do anything without computers. Our children have to learn computers, too, to not get behind.”

A majority of computers provided to North Korea are Chinese and South Korean-made and have entered through official trade with North Korea, but a portion has been going through smuggling. South Korean computers, with the exception of Korean software, are permitted. North Korea uses North Korean word processors, such as “Dangun” and “Changduk.”

A portion of the upper-class use the new model computers smuggled from China, but a majority use secondhand Pentium IV-processor or below imported from China. In North Korea’s Shinuiju, a computer (Pentium II) which includes a used CTR monitor is 100~120 dollars and a computer which includes LCD monitor is 300 dollars. The offering price for a used laptop is around 300 dollars.

He said, “People cannot connect to the internet via computers, but can use most programs set up on computers. The resident registration computerization project has been completed and in Pyongyang, networks between libraries are in operation.”

North Korea is the single country in the world that is not connected to an internet cable network. North Korea, while being endowed with the national domain suffix, “kp”, does not operate a domain. People cannot use internet, but can use software programs set up on individual computers such as MS-Word, Excel, and Photoshop.

In North Korea, after 2000, the import of used and new computers from China, Japan, and South Korea through individuals and companies increased dramatically. Around 2001, around 2,000 Samsung, LG and TriGem Computer were provided to North Korea’s main colleges such as Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology.

Mr. Kim said, “Chosun (North Korea) people prefer LCD monitors, not CTR monitors. Computers that have been coming in North Korea are mostly made in China and South Korean computers such as Samsung, LG, and TriGem Computer have been widely distributed as well.”

Electronic Publications Service using Domestic Network Possible

North Korea prohibits internet, so computer education mostly focused on program usage are taught in colleges and high schools. In schools for the gifted and college computer majors nationwide, a new generation of software developers is being nurtured.

Major organizations in the area of software development are Chosun (North Korea) Computer Center (KCC), Pyongyang Program Center, and the Academy of Sciences.

Since 2002, North Korea has created a network connecting the libraries of Grand People’s Study House, Kim Il Sung University, and Kim Chaek University of Technology. The network has been expanded throughout Pyongyang and the provinces. Currently, a few high officials in Pyongyang can use reportedly the Grand People’s Study House’s electronic publications service at home.


Google Earth North Korea (version 6)

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

The most authoritative map of North Korea on Google Earth
North Korea Uncovered: Version 6
Download it here

kissquare.JPGThis map covers North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks. It is continually expanding and undergoing revisions. This is the sixth version.

Additions to the newest version of North Korea Uncovered include: Alleged Syrian nuclear site (before and after bombing), Majon beach resort, electricity grid expansion, Runga Island in Pyongyang, Mt. Ryongak, Yongbyon historical fort walls, Suyang Fort walls and waterfall in Haeju, Kaechon-Lake Taesong water project, Paekma-Cholsan waterway, Yachts (3), and Hyesan Youth Copper Mine.

Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. These efforts include pouring over books, maps, conducting interviews, and keeping up with other peoples’ discoveries. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds as to what they see. I cannot catch everything and I welcome contributions.


NK’s Country Domain ‘.KP’ Gets Nod

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

Korea Times
Jane Han

Its just a matter of time before North Korea meets the world through the World Wide Web, as its domain “.kp” has recently been delegated for use.

The domain .kp _ short for Korea, Democratic People’s Republic _ allocated to North Korea, but currently not in use, has been officially designated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to be managed by the Pyongyang-based Korea Computer Center (KCC).

The international organization’s board voted unanimously in mid-September to accept KCC’s request to activate the domain.

Although an initial request was made in 2004, ICAAN declined permission due to the country’s lack of technology, management and governmental support.

The domain has been officially listed with the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), allowing Web sites to be managed like other country domains, such as .jp (Japan) and .kr (Korea, Republic of).

Experts predict that the opening of the web domain may serve as a gateway to link the reclusive nation to the global community.

However, North Korean officials have been quoted as saying, “The domain will be strictly managed under the guidance of the central government.”

The North Korean government operates a handful of official and unofficial Web sites on computer servers based in other nations. Most of them are used to promote the country to foreigners, but access from South Korea is blocked by the South’s authorities due to its decades-old laws on national security.


