Six months from now, business between Indian and Pakistani IT companies should be initialised and progressing 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 counterparts last Friday. Ganesh is Chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) National Committee on IT and 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 conference. Nandita: “very positive”, Prameela: “energised”, Rahul: “excited”, Uma: “energised but let us do it”, Humayun and Salman from Pakistan: “Let us go for it”. Cautious Harsh Manglik, Chairman of the prestigious NASSCOM, advised, “Goodwill and sincerity is there but let us take bite-sized chunks.” Pakistan’s leader of the delegation, Jehan Ara, was equally cautious and realistic, “At least 10 percent of the initiatives of what has been identified today in the conference should get off the ground within six months.”
There is no reason that one should doubt the enthusiasm of IT professionals from both sides of the divide. Perhaps the professionals who work over and above geographical, barbed-wire borders in cyber space can take the peace initiative of civil society up 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 start where there are no official barriers, which usually kill such initiatives.
According to Ganesh, India continues to occupy centre-stage even though worldwide IT spending has slipped a negative 3.3 percent and the business process outsourcing (BPO) market growth has dropped from over 12 percent in 2007 to just 2.4 percent in 2009. Ganesh Natarajan says, “In the face of a global economic slowdown, the Indian IT-BPO exports industry displayed resilience to grow by 5.5 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2010.” At present, India has 51 percent of the total sourcing market; the IT industry accounts for 25 percent of India’s exports, 10.5 percent of services revenues, it employs nearly 2.3 million professionals and employees and demand is growing at 4 percent; 70 percent of the workforce is between 18-30 years, 58 percent of the employee workforce comes from tier 2/3 cities and export growth is 5.5 percent while the domestic market is growing at a phenomenal 12 percent.
Extrapolating on $ 49 billion IT exports at present, the Indian IT industry is looking at an ambitious target of $ 175 billion in exports of IT and BPO services by 2020. Here, Ganesh is making an offer that we would be fools not to accept. “Friendly neighbours can join the party through collaborating centres,” optimist Ganesh hoped, “in three years time, Insha’Allah, the geo-political situation between the two countries will also improve.”
Now, let us take a quick look at where the Pakistan IT industry stands. According to P@sha President Jehan Ara, the Pakistani IT industry’s total size is around $ 2 billion, out of which half accounts for exports. There are 1,100 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 and the advantage of having a low average per hour rate of $ 4. Talking about the security perception, both physical and data protection, Humayun said that there are companies that 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 multinational corporations (MNCs) who are members of the Overseas Chamber came to Pakistan and not a single untoward incident happened,” he highlighted.
So where can the IT industries of both countries collaborate to begin with? As Rahul Mohod said, “Let us do the doable first or, as Amin Hashwani, who moderated the meeting is fond of saying, let us get the low-hanging fruits first.” The 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 and client relationship; Pakistan needs to build its human resource pool and upgrade its existing universities’ IT education. In this regard, India can share its best practices and assist in curriculum development; India is spending something like $ 9 billion on e-government. Pakistan also has some achievements on the ground such as the National Data Registration system, which has provided computerised identity cards to almost 90 percent of the population. This gives both an opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences and best practices. Pick up three or four universities and help them in developing an outsourcing curriculum.
To bring the two countries together, a lot of emphasis was given to 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 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 countries and can also be used for human resource development.
Some enthusiastic Indian participants think that the IT industry should avoid geography and “work in the clouds collaboratively”. IT delegations from both sides have dreams of employing the technology at their command and creating an “every person land” at Wagah border where students and families from both 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, a road show of students to many cities in both countries is being organised on a reciprocal basis. But wait a minute, 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. The establishment on both sides should look at increased business between the IT industries of both countries as trade. One thing is for sure: in this trade of services, the balance of trade will be in favour of Pakistan as the Indian IT industry has lots of business to pass on. They are already giving business to Bangladesh, Philippines, Sri Lanka and China. Then why are we hanging in mid-air?