Written By: M. Tahir Mushtaq
Recently, an article in Outlook India with headlines “Noida to Islamabad” has created lot of positive sound in the digital world regarding Pakistan’s emerging potential in the field of information technology. This article suggested with evidence that IT Jobs were beginning to move from India to Pakistan. The story emanated from a western origin IT company’s action of laying off 125 employees from India and hiring the same numbers from Pakistan the very next day. It further narrated that job cuts had plagued the Indian IT Industry for about two years, with “Bloodbath in Bangalore being the recurring headline and the neighbouring (Pakistan) budding IT Industry growing in its own space. With this positive sound, most of the analysts referring to the story published in The New York Times Op-Ed in 2015 titled “Pakistan, the Next Software Hub?” predict that future of Pakistan’s IT landscape is very bright in the wake of the Fourth Industrial Revolution where Pakistani talent has the unique ability and potential to out-innovate its competitors to help Pakistan lead in this arena.
Pakistan’s digital potential is immense in terms of talent and cost competitiveness. The IT sector is growing exponentially with phenomenal pace as a result of progressive policy interventions of Ministry of IT. The size of IT Industry has doubled in past four years and there is an optimistic prediction that it will grow further 100% in the next two to four years. The internet penetration has risen from less than 2% to over 30% in the past four years. Over 1,50,000 IT professionals available in the market have made us an ideal landscape in terms of human capital. Our talent is unique in terms of creativity and ability to assimilate new skills at a faster pace. We should take pride in this fact that Pakistani talent have helped produce many accomplished technology companies like Careem and Afiniti. Both of these Unicorn (over billion dollars worth) companies, like other companies of Pakistani origin have been engineered in Pakistan, where the local talent has designed the innovative software which is the core of their success. Afiniti is an AI (Artificial Intelligence) based company which has largely been engineered in Lahore, while the taxi hailing service Careem has been engineered in Karachi. This demonstrates the depth and breadth of our local IT talent that can produce any world class product fit into the fourth wave of technology.
The strength of the Pakistani diaspora is another competitive differential which could be a great source of strength for our industry by helping to establish their footprint in the western markets. Tens of thousands of IT experts with Pakistani origin are based in the West, whose collective potential could be the key prime mover to tap into the potential of new digital order. Quite recently a Pakistani American, NED alumni Mr. Raghib Hussain’s company Cavium has been acquired by Marvel at a value of USD 6 billion. We have numerous success stories like it where Pakistani Expats are creating ripples in Western world through their entrepreneurial and technological talent. We have similar inspirational stories of budding talent at home in the shape of Shaheer Niazi (introduced new factors in the electric honeycomb phenomenon eyed for Nobel Prize) and Haroon Haseeb (Queen Leader Award Winner) which provides every reason for optimism of our future tech talent. The local talent on the back of networking strength of diaspora can help position Pakistan more favourably to win the technology projects to help with increasing the IT remittances.
We live in a time of ubiquitous opportunity in the digital space to lead a better and convenient life. The world is changing to a new paradigm of creative and disruptive economies. No one could have thought few years back that world’s largest taxi company (Uber) will own no taxi, largest accommodation provider (Airbnb) will have no property, largest movie house (Netflix) could have no cinema. This transformative change necessitates disruptive models of entrepreneurship and workplace.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution which brings with it numerous challenges for the existing technological landscape also promises new avenues of opportunity in the field of Artificial Intelligence, IoT (Internet of Things), Data Analytics etc. Pakistani talent is uniquely positioned to take advantage of it due to their fast learning abilities in the presence of new mediums of e-learning which remove the traditional barriers of learning limited to physical spaced knowledge centres. Pakistan’s talent landscape includes formal IT professionals complemented by a large number of freelancers who have made their name on international e-platforms exhibiting professional brilliance with quality delivery on time at competitive prices. Pakistan has the unique distinction of being ranked in top three freelancing countries as being marked by biggest freelancing website (Freelancers.com). According to Helma Kasuma of Freelancers.com, out of 25 million visitors, one million are Pakistani freelancers. This shows that Pakistan’s freelancing industry is thriving and have lots of potential to rise. With this in view, Ministry of IT through Ignite (National Technology Fund) is rolling out a comprehensive program to train one million people including Freelancers as part of Digi Skills Program. This program is aimed at upping Pakistan’s IT remittance to over $6 billion in coming years by providing training to freelancers on hot skills through state-of-the-art e-learning mediums. The skills chosen for training are aligned with the emerging requirements of skill sets deemed required in the wake of Fourth Industrial Revolution. This program will not only help to bridge the employment gap but also help to increase Pakistan’s remittances to an astronomical proportion.
