Let’s meet in the cyber space!
In six months from now business between Indian and Pakistani IT companies should be working and “money should be flowing both ways.” Such was the positive wish of the Indian IT delegation leader Dr. Ganesh Natarajan at a meeting with his counter parts on last Friday. Ganesh is Chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) National Committee on IT & ITeS and is also the CEO of Zensar Technologies.
Listen to the short concluding remarks of the participants on the outcome of the day-long Aaman ki Asha Pakistan-India IT Committee. Nandita: “very positive;” Prameela: “energized;” Rahul: “excited;” Uma: “energized but let’s do it;” Humayun & Salman from Pakistan: “Let’s go for it.” Cautious Harsh Manglik Chairman of the prestigious NASSCOM advised: “Goodwill and sincerity is there but let’s take bite-sized chunks.” Pakistan’s leader of the delegation Jehan Ara was equally cautious and realistic: “At least 10% of the initiatives of what is identified today in the conference should get off the ground within 6 months.”
There is no reason that one should doubt the enthusiasm of the IT professionals from the two sides of the divide. Perhaps the professionals who work over and above the geographical barbed-wire borders in cyber space can take the peace initiative of the civil society to another notch. The potential to cooperate for mutual economic benefit, which is the mother of all peace drivers in the world, is unlimited. All we have to do is to start where there are no official barriers, which usually kill such initiatives.
According to Ganesh India continues to take centre stage even though the worldwide IT spending has gone to a negative 3.3% and BPO market growth has dropped from over 12% in 2007 to just 2.4% in 2009. Ganesh Natarajan says that: “In the face of a global economic slowdown, the Indian IT-BPO exports industry displayed resilience to grow by 5.5 per cent in FY2010.” At present India has 51% of the total sourcing market; IT industry accounts for 25% of India’s exports; 10.5% of services revenues; it employs nearly 2.3 million professionals and employees and the demand is growing at 4%; 70% workforce is within 18-30 years; 58% employee workforce comes from tier 2/3 cities; and exports growth is 5.5% while domestic market is growing at a phenomenal12%.
Extrapolating on US$ 49 billion IT exports at present, Indian IT industry is looking at an ambitious target of US$ 175 billion exports of IT and BPO services by 2020. Here Ganesh is making an offer which we would be fools not to accept — “Friendly neighbours can join the party through collaborating centers.” Optimist Ganesh hoped: “In three years time Insha Allah geo-political situation between the two countries would also improve.”
Now let’s have a quick look where does the Pakistan IT industry stand. According to P@sha President Jehan Ara, Pakistan IT industry’s total size is around US$ 2 billion, out of which half accounts for exports. There are 1100 IT companies and 90,000 professionals employed by them. Humayun Bashir, head of IBM and Salman pointed out that Pakistan is way ahead in IT infrastructure compared to many other regional countries, it has parallel optic fibre links with the world; it has the advantage to have low average per hour rates of US$ 4. And talking about the security perception, both physical and data protection, Humayun said that there are companies which go through the data protection audit regularly by international clients. And as far as personal security is concerned, he explained that the perception is bad internationally otherwise the ground situation is different. “Last year 140 foreign visitors of the MNCs who are members of Overseas Chamber came to Pakistan and not a single untoward incident happened,” he highlighted.
So where can the IT industry of both the countries collaborate to begin with. As Rahul Mohod said “let’s do the doable first or as Amin Hashwani, who moderated the meeting is fond of saying “let’s get the low-hanging fruits first.” Following good initiatives emerged from the meeting which can give the Pakistan-India IT industry opportunities to move ahead: Global Delivery Platforms can be established where Pakistani Partners take on Financial Risk and provide for Infrastructure, while the Indian IT companies can provide Intellectual Capital, Training, Client Relationship; Pakistan needs to build its human resource pool and upgrade its existing universities’ IT education, in this India can share Best Practices and assist in curriculum development; India is spending something like US$ 9 billion on e-government, Pakistan has also some achievements on ground such as National Data Registration system which has provided computerised identity cards to almost 90% of the population. This gives an opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences and best practices. Pick up 3 or 4 universities and help them in developing an outsourcing curriculum
To bring the two countries together a lot of emphasis was given on building ‘Public Diplomacy.’ As the nonsensical visa regime between the two countries is a great obstacle in the way of public diplomacy, an interesting suggestion of helping the people to meet ‘in the clouds’ through tele-presence was made by tech savvy participants. This participants felt can create ‘the wow factor’ connect the youth of both the countries and can also be used for human resource development.
Some enthusiastic Indian participants think that the IT industry should avoid geographies and “work in the cloud collaboratively.” IT delegations of both sides have dreams to employ the technology at their command and create an “every person land” at Wagah border where students and family from both the sides can interact if not in the physical world then at least in the virtual world.
To change the existing perception created mostly by the irresponsible ultra-nationalist media the Aaman Ki Asha is to take a road show of students to many cities in both the countries on a reciprocal basis. But wait a minute the business is not far behind as the participants feel that the IT industry of Pakistan should take road-shows to different IT cities of India to show what they can offer. The government should help this initiative after all there is nothing to be afraid of. Establishment on both sides should look at increased business between IT industries of both countries as trade. One thing is sure in this trade of services the balance of trade will be in favour of Pakistan as Indian IT industry has lots of business to pass on. They are already giving business to Bangladesh, Philippines, Sri Lanka and China. They why are we hung with stupid inertia?