TECHNOLOGY MINUTE: Pakistanâ€™s Image abroad.With a lot of attention these days being paid by the media to IT (thatâ€™s Information Technology as opposed to Income Tax), if one were to take a look at things from a birdâ€™s eye view, you will see a lot is missing. As we love to compare ourselves to the Indians at all times with respect to IT (letâ€™s face it â€“ we can learn something from them â€“ and acknowledge, they are far ahead in this race). The Indian government (both local and federal) have a very focused and positive/up-beat view of IT. They are not just all talk â€“ but are in fact a very pragmatic bunch of people who actually â€œdoâ€ what they say! They visit almost all the tradeshows and exhibitions worldwide with respect to IT, BPO, Outsourcing, etc. Pakistan in comparison visited 2-3 tradeshows concerning IT last year. Indian companies take considerable amount of floor space when they visit, for example, in GITEX (held in Dubai) last year, the size of the Indian pavilion was about 600 sq. meters for the â€œsoftwareâ€ industry only! Within the 600 sq. meters some 22 companies were exhibiting. The Indian country pavilion was inaugurated by the Ambassador of India to UAE and almost everyone from their Embassy was present (the Counsel General of Dubai, the Commercial Counselor, etc.), not to mention the prominent NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) who had come out to give a boost to the exhibitors â€“ a vote of confidence.
Pakistan on the other hand had mere 60 square meters. Thatâ€™s 1/10th the size of the Indian software pavilion. Within this space â€“ 12 companies were exhibiting, each company was allotted 5 square meters for their stall. Let me give you an idea of what 5 square meters is â€“ its probably the size of your apartment bathroom! Actually your bathroom might be bigger than 5 square meters. Our company too participated, but not with the Governmentâ€™s assistance. We bought our own stall and as one company we had 30 square meters.
There you have the Pakistani software industry â€“ in pigeon boxes and we are trying to convince the world that we are ready! Hardly! In all of the 12 stalls â€“ there was no Internet connectivity. None whatsoever. The participants of these stalls â€“ borrowed that from us! The Pakistani flag was missing and was only installed the one day after the exhibition had opened up. There was no ribbon cutting ceremony by our Ambassador, where exactly the Commercial Counselor from the Pakistan Embassy was â€“ is a good and relevant question! For all this lack-luster exhibition effort, I donâ€™t blame PSEB for this â€“ I honestly donâ€™t â€“ at least we were there! The goal of the article is not to blame, but to see where and what the problems are and to try to rectify them. How about for once fixing what is wrong and not wasting time in finger-pointing. Itâ€™s the image of our country and industry on the whole we are talking about, so collectively we all have to pitch in the effort.
We need to be more visible on the international scene â€“ exhibitions like GITEX, CeBit and many more small exhibitions are where we must hoist our flag. I vividly remember the articles and rave reviews I had read and heard about the first time Pakistan exhibited at COMDEX in Las Vegas in 1995. Our stall was beautiful (so I hear) we had banners on the main entrance of COMDEX, Pakistan had prominently displayed its advertising tagline â€œGet IT from Pakistanâ€ in the COMDEX visitor guide, on pages where typically IBM or Microsoft would advertise. Visiting prominent Pakistanis spent their entire days at the stall, one notable person that immediately comes to mind is Safi Qureshi, (Chairman Emeritus of AST) and all this was made possible by the expert advice and arrangements done by the COMDEX agent for Pakistan, Dr. Irfan Ahmed (of Pace Advertising / Yahoo! Middle East). The head of the Indian delegation came over and shook our hands â€“ and praised on what an entry Pakistan had made. Such glorious days have not been revisited. It is imperative that we attend both the major and small exhibitions alike with regards to IT that are happening around the globe. Places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, China, London, Germany, US, Canada, France, Egypt, Bahrain, etc. must all be where the Pakistani flag is hoisted. If Pakistan is the brand and IT the product, we need to market this â€“ bring mass awareness, both in the print media and electronic media alike. Magazines like TIME, The Economist, Wired, CIO, Money, Business Week, and countless many more need to have advertisements endorsed by the Government of Pakistan. The Government / EPB / PSEB, Ministry of IT actively need to fund a large scale, long-term advertising campaign. The goal of the campaign is to educate and increase awareness of Why Pakistan? We need to aid our IT industry by helping business visitors better understand Pakistan. More decision makers (CEOs, CIOs, CFOs, CTOs) are online and we need to proactively display our online advertising on the forums, websites, cyberspace where they visit. If it was simply a question of one exhibition or one advertisement or one online banner, from which both country image could be projected or business deals closed, then everyone would be doing it. Unfortunately, the equations is a bit more complex.
Brand building is not easy, and certainly technologists like ourselves are not the best people to do it â€“ it has to be the right mix of a progressive Government policy, a focused campaign, a committed industry and an ever-willing PSEB / Ministry of IT, EPB, etc. and brand-management companies to put it all together. We need to be authors of reports for various segments of the industry and more importantly we need to hire prominent names like Gartner, IDC etc. who can write country reports on Pakistan, etc.
Only with the availability of such reports and marketing campaigns, it will only be a matter of time before journalists who cover technology would start paying attention to Pakistan and start writing articles on it. I feel today we are more than ready as we ever were to market Pakistan abroad, if only the Government would listen and everyone participated in a positive manner, the benefits of which perhaps the entire country could feel.
This Article was originally written for Money Magazine