Qazafi Qayyum, CEO TenX
Qazafi Qayyum, CEO TenX

We live in exciting times where artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the world like nothing before and reshaping it in ways we could never have imagined. AI is rapidly becoming an essential part of our lives. From chatbots to self-driving cars, AI is changing how people live and work. Yet many are afraid of this new technology, fearing that it will make their jobs irrelevant.

Qazafi Qayyum, the CEO of TenX, an AI software and solutions company, assures that there’s no need to fear AI. “It’s a tool that can and will improve our performance and efficiency. We’re currently living in a world where we need AI to help us analyse large amounts of data being generated every day quickly and accurately, allowing us to make better decisions,” he argued in an interview with this correspondent.

“Some people might be afraid of embracing AI because they fear it will take away their jobs. That is not true. Facts and data have started proving that where AI is making certain jobs obsolete, it is also creating new ones. So, it is also a case of finding new areas where people can start taking over or working with augmented assistance. This impression that AI will take over the world, or all jobs will be lost, is totally fiction because it can’t mimic the human way of thinking and creativity.

“AI is only helping us automate tasks that are repetitive or dangerous, freeing us up to focus on more creative and strategic work. AI can help businesses make better decisions, increase efficiency, and reduce costs without threatening people’s jobs. It is not something to be feared. Instead, we should adopt it to improve our lives.”

‘Pilferage of funds and frauds can be plugged through the use of technology’

The TenX chief, who has previously worked at Teradata, a US data and AI company in Pakistan for 15 years, argues that it’s an established fact that enterprises with the power to leverage their data are the ones that will be ahead of the game regardless of their size.

“In this age, the size of the businesses doesn’t matter (in their success) as much as their agility around decision-making, and that is where AI helps the businesses leverage the power of the staggering amount of data they generate every day.”

The company, comprising 200 tech consultants and 25 support function staff, has already branched out into the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK and plans to set up another offshore delivery centre, like the one it has in Pakistan, in Estonia.

“We are also looking at the Middle East market to explore, especially Saudi Arabia. Our objective is to grow our team in Pakistan and provide them with opportunities to work in areas where they can make a difference globally.

“At the same time, we want to provide them with the potential to expand their career in or outside Pakistan so that they can be recognised as the top people in their field. TenX is providing its employees opportunities to establish themselves deeper in their particular niches, work in different industries, and even settle outside Pakistan without leaving the company.”

But, he says, the IT companies operating in Pakistan are contending with many challenges, with brain drain at the top of the list. “The IT industry is the hardest hit by this brain drain, with a substantial portion of emigrants being tech people.

“The IT sector has taken a big blow from this brain drain, especially due to poor economic conditions in the country in the past 12 months. It’s safe to assume that a substantial percentage of those leaving the country possess tech expertise, making it easier for them to secure employment abroad,” said Mr Qayyum.

He added that accessing the talent pool in Pakistan is becoming increasingly problematic. “The industry’s demand for IT professionals far surpasses the supply, making scaling up a big challenge. While I may achieve 5-7pc growth in my business in Pakistan, achieving 15-20pc growth is impossible due to the manpower shortage,” he elaborated as he called for collaborative efforts among the industry, academia, and government to tackle this pressing issue.

He says the steady rise in Pakistan’s software exports in the global market despite challenges shows Pakistan’s potential to scale up its IT exports, emphasising that addressing these issues could lead to substantial opportunities. Currently, Pakistan’s software exports stand at $2.5-3 billion, but he believes that eliminating these obstacles could lead to an export revenue of $10-15bn.

Mr Qayyum further addressed the daily challenges faced by the IT industry, including the ease of doing business in Pakistan. “While successive governments have discussed improving this aspect, actual execution has been limited and patchy. Pakistan, whether we like it or not, is a high-risk country for clients from more mature markets like the US, EU, Australia, Canada and New Zealand as every other customer or prospect we talk to has concerns about Pakistan because of its geographic location,” he said.

However, the good thing is that our clients do not express concerns about the capabilities, culture, or people of Pakistan. Instead, they are influenced by the negative news and perceptions surrounding the country. “Before they come to Pakistan for business, they ask themselves if the cost advantage offered in Pakistan outweighs the risks and challenges associated with its location.”

He also drew attention to issues like internet disruptions during protests or political rallies and frequent electricity outages that increase operational costs, necessitating backup generators and sites for business continuity, especially for ISO compliance and other advanced certifications. “Addressing these realities and challenges is essential to position Pakistan as a prime destination for companies and to boost IT exports,” Mr Qayyum concluded.

He believes that the potential for adoption in government for AI, starting from project planning to disaster response and management to policy-making, is probably much higher than in any other industry in Pakistan.

“AI and data analytics can be used to plan projects, make infrastructure investment decisions, and formulate policies. I think the government processes can be improved and made transparent with the adoption of technology and the use of AI techniques.

“Pilferage of funds and frauds can be plugged. Globally, mature governments have already adopted AI and technology in all these areas. They are aware of how they can capitalise on data. In Pakistan, the awareness exists, but it is the intentions that we probably lack. We need to overcome that.”

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, October 30th, 2023

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