IT business delegation to visit DPRK

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

October 20-27, 2007 (Beijing/Pyongyang)
GPI Consulting

GPI Consulting (Netherlands) is one of the few western companies that has done an audit of the DPRK’s IT capabilitites and has published about them.

They are organizing an IT delegation to visit the DPRK this October.  Here is their marketing flyer and itinerary: NK-IT-tour.pdf

From the Marketing Flyer:

North Korea offers interesting business opportunities in several fields, such as software development, production of computer games, animation and cartoons, data entry en digitization. In order to provide detailed information about the IT opportunities in North Korea, a unique IT Study Tour will take place from 20 – 27 October 2007.

The trip to North Korea will focus on offshoring in the field of IT and BPO (Business Process Out-sourcing). We expect participants from IT- and software organizations that are investigating offshoring, or from consultants researching new offshore locations. Companies interested in exploring a new potential export market are also welcome to join the tour.

Europe still lacks sufficient knowledge about the promising North Korean IT sector. The goal of the business mission is to give the participants detailed information about offshoring, and especially about the opportunities in North Korea. We will strive to have participants from large, small and medium sized companies taking part in the IT study tour.

In order to make a business trip of 7 days attractive, the delegation will visit various companies in Pyongyang in the field of IT, animation, cartoons, computer games and BPO. The business mission will have an informal character with a visit to a university and also with attention to cultural and tourist elements. The participants of the tour will meet in China (Beijing); after returning from North Korea, an extension of the stay in China is possible.

The organizer of this mission is KCC (Korea Computer Center), a major IT services provider in North Korea with offices in several cities, including Pyongyang and Beijing. The European contact for this business mission will be Mr. Paul Tjia, founder and director of GPI Consultancy, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.  Established in 1995, GPI Consultancy is a specialized Dutch consultancy firm in the field of offshore sourcing. It is regularly involved in IT study tours to various offshore countries in Asia.


North Korea’s IT revolution

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

Asia Times
Bertil Lintner

The state of North Korea’s information-technology (IT) industry has been a matter of conjecture ever since “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il famously asked then-US secretary of state Madeleine Albright for her e-mail address during her visit to the country in October 2000.

The answer is that it is surprisingly sophisticated. North Korea may be one of the world’s least globalized countries, but it has long produced ballistic missiles and now even a nuclear arsenal, so it is actually hardly surprising that it also has developed advanced computer technology, and its own software.

Naturally, it lags far behind South Korea, the world’s most wired country, but a mini-IT revolution is taking place in North Korea. Some observers, such as Alexandre Mansourov, a specialist on North Korean security issues at the Honolulu-based Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS), believes that in the long run it may “play a major role in reshaping macroeconomic policymaking and the microeconomic behavior of the North Korean officials and economic actors respectively”.

Sanctions imposed against North Korea after its nuclear test last October may have made it a bit more difficult for the country to obtain high-tech goods from abroad, but not impossible. Its string of front companies in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan are still able to acquire what the country needs. It’s not all for military use, but as with everything else in North Korea, products from its IT industry have both civilian and non-civilian applications.

The main agency commanding North Korea’s IT strategy is the Korea Computer Center (KCC), which was set up in 1990 by Kim Jong-il himself at an estimated cost of US$530 million. Its first chief was the Dear Leader’s eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, who at that time also headed the State Security Agency, North Korea’s supreme security apparatus, which is now called the State Safety and Security Agency.

Functioning as a secret-police force, the agency is responsible for counterintelligence at home and abroad and, according to the American Federation of Scientists, “carries out duties to ensure the safety and maintenance of the system, such as search for and management of anti-system criminals, immigration control, activities for searching out spies and impure and antisocial elements, the collection of overseas information, and supervision over ideological tendencies of residents. It is charged with searching out anti-state criminals – a general category that includes those accused of anti-government and dissident activities, economic crimes, and slander of the political leadership. Camps for political prisoners are under its jurisdiction.”

In the 1980s, Kim Jong-nam studied at an international private school in Switzerland, where he learned computer science as well as several foreign languages, including English and French. Shortly after the formation of the KCC, South Korean intelligence sources assert, he moved the agency’s clandestine overseas information-gathering outfit to the center’s new building in Pyongyang’s Mangyongdae district. It was gutted by fire in 1997, but rebuilt with a budget of $1 billion, a considerable sum in North Korea. It included the latest facilities and equipment that could be obtained from abroad. According to its website, the KCC has 11 provincial centers and “branch offices, joint ventures and marketing offices in Germany, China, Syria, [the United] Arab Emirates and elsewhere”.

