Twelve years after Thailand launched an ‘IT Year’ to promote the software sector, market revenues have grown ten-fold to Bt50bn ($1.6bn), the Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) has claimed.

Last year the software industry accounted for just over 40% of the entire domestic IT market. To further the growth curve, the country’s Software Industry Promotion Agency (Sipa) has announced an aggressive target of expanding the value of the sector to Bt200bn over the next five years.

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Despite the fact that Thailand has played host to software companies for 35 years, the industry has been unable to keep pace with robust domestic demand. According to Software Park Thailand, a promotion agency, the country exported nearly $80m-worth of software last year, but imported almost 70% of its software products. Therefore, major investment opportunities exist in a number of sectors within the software industry.

According to BOI figures, in the first nine months of 2007 net applications for software projects reached Bt871m, which amounts to about a 20% increase over the same period last year.

One segment pegged for rapid development is animation and multimedia. This year the animation sector is expected to grow at a robust 12.7% over 2006, with its total value expected to reach more than Bt3bn. The BOI announced recently that Kantana Animation Studio, a subsidiary of one of Thailand’s leading television programme producers, will invest Bt60m and create 60 jobs to produce digital content and embedded products.

Another emerging area is software for the healthcare industry. The industry reportedly spends about $30bn worldwide a year on hardware and software, yet this still represents only about 1% of industry revenues compared with the average in other industries of 7% spending.

The prospects for investment in IT for healthcare were highlighted by Microsoft’s decision to jump into the ring with its acquisition of Bumrungrad Hospital’s health information system provider, Global Care Solutions (GCS). Overall, seven hospitals across five countries in south-east Asia currently use GCS software.

Additionally, Microsoft says it plans to establish a healthcare research centre in Bangkok that will work exclusively on healthcare software for the international market. This move is expected by some to stimulate the domestic IT industry, as well as help promote Thailand as a global healthcare hub.