Developing strong infrastructure for IT

Opportunities still knocking at the door

By AMANULLAH BASHAR
May 21 - Jun 03, 2001

Nadeem Aslam Malik, Chief executive Officer of "iways (pvt) Ltd", a Lahore based IT company, has said that nature is so kind. That despite the fact that country has missed several opportunities for one reason or the other, the lady luck is still smiling for Pakistan.

Malik was talking to PAGE regarding economic opportunities created by the global proliferation of Information Technology and Pakistan's efforts to grab its share out of the available opportunities.

He said that neighbouring India had sensed the future opportunities in the IT sector much earlier than Pakistan and by the time its software exports have reached a level of $5 billion and planning for a target of $50 billion while we are in a region which is not more than a few millions. He agreed that the export earnings in the IT sector are not fully reported back but argued that there are some valid reasons behind this attitude. Those government functionaries dealing with trade and industry miserably lack to understand the nature of this business. There is no duty drawbacks, import of raw material and other conventional factors are involved in IT business. A software exporter is selling the intellectual properties requiring no traditional means for exports. The transaction of IT products face no physical barriers of customs or means of shipping. It is an on-line deal but to reach the level of transaction it takes a lot of travelling abroad which require huge amounts in foreign exchange. This industry require handsomely paid skilled manpower having conceptual approach but the bureaucracy is not prepared to swallow the new mechanism of the IT sector. He said that the credibility of the financial system is the key area to get maximum results of the IT exports. Say goodbye to the usual attitude of mistrust. You have to rely on the people as Pakistan nationals because they do not have any destination other than Pakistan. They are Pakistani by built, colour and creed and ultimately have to come back to their origin. Hence 100 per cent relaxation to retain the foreign exchange be allowed to get positive results.

Regarding new opportunities as he had indicated in the beginning, Malik said that with the decline of the IT sector in the United States they have stopped hiring highly paid IT professionals instead large number of lay offs are reported from the United States. This situation is likely to prove a windfall of Pakistan as the large companies in the developed world including U.S are relocating their business in the developing countries. This would ultimately prove an effective check on the brain drain, and Pakistan would be able to retain skilled manpower within the country. The trend in the U.S to get the job done on contract basis from the countries having strong IT base is likely to boost business of the smaller IT companies in Pakistan, Malik expressed the hope. Citing the example of the coming opportunities, he said that only the area of medical transcription offers a business of $6 billion a year from the US. He strongly recommended that the government in Pakistan should spare at least $100 million for developing a strong infrastructure and a deep-rooted base of small IT companies in Pakistan. He endorsed the efforts being made by the ministry of science and technology which has recommended 15-year exemption from Income Tax on Software exports. He said that local IT companies also deserve some incentives. Since they are facing teething problems, they also need preferential treatment to come on the ground on sound footings. Treating them at par with existing corporate sector may not be fair to the policy to develop IT culture in Pakistan, Malik remarked.

Spelling out the salient features of "iways," Malik recalled Shaheed Hakim Said of Hamdard who endorsed the vision of iways and allowed coordination in Management of IT department in Hamdard University. He said that "iways", a company based on a stellar reputation with clients and growing to international prominence. It is playing an important role in restructuring and automation of various large institutions like Karachi Port Trust in collaboration with Hamdard University.

Malik was of the view that in order to combat the ever-growing problem of unemployment local IT companies be given priorities for development of IT projects in the public sector organizations. There is an ample scope of accommodating the forthcoming crop of IT graduates within the country provided the government ensures the enforcement of the policy of encouraging the local IT industry, he urged.

Pointing out the overwhelming trend of IT education in Pakistan, he expressed his apprehensions that neglect of such areas which are not in vogue, some times make them crucial for society in general and the economy in particular. He recalled the days when MBA was the passion of every student. Resultantly, the over production of business graduates not only affected the quality but placed them in a surplus position. This experience demands for a precaution in the IT sector, too. This also applies on over-emphasis in producing Java programmers in Pakistan. There should be some rationale for any discipline, he observed.