The IT hype, if there ever was one in Pakistan and that had made every other person become a software developer, is non-existent
May 10 - 16, 2004
"Channo Ki Aankh Main Aik Nasha Hai....", Ali Zafar was pouring his heart out and I, being void of such romantic mush, started thinking of my own Channo.... Hmmm...Now don't take me wrong! By Channo I mean the business of Performing Arts and the euphoria it has generated in Pakistan. Large Government investment is being made to promote this field and bring about a media revolution. This, however, is another issue, we lag and then we fill the gap by bringing about revolutions. For a fresh graduate or even an intermediate professional, be it business or IT, it is becoming frustratingly difficult to digest the reality of being under paid and over utilized. After going through years of testing, rigorous study and hard work, putting in countless hours one ends up falling short of his monetary requirements and recognition whereas, drama artists and producers, singers, fashion designers, models and cricketers are standing on a higher scale of income and recognition. This entire scenario makes life difficult for other professionals. The IT hype, if there ever was one in Pakistan and that had made every other person become a software developer, is non-existent. The new wave of concentration for these young minds is media and performing arts. Every other person is entering this arena and soon this too will be flooded. In order to stop such impulsive concentrations within our industries, we need to create simultaneous waves of alluring opportunities in all fields of specialization and this feature attempts to create one for IT.
We often tend to benchmark with India. So for the sake of it, if we look at the IT conditions in India we would become aware of the fact that Indian position in IT is not achieved overnight. It started as a movement with all related industries chipping in to take it through. The success of one software company changed the whole scenario of IT in India, while educational institutes and non-resident Indians played their part. Things are not the same, when we look at Pakistan. Firstly, the foundation of IT, the manpower, is not quality-oriented. It will take some time to filter out all the mushroomed institutions, which, in an attempt of making easy money, have been taking advantage of young and simple IT aspirants. Filtering IT professionals is next. All those who came along just to be a part of the money making wave have by now, left the scene in search for other glories. All that you have left for today and available for tomorrow are some genuine computer (IT) lovers and this breed of IT ingenuity is the qualified bunch which can make the difference for Pakistan.
BUILDING AN IT COMMUNITY
The concept behind this approach is quite simple but the magnitude is huge. I'd love to see Pakistan prosper in all fields of life but I know for a fact that in order to achieve such ambitions one needs to have a well planned strategy, firm execution and post execution management.
What I am putting forward is, the concept of building IT communities. Imagine a situation where all the power available in Pakistani IT sector is channeled to create clusters of strong IT groups working together to achieve a bigger objective. There is widespread unemployment and the IT sector is hit the hardest. Thousands of IT graduates, some very good, are forced to look for other means of living like sales and marketing. What if we create a pool of IT graduates? A non-governmental business organization! In terms of manpower this business organization could be larger than Microsoft. Microsoft translates into Bill Gates where as, the organization I am referring to would have Bill Gates everywhere from top to bottom.
What we are creating here is a critical mass of IT clusters. Clusters, that translate into companies. Professionals working in these companies are not employees but have shareholder rights in the company. Isn't that better than being jobless!!! Working for your own company and getting pampered by the government to make it big for Pakistan. Yes! The government has a role to play in this mix. We'll discuss that later, for the time being lets focus on the concept of such a community. All such IT companies or lets say IT groups are working under the banner of one organization. This would definitely be the biggest IT organization, at least in Pakistan. What is required, is a well-conceived plan to bring together all available resources under one roof and direct the pool of gathered energies to achieve some well-targeted objectives. Who knows we might be able to create something better than Windows.
