PSEB: Making Pakistan’s IT Industry the Country’s Fastest Growing Export Sector
Pakistan’s IT industry has a come a long way and is today the fastest growing export sector of Pakistan. From less than $20 million in annual exports back in 2000, the country’s annual IT exports have crossed the $2 billion mark now at an annual growth rate of 30 to 40%.
Moreover, this is that sector of the country’s economy, which is capable of providing a full spectrum of services, ranging from low-end BPO services to high-end enterprise grade IT solutions. This extremely vibrant part of Pakistan’s economy is made up of a significant number of large IT companies which hold local back offices or representative offices.
The quality of services offered by these local organizations has in turn ensured that some of the largest businesses in the world come to Pakistan looking for relevant services to meet all their IT needs. These include Halliburton®, BMW®, Toyota®, Daimler Chrysler®, AT&T®, NYSE®, British Petroleum®, Petronas®, Caltex®, Sears®, and many more.
It is also pertinent to note here that a large number of our local IT Professionals are working in North America, Europe and Middle East who get IT projects outsourced from their foreign clients to afore-mentioned back offices in Pakistan.
But no country in the world, no matter how great the services they, or rather the businesses operating within that country offer, could hope to get work unless they have some support from the government also. In this case, it is PSEB that comes to our rescue.
PSEB’s Role in Promoting the Local IT Industry
Talking to Asim Shahryar Husain, Managing Director Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB), IDG discussed its role in promoting the country’s IT export industry.
Asim Shahryar joined PSEB as its Managing Director in July 2014. A technocrat by profession, with over 21 years of professional experience in technology marketing and business planning, he has been CEO of COMSATS Internet Services where he successfully restructured the ISP from a loss making entity to a commercially viable operation.
He has also worked in both technical and marketing management positions at Viewlogic, Siemens, MarketFirst, IONA, LMKR, Transworld, and Wi-Tribe. Furthermore, he holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Systems Engineering from Stanford University, California and an MBA in Marketing from Duke University, North Carolina.
With such an impressive background, what are Asim Shahryar’s plans for PSEB to further their motto? “My mission at PSEB is to make the organization more responsive to the needs of the IT industry of Pakistan and to accelerate the growth of IT exports,” he says.
“To achieve these objectives, PSEB has set in motion several projects and programs that focus on improving the perception of Pakistan as an attractive destination for IT outsourcing.”
These programs include subsidized participation of IT companies in international exhibitions, establishment of new IT parks, low cost office space and bandwidth in IT parks, international certifications for IT companies such as CMMI and ISO, IT internships and trainings for IT graduates, and linkages with foreign investors and customers.
Asim continues by saying, “We believe in getting feedback from the IT Industry on a periodic basis to ensure that we invest in programs and events which are of interest to the industry. To achieve this end, we have held three seminars with CEOs of IT companies in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad so far, and we conduct regular online surveys with our member companies also.”
Facing Up To Challenges
But success, as all of us are well aware, never comes very easy. So what challenges does PSEB, as well as their member organizations, face, both at the local and at the international level?
“When it comes to Pakistan, the biggest hindrance for any business is country’s image and perception because of security and ease-of-business issues. However, things have started improving since early 2015 and this is reflected through the interest that foreign investors from certain countries have shown in investing in different sectors of Pakistan including IT. This year, PSEB has been approached by investors from Saudi Arabia, Korea, Kuwait, etc. for investing in different IT initiatives. This is a good sign for the IT industry of Pakistan,” shares Asim.
He goes on to explain how nations such as Korea and China have developed so rapidly because they ‘routinely redefine the way things are done, constantly improving and refining the associated thinking, logic, and techniques.’ And for him, “this is what we need to do to embed the culture of embracing change in our public and private sector institutions for continuous improvement. Also, we should be focused on results of projects, not just execution. We need to focus on proper project management because planning is just one half of the work; the more important half is execution and completing projects on time.”
Considering that, one would wonder just how far we, as a nation hoping to export our IT and software services abroad, have managed to come. The task is certainly not an easy one when one considers that to become a knowledge-based economy requires good collaboration and coordination between different stakeholders including government, industry, academia, and the public.
Just as importantly, it also requires a better focus on education and training so that upcoming graduates are equipped with the right skill-sets when they come out of colleges and universities. In this scenario, “PSEB is forming a curriculum committee which will include CEOs of some IT companies as well as heads of IT of different universities to realign curriculum with the emerging needs of the global IT market,” shares the MD.
He continues to explain how Pakistan’s economy is primarily an agrarian one. However, there is no dearth of manpower and labor costs are very economical when compared with other developed and developing countries. Because of the rapid growth of the IT industry and universities, and availability of a large pool of English speaking IT professionals and graduates, Pakistan can easily transition to becoming a knowledge-based and services economy in a decade or so.
“Pakistan has a lot of IT talent and potential. However, it needs to be harnessed better starting with our own local industries. Instead of using foreign software, our industries should use local software on trial basis and if satisfied, they should switch to using local software. This will encourage our local IT companies and will help them grow both locally and internationally. After all, how can we expect foreign customers to use their software if our own industries are not using local software,” asserts the MD PSEB.
Current Progress: How is the Local ICT Industry Shaping Up?
PSEB is in the process of collecting IT curriculum for BS and MS programs of different universities which it will then share with the committee formed for the purpose, for feedback. Based on this, the organization will work to prepare a proposal on revisions to the IT curriculum for HEC. The goal is to have a minimum core curriculum in IT to ensure an IT graduate of any university has the right skill-sets to meet the work demands of both local and foreign companies in order to give them better, and more productive prospects in the future.
Furthermore, as Asim shared, a new Knowledge Park is being planned in Lahore which will be a whole ecosystem built around universities, companies, research labs, IT parks, incubators, etc. However, it will take a while of planning and construction. Similar knowledge parks in other provinces and cities are also needed to help the country transition from an agricultural to a knowledge-based economy.
Planning For the Future
Several long term projects have been launched or are in the pipeline for the benefit of the IT industry. These focus on infrastructure development, HR base development, company capability development through international certifications, fostering innovation/entrepreneurship, adoption of ICT in public sector as well as domestic demand generation for the ICT products/services.
Moreover, other countries are also encouraged to explore opportunities of investing in Pakistan’s which could include company acquisitions and mergers, collaborate to invest in Information Technology Parks, Software Development Centers, Software Testing Centers, Technology Incubators, IT Training Centers, IT Consulting Centers, Gaming and Animation studios, Call Centers, Billing Centers and Data Centers.
All in all, Asim Shahryar, MD PSEB seems determined and focused in his mission to turn Pakistan into a knowledge-based economy.