The government has placed
top most priority to human resource development.
By Syed Haider Abbas Zaidi
Aug 07 - 13, 2000
Pakistan has a relatively long experience in the use of computers
the first "second generation" computer was installed in 1964 at Karachi
and soon some of the large banks and industrial concerns started using computers, mainly
for accounting and payroll applications. The utility companies (e.g. gas, electricity)
also started using the bureau facilities of these installations for their customer
billing. Unfortunately, the financial crisis that the country faced immediately after 1971
did not permit the sustenance of this early lead and lack of maintenance forced the
closure of most of these installations.
Although the possibility of export of data entry services and software
from Pakistan has been discussed for over a decade, only a few companies were successful
in getting some work .
Although not properly exploited, Pakistan does have quite a few
inherent strengths, which can be used as the launching pad for making this country a
potential offshore source of Software and Data Processing Services. Some of these
A substantial number of educated unemployed
youth with ability to read and write English exist in the country. They can be trained in
the required skill (particularly in Data Processing Services) within a short time.
Quite a few Pakistani skilled professionals
have been working abroad. They can be encouraged to return to the country and/or
collaborate with Pakistani entrepreneurs, provided proper environment is created.
Universities in Pakistan are turning out an
increasing number of graduates in Computer related subjects every year, although the
number is much less than the requirement.
A large number of Pakistani students are
studying overseas in Computer related subjects.
A wide range of Hardware platform from
Mainframe to mini and micro comoputers is available.
Reasonable skills exist in the following areas:
o Operating System - Windows, Windows 95,98 &
2000, MAC/OS, Novell Netware, Windows NT, UNIX, OS/400, Linux
o Programming Language - C++, Visual Basic, Visual
FoxPro, COBOL, RPG, OOP, J++
o RDBMS - Oracle, Informix, DB/2
o Multimedia Software
Pakistan offers a very attractive
cost-effective wage level.
The government has taken a decision recently (June, 2000) to withdraw
all import duties from all computer hardware and software. This has brought the prices of
computers down to a level affordable by middle-income households and sales of PCs have
soared during the last few months. An 80-90% annual growth in the number of PCs sold is
expected this year.
An Information Technology Park is going to be set up very close to
Karachi. The government has already made 5 acres of land available for setting up this IT
Park. This would be similar to the Software Technology Parks in India. The entire
infrastructure, including high-speed telecommunication facilities (2 Mbps link) would be
provided. These would enable the small companies to move into buildings with readily
available facilities. Since this is going to take at least two years, a decision has been
taken to initially set it up in an existing building in Karachi.
In 1996 the government decided to allow private companies to act as
Internet Services Providers (ISPs) . At present, there are about 500,000 account holders
with the ISPs (134 allover Pakistan) and the total number of users would be around
700,000. The slow speed of access provided by (64 to 192 kbps) is a major constraint. A
number of Cyber cafes providing e-mail and Internet browsing facilities have been opened
in Karachi and Lahore; these are quite popular among the young generation. Public kiosks
with internet facilities are also being planned.
PTCL has already established a network for providing Internet
connectivity and has started operating as an ISP a few months back. The proposed tariff
rate should make Internet connection affordable to a larger cross-section of public. PTCL
is also establishing a fiber optic backbone in the country.
In order to enable the young entrepreneurs in the IT field, the
government to provide working capital loan without any collaterals has created a special
fund. A venture capital fund is also being set up. The banking procedures are also being
amended and simplified to reflect the different nature of software transactions.
Experience of other countries shows that it is very difficult to
achieve success in exporting software unless there is a big domestic market. The
government ministries and departments are being asked to computerize their activities.
Some of the local firms have already succeeded in exporting software, although the total
amount is not very large. One firm has been producing CDs with searchable database for
Latin American clients and US. CAD conversion work and webpage design work are also being
undertaken. A leading firm has recently signed a contract with a Saudi Arabian Bank for
supplying and installing a banking software package. Taking advantage of the considerable
number of COBOL programmers who were trained in the sixties and seventies, some firms are
doing work related to the Y2K problem. A local firm in partnership with Microsoft is
developing ERP software.
The government has placed top most priority to human resource
development in the IT field. At present, the annual output of graduates in the IT field
would be around 500. The target is to produce 10,000 programmers annually by the year
2001. There are many Universities offering undergraduate degree programmes in IT-related
fields. All universities have started offering undergraduate degree programmes in computer
science and engineering from this year. The 20 Polytechnics are also introducing 3-year
diploma programmes in Computer Technology. In addition, a large number of educational and
training institutes, many of them with linkage with foreign institutions, are also
offering training courses. One of the major problems faced by these institutions is the
shortage of teachers and trainers.
Efforts were initiated about 10 years back to introduce computers in
schools and colleges. 'Computer Studies' has been introduced as an optional subject both
in SSC and HSC examinations. The lack of adequate physical facilities, computers and
qualified teachers has resulted in very few students opting for these courses. Experience
of other countries shows that teaching of computer programming by incompetent teachers may
do more harm than good. Therefore, teacher training is one of the priority actions to be
A large number of Pakistanis are now working in the IT field in
different companies in USA and are gradually moving up the organizational hierarchy. The
government is trying to get the assistance of these non-resident Pakistanis in IT
development, particularly by giving them incentives to set up software companies in
The lack of any copyright protection for software has been one of the
major deterrents in the growth of software industry. Software Copyright Protection Act has
already been drafted and is expected to be enacted very soon.
Although the banking sector had been among the pioneers in
computerization in Pakistan, the present level of computer usage in banks is very low. The
foreign banks operating in Pakistan have taken a lead in computerizing their front office
operations. It is only during the last 4/5 years that some of the Pakistani banks have
started gradually computerizing their front office activities and very soon a network of
automatic teller machines (ATMs) would be set up by the private banks throughout the major
Almost all the IT related developments which have taken place during
the last few years are concentrated in the city of Karachi and Lahore; in other cities and
towns, only a small number of computers are being used, mostly for word processing. (The
government funded training institute, with a few hundred PCs is a notable exception). The
danger of increasing the already existing disparity between urban and rural areas looms
large in the horizon. In order to enable rural populace to get the benefits of IT, the
present government has recognized IT as one of the priority sectors and is providing all
support to the private sector to enable them to enter the export market for software and
data processing services. Recognizing the bright future of IT, a large number of students,
young professionals and businessmen are taking keen interest in acquiring knowledge about
computers and its applications. It is expected that within the next 3 to 4 years, IT
applications in Pakistan would not only spread to various private and public sector
offices and industrial units, but Pakistan would emerge as a regional hub for software
The author is Coordinator, Center for Research & Development,
Iqra University/Asian Management Institute