Archive for the ‘Kim Chaek University of Technology’ Category

DPRK IT update

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

According to the Korea IT Times:

The number of science and technology institutions in North Korea is estimated to hover around 300; about 200 institutions have been officially confirmed. Therefore, the North is unable to focus on building the hardware industry, which requires massive capital input and long-term investment, and is left with no choice, but to be keen on nurturing IT talent geared toward software development. As a result, the North has been producing excellent IT human resources in areas like artificial intelligence, needed for controlling man-made satellites and developing arms systems, and programming languages.

The following IT institutions are in charge of fostering the North’s software industry: DPRK Academy of Sciences, Korea Computer Center (KCC), Pyongyang Information Center (PIC) and Silver Star, which is currently under the KCC.

In particular, the creation of the PIC, modeled on the Osaka Information Center (OIC) at Osaka University of economics and law, was funded by Jochongnyeon, the pro-North Korean residents’ league in Japan, and was technologically supported by the UNDP. The Jochongnyeon-financed KCC has been responsible for program development and distribution; research on electronic data processing; and nurturing IT talent.

Thanks to such efforts, nearly 200,000 IT talents were fostered and about 10,000 IT professionals are currently working in the field. Approximately 100 universities such as Kim Il-sung University, Pyongyang University of Computer Technology and Kim Chaek University of Technology (KUT) – and 120 colleges have produced 10,000 IT human resources every year. At the moment, the number of IT companies in the North is a mere 250, while the South has suffered from a surplus of IT talent. Therefore, inter-Korean IT cooperation is of great importance to the two Koreas.

As aforementioned, the North has set its sights on promoting its software industry, which is less capital-intensive compared to the hardware industry. Above all, the North is getting closer to obtaining world-class technologies in areas such as voice, fingerprint recognition, cryptography, animation, computer-aided design (CAD) and virtual reality. However, the North’s lack of efficient software development processes and organized engineering systems remains a large obstacle to executing projects aimed at developing demand technology that the S. Korean industry wants. What is more, as the North lacks experiences in carrying out large-scale projects, doing documentation work in the process of development, and smoothing out technology transfer, much needs to be done to measure up to S. Korean companies’ expectations.

Thus, the North needs to build a system for practical on-the-job IT training that produces IT talent capable of developing demand technology- which S. Korean companies need. In addition, it is urgent for both Koreas to come up with an IT talent certification system that certifies both Koreas’ IT professionals.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Needs to Set Up Practical IT Training and Certification Systems
Korea IT Times
Choi Sung


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.


Summit Reveals Fashionable Pyongyang

Friday, October 5th, 2007

Korea Times
Kim Tong-hyung

It will be quite a long time before Pyongyang earns its stripes as a hip and happening city if it ever does. But, judging by the glimpses revealed during the three-day summit, it seems that not all is gray and grim in the North Korean capital.

First lady Kwon Yang-suk and other South Korean officials ran into a room full of headsets Wednesday at Pyongyang’s Grand People’s Study Hall as students managed to keep a straight face scribbling down English conversations played on tape.

“Repeating is the best,” said a North Korean student when asked what is the secret to learning English, providing no relief to his peers in the South who hear the same thing until their eardrums wear out.

Perhaps improving cooperation between the two Koreas will do little to better the foreign language skills of students from either side of the border who grab English books with the same enthusiasm as a kid force-fed vegetables.

However, it seems clear that Pyongyang’s youngsters of today are more concerned about internationalization than they appeared in the first inter-Korean summit seven years ago.

South Korean delegates went on to tour the Kim Chaek University of Technology where they found students, mostly studying English, searching for video files and text stored in computers.

The university’s library has 420 desktop computers, 2 million books and more than 10 million electronics books that can be accessed via a local area network (LAN) connection or from telephone modems at home.

North Korean officials were eager to show their elite students studying English to South Korean authorities, quiet a surprise from a country dominated by the “Juche,” or self-reliance, ideology.

And at least on the educational front, it seems that computers are becoming a part of everyday life for Pyongyang’s younger generation, although they are far behind their tech-savvy southern neighbors who have television on their cell phones.

Not every picture of change in Pyongyang was staged. South Korean correspondents have sent photos of young North Korean women gliding through the streets in clothes that seemed to be ripped from Vogue magazine. Some even had heavy mascara that would qualify them for a Johnny Depp pirate movie.

Bright colors of yellow and pink were easily seen among the women waving their hands to the limousine convoy of South Korean delegates upon their Pyongyang arrival.

