PAKISTAN - Telecoms & IT
Managing Director, Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB)
Osman is a technology strategist with experience in leading global partnerships. He is currently leading the national organization responsible to increase Pakistan’s technology export from US$1.4 Billion in FY2020 to US$10 Billion by FY2025. He has led multiple product development successes, leading from the ideation phase to market research, product creation and partnerships, creating sales channels globally, and managing sales in multiple countries. He has developed his expertise around the confluence of 4th Industrial Revolution technologies including blockchain, cloud transformations, and the Internet of Things. He has architected multiple corporate restructurings and has led corporate expansions across Australia, New Zealand, and multiple countries in the Asia Pacific region. He holds degrees in Engineering with a Telecom major from Pakistan and MBA in International Business from Cardiff Business School, UK.
TBY talks to Osman Nasir, Managing Director of Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB), about the PSEB mandate, technology in Pakistan, and priorities for 2022.
What is the mandate of PSEB?
PSEB reports to the Ministry of IT. Started in 1996, its initial focus was to increase the country’s software exports; however, now we have expanded from software into other technologies. We focus on activities on the supply and demand side. India has USD140 billion in exports, Philippines has USD70 billion. There is surely demand in our region—we needed a value creating supply side to match that demand. On the supply side, our strategic deliverable is human resource development, namely training, upskilling of companies, certifications of tech companies, and their capacity building through employee upskilling. Then, on the infrastructure side, we are creating technology parks in the country. We are developing around 25 technology parks all across Pakistan under one program. Under another, through CAPEX funding, we are adding another eight across the country. When I joined PSEB, we had 13 software technology parks, and now we have more than 25, with 40-plus being the end goal. We also help cloud companies to come to Pakistan by working to improve the ease of doing business and lower the costs of doing business. For the ease of doing business, PSEB ensures that the interfaces with the government are reduced. We have a one-window operation for many tech companies. On cost of doing business, we have worked with the Federal Taxation Board to help companies with taxation legislation. On the supply side, we help gain access to capital from financial institutions, and help tech companies to get listed on Pakistan Stock Exchange.. Then on the demand side, we work with companies to create a marketing plan and bring them to exhibitions and trade delegations globally via subsidies.. We create marketing collateral, branding activities, and we help guide our tech companies to build their own collateral and execute their brand building activities.. On the business development side, we engage with the more than 8 million Pakistanis who work all over the world helping them in becoming business development partners for Pakistan’s tech companies, through our program Tech Leads, for example. We do also direct business development for our tech companies in our top export destination countries. On the third part on the demand side is our state-led initiatives. We work with the commerce and foreign ministries of the country to sign trade deals with countries and global trade organisations. This is a complete picture of what PSEB does on the supply and demand sides.
What is your assessment of the developments in the last few years, especially with regards to the scale of digitalization in the private sector?
Over the past two years, COVID-19 has become a proponent for cloudification. The impact on the physical supply chain of computing resources rapidly shifted corporates toward the migration to cloud.. The requirement of technology professionals, tools and data platforms became real suddenly. Something that would have taken five years took place in five months, this has increased the demand of rapid digitization globally, and Pakistan’s IT industry has benefited significantly. The same has happened locally, over the past few years Pakistan has taken strides in digital readiness through digitization of government services, banking platforms, fintech, e-commerce, e-health platforms, and e-education. One such example is PSEB’s recent initiative to connect its freelancers’ and company registration platform to the national citizen registration authority (NADRA), the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), and the Federal Board of Revenues’ Platform. All that interconnection occurred over a week’s time. Because over the past few years, these systems have been developed using open API stacks, were able to interconnect with three other department in no time, cutting layers of red tapes and significantly reducing compliance time across all aspects of business throughout the country. We are able to have data flow from one organization to other, make payments, or allow transactions.
What distinguishes Pakistan’s software industry from other countries?
Every country has their own feature sets. In Pakistan, there are many unstructured sectors including freelancers, which are now responsible for more than 18% of country’s IT exports. That is an important sector, and we are working to assist these freelancers through subsidies, and infrastructural, financial and commercial facilitation. PSEB has created a national policy document of facilitating freelancers that has gone to federal cabinet for formal adoption. Then, there is the organized sector, which has around 26,000 IT companies in Pakistan. Of those, 17,900 are registered with SECP, while the rest are registered as partnerships, and Associations of Persons. Approximately 8,000 of these companies are officially engaged in exporting products and services from the country. These are the companies that are generating a large amount of wealth, remitting back around USD2.1 billion in 2021 through the formal banking channels to Pakistan. In 2022, they are expected to bring around USD3 billion. These two areas are where we will focus on. Pakistani companies are moving upwards the technology ladder, due to their relative smaller size compared to their Indian counterparts which allows our companies to remain flexible, and robust our companies have formulated the strategy to deliver specialized and higher margin products and services, while our freelancers are focused on delivering entry level projects.
What are your priorities for the rest of 2022?
Our top priority is the ease and cost of doing business. We also want taxation for the tech sector to be exempted or lowered, because tech sector is 78% trade surplus. The amount of money the sector brings in is helping to bridge the Current Account Deficit of the country. We want to incentivize more people to enter this industry and make it less complex for them to do so.. This also encourages many international companies to come to Pakistan. The piece of puzzle we are trying to solve is the ensuring the constant, and cost-effective supply of human resources. Growth in IT exports went from USD1.4 billion in 2019/2020 to USD2.1 billion in 2021. In 2022, we expect another 40-50% rate of growth. Growth has outstripped the supply of trained human resources globally, and we too are working on solving this issue. Another focus area is the perception of the country because we want to encourage business to come to the country. A great deal of activity now will be focused on building up the brand and image of Pakistan and our tech industry. These will be our team’s focuses over the next 12 months.
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