The government has set a target of 500 crores or 5 billion USD in export earnings by 2025 in the information technology sector. However, the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services BASIS believes that not only 5 billion dollars, but 20 billion dollars in export earnings from this sector by 2031 is possible. It will be possible only if the three stakeholders – Government, Industry and Academia – work together. The tasks are research and development of the information technology sector, industry branding at home and abroad, and the creation of necessary skilled manpower.
The year 2025 is not far away, the day after tomorrow. The year 2031 or 2041 is not too far away. There are many possibilities ahead of us. Let us not miss that opportunity. BASIS, the national trade organization of the information and communication technology sector, is presenting Bangladesh’s capabilities, potential and innovation in information technology to the world. Our software dependency is increasing every day. There is no substitute for software in building a smart Bangladesh. It is expected that BASIS members will contribute the most in this regard. BASIS mentioned it would secure opportunities for research and development, government support and industry to generate $5 billion to $20 billion. All three sectors should come under one umbrella. In this case, there is an opportunity to work in detail in the future.
BASIS has worked on the digitization of the National Parliament including e-filing, and question-and-answer sessions. Four pillars namely Smart Citizen, Smart Society, Smart Economy and Smart Government have been defined to build a Smart Bangladesh by 2041, BASIS can also play a leading role in that regard. In this case, all necessary benefits from the government will continue. This is everyone’s expectation.
We are talking about the decentralization of exports. In this case, the information technology sector is the only sector, where 100% valuation is possible only through merit. We have to work in two areas, one is the preservation of intellectual property and the other is the modernization of the education system. Five organizations in the ICT sector, including BASIS, need to act now to extend the tax-free period enjoyed by the IT sector till 2024.ICT has now become one of the industry sectors. 2 million people have been employed. The IT sector currently exports $1.4 million, and the government and BASIS are working together to increase it to $5 billion by 2025. 10 percent cash incentive is being given to encourage exports.
There are various steps taken by the ICT department to create a bridge between the university and the industry. Coding is taught from scratch to create problem solvers. A number of BASIS member companies are working on developing AI and microchips to meet overseas needs. The success of Smart Bangladesh will depend on the success of BASIS.
The world is now on the brink of the fourth industrial revolution. Bangladesh also has to advance in the journey of advanced technology including Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and Metaverse. IT job fairs and career camps, matchmaking sessions, freelancing conferences, and startup conferences are being organized to find skilled manpower and jobs in IT. Our software sector has become promising. It works with the expectation that five billion dollars worth of software will be exported by 2021. But due to Covid, we have to go through many ups and downs. This target is expected to be achieved by 2025. But work is underway to determine from which sub-sector of the software sector these five billion dollars will come. We are second in the world in freelancing and we also have the benefit of demographic benefits or the demographic dividend ahead of us.
Currently, a good number of IT-related graduates from the country’s universities are entering the job market every year. Research is ongoing, albeit on a limited scale. The announcement of industry-education collaboration from the software industry is a matter of hope. But what kind of cooperation will be in the context of our country, has to be carefully determined. We also have limitations in both the education sector and the industrial sector of the country.
What is the analysis of why we have not been able to achieve the target of five billion dollars by 2021? From there, we have to work on what initiatives can be taken so that all the problems of 2025 are not repeated with education. By setting a target for 2025, it is now time to think about why that target can be achieved immediately.
BASIS In Bangladesh, the information technology sector is not doing well. We have a lot to do. Those things must be done. We have to see what could not be done in digital Bangladesh. Those works should be done in Smart Bangladesh. The BASIS is concerned and the government should pay more attention to this. Our software sector is very promising. A five-billion-dollar export revenue is realistically possible within a few years. But for that proper and logical analysis and government support is necessary. 20-billion-dollar export revenue is possible by 2031. However, how it is calculated, it is necessary to be ahead of how much will come from different sectors in software. If that is the case, it will be possible to determine what we have to do to achieve the target in which sector.
