Unleashing Pakistan’s Technology Potential

In conversation with Naseer Akhtar- CEO InfoTech

As a successful entrepreneur, Naseer A. Akhtar brought InfoTech to profitability and continues to build on that success with double digit year-on-year growth. He is a sought after speaker, mentor and was the Chairman of Pakistan’s industry association P@SHA in 2013 and in 2016. Mr. Akhtar sets the corporate direction and strategy for all lines of business. He focuses on customers, strategy and innovation. He has been responsible for multimillion dollar revenue generating product roadmaps that have disrupted major industries like Capital Markets, G2C and Smart Grids. Mr. Akhtar is a graduate of Government College Lahore where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics & Physics.

Q: Briefly describe your journey as a CEO of a leading technology company?
A: The pace in the technology industry is dramatically accelerated compared to other sectors thus our journey has been characteristic of the technology industry itself, full of exciting initiatives and constant change, and surprises too. We started selling enterprise hardware and software to Pakistan’s largest companies.
We then evolved into a systems integrator who automated essential functions across hardware software and networking so our clients could reap great business benefits. We are now digital transformation specialists who solve complex business problems using technology for our clients and help them innovate faster. We also have a large software house that creates world-class enterprise products.
Q: Keeping in view the current state of the IT industry in Pakistan, what steps can be taken to boost the IT sector so that its contribution to Pakistan’s economic growth is maximized?
A: Pakistani IT industry has great potential to grow. Just look at our broadband metrics. Our broadband penetration is still under 20% and we need to fine tune import duties on smartphones and billing surcharges to accelerate this number. E-commerce will grow for years at aggressive growth rates if we create the right ecosystem that aligns regulatory, legal and financial services stakeholders. The biggest potential buyers of IT & ITeS are Governments (Federal, provincial and city governments) and unfortunately ours are not spending enough, not even a fraction of what they should. Working with local technology companies on aggressive automation and citizen services programs will not only drive employment in IT sector it will act as a force multiplier for public sector efficiencies that will transform the way governments and citizens interact. We need to take some hard-hitting decisions to grow IT exports which have incredible runway for growth. This means creation of relevant technology universities departments and even changing school curriculums. And aligning this and government spend internally and in the technology and startup ecosystem with disruptive technologies where we can stake a leadership position. Blockchain, Adversarial generative machine learning, IoT, geospatial, farmer tech etc. that are molded by a laser focused competitive strategy made by global professionals. We also need focus on better reporting. You cannot improve what you cannot measure and our reporting on technology spending, exports and segment wise spending is very poor.

Q: How is InfoTech adapting to the new startup and incubator oriented evolution of the local technology landscape?
A: InfoTech was itself a startup! And we regularly invest in startups in house. One of our startups is now a global market leader in capital markets enterprise solutions where we compete with the likes of Nasdaq. We are 100% in favor of the new entrepreneurial system that is developing. However, having gone from startup to tens of million of dollars in revenue, we do have some missives to share. There will always be young founder millionaires straighten out of college but on the whole your chances of success dramatically increase with some work experience. Understand cash flow and financials, how businesses work, and problems they face…. These will all help them identify and successfully exploit gaps in the market. Their chances of courting failure will decrease.

Q: Talk about some projects that you’re especially proud of?
A: Oh so many! I think our international projects deserve special mention. They are a testament to the fact that Pakistani companies can compete on even ground with some of the best companies in the world and win on merit. We did a project with the Ministry of Electricity in Iraq that automated them despite it being a tremendously complex scenario and allowed them to make better decisions faster for the country’s entire energy ecosystem. We did a project for the World Bank called eGhana in which our in house product GeReg was used to automate critical citizen services for the government, including Tax, Revenue & Business registration. Our award winning product for the stock exchange and the capital markets ecosystem was especially transformational when employed in Zimbabwe Stock Exchange and Ghana. We helped enable these countries to develop their trading ecosystem and open them to the world and foreign investments. We have done some amazing work with complex core banking portals for example with CIB the largest private commercial bank in Egypt. We delivered a digital platform that connects trade, supply chain finance, cash, lending and treasury services. I find myself especially proud of those projects that allow our customers to use disruptive new technologies to win and we seem to be doing more and more of those.

Q: What would your advice be to the youth who want to join the IT industry?
A: First of all I would like to say please come and join the information technology industry. It’s an excellent choice. I would also say fasten your seatbelt because it’s going to be a rough yet fun ride. In technology change is the baseline normal. It just gets more disruptive from there. But the ability to be able to touch the future daily is an incredible privilege. You have the power to change a function, a company or a nation. There are no limits to what you can achieve. But you must be comfortable with adapting fast and relearning a new skill set every 18 to 24 months. Someone once told me curiosity is the purest form of insubordination. That little bit of rebel is much needed. There are so many ways to fit together systems and their thousands of moving parts that the ability to question the status quo and consistently improve is essential to success. So do not lose that natural sense of wonder you have for the world.q

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