Naveed Siraj, Country Manager Intel Pakistan and Adnan Siddiqui, Country General Manager IBM Pakistan and Afghanistan Pictured . — Bilal Brohi/Spider Magazine Photo

IT business is lucrative, yet quite risky. It takes merely two years for a technology to become outdated – so how do the big names in IT survive and thrive in this competitive industry? We asked the local top executives of two of the biggest companies – Intel and IBM – about what they bring to the table, and how they face the many setbacks of working in this environment

Naveed Siraj | Country Manager, Intel Pakistan

Q. What are the services and products of Intel that can be utilised by small business owners to boost their businesses?

A. Intel is a leader in technologies essential in running today’s enterprise business. At the same time, we enjoy a solid footprint in retail and help it grow faster by bringing unmatched user experience to innovative devices based on Intel architecture. We also use our industry leadership position to share best practices with Small & Medium Businesses (SMB) to demonstrate the positive impact of technology adoption on organisational efficiency, productivity and profitability. So our influence cuts across critical segments like enterprise, consumer and SMB.

For Intel, SMB is an important segment, as it is the backbone of our economy, and we continue to facilitate their digital environment to boost their productivity and help accelerate national growth. A step in this direction is our annual technology awareness drive targeting SMB customers. In this regard, Intel holds SMB Technology Days annually to showcase latest technology solutions for SMEs to improve their social and economic self-sufficiency.

Intel continues to introduce technology platforms that help users derive the most out of their PCs, in terms of performance and experience. In addition to being the world’s leading manufacturer of microprocessors, Intel also builds network interface controllers, solid state drives, embedded processors and other devices related to communication and computing. Additionally, Intel is working closely with fellow travellers and partner organisations to achieve leadership in emerging platforms such as smartphones and tablets.

Q. Does the socio-political situation of Pakistan serve as a hindrance when it comes to attracting foreign investment in Pakistan, and how does Intel deal with it?

A. Pakistan has overcome such challenges for a number of years.  The key to winning investor confidence is innovation and business readiness in terms of urgency and agility in our services industry. Pakistan’s information technology sector in particular has a lot to offer. We need to focus on the single most important and critical need of the country, which is improving education standards.

In order to support education transformation and build 21st century knowledge kills, Intel Pakistan has been holding science fairs under the Intel ISEF program for the past nine years. These fairs are held in the main cities of Pakistan to provide opportunities to young Pakistanis to learn and showcase their talent in the areas of science and engineering. The students who succeed in the national science fairs proceed to the International Science Fair held in the U.S. every year, where they get a chance to compete with peers from 70+ other countries & represent Pakistan. Similarly, in order to bridge the digital divide in the country, we are focusing on adult IT literacy programs like the Intel EasySteps, so that we can contribute towards national competitiveness through skills needed to compete and succeed locally and internationally.

Q. What are the problems that Pakistani technologists/entrepreneurs face, and how can they be overcome?

A. Apart from transforming the education landscape, we are also supporting entrepreneurship ecosystem through skill-building.  An example is the recently launched Intel E-Basics program, a self-paced program which helps aspiring entrepreneurs understand the fundamental concepts such as initiating, developing and running an enterprise.  Hence the answer lies in having effective strategies to directly address problems being faced by our underserved communities.

Q. What will be the future trends in IT – both locally and globally?

A. In the future, new populations will come online; 300 million people in the Asia Pacific are currently digitally unaware, and in 2013, these populations will start looking for ways to connect. Locally and globally, countries will focus on encouraging entrepreneurs, innovation and investing in the right infrastructure to connect and support IT growth. 2013 will see increased focus by governments and institutions to invest in developing strong educational frameworks to create a digitally literate, skilled labour force for the future.

Cloud computing traffic worldwide is set to grow six-fold by 2016. This growth will be led by the Asia Pacific region which will generate the most cloud traffic at 1.5 zettabytes annually. 2013 will be a tipping point for cloud deployment in the APAC region.

