PUBLIC SECTOR PROVIDING SOUND FOOTINGS TO IT SECTOR IN PAKISTAN

KANWAL SALEEM, Lahore
July 02 - July 08, 2007

With the increasing use of information technology in the public sector, Pakistan's information technology sector is growing at a rate much faster then ever seen before and estimated at a phenomenal 50% year-on-year level.

Pakistan's IT sector is comprised of more than 900 IT & ITeS companies, of which more than 125 are either ISO certified or CMMI appraised. The IT industry in Pakistan is estimated to be US $2 billion per year with almost $1 billion of it being export related.

According to a spokesman of the Pakistan Software Houses Association (PASHA), the IT industry in Pakistan employs a workforce of over 90,000 professionals, which is also growing exponentially. Many PASHA member companies have developed and are exporting world-class products, which are acknowledged leaders in their domain.

The most fundamental measure of IT readiness is the telecom infrastructure and the reach of network services, and the bandwidth consumption in Pakistan has increased from 800MB in 2003 to 2,500 MB. This clearly indicates a robust growth and is extremely encouraging for Pakistan's readiness for the networked world.

In terms of IT awareness, most private schools are well equipped with IT facilities, while the government has also provided computer labs and staff to a large number of government schools.

Pakistan Software Houses Association (PASHA) is an association of IT and IT enabled Service providers in Pakistan. PASHA member companies cover all aspects of Information Technology and are involved in developing and providing leading edge IT solutions to their client in Pakistan and abroad.

Big private sector organizations are using state-of-the-art IT solutions as IT usage in the business sector in Pakistan has proliferated and even small establishments today are using IT for competitive advantage. Nevertheless, use of IT in the public sector has also grown significantly and the IT spending by both the federal and provincial governments has registered a healthy growth.

Citizen services like online Income Tax filings, computerized national ID card, electronic gateway to Pakistan Customs, database on poverty alleviation at Pakistan Baitul Mal, have already made a remarkable difference and passed the benefit of IT enabled services to all strata of society.

According to Mr. Waqar Naeem Qureshi, Head IT Department, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), the IT sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in Asia, and needs a concerted effort to document and disseminate information about the vibrant IT sector in Pakistan to relevant international bodies and forums.

He believes that Pakistan has the potential to become a new IT hub after India announced an income tax of more than 36 percent on foreign firms involved in software, R&D and customer service operations last September.

"Pakistan is the hot new offshore information technology destination because of this development." Presently, over 1900 cities and towns are connected to the Internet. A total of 132 licenses have so far been awarded to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), of which 70 are operational throughout the South Asian Muslim state. Pakistan roughly has 450,000 new computers every year and PEMRA predicts that the number will increase 4-5 times within the next few years. It may be mentioned that Pakistan has given tax exemption on income from export of computer software and related services until 2016.

According to sources in the Ministry of Information Technology, the present government has spent billion of dollars in the IT sector to produce IT experts, urging world countries to make use of the Pakistani manpower in this sector. "We are giving special importance to improve our IT relations with China," they said. China wants to develop relations in IT sector with Pakistan and our cooperation in the IT field would further grow to counter India's influence in this sector, the sources said.

Moreover, in another initiative, the Punjab government has decided to involve the private entrepreneurs to make computer technology more competitive and affordable. Under this programme, the provincial government has decided to facilitate the private entrepreneurs to provide cheaper computer technology. The government is also providing all possible facilities and assistance to the private educational institutions to reform and develop the IT sector so as to prepare a crop of talented force.

The Punjab government has initiated far-reaching reforms for the promotion of latest disciplines of learning especially Information Technology and as a result of these efforts Punjab has emerged as IT hub in Pakistan. The Punjab government has allocated Rs. 1.2 billion in the financial year 2007-08 for the promotion of IT sector.

Officials in the Punjab Information Technology Department told PAGE that a new satellite link with a cost of Rs. 500 million is being established for the fast internet access to the public. The Punjab government was setting up a Software Park in Lahore at a cost of Rs. 2.25 billion, which would generate 10,000 new jobs and economic activities. The Software Parks would also be established in other big cities on the pattern of Lahore Software Park.

They disclosed that Chief Minister Ch. Pervaiz Elahi has announced free computer training for teachers for which huge funds were being provided to the Punjab Information Technology Board. With the cooperation of World Bank, more 18 districts of Punjab would be included and Land Computerization Project would be started there. They said that pilot projects in three districts, Gujrat, R.Y. Khan and Kasur would be completed. The Motor Transport Management Information System (MTMIS) already launched by the provincial government will be extended at a cost of Rs. 300 million to issue computerized token system, route permit, challan permits and issuance of driving licensees.

According to Punjab Information Technology Minister, Abdul Aleem Khan, heavy funds have been allocated for the computerization of government departments while different projects are being initiated for introducing Information Technology systems in Small Industries Corp., Labour, Health and Auqaf Departments. Similarly, different projects, including Punjab Automation are being started for the capacity building of public sector.

IT INDUSTRY FACT SHEET India & Pakistan

 

PAKISTAN

INDIA

Internet users (estimated)

12 million

40 Million

Broadband Internet users

1.5 million

2 million

Internet bandwidth

2,324 Mbits (PIE)

-

Operational ISPs

60 (approx)

150+

ISPs providing DSL services

8

 

Number of IT graduates produced per year

Approximately 20,000

500,000

Number of universities offering IT/CS programs

110

-

Number of IT professionals engaged in export-oriented activities (Software development/call centers, etc.)

More than 10,000

-

Total number of IT professionals employed

90,000

1,287,000