- Published: 08 September 2014
Siraj began his career in 1993 and has in total more than seventeen years IT industry experience in roles including Account Sales Manager, National Sales Manager and Country Lead. He holds a Bachelor's in Computer Science & Engineering, from University of Nebraska at Lincoln and a Master's in Industrial Engineering from the State University of New York.
BR Research: How long has Intel been around in Pakistan and which IT segments is it dealing within Pakistan?
Naveed Siraj: Most leading IT companies evaluate emerging markets very closely, in terms of demographics, buying patterns, possibilities and opportunities. There was a senior level delegation which evaluated the Pakistan market in 1996. A year later Intel established its office in Pakistan.
There are some sectors that are extremely critical for us, such as the adoption of ICT in the consumer segment. The most critical sector for us remains education because we feel the right set of skills, professional development and the entire solution stack (which include hardware-software content training) and a host of other services which strengthen and enrich computer solutions can jointly lead to better learning standards in the country.
So, education is the top of the list segment for Intel but our influence is across most other sectors. For example, if there is an enterprise customer, or a bank which has a requirement to understand how technology can derive more efficiency in their infrastructure, we guide them through best practices on how technology is adopted by their peers globally. Technology provides the critical edge to compete and succeed in the market.
BRR: If education is the top-priority area, in what ways is Intel looking at the sector and improvising education systems in Pakistan?
NS: Our approach is multi-faceted. We have the Intel Education programme which is part of our CSR affairs. As part of that programme, we started professional development of teachers in 2001. We did a pilot for about 400 teachers and the programme continued. Till now, we have trained about 350,000 teachers under the programme. We monitor the progress of the trainers, who go to their own communities and train local teachers.
There's another programme called the Intel Science and Engineering Fair, which provides opportunities to children to hone their skills on science and technology subjects. Every year we hold workshops in over 60 districts across Pakistan and close to 7,000 students enrol in that year-long contest. This is also an extremely critical programme for us because it is able to instil the spirit of innovation in children at a very formative age.
The third important programme we are running is the entrepreneurship basics programme. Through web-based applications, we're able to introduce the concept of entrepreneurship to young men and women and expose them to different nuances of the needs of the community. The programme also focuses on how ideation with the help of mentorship that Intel provides can lead to independent projects which can be converted into commercial endeavours.
It is a self-based model where you can also have face-to-face training. The programme is called Intel Entrepreneurship Basics (E-basics) and it is essentially about introducing the concept of entrepreneurship and innovation to young students at the university level. It brings in the element of ICT in the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
On policy advocacy, we work very closely with provincial governments as well as with the Ministry of Education at the Federal level to introduce the concept of education transformation framework in multiple ways that can improve learning standards in the country.
These programmes pertain to the programmatic approach, where we seek to increase learning and create awareness regarding the use of technology for education purposes.
On the solutions side, we act as trusted advisors to the government to inform them of the best utilisation of technology in classrooms so that they are able to better invest in education infrastructure.
So, the first element is focused on professional development, and the second one is about guidance through solutions and technical advisory.
It is a heavy task because we feel that there is lack of direction in terms of setting specific milestones in automation. So, if you look across Pakistan, there are close to 220,000 schools while the penetration of computers is less than 10 percent in schools. This is where we come in where we ensure that the government needs to understand that setting of such milestones over a longer period of time can help improve learning standards in the country.
BR: Are you working voluntarily in these areas or are you working with the government? Do you have a formal partnership or MoU with the government?
NS: We have a MoU with the government of Punjab. Our MoUs are around programmes. Intel Teach is the one programme where most of our MoUs have been, but over the period of last 2-3 years we have expanded the scope of our MoUs. A recent one is a USAID MoU which is around Intel Teach but also involves the Intel Science and Engineering Fair and has an element of entrepreneurship basics.
With the government of Punjab, we have a MoU on the Intel Teach programme. We don't have to have MoUs to work in other provinces. We had a MoU with the Federal Government before the 18th Amendment and because that MoU has been in place in spirit we continue to operate under it. The Science and Education Fair are held in partnership with the Ministry of Science and Technology. Collaboration at the Federal level continues irrespective of the 18th Amendment.
BRR: Are you planning to expand these programmes into other provinces?
NS: Yes and we are already working on that. Our work is now primarily in provinces given the post 18th Amendment scenario. By the end of this year we will have some more footprints in other provinces. We are in the process of formalising partnerships in provinces.