Surely, North Korean fusionists have come a long way since their universally pale makeup and grayish attire seen by South Korean reporters during the 2000 summit.

Even North Korean government officials involved in the formal talks looked a little more contemporary than last remembered, with many of them suited up in tailor-cut, three-button suits.

The security officials looked better too. Gone were the bodyguards with big hats, khaki uniforms and oversized gun holsters who flocked around former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung back in the first talks.

Instead, North Korean bodyguards today were dressed in black suits and moved with a hand on their earpieces, making them hardly distinguishable them from their South Korean counterparts.


A Mission to Educate the Elite

Friday, April 13th, 2007

Science Magazine
Vol. 316. no. 5822, p. 183
DOI: 10.1126/science.316.5822.183
Richard Stone

In a dramatic new sign that North Korea is emerging from isolation, the country’s first international university has announced plans to open its doors in Pyongyang this fall.

Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) will train select North Korean graduate students in a handful of hard-science disciplines, including computer science and engineering. In addition, founders said last week, the campus will anchor a Silicon Valley-like “industrial cluster” intended to generate jobs and revenue.

One of PUST’s central missions is to train future North Korean elite. Another is evangelism. “While the skills to be taught are technical in nature, the spirit underlying this historic venture is unabashedly Christian,” its founding president, Chin Kyung Kim, notes on the university’s Web site (

The nascent university is getting a warm reception from scientists involved in efforts to engage the Hermit Kingdom. “PUST is a great experiment for North-South relations,” says Dae-Hyun Chung, a physicist who retired from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and now works with Roots of Peace, a California nonprofit that aims to remove landmines from Korea’s demilitarized zone. To Chung, a Christian university is fitting: A century ago, Christianity was so vibrant in northern Korea, he says, that missionaries called Pyongyang “the Jerusalem of the East.”

The idea for PUST came in a surprise overture from North Korea in 2000, a few months after a landmark North-South summit. A decade earlier, Kim had established China’s first foreign university: Yanbian University of Science and Technology, in Yanji, the capital of an autonomous Korean enclave in China’s Jilin Province, just over the border from North Korea. In March 2001, the North Korean government authorized Kim and his backer, the nonprofit Northeast Asia Foundation for Education and Culture (NAFEC), headquartered in Seoul, to establish PUST in southern Pyongyang. It also granted NAFEC the right to appoint Kim as PUST president and hire faculty of any nationality, as well as a contract to use the land for 50 years.

NAFEC broke ground in June 2002 on a 1-million-square-meter plot that had belonged to the People’s Army in Pyongyang’s Nak Lak district, on the bank of the Taedong River. Construction began in earnest in April 2004. That summer, workers–a few of the 800 young soldiers on loan to the project–unearthed part of a bell tower belonging to a 19th century church dedicated to Robert Jermain Thomas, a Welsh Protestant missionary killed aboard his ship on the Taedong in 1866.

NAFEC’s fundraising faltered, however, and construction halted in fall 2004. The group intensified its Monday evening prayers and broadened its money hunt, getting critical assistance from a U.S. ally: the former president of Rice University, Malcolm Gillis, a well-connected friend of the elder George Bush and one of three co-chairs of a committee overseeing PUST’s establishment. “He made a huge difference,” says Chan-Mo Park, president of Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), another co-chair. South Korea’s unification ministry also quietly handed PUST a $1 million grant–more than it has awarded to any other North-South science cooperation project. This helped the school complete its initial $20 million construction push.

At the outset, PUST will offer master’s and Ph.D. programs in areas including computing, electronics, and agricultural engineering, as well as an MBA program. North Korea’s education ministry will propose qualified students, from which PUST will handpick the inaugural class of 150. It is now seeking 45 faculty members. Gillis and other supporters are continuing to stump for a targeted $150 million endowment to cover PUST operations, which in the first year will cost $4 million. Undergraduate programs will be added later, officials say. PUST, at full strength, aims to have 250 faculty members, 600 grad students, and 2000 undergrads.

PUST hopes to establish research links and exchanges with North Korea’s top institutions and with universities abroad. “It is a very positive sign,” says Stuart Thorson, a political scientist at Syracuse University in New York who leads a computer science collaboration between Syracuse and Kimchaek University of Technology in Pyongyang. “Key to success will be achieving on-the-ground involvement of international faculty in PUST’s teaching and research.”

