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Science & Technology

Company Profile

By Syed M. Aslam
Apr 23 - 29, 2001

Khurram P. Rafiq was still a first year BE Electrical student at the then NED College, now a University, when he along with his seven colleagues applied for and got selected as an apprentice programmer by a company in Karachi. Though the company closed its operations later the brief exposure turned Khurram into an IT crusader. He finished his BE in 1980 and also completed electronics and computer related courses from Pehlavi University Shiraz, now Shiraz University, Iran simultaneously. Prior to establishing Software Designers Private Limited, a software development company, in 1985 here in Karachi he worked as IT consultant in Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, UK, and the US. Khurram is one of the founder member of Pakistan Software Houses Association (PASHA) which was formed in 1992 and was elected its General Secretary for 1999-2000 by its Central Executive Committee, of which he is still a member. Last year he founded e-Pakistan Initiatives, a non-profit organisation which promotes IT as the key to Pakistan's future. Khurram's company has developed software for the State Bank of Pakistan as well as the Y2K solutions, applications systems client servers for clients outside the country. Presently it is working on web-related applications for e-commerce- B2B, B2C and web banking for the international markets.

PAGE: Why the reduction in internet tariff and expansion of international internet access have failed to result in increased exports?

Khurram Rafiq: Much has been done by the present government to accord IT the priority which it deserves. While this has resulted in the substantial reduction in internet tariff as well as expanding of international internet access to more cities nationwide, from less than 30 ten months ago to over 300 at present, much still remains to be done. Though these measures are IT-friendly they would fall short of help increase software exports, the ultimate benchmark of IT prowess of any nation. This is primarily so as internet costs make a negligible portion of software exports and the real beneficiaries of the reduction in internet tariff are a handful of call and data entry centres.

PAGE: What you feel are the major problems hampering the growth of IT, particularly software development, in Pakistan?

Khurram Rafiq: Until and unless the three major pre-requisites are met the IT development and growth would not come irrespective of how low are the internet tariffs or how good data communication infrastructure, etc. The local software development keeps reeling from an acute shortage of experienced worldclass human resources necessary, an almost non-existent domestic market and paucity of funds for export marketing. Reduction in data communication tariff, no matter how significant, is not one of our basic problem as internet, though a tool, plays a comparatively insignificant role in software exports and as such can help save costs only minimally.

PAGE: What could be done?

Khurram Rafiq: It is time to take a major initiative for software exports which should focus on the three basic pre-requisites mentioned above as they have a direct impact like nothing else. It is time not only to ensure that we produce the top quality professionals but also that we are able to retain them by creating the jobs they deserve. It is imperative to check the ongoing brain drain of the top class professionals primarily due to dearth of jobs as the phenomenon affects us in two distinct ways. First it deprives us of skilled professionals and secondly, in turn, it makes it hard to benefit from the expertise of these professionals to train their juniors. Similarly, the absence of domestic market for software restricts the software houses to absorb the core and supplementary professionals, the numbers of whom are increasing by each passing year.

PAGE: The government has time and again asked the software exporters to report their real earnings. Are the software exporters are under-reporting their earnings?

Khurram Rafiq: Of the 850 software houses operating nationwide, less than a dozen contribute 70 per cent to the overall software exports from the country. The rest of the 30 per cent share is contributed by tens of small and medium size software developers who are ready to work for small orders of as low as $ 10,000-15,000. Even if there is under-reporting it could not been much. True that software unlike other exports does not require physical presence as it can be downloaded over the internet, I as an insider know that under-reporting is not as big as it is made to appear.

PAGE: Critics say that we have missed the IT revolution just as we missed the Industrial Revolution. What do you say?

Khurram Rafiq: No, not quite but the time is fast running out. We have a maximum of three years to catch the boat. We should find ways to encourage investment in the IT with no questions asked. Failure would hurt us internally as well as externally: flight of capital in the first instance and flow of human resources in the second.