IT INDUSTRY

NEED TO COME UP WITH A BETTER BUSINESS MODEL

SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Aug 04 - 10, 2008

Information Technology companies in the country have hardly enjoyed conducive working environment. With the bursting of IT bubble the in the America, a large number of smaller Pakistani companies went bankrupt and others find it real hard to compete. On top of this lack of protection of intellectual property and hardly any support from the government proliferation of business seems difficult. Added to this is unreliable and high cost utility services.

The IT business, particularly IT export from India has grown phenomenally, mainly because of the extensive support by the government. As against this a lot of talk has been going on about e-government but there has been hardly any progress. This could be gauged from the fact that the websites of government functionaries are not updated for months and many times whatever data is available is not correct.

The entities which give least attention to their websites are often the most important ministries and departments these include Ministry of Finance, Board of Investment, Ministry of Water & Power, WAPDA etc. Interestingly most of these entities have bought computer hardware and software worth billions of rupees but all the computers are not linked with each other. The result is updating and loading data is not possible or is pain taking job.

In Pakistan, most probably, commercial banks have been investing billions of rupees every year for upgrading technology but do not have technology savvy staff. The result is inefficient record keeping, delay in transfer of funds, exorbitant service charges and yet very poor quality of service. At an average clearing of outstation checks still takes more than two days, online banking is not available at many branches and often charges are also exorbitant.

Another case worth exploring is performance, efficiency and charges for using ATM networks. First, at present two networks m-net and 1-link are operational in the country. In some of the areas, particularly in Karachi, one could find cluster of ATMs but a number of areas are completely devoid of this facility. Second users are often greeted with 'no cash' or 'transaction cannot be completed'. This becomes a real contentious problem during holidays. Third, if one uses the facility of the other network a transaction fee of rupees fifteen is charged. Fourth, many banks charge annual card renewal fee but never bother to change the card and if one needs to change the card, a fee is demanded.

Similarly, utility companies claim to have elaborate IT network but utilization of system is minimal. Often visit to customer services centre is not less than a nightmare. However, customers can also he held responsible for not updating the information. One of the most glaring examples is 'ownership of SIM'. Cellular companies have been selling SIMs without demanding computerized national identity cards. Most of the franchise centres also do not bother to update the information at their own or do not pass on the information to head office promptly.

According to some of the sector experts all the stakeholders are responsible for the current disappointing state of the IT but government emerges to be the biggest culprit. It has failed in coming up appropriate policies; implement whatever good or bad policies are announced and above all placing orders with the local developers for the development of software and following its own timeline. The government has also failed in checking pirated software. The Software Export Board, though in existence for decades, has not been able to contribute its share.

Ideally the government should have announced a Comprehensive Computer Policy but the anomalies still prevail. All sorts of obsolete hardware are entering Pakistan. The policy may have helped in improving computer density or number of computers per person but most of these machines are incapable of running the latest software.

Two of the areas achieving excellent growth are publishing and editing of television programs. Deployment of computers in newspaper/magazines printing ha snot only made the job easier but quality of printing and number of pages has also improved. Similarly, use of computer in graphic designing and editing has made television programs better. Use of computer has also helped in optimizing the cost.

It is interesting that some of the leading global computer companies have started outsourcing jobs to the local companies but they cannot solicit business from the local corporate as well as the government functionaries. Incidentally Pakistan Railways, utility companies, airlines, telecoms and civic authorities have to maintain huge data, which also needs to be updated regularly.

However, the biggest fear haunting the employees of these organizations is 'employees will become redundant if technology is deployed extensively'. This perception may be correct to some extent for those organizations which employ a large number of people requiring no special skill.

This trend also hints towards the redundant educational system in the country. Often curriculum has no relevance with the jobs and/or there is no career counseling. The result is at times one type of graduates become are surplus or in short supply. This phenomenon is more acute in the IT sector.

When the IT boom was there every second student wished to get education/training in computers but after the bubble burst no one wants to join trade. One of the reasons for this imbalance is lack of training institutes, appropriate curriculum and IT savvy faculty. Till recently students were trained on obsolete computers and the teachers also had the outdated knowledge.

The story of IT revolution in Pakistan will not be complete without acknowledging the contribution of Intel and NCR. The biggest contribution made by Intel is its training of the trainers and contribution in setting up computer labs in the schools. Similarly, NCR is making very significant contribution be holding annual software development competitions.

There has been some change in thinking of high ups at Software Export Board and PASHA. However, a lot more needs to be done to offer any serious competition to India. Pakistan's policy makers must study the Indian Business Model and try to replicate it. However, the desired target cannot be achieved without removing all sorts of duties and taxes on computer hardware and banning import of more than three years old models, coming up with appropriate syllabi, improving quality of teaching staff and above all a stringent monitoring and quality assurance program.

PAKISTANI IT INDUSTRY ACHIEVES US$ 2 BILLION SIZE! PRESIDENT P@SHA

P@SHA HOLDS CAREER EXPO FOR IT GRADUATES/INDUSTRY!

The size of Pakistan 's Information Technology & IT-enabled Services industry stands at (US$) 2 Billion annually with a 50% annual growth rate. IT Exports stand at US$1 billion according to a Research Study commissioned by P@SHA.

While Pakistan Software Export Board figures show a higher figure with US$2.8 billion industry size and US$1.8 billion exports. This was stated by Jehan Ara, President Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) while talking to the Media during a 1-day Career Expo for IT Students and professionals organized by P@SHA in a local hotel on Sunday.

Thousands of Young IT professionals and fresh graduates visited the Career Expo to explore and apply for Job openings posted by participating companies. They appeared in on-the-spot interviews, listened to eminent speakers, and interacted with CEOs, CIOs and HR heads of ICT local and international companies regarding career opportunities. IT Professionals and Students learnt about the different career tracks in various segments of the ICT sector, participated in Interactive Workshops, listened to company presentations and attended Career Counseling sessions.

President P@SHA Jehan Ara said that P@SHA is creating a career experience for these young people so that they are more knowledgeable about the kind of challenging careers and remuneration that is available to them across the spectrum of ICT and are also aware of the growth and maturity of the sector they are either joining or are already a part of. Jehan Ara said that Pakistan produces approximately 20,000 IT graduates annually, who need proper guidance in order to explore their true potential. Currently over 110,000 IT professionals are working in IT sector and there is a lot more potential for quality IT HR.

The IT industry needs people with different skill sets - in addition to Computer Science graduates, they also require business analysts, domain specialists, project managers, senior management, marketing professionals, call center professionals, animations, Interface Designers amongst others. Other than lots of jobs openings, students were also provided with free Workshops and panel discussions, Career Counseling with CEOs of IT companies, Special Interest Groups in different technology areas, Startup Insiders session for young entrepreneurs led by a panel of experienced entrepreneurs.

An IT graduate while appreciating P@SHA's efforts in organizing this career expo for young professionals and graduates said that young IT graduates have benefited from this initiative as they got enormous job opportunities under one roof.