Elixir Technologies Pakistan is a fully owned subsidiary of
Elixir Technologies Corporation, a California-based Pakistan-origin IT company.
Elixir is a leading software developer of business solutions for electronic
production printing and the Internet. Elixir has 5,000 customers worldwide with
over 30,000 packages installed in 70 countries for clients in such sectors as
banking, telecom, billing, health care, education, and manufacturing in private
as well as in public sector.
Elixir Technologies Pakistan has been operating since 1995
and was the first occupant of the Software Technology Park at the Awami Markaz
Islamabad in 1997. Today there are thirteen IT companies operating at the
Software Park collectively employing over 300 professionals including software
engineers, data transcripters and voice-over-internet personnel. Besides
Islamabad, Elixir also has development labs in California and Prague which
collectively employ over 250 highly skilled IT professionals including 100 at
Islamabad alone. Elixir has offices worldwide including Zurich, London, Paris,
Singapore, Malaysia, Melbourne.
Basit Hamid is the chairman and chief executive officer of
Elixir Corporation. Born in Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir in 1948, Basit
proceeded to Norway for study when he was 19. After completing his study at the
prestigious Oslo Bedrifts Okonimisk Institute in Business and Management
Information Sciences he left for higher studies in the US in Environmental
He later worked eight years in Europe for such reputable
companies as Xerox Corporation in Norway and Belgium and IDA, the Scandinavian
datacentre for major Norwegian banks. In 1978 Basit moved to California and
started a computer software consulting company. In 1985, he founded Elixir in
California and today is the chairman of its worldwide operations. He personally
handles the Pakistan operations in Islamabad where he is now settled. Basit is
considered a pioneer in the development of 'high speed electronic software
systems ' for Xerox and advanced laser printing systems for the IBM. Basit is
passionately involved to build the IT industry in Pakistan and it was PAGE's
privilege to talk to him during his brief stay in Karachi.
Besides talking about the global operations Basit discussed
the role Elixir is playing in the development of IT industry in Pakistan.
Elixir, he said, is a strategic partner of Jaffer Brothers Limited and Xerox
Corporation in computerisation of the Electoral Rolls Project for the National
Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) project. Jaffer Brothers is
responsible for the data entry and final printing of electoral rolls for 65
million Pakistanis before the Local Bodies Elections the first phase of which
will be held in December this year. While Xerox is responsible for supplying the
needed hardware for the project and NCR is supplying the hardware and data-based
management, Elixir is providing the software and system-integration for the
pioneering effort which will help the government to build the infrastructure for
a fully documented society. The NADRA project is a state of the art set-up using
the latest hardware and software technology to produce over 200,000 duplex
prints a day and processing 3-5 million individual records daily. The job
includes the data entry of 65 million census forms and Basit told PAGE
that one million names and addresses are being entered each month and the
activity will accelerate in the months to come to complete the job within a year
hopefully. Once data entry is completed through 500 terminals which are being
operated on the round-the-clock shifts, the electoral lists are printed on
latest Xerox printers and sent to respective local administrations for
verification. Once verified they are returned for updating and are printed in
their final colour-coded format.
Elixir, he said, has also developed a customised Nastaliq,
traditional calligraphy, Urdu font and highly specialised software for this
unique project. Elixir's flagship software, Opus, is an integrated document
composition and production system for developing, printing and presenting
documents in any language to meet the needs of an individual customer.
Elixir is also involved with NADRA in its upcoming project of
National Identity Card for Pakistani expatriates overseas and the related
supporting systems. It has carried out extensive research with NADRA on high
volume national ID cards production hardware and software systems integration,
Calling the computerised electoral list a pioneering
achievement Basit said that it will not only help to hold a truly democratic
elections but will also benefit the country in numerous other ways. For
instance, it will help facilitate production of National Identity Card,
computerised Overseas cards for the expatriates, machine-read passports, driver
license and birth certificates to help ensure issuance of genuine documents for
improving national security.
Talking about the start of Elixir's operations in Pakistan,
Basit said that it started when he approached Salima Hashmi, the then Principal
of National College of Arts Lahore, to provide her 10-15 students to train in
computer-assisted graphic arts. Elixir facilitated the training of these
students not only within but also outside the country to impart the best
hands-on training and utilised their services to print 75,000 electronic books
for the Unicef for teachers of Girl Guide. The project was the first ever
electronics book publishing in Pakistan. Elixir trained another 100 students of
National College of Arts Lahore providing them with the state of the world class
marketing materials and most of them are enjoying lucrative careers within as
well as outside Pakistan today.
