In an interview with IBEX Magazine, Asim Haque, Vice President – Country Leader Sales, shares his bit on the areas of opportunity within the local IT industry and how these should be tackled. As an ending note, Asim Haque shares advice on what should the budding entrepreneurs of today keep in mind to be able to survive, and to progress.
Please give a brief about your professional background?
I have been associated with the IT Industry for more than two-and-a-half decades. Due to this, I consider myself quite fortunate to have witnessed various ‘eras’ within the IT Industry, especially at the time of the dotcom era and the ripples it created in the local and international markets. I initially started as a developer at a local software house, so the background has been technical. However, over the span of my professional tenure, I have worked at numerous local and international companies as the lead for IT Strategy/IT Management, Sales Management, Sales Operations and Project Management. These assignments have been in Pakistan, Middle East and Asia Pacific, and thus have given me a diverse working experience that has made it possible for me to practice a style of management that accommodates and motivates groups of people from different cultures and backgrounds.
I currently look after the management of overall sales for the organization’s business within Pakistan. The portfolio of products includes all our partners, namely IBM (for hardware, storage, software solutions), ORACLE (products, solutions, services), MICROSOFT (licensing sales, delivery and implementation services), and turnkey solutions particularly of security / networking products such as CISCO amongst others.
I believe in results and that is what I drive my team with.
Please explain briefly about the operations of Infotech?
Infotech came into existence when its founder, Naseer Akhtar, who is also the CEO today, decided to wind up all existing ventures and focus on a particular kind of business in 1995. Today, Infotech holds business desks in Africa, Middle East and Singapore as well.
In addition to delivering Projects in Pakistan, a majority of Systems Integration projects that were won in Africa were funded by the World Bank. This testifies to InfoTech solid technical competency, and the ability to conform to strict compliance rules of a donor agency. Infotech is expanding swiftly in the international market. Our mission is to serve the current and future global market needs and to grow with our clients.
More recently, Infotech executed the deployment locally of the “Biometric Identification Electronic System” at the Sind IT Department.For the technology implementation, Infotech competed with various large players in the IT community here. We are also expecting the go-ahead forthe phase 2 of this Project, which would definitely be a mark of success for our Organization.
Infotech also won a coveted prize in the Financial Services Category at the APICTA Awards 2011, for its product, “Capizar” Suite of Applications. This is a complete end-to-end business solution for all capital markets of developing countries.
What’s the present situation of IT business in Pakistan?
IT, like every industry based out of Pakistan, is subject to follow a growth path influenced by the overall political state of affairs in the country. An unstable government does impact in a huge way, the foreign investment with the country. And that is where we suffer. As implementation partners of leading multinational technology vendors like Oracle, IBM and Microsoft amongst others, we often have to put in extra efforts to keep our partners on board.
With the political background stable, Pakistan’s business environment isn’t as unfriendly as it is projected. Like every other market, there are challenges that have to be dealt with. Looking at it positively, these are just gap areas that can remain challenges in the industry, or utilized opportunity areas. Tackling one such challenge effectively by utilizing it as an opportunity, Infotech pioneered the business of system integration in Pakistan. Today it stands as a market leader in several domains such as Business and Information Consulting, and has created a fairly strong, positive reputation as a Systems Integrator.
What are the major issues being faced by Info Tech and IT industry?
Simply put, technology buyers from the local industry haven’t reached a level of sophistication yet, as has the developed world. As I often quote to exemplify the lack of awareness in the market here, two organizations of about the same size and infrastructure might choose to invest in infrastructure upgrade, an amount that is reciprocal of the other. The businesses in the market haven’t matured in relation to technology purchase, and that is the single most pertinent issue facing Infotech and the IT Industry right now.
However, I think, (by the grace of God), we have a bright future ahead of us. Infotech has managed to create a lot of goodwill and brand image in the international markets. People and companies respect and appreciate us for the work we have done. All our partners are happy, so that makes us happy. So at present, InfoTech is growing, and is growing fast. Whenever I meet customer Executives, I largely hear them praising InfoTech, which is a sign of success and recognition. And we are looking forward to more good things that are yet to come. This fact leads me to hope and believe that despite the odds, InfoTech will continue to lead the system integration industry both locally and globally.
What are the main reasons that companies don’t implement latest technologies?
Enterprise technology that we implement is largely information technology that we integrate within the existing businesses of our clients to bring efficiency to their existing business processes. The largest hindrances are the non-availability of the latest technology with the organization, and the inability to justify the deployment of this latest version. The companies here do more of fire-fighting, rather than being able to define a very crisp and clear technology road map for their organization.
