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Report on Bangladesh IT Potential- March 2001

Omar Huda 
17907 Tuscan Court, Granada Hills, CA 91344 USA 
Omarhuda@aol.com 



I have just returned from a four weeks' visit to Bangladesh with the specific 
purpose of exploring IT potential in Bangladesh to undertake offshore work. 
This is a follow up of an encouraging Silicon Bangla IT (SBIT) conference at 
Santa Clara, California in November 2000. BITI, an organ of BRAC, worlds 
largest NGO, was a catalyst in helping me to have the honor of meeting with 
the IT leaders, organizations, companies and professionals. I am grateful to 
BRAC for their help. The discoveries I made here unfolded opportunities that 
I would like to pursue, albeit the obstacles. I would like to seek 
collaboration with some promising local companies I discovered. I want to 
share my experience with this report. 

REPORT ON BANGLADESH IT POTENTIAL 

Focus 

I focused on software development activities. I was not interested in the 
Transcription and Data Entry businesses that are cropping up. I did not see 
any Call Center being set up, perhaps due to lack of adequate fluent English 
speaking populace. That can and should change in the near future. I have not 
had the opportunity to read the '40 Points' of Professor Jamil Reza 
Chowdhury, nor the recommendations given by SBIT. So these are my independent 
views. 

General Business Environment 

I am impressed with the momentum that is picking up here, albeit its current 
embryonic stage. Local political, regulatory, social and commercial 
environments do not tend to prize innovation. Immature and violent political 
activities, cancerous corruption led by the government in power, and terrible 
law and order situation contribute to a hostile business environment. IT 
companies are generally led by nontechnical business entrepreneurs with 
driving ambitions, usually unsupported by sound business plans. They are 
generally scattered and unfocused; initiatives are single-handed at best. 

IT Human Resources 

I spent a lot of time with many motivated young men and women who have 
embraced IT as a profession. The focus here is on developing Programmers, and 
a whole lot of them, ignoring other essential IT disciplines such as Project 
Managers, Business and Systems Analysts, Quality Assurance and Testers. Given 
that, only about 40% of a full IT project can be completed here, that too 
after the local IT professionals have gained two to three years of hands on 
IT development work. The remaining 60%+, consisting of analysis and design 
work on the front end, and testing and QA at the back end, have to be 
completed by the client dishing out work to Bangladesh. This is not an 
economically feasible proposition for a foreign client. Also frustrating is 
the inability of the local IT organizations to retain trained talent. 

IT Training Institutions 

University level Computer Science programs provide good “theoretical” base 
and, in spite of having reasonably good computer labs, students are not given 
much hands-on projects. Internship programs for graduating students are 
almost nonexistent. The mushrooming Trade Schools all over town are producing 
at best “computer literates and power users,” not IT professionals. Most of 
them are extensions of Indian trade schools all of which combined contribute 
less than 4% of the Indian IT professionals. The curriculums do not include 
the latest technologies in demand in the North American market. Even 
university programs are slow to change their programs to the needs of the 
foreign market dynamics. 

IT Organizations 

Much of the local software companies are focused on older and cheaper 
Microsoft technologies geared for the local market. Skill set for Java 
platform (commanding highest demand abroad) is scanty. Software Development 
Life Cycle (SDLC) is generally unknown. Formal analysis and design procedures 
are not followed. Collaborative reporting mechanism with foreign clients is 
all but nonexistent (I saw some of it present at one company). There is a 
general lack of awareness on marketing concepts abroad, and little thought is 
given to seek overflow work from India. A general lack of commitment is 
evident from a common attitude that most investments in preparatory work can 
be postponed until after work is brought from abroad! 

IT Employers 

Local market for developing software is growing, particularly among financial 
institutions such as banks and insurance companies. Foreign donor funded 
projects impacting social upliftment are forthcoming. Public sector 
computerization can open up a huge market to absorb local IT talent. But no 
foreseeable plan appears imminent. 

The Government 

Government's recognition of IT efforts is evident from creation of a Computer 
Council under the Ministry of Science and Technology, and an IT Task Force 
led by the Prime Minister herself. The government can contribute a lot if it 
limits its involvement to providing tax shelters, mobilizing 
telecommunications privatization efforts, and most importantly, opening up 
public sector computerization projects. Any involvement beyond those will 
surely be the worst thing that can possibly happen to the IT "revolution" in 
Bangladesh. 

IT Infrastructure 

Just as India did, unless BTTB (the bureaucracy-laden, corrupt government 
owned telecommunications regulator and operator) is overhauled or privatized, 
there is little chance of seeing significant improvement of a very poor 
telecommunications infrastructure. Prospect of that happening is dismal in 
the near future. This is the single biggest obstacle to growth of IT in 
Bangladesh. Uncoordinated installation of Fiber Optic infrastructure by 
private enterprises within their organizations will slowly stimulate LAN and 
WAN. VSAT connectivity with Singapore hubs, currently the only means to 
access the cyber world, is both expensive and less dependable. It can only 
make the local IT efforts less competitive compared to neighboring countries. 

Here is a treat. A $135 million project is reportedly under way to connect 
Bangladesh to the information superhighway that bypassed Bangladesh in the 
90’s. The alleged story is that the superhighway was to have originally 
passed through Bangladesh. A Deputy Secretary's minute warning a "potential 
threat to national security" caused the superhighway to bypass Bangladesh! 
Also reported, the said project has good prospects because the local agents 
are offspring of people in high places! What else is new? Whatever the 
process, the end result will definitely be good. 

Conclusion 

The Indian IT success is limited to only a couple of states in the South, 
namely Karnataka and Kerala, who have enjoyed centuries of peace and have an 
ingrained cultural focus on education. Bangladesh is in no better situation 
than all of the other states that are merely catching up. Yet there is hope 
in the fact that it is an independent young democracy with drive. But real 
and significant difference can be achieved if expatriate Bangladeshi IT 
professionals volunteer to come back to their country, even periodically, and 
if the visionary, financially sound Bangladeshi business organizations are 
willing to foot the bill for them. Organizations like SBIT and Techbangla are 
great conduits for that. HTI intends to join in that effort. 


Omar Huda is President and Chief Consultant of HTI, an e-business solution 
provider and systems integrator, and an IBM Solution Developer Partner. He 
holds an MBA degree from Pepperdine University, California, USA, and is a 
certified e-commerce architect from University of California Los Angeles. A 
retired Colonel in Bangladesh Army, he served in the US Army at Hawaii in 
1980. He resides in California.


 


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