Basit said that basic computer skills like data entry should
not be looked down upon as they serve a very useful purpose of providing the
very basis of IT revolution anywhere. Jaffer Brothers, one of the strategic
partner in the NADRA project, has employed over 10,000 data entry jobs each of
which pay a salary of Rs 7,000 plus a bonus of another Rs 5,000 per month to
provide gainful employment in a country reeling heavily from unemployment. The
NADRA project, has helped create some 15,000 jobs including Jaffer Brothers and
Elixir and those with other strategic partners. Basic computer skills do serve a
purpose, he added.
In addition, while nobody ever seems to miss an opportunity,
appropriate and otherwise, about the progress that India has achieved in
boosting its IT exports they fail to mention that software exports comprise 70
per cent of its total IT exports but the rest of the 30 per cent comes from such
basic professional services like Internet.
Basit said that two years ago Elixir initiated a
revolutionary project in Telemedicine — Telmedpak — aimed at creating IT
awareness and providing educational and reference opportunities available on the
Internet for health professionals and medical students. Telmedpak, he said,
facilitates electronic access to medical information for the public, medical
colleges and institutions in Pakistan. It is also aimed to use Telemedicine to
link up remote areas of the country in need of quick medical help. The project,
he said, is a pioneering effort in Asia and has gained considerable
international support in recent months creating a much needed network with
leading research and development institutions like Stanford, University of
Southern California and University of California Davis.
Basit said that he has donated about $ 1.5 million from his
own pocket on the Telemedicine project in Pakistan during last few years. He
said in the next phase Telemedpak will be setting up the first medicine portal
in Pakistan which will deal with four specific services. It will provide career
counselling for medical students as well as handbooks and tutorials for general
practitioners and indigenous herbal medicines for local doctors. It also aims to
establish Telemedicine in urban health centres for the health professionals as
well as patients in hard-to-reach areas initially in Taxila, Gilgit and Skardu.
The provision of such services akin to 'ask a doctor' in the developed
countries, he said, would be the first step towards globalisation of health and
medicine in the country. Lastly, the portal will also provide information on
such vital agriculture information as use of appropriate fertlisers, pesticides,
research on pest control, crop genetics for the farmers.
He said that the most startling fact about the Telemedicine
is that the five core members of the project, all doctors, were provided
training in the US.
PAGE talked to Basit not only about his company but asked
him many questions about many issues related to local IT industry. The following
are the excerpts of the talk.
PAGE: When was Elixir Corporation
established and what are its specialised products?
Basit: Founded in 1985, Elixir Technologies is a
global IT company with 5,000 key customers worldwide and has strong partnerships
with Xerox, IBM, OCE printing systems and Adobe. Elixir's software development
and support operations are based in Ojai (California - USA), Zurich
(Switzerland), Prague (Czech Republic), Islamabad (Pakistan), Singapore, Kuala
Lumpur (Malaysia) and Melbourne (Australia).
Using Singapore as its Asian hub, Elixir provides highly
skilled IT professionals for advance software development joint ventures and
"mission critical" one-to-one customer applications for key clients
like the Singapore IRAS (Internal Revenue Administration Services), Union Bank
of Switzerland - Singapore and the Government of Pakistan: Printing electoral
lists for 65 million citizens eligible voters for upcoming elections for NADRA,
and overseas Pakistani identity cards.
PAGE: Will you tell us about your team?
What are the major markets of your products?
Basit: Elixir has over 250 employees worldwide and
development labs in California, Islamabad and Prague. Our vertical markets are
banks, insurance companies, Government, manufacturing, health care, Telecomm
companies, utility companies and high volume "electronic printing"
service bureaus. The list of Elixir's clients include such prestigious names as
AT&T, Bank of America, Citibank, Union Bank of Switzerland, Barclay's,
Societe Generale, Aetna, Travellers Insurance, Boeing, US Internal Revenue
Service, Internal Revenue Administration Services for the Government of
Singapore, Cigna Insurance, Toppan Forms (Japan), Taisho Marine, Prudential
(Malaysia), Dupont, IBM, Xerox. It also enjoys the business of over 450 fortune
5000 customers in 70 countries on four continents. Many the customers listed
above are also "outsourcing" software development projects and
applications development services to Elixir Pakistan.
