2013 has been an eventful year globally for the IT industry with newer, better and more progressive technological advancements taking place. Big Data was the buzz word in the IT sector all across with companies now focusing on how to create an online environment robust enough to actually move businesses from legacy IT data storage infrastructure to a 24/7 and always available online solution. Mobile manufacturers were ahead of the game and have now packed the newer smart phones with power equivalent to a desktop computer, in the palm of your hands.

Pakistan, in 2013, remained where it was in 2012, mostly. First of all we got ourselves a new IT Minister, Ms. Anusha Rahman and a new PTA chairman, Dr. Suleman Shah. A lot is expected from Mr. Shah as his reputation and qualification for a person in this position is perfect. We can all hope that he is able to bypass the government red tape and finally at least able to auction 3G licenses. The software exports fromPakistangrew by 22% over 2012 and now stand at $333 million. It is encouraging, given that economic and security conditions of the country in recent years have been in shambles. The Ministry of IT has set a target to boost up the software exports to $1.2 billion by 2018 and all I can say is “Good Luck!!”

2013 was also the election year where the voters actually started using technology to not only promote their favorite parties and candidates but also used NADRA’s voter registration and voting area query system extensively. NADRA has done an amazing job by putting up all the voter lists in their servers, accessible through a simple text message. The downside of this system was the lack of foresightedness by NADRA to scale up the system in order to match up the queries coming in. Over 55 million text messages were sent to NADRA during the election days, which in itself is a record. However, due to inefficient tech resources, the responses from NADRA servers were delayed from 5 minutes to 5 hours. Having said that, this was something totally new to the people ofPakistanbut it was embraced and welcomed in all segments of society. NADRA has also indicated that it will introduce e-voting system in the next elections for more transparent and traceable voting system. It would be amazing to see how it gets passed through the “jageerdarana” political system but if it does then it will be a blessing for this country.

The IT industry did not have very much to show, as usual, in 2013 as well and that is primarily due to non-existent IT policy. Independent organizations like P@SHA (Pakistan Software Houses Association) have done amazingly well in attracting foreign investors and by promotingPakistan’s IT and software industry aboard. Recently, Pakistani software houses won 4 silver medals at APTICA (Asia Pacific ICT Awards) 2013, held inHong Kong. P@SHA has also established strong partnerships with not only national but also international companies like Google, which has not only helped P@SHA but also have extended a helping hand towards the Government of Pakistan for any IT assistance. It is however another story that Youtube.com is still blocked inPakistansince September 2011. The continued lack of attention by previous and existing Government shows that this industry is only important for our politicians to mention in their speeches and to inaugurate projects which never take off.

While talking about the software houses, the most prominent and promising start-up was Eyedeus Labs. A spin-off from LUMS School of Computer Sciences and brain child of 5 students who developed a mobile application called Groopic for Apple’s iOS. This application allows two pictures to be overlaid to create a single picture which actually gives the photographer a chance to be part of the photo he/she is taking. The company and its application received an overwhelming response and were immediately picked up by Google Inc. for Google’s Entrepreneurs partner program. It was also highlighted in international media and received its own coverage on cnn.com. This is the only startup inPakistanbut one of many which are doing amazingly well. One other startup is Frag Games, aLahorebased startup focused on creating mobile based MMORPG (Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Game) and their first game is expected to be out in App Store and Google Play by the time you read this article.

With all the positive growth and optimistic outlook in 2013, this year was also termed as the most damaging for the cyber community. With almost all major banks, government ministries and multinational companies’ web sites hacked and defaced, the IT industry had a rude awakening to face the reality of data protection and online properties. What I actually wonder is why companies are always insistent on hosting their websites on their own servers and premises whereas better protected solutions like Amazon Web Services or multiple other top web hosting solutions are available. Any company can host their general information for customers on these servers and keep the rest on local intranet servers without access from the Internet. Then again, for majority of companies, including leading telecom operators, spending on IT is deemed as an extra expense rather than necessity.

One of the most significant progresses made in this year was the evolution of mobile banking. With most commercial banks now offering mobile banking in SMS and web based form. With no 3G available inPakistanas yet, the mobile banking applications offered by the banks has enabled customers to make transactions on the go with the convenience of security and peace of mind. Branchless money transfer is already a multibillion rupee industry inPakistan, thanks to the Telecom sector.

The outgoing 2013 was also very much significant in the explosive growth of smart phones and tablets due to local brands like Q-Mobile, G5 and Voice mobile. Also due to very high broadband penetration, now users are well aware of what is latest in technology. This has resulted in a healthier market adoption of newer and better technology. Prices have been continuously going down and now a decent dual core android smart phone is as low as Rs.8,000. Once 3G is launched in 2014, the smart phones and tablets market with grow exponentially, which will also result in the growth of IT services.

As far as the growth of IT industry in 2014 is concerned, it will start going into a limbo if the Government did not formulate a strategy to support it. A few years back P@SHA initiated formulation of IT policy which was never updated. There are no cyber laws inPakistanwhich has resulted in a spike in the cyber crimes. We need to have a clear cut road map laid out for the industry because every IT company and professional is trying to do their part for the progression of this industry but without consolidation and support from the Government, it can only go to an extent. We have an excellent example of NADRA being the forefront of exporting IT expertise and services to other countries but there is little or no support for the industry collectively. Computer hardware and data services are now taxed at 19.5% in Sindh and KPK provinces this resulting in businesses losing out on their margins. It has been said time and time again that if we want to create a world class IT industry then the support from the Government need to be at the highest level. More sectors such as Healthcare & Education can benefit immensely from the growth of IT industry by introducing cloud based centralized services, which require a very small amount of investment but can reap way higher benefits. I just hope that this time next year when you are reading any other article about the IT industry in that year, you should be pleased to read that Government has formulated and implemented not only a industry friendly but consumer oriented policy which enabled the IT industry to leapfrog its progress into the league of top IT industries globally.

The writer is an IT and Telecom professional with over a decade of experience in national and multinational companies. He is also a freelance technology blogger and one of the founding members of Pakistan's premier technology blog wccftech.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NerdEinstein"

BLURBS

It is however another story that Youtube.com is still blocked in Pakistan since September 2011. The continued lack of attention by previous and existing Government shows that this industry is only important for our politicians to mention in their speeches and to inaugurate projects which never take off.

A spin-off from LUMS School of Computer Sciences and brain child of 5 students who developed a mobile application called Groopic for Apple’s iOS. This application allows two pictures to be overlaid to create a single picture which actually gives the photographer a chance to be part of the photo he/she is taking.

 

With all the positive growth and optimistic outlook in 2013, this year was also termed as the most damaging for the cyber community. With almost all major banks, government ministries and multinational companies’ web sites hacked and defaced, the IT industry had a rude awakening to face the reality of data protection and online properties