Some observers remain cautious, suggesting that the North Korean military could use the project to acquire weapons technology or might simply commandeer the campus after completion. A more probable risk is that trouble in the ongoing nuclear talks could cause delays. At the moment, however, signs are auspicious. Park, who plans to teach at PUST after his 4-year POSTECH term ends in August, visited Pyongyang last month as part of a PUST delegation. “The atmosphere was friendly,” he says. “The tension was gone.” The Monday prayer group continues, just in case.


Education institutions in the DPRK

Thursday, April 5th, 2007


Kimchaek University of Technology, the top college of science and engineering as well as a central higher educational institution of North Korea, is located in Pyongyang, not in Kimchaek.

Colleges and universities in North Korea are classified into two: central and regional. But criteria for the classification differ from those of the South. It’s wrong to assume that those located in the capital are central institutes of higher education, and those housed in provincial cities and towns are regional ones.

Central higher educational institutions as referred to in the North denote “central-grade institutions of higher education founded in Pyongyang and elsewhere in the provinces for the purpose of educating prospective national leaders, engineers and scientists.” Accordingly, colleges and universities located in Pyongyang are not necessarily central institutions of higher education; nor those situated in the provinces are all regional colleges and universities.

Chongjin Mining and Metallurgy College, the only one of its kind not only in the North but in Asia, and Wonsan Agriculture College, the first of its kind in the North, for example, are definitely central colleges, though the former is located in North Hamgyong Province, and the latter in Kangwon Province, respectively. The same applies to Shinuiju Light Industry College located in North Pyongan Province; Sariwon College of Koryo Pharmacy in North Hwanghai Province; and Hamhung Hydrographic and Power College in South Hamgyong Province. Though located in provincial cities, they are all central colleges founded with regional features taken into account.

On the other hand, Pyongyang Machinery College, Pyongyang Agriculture College, Pyongyang Printing Industry College, though all are located in the capital, are classified as regional colleges. Each province or special city under the direct jurisdiction of the central government in the North has two normal and teachers colleges and one arts and physical education colleges, all of which are typical regional ones. Factory, farm and fishing farm colleges attached to industrial entities also belong to the regional category.

What is the central criterion separating central high educational institutions from their regional counterparts? It depends on who administers and manages them. Those administered directly by the Education Ministry are central institutions of higher education; those administered by the Education Department of the People’s Committee of a relevant province or special city placed directly under the jurisdiction of the central government are regional colleges or universities. Needless to say, no regional institutions of higher education are free from Education Ministry guidance; the guidance is only given indirectly through the People’s Committee Education Department of a pertinent province or special city. In an exception, Kim Il Sung University, the most prestigious higher educational institute in the North, is placed under the direct jurisdiction of the cabinet.

Central colleges and universities, wherever they are located, recruit students from across the land, and their graduates are assigned to any agencies, factories, corporations or research institutes in the country. On the other hand, only seniors and graduates from senior high schools in pertinent provinces and special cities are eligible to enter regional institutes of higher education, whose graduates, when given job assignments upon graduation, are confined to offices or factories in their respective administrative areas.

North Korea has quite a few institutes of higher education that are called colleges, entirely unrelated to central and regional colleges, but whose nature and curricula are totally different. The Yalu River College trains espionage agents sent to the South under the jurisdiction of the Reconnaissance Bureau of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces; Pyongyang College of Technology, also called the State Security Agency Political College, produces prospective leaders of the intelligence agency.

The Automation College, once called Mirim College, is a special college founded for the purpose of turning out manpower needed for waging electronics information warfare, placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces. The College of People’s Economics and International Relations College are institutes retraining leading staff of the party headquarters; the College of Communism run by each province or special city is a special educational institute retraining junior leaders of regional chapters of the Workers’ Party.


Water Quality Improver Developed

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007


Kim Chaek University of Technology has developed a new kind of water quality improver.   The machine is made with the application of the cutting-edge science and technology such as nano technology.  The kernel of the improver is a filter bar. A bar is capable of refining 2,500 liters of water as “spring water”.

The filter bar, made with nano materials, consists of a layer for removing floating matters and microorganism, a layer for deodorizing smell, a layer for absorbing heavy metals and two physical filter layers. 

The new improver is superior to other kinds of water purifiers in various points.  It eliminates heavy metals, floating matters and microorganism harmful to the human body.  The water purified by the improver is clean and low in chemical combination. It supplements microelements to and improves the digestion function of the human body, thus effectively preventing various diseases.


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]
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