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17 September, 2017 00:00 00 AM
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Software industry ready to soar

Sharif Ahmed
Software industry ready to soar

Tax benefits, government policy, and infrastructure make the software industry of Bangladesh a promising export sector. Currently, Bangladesh exports software to 30 countries, earning around $191 million in the 2016-17.

A joint research done by the Bangladesh Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JAICA) found that software was a very promising export item in Bangladesh.

According to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), Bangladesh exported computer services and software to the tune of $191 million to 30 countries in the financial year 2016-17. The size of the local software market is around $500 million.

Industry experts say government policy support and capacity building are the key reasons behind a 25.76 per cent jump over last year’s $151.83 million.

Talking to The Independent, Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) Mustafa Jabbar said, “We used to export approximately $26 million in 2008, but the amount reached $191 million in 2017.”

Tax benefits, government policy support, infrastructure development, and lesser brain drain were the main factors behind a dramatic 26 per cent growth last year, a goal BASIS had been working for this since 1997, Jabbar said. Challenges ahead

Explaining the challenges, he said lack of skilled manpower in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector was the biggest challenge at present.

 Mustafa Jabbar spoke of another problem: “We don’t have sufficient educational institution or labs to teach ICT and training programmes for ICT professional and students.”

“This year, we are getting a 10 per cent tax incentive on the export of software products. This will certainly help achieve the target of Digital Bangladesh in Vision 2021,” he said.

Mustafa Jabbar suggested the inclusion of computer coding in primary educational, tax benefits till 2024, and infrastructure development of digital platforms.

“A skilled workforce is the raw material of this industry. So, we need to create more skilled IT professionals to increase the demand of the local market and industry,” he pointed out.

Bdjobs.com chairman and owner of Ajkerdeal.com Fahim Mashroor told The Independent that three problems were slowing down the industry.

The first among them, the lack of experienced manpower and skilled IT experts, was the prime hindrance to the industry’s progress.

The second, he said, was the framing of government policy, which helps foreign companies dominate the local market over local companies. So, the policy had to be changed or reformed, he felt.

The third problem, according to him, was the difficulty in making the Internet accessible at the grass-roots level.

Export growth

When asked about the export growth of the software industry, he said: “In the financial year 2016-17, exports were worth approximately $190 million dollars and the growth was 20 per cent”.

He added: “The export growth rate is 20 to 30 per cent every year, but we need 100–150 per cent growth to achieve the target of Vision 2021 set by the government.”

Bangladesh’s current software exports were to the United States, Europe and Japan, he said.

 Bdjobs.com chairman said, according to information provided by BASIS, approximately 975 software companies were registered with it and the demand in the local markets was worth approximately Tk 4 to 5 thousand crore. Out of that, foreign companies controlled 70–80 per cent of the market share.

The rest 20 per cent demand was being met by local companies, he added.

According to the BASIS Institute of Technology and Management (BITM), around 4,000 to 5,000 people were being trained under a regular BITM programme.

Owner of Ajkerdeal.com stressed the importance of the country’s primary education system. “Coding should be included in the primary level of our educational system to develop more potential coders.”

He said the government’s decision to provide 10 per cent cash incentives for software product exports would certainly help expand the software market internationally.

Every year, Bangladesh imported software products worth about Tk 3,000 crore, he said.

According to Mashroor, three types of software companies were currently

operating: local software companies, foreign software companies, and companies that outsourced work from Bangladesh.

Business Development Manager of DataSoft Abdullah-Al-Mamun told The Independent that his company

exported software to countries such as the UK, the Netherlands, Japan, India and Nepal.

 Asked about the industry’s potential, he said, “The local software market is still untapped. So we have ample opportunity to explore and saturate the market.”

Elaborating on the challenges faced by this sector, he said, “Some of the challenges we need to overcome are insufficient research labs for innovative work, most of the outsourced work done here are at the lower-end of the pyramid, inadequate software training institutes, and unaffordable Internet charges.”

About the steps that needed, he said: “We must develop the Business-to-Business (B2B) strategy channel, so that more quality work can be done in future.”

 “DataSoft has its own research lab in collaboration with the ICT division where we handle complex experiments such as Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, and artificial intelligence” he added.

Employment prospects

When asked about the employment scenario by 2021, president of the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh Razib Ahmed told The Independent “There is no widely available data on it, but I think that the target for 2021 is to generate at least half a million jobs in this sector.”

He also said more than 900 member companies were registered with BASIS, but not all were software companies.

Explaining the most positive aspect of the software industry, he said, “The industry has reached a mature stage. We have been able to take it to a stage from where it can really become a billion dollar industry and generate

thousands of jobs within the next

few years.”

When asked about the public training institutions, he said, Bangladesh has been offering many types of training for this industry over the past two decades. Currently, BASIS, with the support of the government, was conducting certain training programs.

About the challenges and opportunities in software industry, the e-CAB president said: “With the positive attitude and support of the present government, the sky can literally be the limit for the software industry in Bangladesh.”

 However, the main drawback was lack of skilled manpower. IT being a 100 per cent knowledge-based industry, there could be no doubt about its need for skilled personnel, he said.

 Regarding investments, he said, “We have to invest on improving the level and quality of education of our country. This single step alone can change everything. We all realize the potential of our software industry but in order to achieve success, we need enough skilled professionals who can deliver.”

Expressing his views on tax benefits, Razib Ahmed said, “The tax benefit for the IT industry is not inadequate. However, the government must ensure that this benefit can be enjoyed by the IT companies without bureaucratic hassles or red tape.”

 “We have to see 2021 as the beginning of something and not as the end of an era. The target should be to generate at least 500,000 jobs and 1 billion US dollar of export revenue” he added.

 “Actually, I prefer to build a solid foundation for the industry instead of achieving any target.

I would again like to point out that we must invest heavily on developing a skilled workforce in this sector,” stressed the e-CAB president.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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