IT is good to hear that the government has decided in principle to formulate an information and telecommunications policy soon. An Information Communication Technology Act has already been drafted and awaits enactment early next year.
Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Barrister Moudud Ahmed told a seminar recently the law would be presented at the parliament soon as a bill for enactment and immediate implementation. The law has been delayed for two years for several reasons including a translation problem. However, it has been finally drafted fully by the law commission..
The Act is expected to facilitate the information technology (IT) practitioners and users and at the same time it will regulate them. Without an ICT law, e-commerce and e-transaction will be hampered in Bangladesh. Even without a digital signature recognising system and proper law, e-commerce will not flourish in the country.
India and other developed countries have improved a lot in IT sector. Bangladesh should follow their models and also their cyber laws. However, in the perspective of Bangladesh, law should cover e-transactions, e-payment, different forms of cyber crime, data protection, and intellectual property like copyrights, trademarks and patents, public key infrastructure and switched network for banks. According to the e-governance readiness index, Bangladesh ranked 6th among the seven SAARC countries and in the global ranking, it was 159th last year.
Meanwhile, software exposition styled 'BASIS Softexpo 2005' concluded in the city recently with entrepreneurs from home and abroad displaying their hi-tech products. Science and ICT Minister Abdul Moyeen Khan inaugurated the gala software fair where foreign investors showed their interest in investing in the sector in Bangladesh for boosting the country's software export. Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) has organised the exhibition with GrameenPhone, country's leading mobile company, being the major sponsor of the show.
The event has brought together key people from ICT companies, personalities, policymakers, industry leaders, professionals and other ICT stakeholders of the society. Bangladesh is selling software products made by its skilled professionals to around 20 countries of the world, including the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia, despite lack of resources.
The ICT minister told the inaugural ceremony of the fair that Bangladesh secured its position among top 20 outsourcing countries in the world, rising from bottom end four years ago. Nowadays, the IT and communication are getting converged gradually and no country, without enhancing its IT sector, will be able to keep pace with the developed countries. He noted that the country needed to elevate its basic infrastructures in order to enhance its information technology sector which claimed some minimum requirement in terms of money and urged the donors to invest in the country's IT industry.
Denmark and Bangladesh have signed a five-year agreement where Denmark will provide 1.0 billion dollars in developing the rural sector, sanitary system of Bangladesh. But the country has shown a great of interest in joint venture initiative in IT sector. Denmark is the only country which took part in last year's fair and this year's too with a large delegation. It has already signed a number of agreements with local software companies on outsourcing. The country pledged to render allout cooperation in IT sector.
The BASIS, with the support of the South Asia Enterprise Development Facility, has published a Software Product Catalogue 2006 for showcasing the local products in a single volume. The software exhibited at the fair dealt mainly with accounting and payroll, integrated business application and ERP, garments, textile, POS, sales, inventory, e-commerce and web portal, web development services, banking, leasing and insurance, utility, billing, data and telecommunications, animation and multimedia, education and health management system, e-governance and customised software development.
Animation software companies got good response from the foreign gaming and animation companies, who came to the fair looking for outsource partners. Besides the software companies, various IT systems and solutions companies also got positive response for their products.
Software industry is one of the essential components of IT industry with global market of $800 billion this year. It is still largely dependent on human resources and some of the developing countries are taking advantage of this opportunity. The present size of software industry in Bangladesh is very small. Roughly, 250 firms or organisations and some individuals have been exporting software and data processing services. However, the total volume of such export is negligible and complete records of such performance are not available.
Recently, efforts to install e-governance are intensifying in many ministries. Some have already taken initial steps towards the use of ICTs to facilitate governmental activities. But the moot point is that the government needs to spend a significant amount of resources on software licencing requirements and on updating hardware resources to meet the requirements for the latest proprietary technologies such as Windows XP.
In order to avoid 'unnecessary' expenses in software procurement, use of pirated software is becoming more and more prevalent. Recourse to open source (OS) technologies can significantly bring down costs for e-governance in Bangladesh. Due to the exorbitant price of software, piracy has become prevalent in the country to the extent that there are many who think that the cost of a Windows XP of Office XP is really just Tk. 100 at a reduced rate for Bangladesh. While it is less dangerous for households to use pirated software, its use in corporate offices -- and especially in government ones -- can potentially lead to international harassment.
Business Software Alliance (BSA), an international software policing agency, and its numerous collaborators are expanding at a fast rate to reach countries with high levels of software piracy. Even in India, with official collaboration from NASSCOM, BSA has filed several piracy law suits.
There is every indication that it will not be long before BSA comes into Bangladesh as well, and when that happens different IT-related associations and the government will be left with no choice but to collaborate. With international defamation for ranking high in corruption indexes looming over the national image, Bangladesh can ill afford to risk more cases of humiliation.
Also, compliance with WTO intellectual property regulations is likely to put international pressure on the country. In such a global economic and political scenario, adoption of open source technologies can vastly reduce Bangladesh's current vulnerabilities in terms of potential harassment for widespread software piracy and allegations of violation of WTO rules, leading to possible trade restrictions.
Adoption of open source technologies by the government can greatly enhance opportunities for the local software industry to provide high-end solutions to the government and thus, develop the much-needed experience for bidding for international projects. The local software industry would gain from the large body of knowledge that would need to be acquired in order to build upon existing open source technologies and produce customised solutions for the government. Dependence upon foreign vendors can then be significantly reduced while providing a competitive environment for local companies to build expertise necessary for becoming global players and propelling the country towards a software-led export growth pattern.