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Mega IT exhibition in Karachi

It is time now to move forward

Jan 29 - Feb 04, 2001

Despite housing four-fifth of some 500 software houses, Karachi makes a marginal contribution of no more than 13 per cent to the overall software exports from Pakistan. The city also has the biggest number of internet accounts in the country, about 58 per cent, and even a bigger population of internet users as a single account can be used by numerous users. This also explains the presence of the biggest number of internet service providers — 70 per cent of all the ISPs are located in Karachi.

On the other hand, Lahore which houses just 20 per cent of the software houses is contributing some 70 per cent to the software exports. The six big software houses collectively claiming a lion's share of 70 per cent in the software exports are also located in Punjab. The disclosures made by Khurram Rafiq, the former general secretary of Pakistan Software Houses Association (PASHA) and a software developer, proves what official support can do to boost the investment in the IT sector for the benefit of the provincial, and in turn the national economy.

It would be unfair not to mention the attention that the sitting Mushrraf government has accorded to the IT industry. During sixteen months it has slashed internet tariffs, expanded the international internet connectivity to some 300 cities across the country, announced provision of soft loans to IT companies as well as individuals, announced many incentives for software developers, etc. There are plans to establish 23 internet kiosks at the national airports in late March and another 1, 800 kiosks at the state-owned Pakistan State Oil petrol stations across the country later. The promulgation of an ordinance on the national IT testing service and accreditation agency is expected any time to keep a much needed check on the quality of education imparted by thousands of IT institutions across the country.

The priority allocated by the present government has induced a new energy to the IT which is highly infectious and which is much obvious from the IT rejuvenation of Karachi. Proofs of this rejuvenation are everywhere: Karachi-based software developers have become much more vocal to highlight the yet unexploited vast potential that this biggest industrial and the only port city offers, the mega IT exhibition to be held in March, the active marketing by the internationally reputable hardware, tariff-war between dozens of ISPs, the ever increasing presence of IT institutes to meet the growing education and training demand, etc.

Yes. The winds of change and the resonating atmosphere of hope are doing wonders particularly to youngsters for whom IT has become synonymous to a fulfilling lucrative future. The fact that the majority of visitors to the two-day IT exhibition, organised last week by the Dawn Group of newspapers, were students is the testimonial to the above mentioned fact.

PAGE visited the exhibition on its openingday and was kind of disappointed by an absolute lack of presence of software companies — only a single software house, Cressoft, participated in the event. Perhaps the collective absence of the software companies can be attributed to the fact that their primarily customers and markets are all located outside Pakistan.

The event, however, was heavily participated in by IT institutes — almost one-third of some 100 stalls were occupied by them. The second most heavily participation was that by hardware and accessories manufacturers, hardware leasing companies and the ISPs. The IT institutions primarily tried to get the most benefit out of the exhibition by using it as a recruiting ground for the prospective students. The leasing companies tried to interest visitors to their get-now-pay-later schemes and many of which used the most familiar technique — handing out their 'easy payment plan.'

The companies marketing computer hardware and accessories also had a strong presence, more perhaps for exposure than to promote their already well-known products. Talking to PAGE, salesman of a internationally reputable main frame PCs confided that "we don't expect to sell any of our products here as the majority of visitors are mere onlookers dropping in just the fun of it and lacks an extreme lack of serious corporate visitors."

This is not to say that IT events don't serve a purpose, but rather an attempt to emphasise that much public awareness has already been created and it is time now to move forward. Much has been done but much still remains to be done to create a true IT culture in the country which encourages the very basic prerequisite, increase in the PC use on the fast track. This can only be achieved by finding ways to cut the prices of PCs to an affordable level by encouraging assembling them locally. As is, the locally assembled PCs are only marginally less expensive than their well known foreign counterparts failing to offer any real incentive to tens of thousands of prospective buyers. The slash in internet tariffs, increase in the number of ISPs, improved quality of IT education alone would remain futile till affordable PCs remain unavailable.