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Take-off time for software outsourcing
Shahiduzzaman Khan

          Despite all praise for the impressive local information technology (IT) talents and young successful software companies, the country's software outsourcing market is very small. At present, the country has only a stake of US$12 million in offshore development. The total global market size of outsourcing in 2005 was estimated at $40 billion and was expected to triple by 2009. The arrival of much-awaited submarine cable should expand the country's present market size of outsourcing. Cell phone market also awaits a big boost.
As put up by Danish IT experts who visited Softexpo 2005 held in Dhaka last year: 'Bangladesh is a sleeping giant as far as the software outsourcing is concerned.' The sleeping giant can now wake up as the submarine cable has already been launched. At present, software outsourcing cannot take off on a large scale, simply because bandwidth is too expensive. The submarine cable is definitely an answer to such a problem.
Last year, Bill Gates accompanied by his wife Melinda visited Bangladesh for a brief period of time. But this sojourn was enough to demonstrate his willingness to come closer to Bangladesh. His visit gave a positive signal to the outside world that Bangladesh was becoming an emerging destination for software investment.
During his visit, Gates signed a number of agreements with the government and the private sector. He assured the local business leaders of reducing the price of original software to stop using of its pirated copies in Bangladesh.
Gates sounded optimistic about the development of human resources and skilled people for the IT industry in Bangladesh. He said India has been creating a huge number of IT talents by establishing a lot of institutes to teach IT technology and Bangladesh should do the same. Microsoft might not be able to help Bangladesh in setting up such institutes, but his organisation can absorb Bangladeshi graduates trained in such institutes, he added.
However, hope for a big bang information technology investments as well as development ran high in Bangladesh following his visit. Many global corporations are showing interest to invest multi-million dollars into Bangladesh's nascent high-tech sector. Microsoft is the world's biggest software company, with annual sales revenues of around $40 billion. Already Intel handed a proposal to the Science and Information and Communications Technology Ministry in June last year to be an affiliated partner of the government. Gates' visit paved the way for outsourcing as the Microsoft wanted to exploit the potential of local IT professionals.
The Microsoft chief had unveiled a plan to impart training to more than 10,000 Bangladeshi teachers and 0.2 million students in information technology over the next three years. Also, a local non-government organisation has already been given a US$1 million Gates- Melinda Award for the purpose of training.
Microsoft Bangladesh signed the Partners-in-Learning (PL) Memorandum of Understanding MoU with the Ministry of Education to help reduce the digital divide. A three-year agreement was also signed between the government and the Microsoft that aimed at increasing access to and building capacity for the use of ICT by educators and students.
In addition, alliances were also established with 10 leading universities in Bangladesh to deliver the Microsoft Developer Network Academic Alliance (MSDNAA) where teachers and students will have easier access and exposure to the latest software and technology at affordable prices. Under this programme, Microsoft is providing technology access and skills-based training to primary and secondary-level school teachers and students in developing countries around the world.
Microsoft had earlier opened an office in Dhaka. This office would also collaborate with other universities for ICT development. Microsoft has been working for the convergence system that would reduce the digital divide ensuring security to run technologies under one or single control. Microsoft is now making a programme for launching the Bangla Unicode operating system for many local users who are not habituated with the English.
However, 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. As said earlier, 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.
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 common practice in the country. With Bill Gates proposing to reduce the price of original software, the incidence of piracy should come down significantly.
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.
There is no denying that the advancement of technology was very rapid. Computer is million times powerful that it was 25 years ago. It is now universal; it is the internal artery of the society. Now almost every computer is connected with internet. After five to seven years, there will be hardly any paper-works. Even CDs and DVDs will be obsolete. The capacity of hard discs is being doubled in every two years.
Works are now on for developing wireless technology as broadband technology is a bit costly. In this context, many developments have taken place in the past few years in the science technology sector. Bangladesh should, as such, keep itself abreast with the latest technological advancements and look forward to grasp it for onward progress.
A dependable information system is essential for country's efficient management and operation of the public and private sectors. But there is a shortage of locally generated information needed for efficient performance of these sectors. In order to meet this objective, ICT use in every sector needs to be accelerated in terms of information generation, utilisation and applications.


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