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Cover Story

May 29 - June 04, 2000

Pakistan cannot afford to be left behind

Surprisingly whenever and wherever there is any discussion about Information Technology (IT) it revolves around export of software from Pakistan. It goes to the limit of setting export target in billions of dollars. The same is also true if one reads the draft of IT Policy minutely and carefully. Without taking into account computer literacy, curriculum taught and skill level of graduates coming out of educational institutions.

The first and the foremost item for the development of IT industry in the country is producing IT literates. This cannot be achieved without increasing number of computer literates and ensuring availability and affordability of hardware and software. The second point is equipping people with skills to use computers for management information system for prudent decision making — be it cost optimization or forecasting the business outlook. Going one step further one may say that IT was a tool till recently but now it has become a strategic weapon for meeting the challenge of globalization.

Availability of technology — hardware, software and infrastructure — have become impediments. Though, computers have become an integral part of our life, its use is confined to a few. Those who have this technology at their disposal are often not aware of the highest level of technology. But we are invariably exposed to its use, be it an ATM, telebanking, etc.

Gone are the days when a few and select groups had the access to computers. After the introduction of personal computers (PCs) we have gradually moved to local area networking (LAN) and internet. One does not know where this revolution may take us. With mobile telephony revolution, offices may not be confined to the four walls. One is being enabled to conduct a transaction whenever and wherever he/she is.

Unless the users get basic orientation in computer usage, they cannot acquire the skills to develop software. As such the largest number of IT users are required to get hand-on training on standardized packages rather than developing the actual software. Data entry people need low level education but complete orientation of the packages being used. Whereas software developers are required in lesser number, must have high educational background in their respective areas of specialization.

This brings us to the key issue of providing the required skills. The curriculum of most of the educational institutions are rather stale. They mostly teach language which are not commonly used. Even the fee is very high compared to what they actually deliver. As the world is moving towards greater use of internet the objective should be to get ready for e-commerce and e-corporations. The country need people who are equipped with technological skill as well as have business administration background.

A brief mention of Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology must be of immense interest. It houses, four servers, 700 nodes (computer terminals) and the number of users of the facility exceeds 2500 — all of them are students of the university. It has a plan to establish its own ISP mainly for the benefit of its students. Another important point is that at present at least eight software packages are being developed at its 'computer incubator' for companies of international repute.

Telebanking, ATMs and online banking are still not common in the country. The use of these facilities should not be considered a status symbol as these have become a necessity. With the increase in traffic at banks, remote location of branches and traffic jams on roads, such facilities only improve the quality of services and provide solace to the customers. An impression that introduction of such services can raise unemployment in the country is incorrect. It may be true that people with lower skills may lose their jobs but at the same time there will be greater demand for people with higher and different skills.

Another area which needs immediate attention of the government for the development of IT is its expansion and upgrading of the communication infrastructure. Besides, this there is a need to rationalize tariff enhance bandwidth to facilitate internet use. As the internet population in the country is growing at an exponential rate PTCL has not been able to meet the demand.