IDENTIFYING PROFESSIONAL RESOURCES
This task requires a complete workout and an indepth assessment of available resources and their allocation. Many of our brilliant IT minds leave Pakistan and go abroad to do small time IT jobs. They put in a lot of energy and work for timeless hours to provide the desired results and make an even superior effort to please their foreign bosses so that they can climb the ladder. Others who are not so fortunate stay behind and hope for their luck to shine or simply quit IT altogether. We need to identify all such IT professionals put them in separate clusters of excellence and interests. It would be an open offer to all those IT professionals living in and outside Pakistan to join this organization, an organization of independent companies built around partnerships of business and IT professionals. By taking all the brilliant minds and leaving the less intelligent behind would not be fair either. We need to combine the best with the good so that the lesser may gain knowledge and learn from their counterparts. Their percentage shares may vary according to their skills and productivity. These individuals may come from all corners of Pakistan. You don't need to put them all under one roof. They can either be located in clusters, in various cities joined through a virtual private network. One may also find Pakistanis living abroad who are willing to be a part of this bigger objective. Once you have all these professionals organized you may start organizing separate clusters based on professional skill-sets and provide an opportunity for these individuals to interact and learn about their business partners.
Next, we need to tap into our valuable foreign resource. Some may be financially sound who can help provide funding while others may be technically experienced and can be placed in our consultant's panel.
CLUSTERS & CRITICAL MASS
Although I planned to bring this at a much later stage but for all those who are unclear on many aspects of this project I thought it would be wiser to bring it now before someone starts brushing up his French. Uptill now, what we have gathered is, that, we intend to create Pakistan's largest software giant and for this purpose we have asked interested IT professionals to work for this organization on percentage sharing basis cause the Government does not have enough money to put all of them on payroll and neither do we have such lavish resources at our disposal. Now what! There are many aspects of this ambitious plan, which needs to be addressed before even putting it for a serious consideration. What we need to do now is to direct these IT groups towards separate goals, objectives or projects all netted together to form the big picture. I have been using the terms "companies" and "clusters" a lot, lets say there is a large group of C and Visual C programmers, Java Programmers you can put them in separate groups or companies, all Oracle and Database experts can be put in another, Web and Multimedia professionals in a web based cluster while Media Developers and 3D Graphic Designers in another cluster. There can be another mix where we can chalk out separate areas of development like Game Development and create a company or a cluster of interested individuals be it a Game programmer or a 3D Environment Designer all strategically joined to work together in a company which specializes in Game development, there may also be a company specializing in developing software for Cellular companies and Palm Users, opportunities are huge and we only need to concentrate on the ones which suit our vision, professional expertise and future goals. In this way, we would be creating well-planned companies, with technical and business expertise functioning independently but conjoined to their sister concerns for resource and lead sharing purposes.
DEVELOPING PROJECT IDEAS
We now have a resource of IT professionals available to work on a profit sharing basis and we know what to do with this gigantic resource. In order to achieve the second phase of our project we need to have a sound database of projects and a well researched set of concentration areas for these IT groups that we intend to create. Projects don't always mean a qualified monetary return. By projects I mean Software Ideas, which can be translated into lucrative offers. You may have a project idea and upon research you may come to know that your idea is financially viable then this idea qualifies to be a project. Did Bill Gates know that Windows would eventually make him the richest man on Earth (that is still debatable though, considering the concealed wealth of our political riches) while he was working on it?
We need to list the potential areas of concentration and prepare a well-analyzed list of potentially lucrative projects for our clusters to work on. These projects and areas can be developed with the help of local and foreign IT and business experts who are willing to contribute. Locals can identify projects and viable areas of concentration in Pakistani Market while Foreign Consultants can help in developing a plan for foreign markets. It is imperative that we in Pakistan should start using our own software. By implementing them in Pakistan these IT groups would learn, test and improve upon their products. They would gain in confidence, establish a brand name, at least in Pakistan, and create some qualitatively satisfying examples for prospects outside Pakistan. The key is to work on identifying the right areas and the right projects for the right IT cluster.
