Bangladesh will need a huge number of human resources in the coming days to reap the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. A good number of IT graduates are coming out every year, but we are not getting them ready for the industry, said Russell T Ahmed, the president of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) and CEO of ClassTune, during an interview with The Business Post’s Shamim Ahmed
What’s your take on the current status of Bangladesh’s software and ITES industry?
Currently, we export software and Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) worth around $1.4 billion in the international market. Our target is to reach $5 billion by 2025.
Our software industry is growing almost every day. Hopefully, ITES export earnings will exceed the readymade garment (RMG) sector earnings in the next 10 years.
We are also working on the government digitalization schemes, including e-governance projects, and the private sector at the same time.
Outsourcing means our human resources are working for the international market, fetching huge revenues for the country. Some outsource software, some outsource services ranging from data entry to website design and development as well as IoT and AI services, depending on their expertise.
We have nearly 2,000 members at BASIS. Of them, 350 to 400 companies are currently exporting software and ITES to 30 countries.
At present, the US is the largest market for Bangladeshi IT products/services, followed by Europe, Japan and India. We are holding multiple dialogues with international communities and the BASIS research wing is exploring new destinations to boost the growing sector.
What are the prospects you see for this industry?
Bangladesh’s economy is rapidly expanding, graduating from a lower-income country to a middle income one. Massive digitization activities are going on both in the public and private sectors.
The ITES sector has huge potential with all possible compliance in place and is growing faster every day. So, the country will not remain solely dependent on the RMG sector for very long and will be able to rely on IT-driven export in near future.
We should not miss out on the point that IT services are a catalyst that pervades every sector and helps bring more revenues. For example, IT contributes even in the RMG sector — boosting production, managing data, and bringing in automation.
If we count the IT sector’s contribution merely in terms of that $1.4 billion export, it will be a great mistake. RMG exports are at $26 billion, where our software and hardware have a good contribution. The IT sector should be looked at from that point of view since it has been one of the driving forces of the economy.
Not only that, whichever sectors are set to grow in future, IT will see growth with them as well.
Start-ups are the next great potential for Bangladesh’s economy as they bring foreign direct investment and create employment in the local market. Some start-ups have already managed to do it.
When it comes to the limitation in local access to finance for tech companies, I think IT firms can get soft loans up to Tk 50 lakh. But it would be to their benefit if they apply for the loan after becoming BASIS members. But we are working to make easy loan sanctions possible for the companies.
We are working with a couple of banks to introduce such loans to help the IT firms.
We have so many alternatives to PayPal. All the money earned online is already coming through regular banking channels. We have direct banking channels, including Shadhin and Payoneer, and some other channels to help with transactions. But it will be good if PayPal is introduced in Bangladesh as well.
What are the challenges ahead for this industry?
Human resource is our key challenge ahead. We will need huge human resources in the coming days to reap the benefits of the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution. A good number of IT graduates are coming out every year, but we are not getting them ready for the industry.
We must have a mechanism to get those graduates ready. Even though it’s the leading graduate-employing sector, the IT sector is facing challenges without skilled workforces.
The government arranges various training programs at different levels, but we need to increase the number of training facilities in the country. We have to build up that human resource who can manage to adapt to the new technologies coming out every month — be it blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning or big data analysis.
We cannot bring in inefficient people. Our demand is rapidly increasing every day but we don’t have a remarkable supply and that may spoil the opportunities.
What we need to do is synchronise the government with the prevailing industry. So that industry people, experts and the government can work together.
Human resource is the raw material of the IT industry. We are harnessing the demographic dividend; most of the people here are below 35, which shows the good prospect of the industry. If these resources are not trained properly, they won’t be able to work in this industry.
In our IT ecosystem, some 1.5 lakhs women currently work in the software and IT services industry, which is nearly 15 per cent of the total. Their participation is good in number but what is needed is more female entrepreneurs as their current number is very low to reap the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution-induced IT services.
Local demand is not being properly addressed but BASIS has a plan to raise awareness among the people. We have also planned to revive the BASIS Institute of Technology & Management (BITM) to build a skilled human resource base.
What are BASIS and the government doing to support the industry?
Our IT companies now receive 10 per cent incentives for exports and freelancers get 4 per cent incentives. For that, however, they have to get no-objection certificates unless they are BASIS members.
Earlier, the government announced a 10 per cent cash incentive against ITES exports and companies are enjoying tax holiday benefits till 2024. BASIS is working together with ICT Division to extend the facilities up to 2030.
There are some potential sectors like FinTech, health tech, and FTech that we have our eyes on. The works in these are coming from both inside and outside the country.
BASIS is also working to develop an ecosystem in collaboration with e-governance, digital commerce, financial technology, education tech, health tech and other domains of ITES.
To achieve our $5 billion export targets, BASIS has built an 11-member advisory panel and 20 standing committees to lead the sector to the next level, through knowledge sharing among IT experts and professionals.