The KCC’s branch in Germany was established in 2003 by a German businessman, Jan Holtermann, and is in Berlin. At the same time, Holtermann set up an intranet service in Pyongyang and, according to Reporters Without Borders, “reportedly spent 700,000 euros [more than US$950,000] on it. To get around laws banning the transfer of sensitive technology to the Pyongyang regime, all data will be kept on servers based in Germany and sent by satellite to North Korean Internet users.” Nevertheless, it ended the need to dial Internet service providers in China to get out on the Web.

Holtermann also arranged for some of the KCC’s products to be shown for the first time in the West at the international IT exhibition CeBIT (Center of Office and Information Technology) last year in Hanover, Germany. The KCC’s branches in China are also active and maintain offices in the capital Beijing and Dalian in the northeast.

Another North Korean computer company, Silibank in Shenyang, in 2001 actually became North Korea’s first Internet service provider, offering an experimental e-mail relay service through gateways in China. In March 2004, the North Koreans established a software company, also in Shenyang, called the Korea 615 Editing Corp, which according to press releases at the time would “provide excellent software that satisfies the demand from Chinese consumers with competitive prices”.

Inside North Korea, however, access to e-mail and the Internet remains extremely limited. The main “intranet” service is provided by the Kwangmyong computer network, which includes a browser, an internal e-mail program, newsgroups and a search engine. Most of its users are government agencies, research institutes, educational organizations – while only people like Kim Jong-il, a known computer buff, have full Internet access.

But the country beams out its own propaganda over Internet sites such as, which in Korean, Chinese, Russian and Japanese carries the writings of Kim Jong-il and his father, “the Great Leader” Kim Il-sung, along with pictures of scenic Mount Paekdu near the Chinese border, the “cradle of the Korean revolution”, from where Kim Il-sung ostensibly led the resistance against the Japanese colonial power during World War II, and where Kim Jong-il was born, according to the official version of history. Most other sources would assert that the older Kim spent the war years in exile in a camp near the small village of Vyatskoye 70 kilometers north of Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East, where the younger Kim was actually born in 1942.

The official Korean Central New Agency also has its own website,, which is maintained by pro-Pyongyang ethnic Koreans in Japan, and carries daily news bulletins in Korean, English, Russian and Spanish, but with rather uninspiring headlines such as “Kim Jong-il sends message of greetings to Syrian president”, “Kim Jong-il’s work published in Mexico” and “Floral basket to DPRK [North Korea] Embassy [in Phnom Penh] from Cambodian Great King and Great Queen”.

On the more innocent side, the KCC produces software for writing with Korean characters a Korean version of Linux, games for personal computers and PlayStation – and an advanced computer adaptation of go, a kind of Asian chess game, which, according to the Dutch IT firm GPI Consultancy, “has won the world championship for go games for several years. The games department has a display showing all the trophies which were won during international competitions.”

Somewhat surprisingly, the North Koreans also produce some of the software for mobile phones made by the South Korean company Samsung, which began collaboration with the KCC in March 2000. North Korean computer experts have received training in China, Russia and India, and are considered, even by the South Koreans, as some of the best in the world.

More ominously, in October 2004, South Korea’s Defense Ministry reported to the country’s National Assembly that the North had trained “more than 500 computer hackers capable of launching cyber-warfare” against its enemies. “North Korea’s intelligence-warfare capability is estimated to have reached the level of advanced countries,” the report said, adding that the military hackers had been put through a five-year university course training them to penetrate the computer systems of South Korea, the United States and Japan.

According to US North Korea specialist Joseph Bermudez, “The Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces understands electronic warfare to consist of operations using electromagnetic spectrum to attack the enemy by jamming or spoofing. During the 1990s, the ministry identified electronic intelligence warfare as a new type of warfare, the essence of which is the disruption or destruction of the opponent’s computer networks – thereby paralyzing their military command and control system.”

Skeptical observers have noted that US firewalls should be able to prevent that from happening, and that North Korea still has a long way to go before it can seriously threaten the sophisticated computer networks of South Korea, Japan and the US.

