PAKISTAN SOFTWARE EXPORT POTENTIAL
Chicago based software company wanted to hire programmers from Pakistan
Mr. Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi.
CEO getpakistan.com Inc.
Jul 10 - 16, 2000
These days software export is the talk of business circles. Every business house is exploring the possibility of starting a software house. Government is announcing incentives, banks are initiating venture capital companies, institutes are holding seminars, and youngsters are enrolling for software courses. It seems that suddenly Pakistan will becomes a leading source of offshore software development. But is it the reality? Are we really moving forward to become a competitive source in the IT industry. All this activity will definitely produce some results but it will not make Pakistan a destination of choice ???. Let us analyze the situation.
Economic & Political Stability:
Since its inception, Pakistan has never attained a stable political environment for a sustainable period. This changing leadership resulted in volatile economic policies adversely effecting business. We saw this scenario again when General Mussharraf took control. If this government is able to institute a framework that would ensure continuity in policy, it will be a milestone in itself. Like any business software industry is also not immune to changing policies. Putting in place a broad and well thought off IT policy will go a longway in establishing Pakistan on the road to Software export growth. Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman is known for his result orientation. His presence is already felt and the results have started coming.
Pakistan is getting a lot of negative media from international press, which is way out of proportion from the actual situation. Pakistan is perceived as an underdeveloped, poverty-stricken country with disrupted production and low education level. The government does not have enough budgets to embark on a media campaign. It is more a job of public relations than advertisement. Personally I believe our ambassadors can play an important role in building the country's image by working closely with the media. Government should appoint ambassadors with extensive public relations experience. Retired professionals from advertising, news and television with international business experience can prove to be a good resource to achieve this objective. Recently I was invited to an IT seminar where ambassador of Pakistan was a keynote speaker. Most of the attendees were scientists and engineers who had no interest in regional or domestic politics. It was a good forum for the ambassador to highlight the government strategy for the IT sector. Although the ambassador spoke well but she spent all her time speaking about politics and the foreign policy.
India and China have used the network of expatriates to gain access to business. As quoted by Wall Street Journal there are 974 software companies headed by Indians in US Sillicon Valley. Most of these companies assign their development work to subsidiary backhome. The other side of the coin is, a person will not risk his career to assign work to a low quality vendor. We need networking forums where Pakistani IT exporters can be introduced to expatriate Pakistanis working for leading IT companies like ORACLE, IBM, Microsoft etc. Through these forums knowledge can be shared about the qualification and execution requirements for vendors. Although there are some organizations like Dareecha and APSENA who are trying to fill this void but they need funding and support from both government and private sector companies.
We had an edge in agriculture and lost it. We produce 11% of world cotton but our share in value added products is less than 0.1%. Why? Because we do not have an infrastructure to finance entrepreneurs who have experience in the relevant industry. Our financial institutes provide funding to politically connected people who have short term focus and have no industry experience. A cotton grower is not necessarily qualified to initiate value added textile exports. These funds are misappropriated and invested in outdated equipment and machinery. Factories do not allocate sufficient funds for modernization and value addition. The same fate will bestow IT industry if people with idea and motivation are not funded. Someone running a textile mill and a deep pocket does not necessarily qualify to start a software export business.
UPGRADE THE CURRICULUM
I recently met CEO of a Chicago based software company who wanted to hire programmers from Pakistan. It took them six months to hire 16 people with the right set of skills. There are thousand of technical institutes charging thousands from innocent people to train them in low level skills, which has no real utility. Government should provide subsidies to multinational corporations to start training centers. Oracle, Microsoft and other leading IT companies would be eager to train their future manpower. Universities should form alliances with international universities for syllabus preparation and instructor exchange.