BRR: E-governance indicators in Pakistan are abysmally low; what are the reasons behind that? Do you have e-governance reforms embedded in your programmes or are you planning to?
NS: Policy advocacy is part of our education framework document. As far as e-governance is concerned, there has to be greater acceptance on part of the government to set milestones. An e-governance directorate was established in the late 1990s but adequate milestones were not formulated to be able to achieve automation in government departments and services. Automation could have led to a lot of development in the country.
I think ICT has to be the most critical engine to remove the distance between those who govern and those who are governed. So, citizens have to have a larger stake and they would feel a larger stake when they are able to do things a lot more seamlessly through a PC or a tablet and avail a service. Even in emerging markets close-by you will see a lot of automation. The lack of documentation in Pakistan is perhaps the most alarming aspect of the larger economic landscape.
BRR: Why haven't we been able to have those milestones set then?
NS: We need to have stronger leadership and greater public-private partnerships. We are going in the right direction but very slowly. There has to be greater sense of urgency in setting milestones. Affordable broadband and ICT have to be the growth engine of the economy.
BRR: India is known for its IT industry. What is your outlook on Pakistan's IT and software industry?
NS: I think we are stepping in the right direction. There are, however, a lot of structural reforms that need to take root. There is a critical need for reliance on ICT in so far as business and economic development is concerned; for example, the ability for any e-trader or a small, home-based business to transact their business on the internet.
BRR: What sorts of operations are being largely driven by ICT based tools in the business and corporate sectors?
NS: I think, these days ICT is critical in all business segments. But in Pakistan, there has been higher usage in TELCOs, internet service providers, and banking. Sadly, these tools are not as widely used in education, a sector very dear to us. If there is greater automation, perhaps there could be more home-based learning, mobility and efficiency.
BRR: What are the challenges that need to be addressed to encourage use of ICT tools by SMEs to explore avenues of growth and business development?
NS: We are in a knowledge vacuum, and as far as SMEs are concerned, knowledge and requisite skills are very limited. We have a programme that focuses on bridging the digital divide. This programme introduces participants to the use of technology. For example, revenue collection is a primary job for the government, and the contribution of SMEs to the tax base is very low. But, there is reform on its way for greater inclusion of SMEs to the revenue pool. It is going to be adoption of personal computers which will be a deal breaker in that context.
There is by far a very clear understanding in the SME sector that there needs to be more automation since it leads to more efficiency.
As for business development, there is absence of a platform to enhance skills. So, when you have avenues to learn and you put a stop to that by banning YouTube and other tools for free-learning, for example, it can be counter-productive. You need to provide access to information to the citizens. I'm convinced that access to internet is now one of those basic rights.
BRR: How do you see data demand in Pakistan at the consumer level?
NS: Data demand will give birth to a whole new wave of services business. You step out of the metropolitan cities and there is a whole world which is self-employed. It is entirely undocumented and we have hardly done anything to show them that things can be done in a much more efficient manner through technology and connectivity. There is tremendous data demand but hardly documented.
BRR: Assuming there would be wider broadband access, how is it going to affect consumer data demand?
NS: There has been no investment on the size of the data pipe. The size of the pipe that we get is unable to cater to the larger segment of people in terms of interconnectivity, transactions, and trading. There is an immediate need to invest in broadband infrastructure.
It has been shown that there is a strong correlation between broadband adoption rate and economic development and growth, all else being equal. That is a key indicator that the ministries of Science and Technology and IT need to look at. The biggest apprehension I have about our own policy makers is that they get very defensive when we say that we have not done enough in IT. The launch of 3G and higher cellular penetration are not adequate.
After enabling voice to communities, we seem to have stopped and have not looked into data. PTCL, for example, relies heavily on data usage for its earnings. There should be larger metropolitan wide access of broadband.
BRR: What can be done in terms of increasing broadband accessibility?
NS: Milestones, the government has to set milestones. Bridging the gap in broadband access in the country should be an immediate priority of the government.
BRR: Please share your thoughts on the prospects of manufacturing telecom equipment and devices in Pakistan?
NS: For that to happen we need to improve skills. We need to have a very solid education base. In countries where you see Intel manufacture, the industry thrives on innovation and R&D. The foundation, however, is basic education.
Quelle/Source: Business Recorder, 05.09.2014