IT OPENING NEW VISTAS

BENEFITS LARGELY CONFINED TO BIG CITIES

SHABBIR H. KAZMI
May 18 - 24, 2009

Most of us, even not literate use gadgets which have embedded micro processors. We have become accustomed to technology but still are not IT savvy. We only consider computers the modern day mantra, a solution to some of the most complicated issues faced in daily life.

One of the simplest things which most of the people use in daily life is a cell phone. The latest models are not only light weight, sleek but offers many options from receiving SMS to auto response and from a phone to a camera with added advantage of listening to FM radio. All these are the benefits of the microprocessor capable of performing multitasks simultaneously.

Till yesterday terms like hardware and software had to be explained but now even the school going children are familiar with complete range of Microsoft Office and use it conveniently and efficiently. The awareness of children is often much superior to that of their parents. It is because of using computer has become part of the curriculum. In the past students were taught programming but emphasis was not on using packages/software/programs. Most of the users do not know in which language these programs have been written but with the clicking of an icon even a child starts browsing internet, access information, down load it and if necessary passes on the information to his/her other classmates.

It is necessary to point out that this luxury is available to the residents of urban areas and those who have computer, fixed line or wireless connection for accessing internet and fairly good command on English language. Although, efforts have been made to convert some of the programs in Urdu language, Pakistan is far behind its next door neighbors. In India Microsoft Office is available in nearly two dozen regional languages.

It is also true that India earns billions of dollars though export of IT Services but bulk of this comprises of data input service and Call Center facilities. With the hike in hourly wages in the developed countries companies like Microsoft and CISO have started outsourcing their jobs to countries, where wages are low and their residents have fairly good knowledge of English language. This is the brighter side of being part of colonial system for nearly a century.

While it is often said that Pakistan is slow in adapting new technologies, it deploys latest technology in information and communication technology. If people are seen using latest cell phones, computers based on the latest variants of microprocessors are also available at affordable price. However, it goes without saying that not only use of technology is minimal in government offices but there is also some resistance against introduction of technology. People often suffer from the perception that when technology is introduced its worst fallout is retrenchment, particularly the older people consider introduction of technology a threat rather than a facility.

One of the treasons has been inability of people to get used to the new technology. Computers are often considered a luxury and a pass time of elites. At times even if an effort is made facilitate import of computers certain elements have abused the facility. Importers have picked up the junk and sold it as new or slightly used equipment.

Similarly, at one time computer training institutes mushroomed but students obtaining certificates were imparted knowledge which had gone obsolete. The result was that despite spending huge amounts the students could not get their hands on the technology being used by trade and industry.

However, in this jungle the name of Intel Pakistan stands distinguished. Two of its employee Kamil Hassan and Naila Kassim have played key role in 'Training of the Trainer' program. Interestingly this program was not confined to big cities or English medium schools but all and sundry benefited from it. Over the years they have not only trained the trainers by imparting most contemporary knowledge but also developing computer savvy.

Yet another person once working for Intel, Mohsin Iqbal was also instrumental in the development of Computer Policy. At that time he was of the view that unless computers are used in core businesses, Pakistan's economy could not progress. Some of his critics termed his say a cliché and doubted its applicability. However, one of the real achievements is the introduction of computers in the commercial banks. Whether we talk about online banking or ATM based transactions without a technology backbone achieving this convenience was just not possible.

The story will not be complete without recognizing then efforts of late Badar-ul-Islam of NCR Pakistan. He worked very hard in developing ATM network in Pakistan. Most of the bankers were opposed to the idea of deploying ATMs but time taught us its benefit.

It is a famous line of Shakespeare that this world is a stage and every individual is an actor. Pakistan's stage of IT is still a melodrama, because, because the directors have not been successful in making it contemporary. Unless the policy planners are able to make Pakistan an integral part of global IT scenario the isolated islands of success would remain unheard stories and their work would not be beneficial for others.

Pakistan's software exports have remained extremely low as compared to its potential. Some of the critics say it is because of 'understatement of the value'. Others say that those who have been assigned the mandate of promoting Pakistan as a dependable source of supply do not have the faith in the country. However, the cynics say that the PSEB has been a victim of misplaced priorities.

One of contributors to India's huge software export is the utilization of available human resources. Pakistan can replicate this success story and go far ahead with the active participation o all the stakeholders.