It is also uncertain whether Kim Jong-nam still heads the KCC and the State Safety and Security Agency. In May 2001, he was detained at Tokyo’s airport at Narita for using what appeared to be a false passport from the Dominican Republic. He had arrived in the Japanese capital from Singapore with some North Korean children to visit Tokyo Disneyland – but instead found himself being deported to China. Since then, he has spent most of his time in the former Portuguese enclave of Macau, where he has been seen in the city’s casinos and massage parlors. This February, the Japanese and Hong Kong media published pictures of him in Macau, and details of his lavish lifestyle there – which prompted him to leave for mainland China, where he is now believed to be living.

Whatever Kim Jong-nam’s present status may be in the North Korean hierarchy, the KCC is more active than ever, and so is another software developer, the Pyongyang Informatics Center, which, at least until recently, had a branch in Singapore. Other links in the region include Taiwan’s Jiage Limited Corporation, which has entered a joint-venture operation with the KCC under the rather curious name Chosun Daedong River Electronic Calculator Joint Operation Companies, which, according to South Korea’s trade agency, KOTRA, produces computers and circuit boards.

The US Trading with the Enemy Act and restrictions under the international Wassenaar Arrangement, which controls the trade in dual-use goods and technologies (military and civilian), may prohibit the transfer of advanced technology to North Korea, but with easy ways around these restrictions, sanctions seem to have had little or no effect.

North Korea’s IT development seems unstoppable, and the APCSS’s Mansourov argues that it can “both strengthen and undermine political propaganda and ideological education, as well as totalitarian surveillance and control systems imposed by the absolutist and monarchic security-paranoid state on its people, especially at the time of growing conflict between an emerging entrepreneurial politico-corporate elites and the old military-industrial elite”.

So will the IT revolution, as he puts it, “liquefy or solidify the ground underneath Kim Jong-il’s regime? Will the IT revolution be the beginning of the end of North Korea, at least as we know it today?” Most probably, it will eventually break North Korea’s isolation, even if the country’s powerful military also benefits from improved technologies. And there may be a day when the KCNA will have something more exciting to report about than “A furnace-firing ceremony held at the Taean Friendship Glass Factory”.

Bertil Lintner is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review and is currently a writer with Asia-Pacific Media Services.


Samjiyon Information Technology Center (SITC)

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

Samjiyon Information Technology Center was established as a professional multimedia technology department under the control of KCC on October 24, 1990.

From that time down to this day, SITC has been conducting research & development activities about fields of multimedia communication, image processing, audio & video processing, embedded application, educational application, multimedia contents and authoring tools, and the many powerful and good products were developed.

Our products are being on sale on home and foreign markets, and well received by the customers.

SITC is making inroads actively into the foreign markets based on cooperative relations established with several companies of Japan and China in fields of marketing and joint research & development.

SITC is very proud of its employees, among them more than 80% are qualified with masters or doctoral degrees.

Distribution ratio of technical personnel by fields

  – Continuous improvement of the qualitative growth of technical forces
  – Strengthening of the cooperative relations between enterprises and educational & research institutions
  – Maximum intellectual property

Management Goal
  – 3 unique products and services
  – 10 unique core technologies
  – Certification acquisition from ISO9001 Pyongyang Certificate authority and CMM3 acquisition

As in the past, SITC will meet customers’ expectations by superior technology and improved service while amplifying cooperation and exchange with home and foreign partners. 


“Koryo Pen”, Hand-Writing Input Program

Friday, March 2nd, 2007


“Koryo Pen”, a hand-writing input program developed by the Korean Computer Center is popular in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It enables computer users to input various kinds of documents with an electronic pen without typing.

It is very convenient for those who are not good in typing.

With high character recognition ability, “Koryo Pen” can recognize most of hasty writing whose stroke orders are correct, to say nothing of correct characters.

Symbols and marks are analyzed, too.  There is little problem about a document with foreign characters.


Weird but Wired

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

the Economist

Online dating in Pyongyang? Surely not

KIM JONG IL, North Korea’s dictator, has interests in modern technology beyond his dabbling in nuclear weaponry. In 2000 he famously asked Madeleine Albright, then America’s secretary of state, for her e-mail address. Mr Kim believes there are three kinds of fool in the 21st century: smokers, the tone-deaf and the computer-illiterate.

