First class IT infrastructure?
We are told that this country has first class IT infrastructure, top notch human resource and good policies. Such a statement is usually followed up by a question: why are our IT exports not touching billions of dollars?
Let us forget the rest of the issues for the moment and talk about IT infrastructure. For the past 4 years I can’t remember how many times I have told anyone who will listen – the government, the media, builders, investors, – that we NEED top notch IT Parks which provide sufficient office space at a reasonable cost, clean and fast bandwidth, uninterrupted power supply, conference and exhibition facilities, showcasing areas, research, development and testing facilities, incubation facilities, recreation areas, with all connected services being available within the Park -, a professional and secure environment where young people (and some of the more experienced) can interact and work, sharing and creating knowledge. Has anyone listened? I don’t know. We keep hearing that all these parks are coming up but I have yet to see any land being identified in Karachi for the purpose – there ARE one or two towers that are being put up by the PITB in Lahore but again, they are buildings, not a complete environment – although it is a start. There is ‘something’ coming up in Islamabad but what exactly and when, is something we will probably know one day.
In the meantime, our IT and ITES companies struggle with, amongst so many other challenges, the lack of infrastructure. I don’t know how many people are aware that there was a fire at Caesar Towers on Saturday. Caesar Towers is our National IT Park we are told. It is on Shahrah-e-Faisal in Karachi. One of the most pathetic buildings you have ever seen. It is perpetually in ‘construction’ mode and you would certainly never take a potential overseas customer there if you could avoid it. This building was provided fibre connectivity by PSEB some years ago and a large number of unsuspecting IT companies moved into the building – from software development companies, to content management companies to call centres. Over the years they have had a number of confrontations with the building managers/owners over various issues like connectivity, power problems, bad management, etc.
The fire on Saturday destroyed all the main power and internet cabling which will have to be totally replaced. A real disaster especially for companies that are providing 24×7 service to overseas customers. Some had contingency in place and I was impressed at the speed with which companies like Etilize set up in new premises almost overnight. But there are others who are still struggling. Some have moved to Korangi or to Tariq Centre – which is the newest PSEB-identified IT Park on Tariq Road. Some companies are working with skeleton staff with generators. P@SHA member companies have been generous and have offered temporary space to some of the affected companies, but office space is at a premium in this city and companies are already bursting at the seams themselves. It is a tragedy that an industry that has so much potential in terms of providing efficiency to other industries, in terms of increased export earnings, in terms of providing job opportunities to young people in this country, in terms of creating knowledge and innovation, should be neglected in this way.
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