Digitalisation — a way forward | By Munawar Iqbal


Digitalisation — a way forward

PAKISTAN is rightly known as the land of opportunity as it has tremendous potential for digitali zation of its socio economic sector which it has accelerated in 2020 triggering significant changes in the wake of Covid pandemic crisis.

While the year 2020 can be considered as hazardous for most sectors of our economy, the realization of the importance of digital technology worldwide helped the government launch the ‘Digital Pakistan’ programme triggering a new wave of digitalization in the public and private sector organizations leading to stimulation of growth in e-commerce, e-learning, distant home learning and home-office working.

There has been a considerable surge in the process of digital payments and online shopping promising in the wake of full and partial lockdowns in the country, a good sign of the beginning of digitalization of Pakistan’s economy

For the government, digitalization means a new engine of change for the traditional business model of the economy and greater prospects of maximum possible revenue generation for building a strong financial base.

Information technology has assumed a central role in the emerging dynamics of a knowledge based economy and it serves as a key lever of economic development.

Pakistan ushered a new rise in data usage and digital payments during the past few months and there has been an intense increase in fin-techs, startups and banking institutions moving towards the theme of digitalization to cope with the long-held Covid lockdown in the country.

In the backdrop of rapid growth of information technology, the indicators of Pakistan’s economy have been appreciated by numerous independent global institutes.

According to the available data, our IT exports have increased 70% during the last three years.

Pakistan, which has about 60% of its 200 million population in the 15 to 29 age group, represents an enormous human and knowledge capital.

As the IT indicators suggest there are more than 2000 IT companies & call centers and the number is growing every year.

Pakistan has more than 300,000 English-speaking IT professionals with expertise in current and emerging IT products and technologies. More than 20,000 IT graduates and engineers are being produced each year.

With this highly potential human capital and background, Pakistan is entering into a new era of digitalization connecting socio economic sectors, education and health in particular.

This shift is most promising in the domains of e-commerce, fintech, and e-government, where new ventures and approaches are being applied through digitalized system to deliver these services.

Significantly, the market size of e-commerce has grown in Pakistan over the last few years, transforming the way consumers interact with and especially pay for the businesses.

Rapid advances in technology are enabling new business opportunities and outdating the existing business models.

For Pakistan to continue on this digital growth path, it is pertinent to invest in people and prepare them for the skillset of our future demands.

According to an estimate, 70 per cent of new value created in the economy over the next decade will rely on digital platforms and business models e.g., digital payments and e-commerce alone are forecast to add $45 billion over the next five years to the country’s GDP.

This is bound to enhance the level of exports and create new jobs for the youth of the country to lessen the burden of unemployment in the country.

With digital means of education, home to school and distant learning and work from home taking off in popularity especially this year, this trend should continue for our youth to keep to keep pace with educational activities without break when faced with lockdown and national disasters.

The Government of Pakistan (GOP) strives to improve its citizens’ quality of life and economic well-being by ensuring availability of accessible, affordable, reliable, universal and high quality ICT services.

GOP strongly believes in mass adoption of emerging digital technologies and innovative applications to enable cross-sector socio-economic development and transformation of economic activities, governance models, social interaction and achievement of sustainable development goals.

This is a great step forward to become a strategic enabler for an accelerated digitization eco-system to expand the knowledge based economy and spur socio economic growth.

It is striving to promote the use of technology in education, health, agriculture and other key socio economic sectors.

Encourage the use of ICT in public schools and ensure they are online and have a meaningful impact on the current education eco-system in a phased manner.

The world has come at a closer proximity due to increased digitalization and there exist opportunities greater than before.

For international players to enter this market, what’s important for them is a stable and conducive business environment that provides ease in setting up their establishments.

Encouraging FDI will not only create new job opportunities but will also allow for the digital ecosystem to grow and flourish.

As we look forward to the future, we must look at the past and reflect on it. What Pakistan needs is environmental and social sustainability to ensure growth.

Making the country taxpayer-friendly and improving efficiency by leveraging modern technology is a milestone to be achieved towards a prosperous Pakistan.

To accelerate the pace of digitalization, the MOIT under the Government of Pakistan formulated the Digital Pakistan Policy, which was approved by the Cabinet in May 2018.

Under this dynamic and revolutionary policy guidelines, it provides a generic framework to synergize the expanding digital eco-system and harness socio-economic growth in the country.

The challenges for digitalization are as big as the opportunity available in the country for competitiveness in and outside the country.

Digitalization must include the private sector including small medium enterprises to allow them to play a positive and constructive role in development of local IT industry.

An overwhelming digitalization requires qualities and standards for both public and private sector institutions for greater collaboration and connectivity between the institutions which will be a game changer in digitalizing the whole process of socio-economic development.

In the State of Pakistan’s Economy report 2019-20, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) detailed that in the backdrop of lockdown imposed in March, the shift towards electronic channels became inevitable for government institutions, businesses and households.

It added that during that time, a sharp growth was witnessed in internet usage across the country as traffic surged 15% immediately as soon as lockdown was imposed.

In FY20, the highest growth in internet data usage was recorded in the fourth quarter (89%), with government institutions, and especially the central bank, actively encouraging and facilitating people to use digital communications and payment channels, it said.

Households began utilizing online solutions for purchasing essentials (groceries) and other items as the containment measures extended.

The Government of Pakistan has envisaged its Digital Policy (2018) to help digitalize eco-system to strengthen the knowledge-based economy to accelerate the socio economic growth in all sectors including commerce, agriculture, health, education involving its prime human capital in the country with a message of new policy initiative ‘Go Digital’ to compete with global economies with the help of both public and private sectors.

Now when the government is going through the formidable technological transition, it must take drastic measures to effectively and successfully meet the upcoming challenges and move forward in right direction with proper technological infrastructure well in place.

— The writer is a prominent IT businessman, Founder Chairman of Pakistan Computer Association and former Senior Vice President of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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