According to the data provided by the Export Development Bureau, the exports of computer services or software, data processing, and consulting sector were 276, 303 and 592 million dollars respectively in three consecutive financial years. Note that some of the software sector data do not come up as Export Development Bureau.
Based on some unofficial data, it is said that we currently export $1.4 billion annually from the software sector. In addition to the government, the BASIS president talked about industry-academia collaboration. Most models of industry-academia collaboration are characterized by first identifying what problems the industry is facing that cannot be solved conventionally; then the nature of the problem. According to academic research, constantly taking feedback from the industry and trying to arrive at solutions.
On the one hand, academia’s slow-moving culture, on the other hand, the obligation to work according to industry deadlines, or the tendency to withdraw investments in a short period of time, are obstacles to this process. Academia has shown reluctance to regularly update its curriculum to keep up with the times. He clings to the old curriculum without accepting the challenge of constantly learning new technologies. In that case, the knowledge acquired by the students becomes useless in the industry.
Others think that this collaboration means that the educational institutions will produce graduates who are proficient in the technology that the industry works with and send it to the industry. The job of educational institutions, especially universities, is not to produce workers for industries. The university will build the foundation of students, and provide basic knowledge. The university will prepare the student with water so that when the student is placed in the container, he can take the shape of the container. The task of the industry will be to make the newly graduated students fit for the industry by giving them the necessary training and education.
Currently, a good number of IT-related graduates from the country’s universities are entering the job market every year. Research is ongoing, albeit on a limited scale. The announcement of industry-education collaboration from the software industry is a matter of hope. But what kind of cooperation will be in the context of our country, has to be carefully determined. There are limitations in both the education sector and the industrial sector of our country. Along the way, they constantly have to stumble along the way. But at the same time, it should be remembered that stumbling along the path does not mean that you have to leave the right path and start walking in the wrong direction.
Our software sector is growing. Although the import of software in the country is increasing, the trend of using native software in various public and private institutions is also increasing. Especially in this sector, significant progress has been seen in the banking sector. Earlier, commercial banks of the country used exclusive foreign software, but now almost all banks are using eight types of domestic software. Sector stakeholders are positively seeing the increase in the use of indigenous software in the banking sector. Besides, they are of the opinion that the entire banking sector should be managed by native software. However, some banks say that the indigenous software has not gained their full confidence yet.
However, they are also optimistic about the progress of the country’s software sector, one day the banking sector will be managed by domestic software. The information on the increase in the use of domestic software in the banking sector is very positive. The use of indigenous software in banks will give confidence to others to use indigenous software as well. The use of foreign software in the financial sector remains a risk of data smuggling. There is no guarantee that they will ever introduce malware or steal information. The increasing use of indigenous software in the banking sector is great news for the industry. This is a very positive aspect and the banking sector is a big software market in the country.
Increased use of domestic software in the financial sector like banks will also increase confidence among other buyers in the domestic market. We are hopeful that the banks which are using foreign software now will also use domestic software to save costs. According to the information of Bangladesh Bank, it is using eight types of domestic software including core banking. The use of indigenous software is gradually increasing in the banking sector.
Earlier, fewer banks used indigenous software. The trend of using native software is increasing due to the directives of the Ministry of Finance and various initiatives of Bangladesh Bank. According to BASIS leaders, almost all banks are using small indigenous software. The number of banks using indigenous core banking software is also increasing day by day. According to BASIS, the demand for software in the country is about one billion dollars.
Export income from the software sector is also about one billion dollars. However, imports have also increased along with exports. Software imports have increased six times in the last four years. All in all, for a long time, BASIS has been demanding the use of indigenous software in government purchases including banks. It is now possible to manage entire banking activities with native software. At present banks are using indigenous software like iStellar, agent banking, RTGS. Resources Limited, another software maker, said that most banks are importing core banking software from abroad. Local support is not always available for native software either. However, as the country’s software sector is improving, it is expected that we will be able to use domestic software completely.
Hiren Pandit is a columnist
and a researcher.