INTERVIEW WITH JEHAN ARA, PRESIDENT PAKISTAN SOFTWARE HOUSES ASSOCIATION FOR IT & ITES (P@SHA)

KHALIL AHMED
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Apr 4 - 10, 20
11

PAGE: TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF.

JEHAN ARA: I grew up in Hong Kong because my father was posted there. My primary and secondary education was in Hong Kong. I got my Bachelors in Arts with specialization in Advanced Mathematics. From an early age, I have been a communicator. Hence, my first job was that of a student journalist with the Hong Kong Standard. Subsequent to this, I went into advertising, marketing, PR, editing and freelance writing. I headed a Media company in Hong Kong for about 9 years before returning to Karachi in 1994. Here I co-founded Enabling Technologies with a friend where we went on to produce the very first multimedia products in Pakistan. This included the Faiz Ahmed Faiz CD, the 50 years of Art CD for ABN Amro, the IBM 50 years CD, the first interactive product catalogue for Jafferjee's, the first touch screen kiosk for ICI, the Jinnah CD and website, interactive training for Unilever, a marketing CD for Gul Ahmed and much much more. It has been a great journey. I joined P@SHA soon after moving to Pakistan because I strongly believe that if you want change, you need to be a part of the community and work from within to enact the change you want to see.

PAGE: YOUR VIEWS ABOUT IT EDUCATION IN PAKISTAN.

JEHAN ARA: There are some very good universities imparting good quality IT and business education in Pakistan. However, over the years we have seen that there is a widening gap between industry and academia resulting in resources being produced who are not quite ready to enter the workforce. Over the past few years, members of P@SHA have been trying to bridge this gap by interacting with faculty and students of IT/Engineering/Business schools and providing industry knowledge. Some companies have also started getting university teams to work on real projects with them. That will help undergrads to understand the software development process better. We have a lot of talent in this country. There are a few missing links. I think we need to ensure that there is counseling at high school level so that kids will pick the discipline they are suited to and have a passion for. There needs to be an addition of current cutting edge technologies to the curriculum as optional subjects. Final year academic projects should be replaced by real-time experience in the 3rd or final year with feedback for grades being given by the companies the kids work with.

PAGE: WHAT SHOULD BE DONE TO PROMOTE SOFTWARE HOUSES IN PAKISTAN?

JEHAN ARA: Innovative products, areas of specialization and success stories of companies need to be released in overseas media through a PR company so that an awareness can be created about the kind of work that is being done by companies in Pakistan. This will not only create an image of IT as a serious business destination but it will also generate business leads that our companies can follow up. Pakistani consulates and embassies around the world should arrange business meets with potential customers for groups of IT companies from Pakistan so that we are able to showcase the products and services our industry specializes in. Instead of asking for aid, if our allies could be asked to connect us with businesses in their countries that outsource projects or have the need for IT products, it would give us access to markets that are at present difficult to tap due to the image problem that Pakistan suffers from. Perhaps if several ministries - like commerce, finance, and IT, and the BoI, the PTA and TDAP got together and worked with the industry on developing a campaign that promotes Pakistan as an IT destination - and just plastered that campaign everywhere, it would help us.

PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMMENT ON THE USE OF TECHNOLOGY IN PAKISTANI COMPANIES?

JEHAN ARA: Banks were the early adopters together with multinationals followed by the telecom and textile sector and several government organizations. The health sector has now started to automate itself. However, SMEs and manufacturing are still resisting the change. In many of the above cases, multimillion dollar solutions are bought without local expertise being involved thus ending up with projects failing or costing a lot more than they should without the necessary customization that is required for it to work in the local environment. Local products are often not considered even when they are better. When they are considered, companies are not willing to pay what the product is worth. This sometimes makes it difficult for software companies to work with local companies. Non-mission critical services work needs to be outsourced to a larger degree because the expertise exists in IT/BPO companies in Pakistan. It is a more competitive and efficient option. Telecom and media companies need to ensure they buy local products at a reasonable price and in cases where it is relevant, share a fair amount of revenue on use of the products.

PAGE: YOUR VIEWS ON SOFTWARE EXPORTS FROM PAKISTAN.

JEHAN ARA: The size of the IT sector is just over US$2 billion. Half of which is export. This could be much larger if some of the mentioned initiatives are taken care of. There also needs to be an emphasis on capacity building of individuals and companies, bringing in of specialist trainers for training in certain areas. A number of young companies are developing innovative products. A lot of that work is being done in the cloud technology. Some works are sold through online stores. This is not documented, nor is the amazing amount of freelance work that individuals are doing online through oDesk, Elance, Rentacoder, etc. This needs to be done so that the right kind of support can be provided for them to grow their businesses. P@SHA takes companies to regional competitions like APICTA where their products are benchmarked against the best in the region. These efforts need to be recognized and supported so that we can continue to develop a reputation for ourselves.

PAGE: WHAT INCENTIVES IT SECTOR NEEDS FROM THE GOVERNMENT?

JEHAN ARA: We need the tax-free exports initiative to be extended beyond 2016. We need a good cyber crime law, a good data protection law and a good privacy and confidentiality law - and all these need to be developed in consultation with all stakeholders to ensure that it is of benefit to the industry and to civil society. We also need a payment gateway so as to gain access to a lot of the e-commerce work that Pakistan is unable to target at the moment. Paypal needs to be in Pakistan. A tweaking of State Bank regulation should be taken immediately so that we can come online. We need amendments to the copyright law; we need to be able to register patents in Pakistan; we need a liberalization of the Voice Over IP legislation. In addition to all this, we need the government to outsource projects to local companies ensuring that large and small companies form collaborations to work together on these projects so that the industry can grow.