INTERVIEW WITH FAISAL KHAN
and Syed M. Aslam
Jul 24 - 30, 2000
Faisal Khan completed his Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from
Florida Institute of Technology in 1993. He completed his Masters from the same institute
two years later in Electromagnetic Fields and Satellite Communications. He is the one of
the six co-founders of Net Access and has been its Managing Director since the company was
established in 1996.
Since his university days in 1992, Faisal Khan has been involved with
the Internet which was still then in its embryonic state. He has an avid interest in
making bluechip/multinational companies reap the benefits by going digital on the web. He
specialises in e-Commerce application analysis, and solutions, leaving the development
part to the professionally qualified staff. Faisal, in addition, is also working on
projects like interactive multimedia on the web and networked environments like Network
Access Points (NAP).
PAGE talked to Faisal Khan about his company and the overall scenario
of the local IT industry.
The following are the excerpts of the talk:
PAGE: How did it all start?
Faisal: On my return from the US after finishing my Masters I
applied for jobs in various organisations. However, I felt that I was denied the jobs on
one pretext or another. I also realised that I was not cut out to work for somebody. Net
Access was literary established in the bedroom of my house on January 26, 1996. I realised
that you cannot bring the users to the content but content to the users. This has been a
philosophy of Net Access all along, and perhaps our strongest point, that we aim to bring
the contents closer to the users.
While Net Access was mentally conceived on that fine January night in
1996, we got it registered in June the same year. We hired our first 'colleague,' that's
the term we prefer to use for our staff, in August 1996 to commence operation the same
month. Today, we have over 40 'colleagues' working with us and by end this year we expect
to raise their numbers to a maximum of 80.
PAGE: Your software development works are aimed at Internet and
Intranet markets. How feasible has that been?
Faisal: It's a profitable business provided you are focused,
research- and browser-oriented company. In 1996 we were one of two browser companies
operating in Pakistan. Today, there are hundreds of such companies in the country. Despite
immense competition there is still money for the company such as ours. At Net Access, we
don't have any superficial business models but rather have an economic model. We realise
that the advent of the digital economy brings with it an altogether new set of rules as
well as new leaders.
PAGE: What's been you least successful project?
Faisal: It was Citibank's CTS Intranet project. Though challenging
and interesting, the project managers kept on changing the project which was altered a
total of seven times. The lack of project documentation from the client as well as the
contractor resulted in forceful changing of the project scope by each manager.
PAGE: How can Pakistani businesses make the best of the Internet
Faisal: While Internet use, as far as e-mail and PC dependence is
concerned, is on the rise, and expected to increase five-fold from 200,000-250,000 active
users today to over 1.2 million in next five years, only a handful of companies are
actively engaged in exploiting the power of the web for their corporate benefit. Static
pages sans pricing and lack of inter-activity simply do not cut it any more. Mere
registration in search engines will also not suffice. Banner-ad marketing, registering
with the portals of vertical industries have become an absolute must. A more comprehensive
awareness drive should be undertaken to educate the businesses and the corporate sector
about the web and how to best benefit from it.
PAGE: What are your impressions about the local software industry?
Faisal: The industry seems to be booming and I say that on the
basis of my own personal experience. However, the software industry seems not to market
itself in a proactive manner. Publications around the world are mentioning India, Ireland,
Israel, Netherlands and a number of other countries for investors/companies to sell their
respective countries as a base for off-shore software development. The business and image
of the local software industry can only be improved with the aid of a properly engineered
marketing campaign. Pakistani software developers should be encouraged to participate in
such prestigious international IT exhibitions as COMDEX, CeBIT, etc. Some 700
international IT exhibitions were held in the world last year of which Pakistan
participated in only two while India participated in at least 417. The Government of India
allocated $ 18 million alone for the software industries of Bangalore and Hyderabad to
ensure their presence in these international exhibitions.
PAGE: What does your client base look like?
Faisal: We have 70 plus accounts, all of them corporate not only in
Pakistan but also in US, Canada, Europe, Middle East. We offer consultancy, software
solutions and support services which are not only better but also at costs that can hard
to match. Though we undertook some work which was outsourced to us we are more interested
to offer our services to the local corporate sector and have been pretty successful at
PAGE: Are you satisfied with the quality of IT education in the country?
Faisal: I am concerned about the absence of quality IT institutions
in the country. A majority of such institutions which have mushroomed in the country over
the years are there to make a fast buck. We prefer to do our own OJT On the Job
Training to groom 'colleagues' as per our specific needs. I have seen that only a
fraction of 3-4 per cent of all the job applicants have an inbuilt talent for the related
jobs. On the other hand, we have retrained engineers as well as doctors, MBBS, who are
presently working with us. What we really lack is good visualisers whose demands will rise
as we would have to face the multimedia explosion. Multimedia can be defined as
applications that bring together multiple types of media like text, illustration, sound,
animation and video. Coupled with interactivity, that makes multimedia content come alive
in dynamic ways to make a far more influencing impact. At this point in time, the IT and
computer industries are in the process of evolution where the entry and the advancement
level are not tied closely to academic achievements. Besides sound IT skills, a flair for
creative work is also a must to develop a skilled multimedia force to meet the needs of
time. We should start paying attention to develop a skilled force of multimedia
professionals that are going to revolutionalise the contemporary IT scenario.
PAGE: Much has been said about the brain drain of the IT
professionals from the country. Is it really that bad ?
Faisal: There are two types of brain drain: There are those who
just want to go out period and then there are others who want to start their own
PAGE: What can be done to increase the PC penetration in the
Faisal: Prices of hardware can only down if there are sales
volumes. This has not been the case as only 120,000 PCs are sold in the country annually.
We need at least 180,000 more new PCs every year. We are trailing behind by one-third but
I am optimistic that we will be able to catch up in next few years. What we fail to
realise is that we have one of the biggest video penetration in the world and that shows
the immense potential that we have for PC penetration.
PAGE: Are you satisfied with the quality of Internet services?
Faisal: The quality of services provided by dozens of ISPs is very
good, particularly Cybernet and Supernet offers tremendous services. Though offering
almost similar services, I believe that even the small ISPs are making money. Unlike many
other countries Internet service providers in Pakistan find it hard to offer value-added
services as e-commerce as we are not a content producing country. While I am satisfied
with the quality of service I believe that one should not pay Internet fee to have access
to such basic service as e-mail.
PAGE: Are you satisfied with the per machine per person
productivity in the country?
Faisal: Quality costs money. We take pride that we are the most
expensive operator and specialised services in the country. While Rs 100,000 per
machine/person/month revenue is an ideal productivity level and Rs 60,000 is an acceptable
figure, at present per machine/ person/month productivity at Net Access is between Rs
PAGE: What's your edge?
Faisal: I attribute the success of our company on a single factor
'research.' We encourage our colleagues to read which is a must to keep abreast of the
latest technologies, trends and ideas in our chosen profession. This is also the reason
that we have our own test to hire the skilled staff irrespective of their academic
qualifications. One has to pass this test to qualify no matter how impressive one's
academic qualifications look on the CV. We subscribe over 40 technology magazines and
import additional books and magazines as and when required. We also offer an unlimited
access to the Internet to our colleagues. From the day one our operations have been
concentrated on Web/Intranets. No other over four-year old company can claim to have this
distinction in the country.