IT industry woes -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

IT industry woes

Muhammad Shehryar Khakwani

THERE’S never been a dull moment when visiting California, and as a delegate attending a technology conference, I was reminded of this once again — at least one good thing hadn’t changed in a world of seemingly perpetual decline.

But one thing had — there was a lot of talk of ‘on-shoring’ jobs; bringing IT jobs back to America. The race to harness human potential and realise cost-savings by setting up software centres around the world is slowing down.

Stubborn high unemployment numbers and gloomy world economic factors in the West are causing a rethink about whether to ship jobs overseas or create employment at home. The Indian commerce and industry minister met his counterpart in America to focus on the decline of H1 visas issued to Indians lately. This is but natural — one reaches for potential and expands horizons overseas when the situation is not dire at home.

This places a damper on our budding IT industry as it struggles to compete and provide services globally on a much scaled-down version of India or other Asian and East European countries. The situation necessitates that our government take some much-needed action. A passive attitude, or worse, inaction will leave the industry in a hopeless position.

A few years ago, I had written that the Ministry of Education work hand-in-hand with the information technology ministry to create the curriculum and skills needed for the information age. Today, one is equally convinced that in addition to the education ministry unlocking the potential in information technology we will need the commerce ministry to play an active and vital role.

If we are to develop information technology as an industry, and be a part of the globe’s future, we must formulate a comprehensive strategy to foster growth. This can no longer rely solely on policies aimed at attracting foreign investment which exploit our human talent and leave us with a mere information technology infrastructure.

It is essential to stimulate growth by channelling domestic business opportunities into local software firms.

This is precisely what the West did when it started out. Businesses realised the role technology can play in streamlining processes, and provide management with the data and control for making the right decisions.

This fostered a culture of businesses and commercial enterprises supporting research and development at universities, and employing university graduates to give rise to a new age. It was the spillover of this rapid rise which turned towards human resources overseas.

This is a defining moment. We must create an impetus for local demand, so that we can develop without being dependent on others farming out work to us. By taking this step, we are not only going to help businesses locally, we will help our IT industry mature. The potential is virtually untapped, but it needs support and a big push from local businesses.

Government can provide the right incentives, but it must first recognise that education and commerce must come together to support information industry. This is similar to planting a seed — a lot of care and nurturing is required before it becomes a tree which bears fruit.