One of his young compatriots is certainly no fool. “Officially, our computers are mainly for educational and scientific purposes,” he says, before claiming: “Chatting on our web, I also met my girlfriend.”

Internet dating is only one of the surprises about the internet in North Korea, a country almost as cut off from the virtual world as it is from the real one. At one of the rare free markets open to foreigners, brand-new computers from China are sold to the local nouveaux riches complete with Windows software. Elsewhere, second-hand ones are available far more cheaply. In most schools, computer courses are now compulsory.

In the heart of the capital, Pyongyang, visitors are supposed to be able to surf freely through the 30m official texts stored at the Grand People’s Study House, the local version of the Library of Congress. The country’s first cyber café opened in 2002 and was soon followed by others, even in the countryside. Some are packed with children playing computer games.

But the world wide web is still largely absent. Web pages of the official news agency, KCNA, said to be produced by the agency’s bureau in Japan, divulge little more than the daily “on the spot guidance” bestowed by Kim Jong Il. No one in Pyongyang has forgotten that glasnost and perestroika—openness and transparency—killed the Soviet Union.

The local ideology being juche, or self-reliance, the country installed a fibre-optic cable network for domestic use, and launched a nationwide intranet in 2000. Known as Kwangmyong (“bright”), it has a browser, an e-mail programme, news groups and a search engine. Only a few thousand people are allowed direct access to the internet. The rest are “protected” (ie, sealed off) by a local version of China’s “great firewall”, controlled by the Korean Computer Centre. As a CIA report puts it, this system limits “the risks of foreign defection or ideological infection”. On the other hand, North Koreans with access to the outer world are supposed to plunder the web to feed Kwangmyong—a clever way to disseminate technical information to research institutes, factories and schools without losing control.

Yet even today, more and more business cards in Pyongyang carry e-mail addresses, albeit usually collective ones. A west European businessman says he is astonished by the speed with which his North Korean counterparts respond to his e-mails, leading him to wonder if teams of people are using the same name. This is, however, North Korea, and sometimes weeks go by in virtual silence.

In some places, North Korea’s internet economy seems to be overheating. Near the northern border, Chinese cell phones—and the prepaid phone cards needed to use them—are a hot black-market item, despite government efforts to ban them. The new web-enabled phones might soon give free access to the Chinese web which, for all its no-go areas, is a paradise of liberty compared with Kwangmyong. In this region, known for its casinos, online gambling sites are said to be increasingly active.

Last summer the police were reported to have cracked down on several illegal internet cafés which offered something more daring than the average chatting and dating. Despite the signs that North Korea’s web culture is ready to take off, internet-juche remains a reassuring form of control in the hermit regime.


North Korea: an upcoming software destination

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

Paul Tija
GPI Consultancy
October 10, 2006

IN PDF: IT_in_NKorea.pdf

Surprising business opportunities in Pyongyang

Dutch companies are increasingly conducting Information Technology projects in low-cost countries. Also known as offshore sourcing, this way of working means that labor-intensive activities, such as the programming of computer software, are being done abroad. Asia is the most popular software destination, and Indian IT firms are involved in large projects for Dutch enterprises such as ANB Amro Bank, KLM, Philips or Heineken. More recently, we notice a growth in the software collaboration with China.

As a Dutch IT consultant, I am specialized in offshore software development projects, and I regularly travel to India and China. Recently, I was invited for a study tour to an Asian country which I had never visited before: North Korea. I had my doubts whether to accept this invitation. After all, when we read about North Korea, it is mostly not about its software capabilities. The current focus of the press is on its nuclear activities and it is a country where the Cold War has not even ended, so I was not sure if such a visit would be useful. And finally, such a trip to a farshore country would at least take a week.

Nevertheless, I decided to visit this country. This decision was mainly based on what I had seen in China. I had already traveled to China five times this year, and the fast growth of China as a major IT destination was very clear to me. China is now the production factory of the world, but China’s software industry has emerged to become a global player in just 5 years. Several of the largest Indian IT service providers, including TCS, Infosys, Wipro and Satyam, have established their offices in China, taking advantage of the growing popularity of this country. However, I also noticed that some Chinese companies themselves are outsourcing IT work to neighboring North Korea. And since my profession is being an offshore consultant, I have no choice but to investigate these new trends in country selection, so I accepted the invitation to visit Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. I happened to be the first Dutch consultant to research the North Korean IT-sector ever, and the one-week tour turned out to be extremely interesting. Quite surprisingly, the country offers interesting business opportunities for European companies.

