PAKISTAN & IT — ANALYZING THE CONTRIBUTION

Strategies for betterment through IT...

MUNTAZIR HAIDER
July 02 - July 08, 2007

INTRODUCING IT

The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) defines IT as: "the study, design, development, implementation, support or management of computer-based information systems, particularly software applications and computer hardware". Thus, in other words, IT basically deals with the utilization of hardware and software within the framework of a system to convert, store, protect, process, transmit and retrieve information, securely. Information can be substituted with data. Of late, the inclusion of communication channel has led to redefining IT as ICT i.e. Information and Communication Technology.

ARRIVAL OF IT IN PAKISTAN

The second generation computers were the first to arrive in Pakistan at the business hub, Karachi, during the mid 1960s. At present, there are uncountable numbers of computer systems operating in Pakistan, and many more sold on daily basis just in the computer markets of Karachi. This growth has been mainly due to:

*The rapid advancements in technology leading to cheaper prices of previous models

*Exemption of import duties on computer peripherals

*Increasing educational networks

*Realization of IT benefits

*And increasing demand for automation to compete globally.

According to rough estimates, there are millions of new computer users each day across the nation, with each year bringing about a 4-5 times increase in growth rate.

IT — A TOOL FOR DEVELOPMENT

It can be considered that IT has been one of the most phenomenal inventions in human history after wheel; it has changed the perception of the globe. Technologies like Computational Intelligence, Neural Networks, Genetic Algorithms, Data Communication & Networks, Telecommunication, Databases, and Evolutionary Computing etc; collectively offer the business community a broad set of tools capable of addressing problems that are much harder or virtually impossible to solve using the more traditional techniques from statistics to operations research. Managing IT is a complex task particularly for the development purposes. However; achieving success in this field can lead to progress and prosperity in the nation, and also can assist in gaining the momentum towards development.

ACHIEVING GOOD GOVERNANCE THROUGH IT

It is essential to view IT as a long term investment opportunity, thus needing visionary and bold leadership accompanied by sincere commitment and good governance. Across several countries, IT and good governance move on hand-to-hand because a delay of adaptation in either or a delay in creating a combination can cost mere. The progression of IT has brought about applications and solutions for almost every real life problems and scenarios giving birth to systems such as Decision Support Systems and Management Information Systems, also concepts such as modeling, and simulation. These systems support the ëGood Governanceí that can be defined as the better of the techniques by means of which authorities tackle the management of resources and issues. IT can assist all three branches of a state i.e. Legislature, Judiciary, and Executive, as per the constitution through the formation of systems that establish e-libraries containing huge amounts of past data for analyses and better decision making.

ACHIEVING ECONOMIC STABILITY THROUGH IT

IT advancements attract foreign investment which in many ways is much needed by Pakistan in the present situation. IT attractions are mainly presented through the services sector. Take for example India; Bangalore has become a call-centre hub for a number of western companies, which is only possible due to technological advancements and development of IT infrastructure to support these advancements. Alongside the call centre industry, despite having some tremendous computer science institutes, we have failed to attract the software projects being outsourced to the sub-continent region which again is a failure big time. In todayís world, without fully adaptation of technology and having a tremendous infrastructure, economic development can only be a dream. There are not just negatives but some tremendous positives too. Online stock trading, internet banking, implementation of IS such as ERPs, DSSs, ESs, etc. portray the potential that exists in this arena. However, there is a lack of initiation. Absence or a fairly little presence of e-commerce in the nation gives out a wide spread signal of lack of economic development as compared to the competing nations.

ASSISTANCE OF IT IN POVERTY ALLEVIATION

The problem of poverty can only be solved through improving the total economic and social opportunities and equitable distributions of the benefits of growth to all particularly the poor thereby providing security to people who are unable to participate in the contribution of economic growth and governance. In the past decade, the advances particularly in the field of information technology have been so rapid that it has changed the shape of all economic activities in the world, and pushing the world towards globalization. However, in Pakistan efforts were never made to deliver the benefits to the poor, like improved basic services including education, health care, and in equipping the poor with necessary information and skills to bring them into the mainstream of society so that they can be the productive partners. A dramatic transition in the global economy is taking place. The globalization movement, which involves new economic world order and trade arrangements, has put developed and industrialized nations in the forefront of commerce. Then there is the shift-taking place from the oil-powered economy to the technology-driven economy followed by digital economy. In both movements, the wealthy economies and affluent sections of society in these economies will control the origination, maintenance and continuous growth in the decades to come. Now is the opportunity, to open up a corridor of empowerment for the poor. Otherwise, the poor will suffer even worst, resulting in a potential hot lid of social unrest.... if left to market forces of digital economy, the poor will be left behind in light years, creating tension and potential disturbance to society. Information technology can open up this corridor of opportunity and shall be used as a key to empowering the poor and thereby gaining information to shape better decisions to determine their own destiny. Information technology can empower the poor like never before.

IMPACT OF IT ON INTERNATIONAL FOREIGN POLICIES

In a major foreign-policy speech at the University of Nebraska on December 8, 2000, President Clinton pointed out that there are 700 high-tech companies in Silicon Valley headed by Indians, and called for an end to the "cold war estrangement" between the US and India, and the start of a systematic, committed relationship. Indian IT, in other words, is even making a positive impact on US foreign policy, at least as perceived through Indian eyes! There are, of course, many IT companies in the US headed by Pakistanis as well, and the IT sector in Pakistan too is flourishing. However, Pakistan seems to have lagged behind in its marketing of these skills. This is surely an area that we could cooperate in, particularly since the Indian IT industry is starved of qualified people. One area in both countries that does need special attention is IT education. The IT sector is highly labor-intensive, and the lack of trained professionals could easily squander the positive international image that we have painstakingly built up.

PAKISTAN & IT TODAY

Currently, there have been some tremendous policies for promotion of IT being witnessed by all odds over the nation. Yet, the economy is mainly based on low-tech, low-value industries that have long been fully mechanized and running very efficiently in developed nations and, therefore, do not attract premier revenue from world markets. There is lack of training in the potential and capable human resource that is available here, which would be the right most steps towards placing Pakistan in growing economies. These requires fundamental and foundational steps towards progression of IT in the nation through major investments needed in the infrastructural development, and bring intense focus on building an information-based economy by upgrading the technical and managerial skills of its people. The economies world over are moving towards a fast-paced high-value information based economy. Information technology is the current choice of many developing and developed countries to upgrade their economies and become competitive in the global market place. IT-based economies have streamlined the most complex economies of the world and enhanced the productivity to the level where an economy such as that of the US has wriggled out of the entire trillion-plus dollars national deficit and turned into a surplus in recent years. To compete with the growing economies of the world, Pakistan needs to educate, train and bring its workforce to the international educational standards, incorporate new technologies and modern management practices into its industry, and bring intense focus on building an information-based economy by upgrading the technical and managerial skills of its people.