Monday, October 06, 2008

Good Day for IT in Bangladesh

Yesterday I attended the inaugural ceremony of the Chittagong Custom House Automation Project at the Bd-China Friendship Center. The project is an undertaking by the Bangladesh Army with cooperation from Ctg Chamber of Commerce. It has a large software component which was developed by DataSoft, a Bangladesh software company.

The goal of the project was to "clean up" and modernize the Customs business at Ctg Port. According to the speakers, there were large inefficiencies and a lot of organized corruption which were choking the import/export lifeblood of the nation. The software component of the project is designed to automate the workflow of import/export paperwork.

The total cost of the project came to about Tk 2 crore. Significantly, under previous administrations, projects costing over Tk 300 crore had failed to modernize the port, as one of the speakers pointed out. (I am not sure what the previous large budgets had included.)

DataSoft is using the Build-Own-Operate-Transfer model to run the project. I assume this means they get an amount from every transaction that takes place.

As an example, the number of steps needed to export something through Ctg Customs House has been reduced from 22 to 7. Similar savings in time and cost were shown in other areas of operation.

The entire project was done with local skills (no foreign consultants or companies involved.)

It is not every day that one hears good things about the local IT business from local luminaries. Therefore, this event was a pleasant surprise for me, particularly because of the support for IT shown by all the speakers: the Chief Advisor and two other Advisors, Army Chief and Generals, Ctg Chamber of Commerce Head and NBR Head. I am sure the hard (and smart) work that the DataSoft team put into the project had a lot to do with this IT-friendly attitude.

At the end of the ceremony, the CA officially started the business of the new CTG Customs House by Clicking "OK" on a live program to start the transactions. DataSoft COO Manjur Mahmud - after making a short presentation on the technology - assisted the CA in this. Behind the scenes, DataSoft MD Mahboob Zaman's dynamism played a big role.

The local IT industry has much to be proud of. Despite an overall lack of vision and questionable (or downright bad) decisions by successive governments, and constant pressure from foreign software companies, they have accomplished much. Perhaps this event will usher in a new era of our national pride and support?

Congratulations to all - particularly to the DataSoft team - on this accomplishment. I hope this plays out well in the long run.

I think it is high time for the IT industry in Bangladesh to go on the offensive!

(Full Disclosure: I was once associated with DataSoft as their CTO - but can claim no credit for this project which started after I left.)


Bangladesh Corporate Blog said...

We agree with you, we are all up for going on offensive to expand the Bangladeshi IT industry. We just need to bear in mind as well that a lot has been said and very little has been done. So this recent example by DataSoft should be highlighted around the globe and more examples should follow.

Shahan said...

This is amazing. I hope we can take an optimistic look to things and just go for it. We do not lack the ideas or the brilliance. We just need to be a little more organized and courageous. Kudos!

ulysses said...

Agreed, we need to be cautious and not make preposterous claims or projections. On the other hand, we need to get away from the increasingly morbid tone that many higher-ups take on when they discuss IT in Bangladesh. This really hurts by driving promising young people away from IT careers.

The keys are to realize that it is not an overnight game; that it takes a lot of stamina, patience and investment; and that Bd needs to be focused as a nation on realizable goals to win in this game.

And we need to give plenty of recognition and support to our IT heroes - both entrepreneurial and technical - who continue to fight the battle despite difficult odds.

ulysses said...

Hi Shahan, Thanks - yes, absolutely, we should go for it!

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