Now that we are sure that the world didn’t end in December, it is safe to say that 2012 proved to be an encouraging year for the Information Technology industry of Pakistan, as a contributing economic sector.
This assertion gains further credence when seen in the light of increased IT productivity, visibility and significance, both, domestically and globally.
But, in my opinion, the fact that there has been a mushroom growth of new IT companies throughout the country is the single most noteworthy indicator of keen entrepreneurial capitalization of local and foreign opportunities as well as the promise of a huge potential for even more growth in the future.
The journey ahead must be weighed in context of what we have experienced in the past; in that, the IT sector of Pakistan has clearly matured over previous years.
Compare this year to 2008, when Pakistan was under tremendous pressure – much like the rest of the world. One finds that the sector has reached a level of self-sustainability which grants it greater resilience towards external shocks.
Despite a snail’s pace economic growth, world over, local IT industries are in good shape today with financial investment doubling this year alone. While the rest of the developed world continues to suffer the aftershocks, Pakistan’s IT industry has grown by an impressive 30 percent over 2012.
The proof of the pudding, they say, is in the eating – and the fact that hiring seems to be a top agenda item, for a majority of IT concerns throughout Pakistan, ensures an ever-widening circle of prosperity for the country’s youth.
Let us put aside the foreign markets for a moment and concentrate on what we have here - at home. There is an increasing demand for IT services and solutions, domestically, which stems from increasing investment by businesses to implement, improve and augment their IT infrastructure.
More and more, the increase in efficiency granted to almost every sector ever touched by improvements in technology and communication has changed mindsets. With the coming of the population boom, Pakistan’s public sector, too, feels the sting of ‘sticking to the old ways’.
Delays in services mar the once smoothly running apparatus of governance and bureaucratic functioning. However, I feel that both Federal and Provincial governments have shown commitment towards building a knowledge economy on the basis of automation and connectivity.
The introduction of smart identity cards by the Federal government, with a computerized chip, enables the provision of various IT services to the general public. Another praiseworthy act is the setting up of the Arfa Karim IT Park which suggests the seriousness with which the political leadership has adopted IT as a facilitator and enabler.
It is a direct result of this atmosphere of cooperation that has resulted in IT giants such as Microsoft, Google and other big brands not just ‘expressing an interest’ but actually coming in with impressive investment plans and extending collaboration to the Pakistan government.
The readily visible convergence between the IT and Telecom sectors offers mobile based payment services which has been highlighted by the State Bank of Pakistan as having the potential to revolutionize the current and increasingly technology driven economy by reducing brick-and-mortar related overheads.
The very concept of branch-free banking attracts consumers and fuels its own growth. This has led to the necessity of implementing even faster mobile internet connectivity – a necessity that will be greatly fulfilled with the introduction of soon-to-be-launched 3G services.
The safeguard of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) is another ongoing struggle and policies are being introduced this year that will go a long way towards addressing the negative perception of Pakistan in this regard.
Social media has seen rampant growth in terms of its influence on people and opinions over the past years. This suggests that this important tool will play a crucial role in the upcoming elections in early 2013.
More and more political entities are realizing this, with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf attracting youngsters through facebook, twitter, email and SMS services.
Consequently, we see a mass attendance at rallies and minute by minute coverage followed by intense debate on such forums. This rapid change in technology makes it possible for Pakistan to reach out and break barriers in the field of Information Technology rather than just focusing on service provision.
In 2012 Pakistan’s IT industry has aimed at developing value added products, varieties of solution-based software – which basically means that the IT industry remained involved in knowledge creation and creativity throughout the year.
Globally speaking, this year has seen the rise of new and varied factors which feed into the eventual overall growth of the international information technology sector.
What is needed is an aggressive strategy to secure the interest of the European Union and North American markets where economic pressures are forcing businesses to explore further long term outsourcing and collaboration options through new models and relationships.
Today, there is a certainty that if an efficient and client-centered approach is maintained then Pakistan is very well placed to benefit from these global changes. There is also the added incentive of the opportunities to replaced dated and obsolete systems, entirely, in these regions which opens up plenty of new opportunities to capitalize upon.
Among other positive developments, the passage of the 18th amendment in the Parliament has opened new doors and avenues for the IT sector in Pakistan. With a power devolution plan favoring provinces, it is the provincial governments that are to take the lead in real grit and bones administration of the country.
Accordingly, a rapid investment in a more technology intensive infrastructure will only serve to benefit the citizens – the final inheritors of good policy making. The Punjab government, in particular, has made effective use of IT in combating the spread of Dengue in the province with the development of digital live mapping helping to identify and combat Dengue larva growth in targeted zones in record time.
These IT friendly policies also find an expression in the increase in the number of IT institutes that opened up in Pakistan during 2012. With 60 percent of the population of Pakistan consisting of a body of youth that is looking towards the future – IT institutes attract them in large numbers because of the level of induction and job security that no other sector in the country can match.
I look forward to a successful completion of the government’s five year term with optimism as this will inevitably reinforce an image of national competence abroad as well as contribute towards stabilizing the IT industry of Pakistan.
Transparency and accountability – both important concerns for the average Pakistani today – dictate the necessity for a fast and reliable system of services and information delivery to the masses. Pakistan is fast transforming into a knowledge based society where every sector including finance, telecom, education and governance have improved due, in large part, to an improvement of the technology base.
It is my belief that this edifice will serve to empower policy makers and ordinary citizens alike and eventually evolve into a cohesive and holistic system of general wellbeing for Pakistani society if it is allowed to mature. I see a future where a country like Pakistan stands on the brink of setting new records in IT industrial growth well past the 30 percent recorded so far.
There is no doubt that there is still much room for improvement. As things stand today, IT has still not matured to the stage of ‘big business’ in Pakistan.
There are several small entrepreneurial outfits with just a few large ones operating in the country. Without consolidation, no major IPOs have registered at the Stock Exchange leading to marginal growth on the basis of internal funding.
However, with a world of opportunities out there and the skill set we have at our disposal, we might see more companies seeking investment from the public within a very short frame of time. That is the goal we must set for ourselves in 2013.
(The writer is Chairman & CEO NetSol Technologies, former co-head of Federal Task Force on ICT, Honourary Consul of Australia for the province of Punjab, President American Business Forum and President The Indus Entrepreneurs Lahore)