THE GOVERNMENT'S ROLE
Remember, I have not yet defined the role of the Government and this entire ambitious plan requires the help of our Government or some ambitious investor who can match the ambitions of this project. The least, the better! That would be the right definition for the role of Government. Right now, Government is investing a lot of money on projects, which help just a handful of companies to inflate their income statements. This is a sheer waste of money whereas these companies don't even hire extra help to complete such projects. With an IT plan of such magnitude the return is far more than what these aforementioned companies would have given through increased Tax Returns. Government can play its part by:
*providing free office space in major cities
*providing free Utilities to these novel IT hubs
*providing free Internet and Virtual Private Networking
*providing computers and computer books for reference
*providing initial scholarship stipends to all those IT professionals who are brilliant and needy of such support (which can be gathered through other sources of Funding)
*providing support staff
*coordinating amongst various business sections and export hubs of the world
*refraining from meddling in the affairs of these clusters and letting them run their own show
*organizing road-shows and participation in international events to market their products
*Completing the initial phase of the project, for example, collecting data on all IT professionals available for the project and tapping available foreign resource who can help train, lead and provide valuable consultation
The investment being asked by the Government is far less than what it normally invests in other projects having a far lesser return. For a project of this magnitude, Government can help by raising the required funds (if not possible within its own means) through International Donor Agencies and Overseas Pakistanis who are willing to invest in the development of IT in Pakistan.
PREPARING THE STAGE
Now that we have gone passed our initial preparation for our company of companies we need to devise a mechanism for comfortable working of these clusters. Either we put all our IT clusters under one big roof, and that would require a space as large as Microsoft or Boeing, or we disperse them in separate buildings but remember these professionals are coming from all directions and all corners of Pakistan and abroad. What would be the right mix for creating a cohesive working environment? If you ask me, I would suggest a mix of separate office spaces in specific cities plus a Virtual Private Network for all those who either cannot be accommodated or don't have the means to stay within physical reach. Companies can have their own separate portions within a building thus accommodating a lot of companies in a single building. The Virtual Network would also facilitate communication amongst all centers be it in Pakistan or abroad, online knowledge and resource sharing, assigning and sharing work files and managing work at all centers through a central control office.
MANAGEMENT & LEADERSHIP
Perhaps the most important part of this entire project is the leadership and the driving force working behind the scenes to create solid processes of communication within the clusters and managing a timely completion of projects. Every company under this scheme would have a Project or Company Leader, who has assigned to him certain additional tasks such as coordination within the group and with other groups and resources, management of project timelines etc. Amongst the Company Members there is a sound requirement for Marketing consultants who can provide domestic and foreign leads, prospective contracts and build strategies to establish a brand name and carry out normal business operations. For performance appraisal, there has to be a central body consisting of volunteers — only, whose role is to gather reports and perform analysis on the performance of individual companies. Many living abroad would be willing to voluntarily offer their consulting services for such a project.
The plan is quite ambitious but not impossible. Graduates and Masters who stay jobless for a year can safely invest their time and energies in building and working for a company of their own and the Government, instead of going for an investment spread can have a targeted approach. Fresh would learn from experienced and Intermediate Levels would gain from Experts. The overall impact of such sharing would result in a qualitative up-lift of these IT professionals. The huge scale of this project is bound to catch investor's eye and foreign investment is not out of question. With competitive costs and targeted approach in IT development foreign markets still have the potential and we would be best prepared to offer our services to a lucrative market in future. If all factors show positive signs then why would this be an impossible task?
Although, it would be ideal for the Government to take up this plan and build upon it but it is not necessary that we look towards the Government for support, we may start building our own IT clusters. All it needs is a little determination and some research. I'm sure we will be able to find a lot of like-minded IT enthusiasts who are willing to join our IT circle. Imagine! If we can only start building these IT circles now, while remaining within our capacity, we would be building a huge community of IT Mavericks who have molded precarious situations to meet future challenges. This plan may require some tweaking, it is an open debate and anyone can chip in and further develop this according to his requirements. We don't want a handful of software companies in Pakistan taking advantage of our IT resource and we don't want one-man-show companies either coming and going on periodic basis! My cluster does not comprise of one or two individuals. You need to gather enough manpower to fulfill your technical and business needs. Don't worry if you don't know the guy. In theory, such a mix would breed individuals having similar behavioral patterns, making your and your partners life easier. We need to be realistic about the current situation and make some selfless concerted efforts to win this battle. Grow with others! I should be replaced with We! Collectively we win! This is the essence and it should remain intact.