We live in a time of ubiquitous opportunity in the digital space to lead a better and convenient life. The world is changing to a new paradigm of creative and disruptive economies. No one could have thought few years back that world’s largest taxi company (Uber) will own no taxi, largest accommodation provider (Airbnb) will have no property, largest movie house (Netflix) could have no cinema. This transformative change necessitates disruptive models of entrepreneurship and workplace. With this realization, host of incubation centres have been set up in Pakistan in public and private sector to nurture the innovation by converting their ideas into commercial products. As part of realization of IT Minister’s vision, Ignite (National Technology Fund) has established National Incubation Center (NCI) at Islamabad with the partnership of Jazz and on similar pattern, incubation centres are also being established in Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar. These incubation centres coupled with AI, IoT, Fintech based national excellence centres under the auspices of MoIT will create an effective enabling platform to harness the true potential of our people to ride the wave of Fourth Industrial Revolution. These centres will serve as the budding ground of ideas and their fruition into a viable product that which not only provide immense opportunities of employment but will also give a strong boost to the national economy. We can trust that with these centres of innovation, our local talent can not only make strides in new vistas of technology like Artificial Intelligence but make themselves competitively fit to take the local tech industry to new heights of success.
While talking about Pakistani talent we should not lose sight of our girls and women who have immense potential and energy to take Pakistan forward in every field of life including the technology. In the traditional world physical barriers limit the talent of women and girls to physical spaces while the digital world provides them with ample opportunities to tap into their true potential. Though they have exhibited their potential in every field of life, digital sector is the new-found opportunity where without moving from their place they could do wonderful jobs like coding, online teaching etc. with the help of technology while simultaneously taking care of their families. This has been solidly verified as part of Ministry of IT’s “ICT4G” project executed through USF (Universal Service Fund), where tens of thousands of girls from unprivileged areas have been trained on Microsoft’s 4C program including coding, computing, coaching and communication. This training is leveraged to empower them financially by using digital skills, to earn livelihoods and contributing towards their family income generation. The successful stories of beneficiaries of this project help us achieve basic purpose of women empowerment leading towards sustained economic productivity and growth as well as reduction of deeply entrenched discriminatory practices.
Pakistan, with thriving middle class of over 50 million is an ideal investment gateway to Asia. On the back of fast growth of ICT sector, we have witnessed a new-found interest of investment in ICT sector of Pakistan. Most recently, five companies got licenses to establish assembly line of smartphones in Pakistan including Haier, G5, Jio Phone, and Mob mobile. Another area of impending investment is e-business. It is growing at an exponential pace and has a huge potential in the wake of our population size and growing trends of this segment. World’s biggest e-business players like Alibaba have shown keen interest in Pakistan’s e-commerce sector. There is no denying the fact that to capitalize the gains of emerging technologies, 5G is the key. As per a report of “Al Arabiya,” Pakistan is uniquely distinguished to be tipped as the first country in the region – even surpassing India – which will introduce 5G. This will help us provide all the encompassing advantages of a first-mover on the technology front which will become the base for the quick adoption of peripheral technologies associated with Fourth Industrial Revolution.
With these moving trends and developments, Pakistan is truly poised to become a new frontier in the field of Information Technology. The stage is set for us and wind is blowing in our favour. We have great people who can help us ride the new wave seamlessly with all competitive advantages that we have. The need is to spread positivity about these real trends because it will not only keep the budding talent inside motivated but also consolidate trust of foreigners on Pakistan’s potential for investment. In coming years Pakistan will be a hot destination for entrepreneurs and venture capitalist and will be an ideal place for technological investment in Asia.
The writer is a member of HRD at the Ministry of IT, Government of Pakistan.