Korea Computer Center
My study tour was organized by KCC (Korea Computer Center), the largest IT-company in the country. Established in 1990, it is state-owned and has more than one thousand employees. It is headquartered in Pyongyang and has regional branches in eleven cities. My accommodation has been arranged at the KCC campus, which comprises of several office buildings. It also has iown hostel, with a swimming pool, for foreign guests. These guests are mainly Asian (during my stay, there were Chinese delegations), so I had to get used to having rice for breakfast. In the evenings, the restaurant doubled as a karaoke bar, and some of the waitresses appeared to be talented singers. The campus is located in a rather attractive green area, and the butterflies flying around were the largest I had ever seen. It also has sporting grounds, and basketball was during my one-week visit the most popular game among KCC staff. An internal competition takes place during lunch hours.

Korea Computer Center is organized in different specialized business units. Before their representatives started with presentations, I received a tour through the premises. As is the case in India and China, the programmers at KCC also work in cubicles. KCC develops various software products, of which some are especially designed for the local market. Examples are a Korean version of Linux and translation software between Korean, Japanese, Chinese and English. They also produce software for Korean character and handwriting recognition and voice recognition. Other products are made for export, and North Korean games to be used on mobile phones are already quite popular in Japan. There are also games for PC’s, Nintendo and Playstation; their computer version of Go, an Asian chess game, has won the world championship for Go games for several years. The games department has a display showing all the trophies which were won during international competitions.

For several years, KCC is active as an offshore services provider and it works for clients in China, South Korea and Japan. For these markets, North Korea is a nearshore destination, and quite a few North Korean IT-staff do speak Chinese or Japanese. KCC also has branch offices in various Chinese cities, including Beijing and Dalian. It works for both foreign software product companies and end user firms, such as banks. For these clients, different types of applications have been developed, for example in the field of finance, security or Human Resources. Europe is a relatively new market for the North Koreans, and some of their products have been showed for the first time at the large international IT-exhibition CeBIT, in 2006 in Hannover, Germany.

The level of IT-expertise was high, with attention to quality through the use of ISO9001, CMMI and Six Sigma. KCC develops embedded software for the newest generation of digital television, for multimedia-players and for PDA’s (Personal Digital Assistants). Surprisingly, it also produces the software for the mobile phones of South Korean Samsung. I was shown innovative software which could recognize music by humming a few sounds. In less than a second, the melody was recognized from a database of more than 500 songs. Also applications for home use were developed, such as accessing the Internet by using a mobile phone to adjust the air conditioning. KCC also Photo: KCC campus in Pyongyang made software to recognize faces on photographs and video films. They gave me demonstrations of video-conferencing systems, and applications for distance learning. There was a separate medical department, which made software to be used by hospitals and doctors, such as systems to check the condition of heart and blood vessels.

Supply of IT-labor In countries such as The Netherlands, the enrollment in courses in Information Technology is not popular anymore among the youth, and a shortage of software engineers is expected. This situation is different in many offshore countries, where a career in IT is very ‘cool’. Also in North Korea, large numbers of students have an interest to study IT. I visited in Pyongyang the large Kim Chaek University of Technology, where there are much more applications, than available places. Although my visit took place during the summer holiday, there were still students around at the faculty of Informatics. In order to gain experience, they were conducting projects for foreign companies. I spoke with students who were programming computer games or were developing software for PDA’s. A large pool of technically qualified workforce is now available in North Korea. Some of the staff is taking courses abroad and foreign teachers (e.g. from India) are regularly invited to teach classes in Pyongyang.

Business Process Outsourcing
Some companies in Pyongyang are involved in activities in the field of BPO (Business Process Outsourcing), an areas which includes various kinds of administrative work. Because of the available knowledge of the Japanese language, the North Koreans are offering back-office services to western companies engaged in doing business with Japan.

In order to get an understanding of this type of work, I visited Dakor, which was established 10 years ago in cooperation with a Swiss firm. This joint venture is located at the opposite side of Pyongyang, across the Taedong river. It works for European research companies, and it receives from them scanned survey forms electronically on a daily basis. It processes these papers and returns the results within 48 hours to their clients. The company is also conducting data-entry work for international organizations such as the United Nations and the International Red Cross. Their data, which is stored on paper only, is being made available for use online. Dakor is also offering additional services, such as producing 2D and 3D designs for architectural firms, and it is also programming websites.

