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The drawback of Pakistan's software export is the shortage of real skilled manpower

By Faraz Siddiqui
Jun 19 - 25, 2000

Achieving an export target of $1 billion by the end of 2003, seems an over ambitious target for the Pakistan's IT exports which remained at a low $16 million last year. Software export from Pakistan shows that so far we could not even cross the psychological barrier of US$ 50 million. Although in last couple of years, the pace towards IT export remained progressive but compared to rest of the world it is still pathetically low. On the other hand our foremost rival India is running after with extraordinary high velocity on the highway of IT.

Talking to PAGE, Khurram Rafiq, General Secretary of Pakistan Software Houses Association (PASHA) said that currently we are lagging far behind in software export to the desired level. There are approximately 350 software houses working in Pakistan out of which 95 percent are professionally owned and rest are family owned. But only less than 25 companies have sizable opportunities for the development of IT export, 70 per cent of the over all export revenue is generated by six software houses such as NetSol, Systems Ltd, CresSoft, ITIM Associates, Techlogix and Softnet.

Despite the fact that software export shows an increasing trend during last couple of years, the comparative rate of growth is not satisfactory. The total export from Pakistan in 1996 was $5 million which has been increased for instance $8 million in 1997 and $ 11 million in 1998 . Analysis shows that in past couple of years software export from Pakistan has three times increased. But the present $16 million export seems almost negligible as compared to India.

Khurram further said that the main detriment to the software export in the country is the lack of skilled IT personnel, no proper support for the development of infrastructure here and lack of working capital for the execution of orders. Branding issues and lack of direct contact with the market are also important reasons in this regard, he added. But a number of ample opportunities are present in the markets like US, UK, Saudi Arabia, Gulf, South Africa, Nigeria and Europe.

Major portion of software exports from Pakistan is confined to the services rather than products but the drawback of Pakistan's software export is the shortage of real skilled manpower. The draft copy of the IT policy stated that in 1999, an estimated 6000 Bachelor of Computer Science (BCS) and 3500 Master of Computer Science graduates were produced. But 20,000 qualified BCS graduates, 2000 MCS graduates and 30,000 diploma and certificate holders are still needed to reach the desired level by the end of 2003.

Discussion remains incomplete without the comparison of our Software Export from India. India's present total revenue from software export is more than $5 billion which is expected to touch the mark of $50 billion by the end of 2008. The ratio of India's IT export is to Pakistan is immense and present figure of both the countries reveal that India has an absolute edge over Pakistan in this concern, the present IT export of Pakistan touches the ground as compared to India.

FIRST IT INCUBATOR: Recently, for the first time Pakistan has launched its first IT incubator at Singapore in its high Commission, Jinnah Centre of Technology for Pakistan companies. The centre is comprised of three rooms with highly sophisticated network of communication. It is a facilitating centre which will assist the Pakistani software houses for the promotion of their business in Southeast Asia and other countries. An advisory council of six members with highly skilled expatriates will provide guide lines to develop strategies and provide market inputs. Being having an owned incubator, Pakistan can also expand its business with having a base at Singapore.

When we talk to Khurram, he said that it is a good move as far as Singapore is concerned but it would not be beneficial at large, as Government is planning to launch such incubators in the countries like US and UK. There is no need to launch Government funded incubators elsewhere. Because it costs huge money to the country but the output is not that much expected. This money should be used to enhance the local infrastructure for the software export. He further said that our IT infrastructure is consumption oriented, we have capacity to produce more but the available infrastructure is not developed enough . So the funds should be utilized for the development of small and medium software houses rather than incubators.

SUGGESTIONS: Khurram said that Pakistan has great potential to be promoted as IT nation and can increase its export by developing its human resource regarding IT. Retraining of current professionals and conversion of specialized persons from other different fields into IT experts, can also help to boost up the export.

Government should spent funds on IT and software development and fairly distributed among software houses. Financing of local software houses may also help in the promotion of software, he added.

IT graduates should be produced at large in order to increase the services of IT.

Small and medium software houses should be developed. Direct marketing is an effective tool for increasing the exports. He said that our country lacks the basic IT infrastructure, government should take proper steps to develop the infrastructure, working capital should be provided for the timely execution of orders.