2013 will also be the year that consumers experience touch ramping as a mainstream feature in notebook and all-in-one PCs. Voice and gesture technologies will build momentum and be sought after as new ways to interact with computing devices, including PCs. This year, Intel is helping another billion people enjoy the benefits of technology by focusing on these key program areas: access, connectivity, education, healthcare, and digital content and services.

Adnan Siddiqui | Country General Manager, IBM Pakistan and Afghanistan

Q. What are the services and products of IBM that can be utilised by small business owners to boost their businesses?

A. IBM offers software and solutions that can be used by small business to improve their efficiencies and reduce costs. Firstly, one very important offering from IBM is Lotus Symphony, which is a free-of-charge desktop automation tool similar to Microsoft Office. This provides small businesses tools similar to Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint but at no cost. Lotus Symphony is available on Linux as well as Microsoft operating system, and hence gives the customer the flexibility to choose the operating system platform.

On the solutions front, IBM has an excellent software called Maximo, which provides a comprehensive asset maintenance system and can also be used for automation of a company's supply chain and human resources system. Most of the energy companies and a number of manufacturing companies in Pakistan are using IBM Maximo software. IBM also has a software called Websphere Portal, which is used by businesses to automate their interaction with external customers such as suppliers, vendors, partners etcetera.

Another major offering from IBM is Cognos, which is used for business intelligence and dashboards. Cognos can give the senior management a snapshot of the overall financial health of the company. With Cognos Compensation management, companies can effectively manage the compensation of their sales force. Other offerings include Sterling commerce, which is used by retail customers for the automation of their front-end and back-end systems. More solutions include Emptoris, which is used for automation of procurement, and Content Manager which is used for archiving of documents and automation of workflows. In risk management, IBM has a solution called Algoritmics, which is being used by banks and insurance companies.

All the solutions mentioned above are just a few of the total number of solutions offered by IBM. But most importantly, IBM offers all these solutions as cloud offerings. Hence, companies do not need to invest in infrastructure, expensive software acquisitions and other related expenses, they can simply get linked to the cloud to avail all the services required by their particular business. In my view, this is democratization of IT, as small businesses now have access to the same technology as what large companies have  – but at a much lower cost and on a pay-as-you-use basis.

Q. Does the socio-political situation of Pakistan serve as a hindrance when it comes to investing in Pakistan, and how does IBM deal with it?

A. Yes, indeed the law and order situation does hurt all the businesses and definitely hampers any new investment in Pakistan. However, we have to see through all this pessimism as to what drives growth in Pakistan. There is a huge undocumented economy of the country which is providing employment to millions. Also, if you see the corporate results of most of the companies listed on the Karachi Stock Exchange, there has been growth in revenue as well profits of these companies. Hence, despite all the gloom and doom, due to the inherent nature of our economy which is primarily agrarian, job sustenance and creation continues. Though the local manufacturing sector has taken a hit, but at the same time, the services sector has expanded. Just look at some simple statistics: car sales have been growing despite high prices and high consumer financing rates, inflation is controlled within single digits, agricultural output has increased despite repeated floods etcetera. However, there are some important issues that need to be addressed to stop flight of capital: improve law and order, resolve the energy crisis and improve infrastructure such as roads, railways etcetera.

Q. What are the problems that Pakistani technologists/entrepreneurs face, and how can they be overcome? A. The very high interest rates discourage risk-taking. The law and order situation as well as sensationalisation by our media about our problems to the outside world, further compounds the difficulties faced by entrepreneurs. To overcome these issues, the responsibility lies with everyone and not just the government. We need to promote good stories about our country as I think goodness is contagious. We need to support local software development and project our people and their achievements wherever we can.

Q. What will be the future trends in IT – both locally and globally.    

A. Cloud is the way to go. In my view, the era of desktop is over, as increasingly people move towards Android-based tablets, which gives them a cheaper and more efficient alternative to a laptop or desktop. Hence, stringent proprietary desktop licensing will further decline.

We look forward to more investment in telecom and internet-based infrastructure. In banking, the trend of branchless banking will grow and hence provide alternative channels to banking.