PAGE: What's the volume of Elixir
Basit: It has exported software and professional
services worth approximately $10 million in last two years. I must add that our
total revenues from worldwide operations from all activities total over $15
million annually. However, the retail value of these products and services
through Xerox and IBM channels, Elixir's two major strategic partners, add up to
$100 million per year.
PAGE: What's needed to usher a real IT
revolution in Pakistan?
Basit: We should not try to "catch up" with
others but have a "leapfrog" strategy and an implementation plan. How
can we do that? Simple, we should start building platforms for e-commerce,
future technologies, supporting and facilitating domestic IT use and by setting
up effective infrastructure for software exports. Affordable internet will
result in cultural assimilation and high speed and broadband telecommunication
availability will help e-commerce and multimedia. Developing telecommunication
backbones and nodes can help provide local hosting and international
high-capacity connections will integrate our networks with the world. I must add
that wireless availability is the wave of the future and we should start
considering it seriously.
There is a need to upgrade our telecommunications system and
PTCL being the sole authority responsible for it should take up development of
IP backbones, provide DSL and other broadband services and most of all offer
tariffs which are internationally competitive. It should make ways for the
bandwidth sub-lease, increase Points of Presence and develop wireless services
over PakMobile network)
For its part the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority should
demand service standards from ISP's (NAPs, minima, pooling etc) and encourage
trading of carrier, IP bandwidth and cable TV operators into ISP. It should also
encourage wireless providers and satellite services.
The need for incubators can hardly be over-emphasised. They
should be used to engage universities, assist in corporate structuring,
management guidance, physical facilities, marketing support, in-country
Professional Resource Development is a must for the
development of IT in the country. Funding should be provided for university
programmes, fuel IT research, develop academic-level IT forums and encourage
opening of quality vocational institutes. To increase computer literacy the
concept of "smart schools" should be encouraged and school curricula
should include computer courses. IT youth clubs should be encouraged to be
The government can help play a vital role to create an IT
culture by lending an all-out support. It can set the much needed example by
injecting technology at all government ministries and departments, by setting up
computerised information kiosks, websites, encouraging government-citizen
interface and availability of public sector transactions.
PAGE: What's required to boost software
exports from Pakistan.
Basit: Quality human resources is abundantly available
in Pakistan. All it requires is a matching quality project management, quality
software products, advance infrastructure (broadband, ISPs), process management
systems, advanced software development and quality control tools. As with any
product, quality marketing is a must to expand the base of our software in the
international market. It is a must that we start building the 'Pakistan name
brand' in the international software market and should use our embassies as IT
PAGE: Do you have any concerns about the
availability of qualified IT workforce?
Basit: As demand builds we need our IT universities
and colleges to produce top-flight professionals and increase capacity, help the
non-university institutes to raise standards and curricula to world standards.
However, it is inevitable that people are going to leave Pakistan for greener
pastures. However, things can improve if we have strong IT corporate internship
programmes to provide quality innovative jobs, stimulating work environment and
training and high salaries can help reduce the "outflow"
PAGE: Are you satisfied with the quality of IT
education in the country? Are we producing enough qualified IT professionals to
meet the demand? What's the gap between the supply and demand and what could be
done to address the problem?
Basit: We can do better by raising the level of
curricula and induction of better trained faculty. However, we need to rapidly
add more IT universities and upgrade the existing ones to offer Computer
Sciences courses by bringing in private sector to start more quality IT
institutes. Partnership with foreign universities/institutes to create more
quality institutes can also help. It is imperative to produce more IT
specialists at a rapid pace as presently the supply is falling far short of the
PAGE: How could Pakistan become a more
active software exporter of quality and quantity?
Basit: It can do that by raising the standard of
project management skills, curricula/studies in universities, introduction of
CMM type of software development process and tools. Training in Quality Control
processes and implementation, instill a "pride of product" culture and
develop entrepreneurial skills will also help Pakistan become a more active
PAGE: Do you intend to go public in near