IT is it!

Santosh works for one of the Big Six: a term used for the top six consulting firms in the field of Business and Technology. His services are offered to the Fortune 500 companies at the exorbitant price of $150 an hour or more. His resume is not presented to the customer for the position for which he is sent; he just shows up at the customer site and starts to do his work. The object is to fill a slot in the staffing requirements for the project.

He is not very well qualified for the position but that is not a concern in this industry anymore, especially in the large projects good hands do the job, the mediocre only learn and help out until they too become good hands. The demand for IT professional is so severe that as long as Santosh survives the project by meeting the bottom line, everything is fine.

Indeed, a large number of Indian IT professionals now in the United States are doing very well in meeting the bottom line. With just enough education and experience, they fulfill the demand well, and at the same time earn very valuable foreign exchange for their country. The political and cultural clout, which comes with this kind of professional population, is an unintended but welcome bonus. No wonder Pakistan caucus in the US Congress is shrinking, and the Indian caucus has swelled to 146 members.

The implication here is not that India produces substandard IT professionals. Indians are one of the most successful professional communities in the United States and elsewhere. However, what impresses most about the Indian connection to the IT industry is the business acumen by which so often many small Indian firms have prospered into big ones by providing countless individuals for IT jobs and reaping great financial rewards in return. Heavy-duty marketing, starting with low margins and generally secular outlook on life of the Indian professionals have produced bonanza of a business for the Indians.

Not only has India sent abroad so many of her sons and daughters who earn a huge sum of foreign exchange, an Indian Silicon Valley is taking shape in the southwest of India as well. A large number of IT professionals in India is being employed by the local and foreign firms to fill the ever increasing staffing requirements in IT and related fields.

How remarkable is this phenomenon can be judged from the staggering numbers associated with this success story. For many years now, India’s software services industry has been growing at an astonishing annual clip of 55-60 per cent. Expressed in dollars, the annual revenue, which stands $6.0 billion today, is likely to reach $50 billion by year 2007-08.

That brings us to Pakistan.

It is easy to lecture Pakistan and suggest a very obvious emulation of the Indian experience. But what India has accomplished did not happen, either by design alone, or through sheer luck, rather by a combination of the two. The luck part is very relevant here because luck knocks on your door if you are home. In other words: be at the right place at the right time.

India has given great importance to education in general and the technical education in particular. Only a few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a book show in Lahore where some Indian technical books were on display. It was an eye-opening experience indeed. From Mathematics to Electrical Engineering, from Metallurgy to Physics, there were books for up to the doctorate level classes all written by the Indian academics.

The good news is that by all indications, Pakistanis are already making a mark and the estimates are that for this fiscal year, Pakistans own IT services exports are likely to surpass $250m. Not an impressive figure compared to India, but significant nevertheless for a late starter.

Without over-emphasizing the significance of IT industry and its potential, its place and promise must be understood. With a large number of very well qualified individuals, there is every reason for Pakistan to stake her share in the global market for IT services.

The key to our future success lies with our immediate attention to the dismal standard of education in Pakistan. In addition to setting up a science and technology ministry, the government should have launched a serious campaign to educate the masses as well. In fact, the latter is more important than setting up the ministry. A higher literacy rate will not only help in producing more professionals to churn out Java code; overall quality of life in the country will rise too.

Furthermore, Pakistan can duplicate the Indian success by being smart. Quality has no substitute. What Indians lack, by and large, in their product sent to the West is quality. However she wins the numbers game, which matters the most. Given insatiable demand for IT professionals, Pakistan can produce comparative numbers but it will be a difficult sell where India already has a foothold. As they say, there is always a room at the top; Pakistan can outdo in fact out-IT India, if she provides better professionals for the same rate.

Expatriates in the United States can play a pivotal role in making the Pakistani IT professionals a commodity in demand. The most important aspect of managing IT recruitment here in the US is that by itself, it is not technical in nature. Those Indian outfits which offer professionals to fill highly technical positions are themselves not very IT-savvy. Down to earth hard work and sharp selling skills have landed these outfits some lucrative opportunities. Pakistanis with good marketing and management skills should be able to make great inroads into the market. Often three or four individuals can pool resources and time no silent partners and start such a business. There is a basic reality of business in the modern times and more so in the IT field, and that is profit sharing. Those companies which start with a core group, giving each a stake in the outcome, often achieve rapid growth and provide stable working environment.

A common complaint from some Indian and Pakistani firms is mistreatment of their people. Non payment or under-payment of salaries and no benefits is a common problem, or in many cases, outright lack of basic ethics of good business. If such shortcomings are overcome, everyone the customer, the company and the IT professionals will win and win handsomely.

Besides the traditional body-shop business in IT there are other avenues which are more lucrative but require a little more hard work and investment. As the world is fast becoming a global village, more and more international businesses are likely to emerge and do business in Pakistan and other countries. There will be surging need for 24×7 Data Centers, Customer Service Centers, Help Desks, Web hosting sites, etc. Being an English-speaking nation, in addition to Urdu and other regional languages, Pakistan is in an ideal position to become an IT Mecca of the region.

Two non-related factors which will affect Pakistans rise as a progressive and front-runner in the IT business are our internal political situation and the conflict with India over Kashmir. What is happening in Afghanistan should be bundled with the internal situation for all practical purposes.

Central Asia can be Pakistans United States in terms of business prospects if we bring peace to Afghanistan and turn it into a modern progressive state instead of allegedly Islamic state it claims to be. What Taliban practice is their medieval culture and not Islam; make no mistake about it. Similarly, the simmering Kashmir conflict will never allow Pakistan to move ahead and assert her destiny. Without giving up claim over the valley, and without ending support for the freedom movement, we should tone down the rhetoric and out of control militancy.

When all is said and done, a nation of 130 million people cannot be deterred from its place under the sun. We can keep on blaming a hostile world for our problems but that is only an excuse to shirk working for a prosperous tomorrow which demands some harsh decisions and of course: hard work.

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