IT INDUSTRY IN BALOCHISTAN IS YET TO TAKE OFF

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Apr 12 - 18, 2010

Starting from a relatively low base in 2003, Pakistan's Information Technology (IT) industry has developed into a multi billion dollar market and the country has emerged as an internationally recognized leading IT destination. The rapid growth in IT sector is largely because of foreign IT firms that started their operations in Pakistan in a bid to reduce costs and raise profits. Moreover, the Pakistan's efforts for establishing a reliable IT infrastructure and the attractive incentives it offers to foreign investors have been instrumental in the development of the local IT industry. In the past three years, many foreign IT firms have registered big success stories in Pakistan.

There are almost 700 active IT companies in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. Growth in Islamabad over the last three years has been around 300 per cent, Karachi around 180 per cent and Lahore around 150 per cent.

Unfortunately, IT industry is yet to take off, despite the incentives the Pakistan has given to the IT firms. Some of the areas in which the country provided benefits to the IT companies include tax exemption till 2016, seven years' tax holiday for Venture Capital funds, provision of funds for software companies to get ISO-9000 and CMM-level certifications, 100 per cent ownership of equity for foreign investors and development of IT Parks with low rent, fiber optic connectivity, libraries and conference rooms. It is because of these incentives, an increasing number of foreign IT companies have chosen Pakistan for their outsourcing operations. Presently, the USA, Canada and Europe are the major destinations of Pakistan IT enabled export.

Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) should support the development of Balochistan IT industry in areas like human capital development, IT park construction and marketing. The PSEB should help the province in preparing a training module. The call center related skills training can provide the local youth lucrative jobs.

Pakistan has spent billion of dollars in IT sector to produce IT experts. By June 2006, the country had 50,000 workers in the IT sector and by 2010 it will need, according to PSEB, 232,000 trained IT professionals that would enhance Pakistan's potential to earn $9 billion of revenue from IT sector. Islamabad plans to build IT parks in major cities may further accelerate the IT industry's growth. PSEB has proposed a four-year draft strategic plan, which will increase the IT industry's size to US$10 billion in the calendar year 2010.

Balochistan, the least developed province of the country, is yet to enjoy and benefit from the advancement in computing and telecommunications. Computer literacy is the high demand of present digital age. The local youth are still deprived of the opportunities and facilities, which are necessary to make development in any field of science and technology. Today, the IT professionals guide the young entrepreneurs in solving their day-to-day problems and inform them the latest trends in IT especially in e-Commerce domain to answer all questions emerging due to dynamic change in IT and also suggest possible solutions to cope with emerging issues. The call centers serve for the processing of calls originating from different places. A modern call center provides multilateral services including customer support, inbound sales, order taking, credit verification and outbound telemarketing.

Shortfall of revenue and absence of venture capital are the main issues, which should be resolved by allocating more funds for the development of IT industry in Balochistan. The local companies need a healing touch from the government. If awarding contracts accommodates them, it will help them build their record and play significant role in griping a market for Balochistan, both nationally and internationally. The issue is the development and consolidation of IT industry in the province. There will be no use of producing an army of IT professionals without developing and strengthening IT industry in the province.

Government should resolve the problems of IT firms, help them build their trade record and place them in the national and international IT market. Steps should also be taken for imparting IT education in Balochistan at school level by setting up computer laboratories. The federal government and the province should equally share the expenditure.

Balochistan lacks the skilled and qualified persons to develop IT sector in the province. It also lacks the IT infrastructure. That is why, the skilled IT professionals move towards other provinces preferably to Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. On the other hand, the lack of encouragement of local IT professionals has been an important factor that could not promote the IT environment in the province. Presently, Quetta, the provincial capital has the presence of at least six IT firms in private sector including Innovative Information Technologies (IIT), Active Communications, Pearl Institute of Information Technology, Matrix Informatics and Origin Enterprises. The IIT is also an implementing partner with government of Pakistan in e-government project. The government should allocate more funds for setting up software houses in the province.

Balochistan absolutely lacks trained human resources for establishing call centers. The provincial government should set up institutes for training of local youth in sales, customer services, regional demographics and in English language skills. The province lacks the training facilities related to setting up a call center. Unfortunately, for shortage of skilled people in the local market, the training and development costs will go up in Balochistan.

The IT departments in the university of Balochistan and Balochistan University of Information Technology and Management Sciences (BUITMS) should arrange training programs for call centers. The department of Information Technology, Electronic and Telecommunication Engineering of BUITMS is currently managing a provincial IT Forum aimed at apprising entrepreneurs of the changing business environment in the province.

The government should allocate handsome funds for IT education and developing IT infrastructure in Balochistan. It can arrange internship program in Karachi, Lahore and other cities for IT students of the province at least for a period of six months. The province needs human capital and trained IT professionals. At least 30 young professionals and teachers from the BUITMS were recently sent abroad under HEC program for training in IT and PhD programs. There is a dire need to impart training in data basis, networking, web designing, graphic designing and other areas of IT field. It will take time, at least 4 to 5 years for promotion of IT skills and growth of the sector in the province.