North Korea is already famous as a production location for high quality cartoons and animation. Staff of the American Walt Disney Corporation described the country as one of the most talented centers of animation in the world. The specialized state corporation SEK Studio has more than 1500 employees, and works for several European producers of children films. New companies are being founded as well, and I visited Tin Ming Alan CG Studio. This firm was set up in early 2006, and is located in a new office building in the outskirts of Pyongyang. Its main focus is in Computer Graphics and in 2D and 3D animation it uses the latest hardware and software, including Maja. Some of the staff of Tin Ming Alan speak Chinese and the company has a marketing office in China. They are hired by Chinese advertisement companies to make the animation for TV-commercials. It also works on animation to be included in computer games.  Several employees of this young company come from other animation studios and have more than ten years of experience in this field.

The North Korean IT sector seems to be dynamic, where new firms are being established, and where business units of larger organizations are being spun-off into new ventures. I visited the Gwang Myong IT Center, which is a spin-off from Korea Computer Center. It is specialized in network software and security, and it produces anti-virus, data encryption, data recovery, and fingerprint software. This firmis internationally active as well; it has an office in China and among its clients are financial institutions in Japan.

Issues of country selection
My study tour revealed that North Korea has specific advantages. The local tariffs are lower than in India or China, thus giving western firms the option of considerable cost reductions. The commitment of North Korean IT-firms is also high, and the country is therefore also an offshore option for especially smaller or medium sized western software companies. Outsourcing work to North Korea could also be used to foster innovation (e.g. developing better products or new applications). This country can be used for research as well (from Linux to parallel processing).  Based from my interaction with Korean managers and software engineers, I do not believe that the cultural differences are larger than with China or India. My communication with them, both formal and informal, was pleasant. Communicating with North Koreans is clearly less difficult than with Japanese.

The North Korean companies have experiences with a wide range of development platforms. They work with Assembler, Cobol, C, Visual Studio .Net, Visual C/C++, Visual Basic, Java, JBuilder, Powerbuilder, Delphi, Flash, XML, Ajax, PHP, Perl, Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL, etc. They can do development work for administrative applications, but also technical software, such as embedded software or PLC’s. North Korea is very advanced in areas such as animation and games, and I have seen a range of titles, including table tennis, chess, golf, or beach volley. The design of many of their applications was modern and according to the western taste.

Over the recent years, North Korea is opening up for foreign business. This process makes offshore sourcing easier, and even investing in an own software subsidiary or joint venture can be considered. This does not mean that North Korea is potential software destination for every user of offshore services. The country is a subject of international political tensions. In addition, a number of circumstances require specific attention, such as the command of the English Language.  As is the case with China, the North Korean IT staff are able to read english bu thtey do not speak it very well.  Another issue is the relative isolation of the country, and in order to arrange an invitation, a visa is required.  The limited number of direct flights is another disadvantage; one can only travel directly from Beijing or Moscow.  If projects will require a lot of communication or knowledge transfer, it might be recommended to do some parts of the work in China, by the Chinese branches of the North Korean companies. Executing a small pilot project is the best way to investigate the opportunities in more detail.

North Korea has a large number of skilled IT professionals, and it has a high level of IT expertise in various areas.  The country is evolving into a nearshore software destination for a growing number of clients from Japan, China and South Korea. An interesting example of their success is the work they are doing for South Korean giant Samsung, in the field of embedded software for mobile phones.

North Korean IT-companies are now also targeting the European market, and the low tariffs and the available skills are major advantages.  Smaller and medium sized software companies can consider this country as a potential offshore destination, and should research the opportunities for collaboration or investment in more detail. Taking part in a study tour, as I have done, is an excellent way to get more insight in the actual business opportunities of a country – not only in the case of North Korea but for all nearshore and farshore destinations.

Paul Tija is the founder of GPI Consultancy, an independent Dutch Consultancy firm in the in the field of offshore IT sourcing. E-mail: [email protected]
GPI Consultancy, Postbus 26151, 3002 ED Rotterdam
Tel: +31-10-4254172 E-mail: [email protected]