Infotech is the only IT Company, based out of Pakistan that has chosen to partner with Oracle Training Center to grow the number of technology experts in the country. Given that is a mark of pride for the company, I cannot say the same for the entire industry. A larger number of companies from the local industry should be partnering with Technology MNCs and Institutional bodies to build a certified resource base. This is a change I would prefer to see in the existing business set-ups of the local industry.
Which sectors are in need to implement new technologies?
I believe there is room for improvement in all sectors and areas. We, by far, have not reached a stage where we can be complacent. Although there are many companies who have deployed good solutions, there is by large, a majority of organizations who need to elevate themselves to the standards. The public sector should opt for technology implementations as vehemently as possible, to enable services which could help the citizens. On-line Citizen-centric services would not only reduce transaction costs, but also provide transparencies and eliminate corrupt practices which are normally present in manual transactions,.
As I mentioned earlier, Infotech has only recently finished phase 1 of the implementation of Biometric Electronic Identification System at the Sind IT Department. Infotech intends to follow this up with phase 2 of the implementation, and continue the initiative with an even larger number of implementations in the public sector that are to follow soon.
Which areas/industries are potential clientele for Info Tech currently and which areas are you planning to target in future?
Automation of business processes in the Public Sector is as promising for Pakistan today as it has been in other countries, primarily due to its existing state, and the size of the opportunity. Generally, automation projects executed at the state-level should give way to impressive references, which can be quoted in the international market. Infotech intends to stay committed as it considers it as an opportunity area for this decade.
What are the major issues in dealing with local clients?
Developing a vision and working persistently towards it, is what many of the local businesses lack. Given an excellent human resource, identifying a competitive edge isn’t that difficult if the focus is sustained, and the state acts as a true enabler of opportunities.
How do you compare the local market with other countries in which you are operating?
In my opinion, there is hardly any competition in the local market at present for system integrators as the buyers are not mature. Hence, the sellers are not under pressure to develop a competitive advantage. Given an excellent Human Resource base, Pakistan can compete at a global level if the state chooses to act as the true enabler.
Other countries, by virtue of being slightly mature, have already gone through these pain points, and are implementing solutions at this stage, which give rise to efficiency and profitability. Pakistani companies should learn from this experience, and not commit the same mistakes which can delay their efforts. IT should always be looked at as a business enabler, rather than just a cost center.
Who are your main competitors in the local market and how do you compare yourself with them?
As I mentioned, there are a handful of players who can offer the complete portfolio of services that InfoTech provides. Having said that, it is always a challenge to stay at the top! We are constantly striving to enhance our product portfolio, and better our services.
InfoTech is expanding swiftly on the international front as well. We handle our International Operations from Singapore which has given us leverage in dealing with the international clients that is not possible from other countries. The concept behind this global expansion is to earn our due share of the global market, which has been neglected by the Pakistani industry. Our mission is to serve to the current and future global market needs and to grow with our clients.
Is Pakistan lacking in skilled persons in IT industry?
Not really. An important point to take note of here is the fact that the field of IT is quite opportunistic to pursue as compared to others as efficiency remains the focus. That in itself is a huge incentive for young IT graduates from our country particularly those inclined towards entrepreneurship. Despite the political challenges and an unstable business environment, entrepreneurship in the field of IT has been on a rise over the last few years. NetSol, Rozee, Alchemy, Inov8, and BrightSpyre, to name a few, are relatively recent success stories of the local IT Industry that have not only set a trend in an entrepreneurship drive within the country, but also generated a pool of job opportunities.
When it comes to HR, Infotech has been quite blessed as it is one of the few companies people prefer to work with. As the company grows, the employees,which are Infotech’s source of strength,grow as well with in-house training facilities which provide the ability to test and experiment with the technologies that are ultimately deployed with the clients.
How do you see the regulatory authority? What improvements are required?
The regulatory sector, for one, needs an ovation for supporting the IT Industry as much as it has to date. P@SHA’s ICT Awards held every year in celebration of seasoned IT businesses and the newcomers, are quite an assistance to projecting the desired image of Pakistan’s IT Industry to the international media. PTA’s fact files and ongoing research studies on the level of technology development we have reached within a decade, is a huge assistance to us.
Which areas of IT industry have potential to invest in near future?
This would be cloud technology (the infrastructure) and cloud security. With client data growing at an exponential rate, hosted services are likely to take an upward swing in the near future to facilitate a professional management of the company’s information base at a fractional cost.
What would you like to advice new entrepreneurs entering into this field?
Always cash on your strengths and the market will itself open opportunities for you. While it is important to keep your eye on the prize, always stay receptive to feedback, and guard against risks and thus failures. You can’t win unless you’ve gone through the pain of a loss. That is the risk every business opportunity brings with it, which every entrepreneur must learn to muster!