Pakistan is gearing up to move into the modern technological era. For too long, the country has remained stalled and stuck with the old processes. Despite the abundance of IT talent, Pakistan’s telecom sector is far behind the rest of the world. The government is ready to take the initiative of digitizing the public sector.
In an interview with CEO of National Information Technology Board (NITB), Shabahat Ali Shah, he said that it is time for Pakistan to move forward. Mr. Shah has a vast experience working as a corporate and commercial entrepreneur. Up until 2014, he worked in processing and data acquisition departments at Oracle. He believes that Pakistan needs to upgrade the IT and telecom sector in order to compete with the rest of the world.
Role of NITB
NITB is the execution arm of all the data policies and all the IT and telecom policies that the ministry of IT/Telecom is making. They have recently crafted the new ordinance of the national IT board, where NITB is the central entity that has been mandated to procure, implement, and deploy any kind of software or hardware infrastructure across the federal government departments.
The board is also responsible for the training of different departments and ministries on e-governance.
A Vision To Create A Central Data System Within The Govt
Infusing technology into government processes is a revolutionary step towards improving accountability and transparency about different departments and ministries. The use of paper and hardcopies has become irrelevant and time-consuming, especially when it comes to maintenance and data security.
NITB aims to implement a machine-based system in the government that securely stores data and files for all government departments.
Shabahat Shah states,
Our strategy is about eliminating human errors and let the machines handle the processes so that services can be provide to both the government and its citizens. The vision is to create a central data nervous system, which will have all the data from different ministries and departments attached to it. We are also rolling out a new product called E-Office, which will be available to all ministries in order to reduce and eliminate all paperwork and files. We have gotten 22 ministries out of 45 on board with E-Office, have received positive response all around.
Enhancing Data Security And Creating A New Payment Gateway
Since data related to a payment gateway needs to be protected, it is important for the NITB that data should be held within the parameters of the data center that is within the government system, said Mr. Shah. For that, NITB wants to cut-off web portals and only allow web-portals that operate within Pakistan ensuring data integrity for all users.
NITB is close to having the data protection policy signed off and place an international payment gateway. So that all the payments, inwards and outbound, should go through this gateway to ensure accountability and transparency. He added,
We are close to bringing a state-of-the-art gateway company that is looking to setup its infrastructure in Pakistan. Once they have checked the compliances, FBR and State Bank of Pakistan, we aim to roll it out in the near future.
Why An Alternative Payment Gateway?
Since PayPal has almost confirmed it doesn’t have Pakistan in its plans in the near future, Pakistan needs to work on a payment gateway with an API that can be connected to different banks and microfinance companies.
This gateway should be pre-integrated with other payment gateways like PayPal. This would mean that international ones don’t need to come to Pakistan, he commented.
For instance, if someone in Mardan is looking to sell some precious stone outside of Pakistan. All they would need is a phone. They upload a picture of the item and share it on an e-commerce site. There, anyone from around the world can show interest and make payment transactions to the person in Mardan via this payment gateway that is integrated with PayPal. So the person in Mardan only needs to have a bank account that is connected with the payment gateway that is integrated with different international payment platforms.
Opportunities For New Startups
Since IT has become such a big buzz word across Pakistan and the talent pool in the country is so immense, NITB believes public-private partnerships can groom startups and bring more opportunities for the entrepreneurs.
We are not going to build software and hardware by ourselves. We believe in public-private partnership. We will try to sublet work to private sector companies and provide equal opportunities to all private sector companies.
Instead of creating a utopian form of e-government environment, NITB wants to build on the IT/telecom capacity of our nation’s youth by providing opportunities so that they get to participate with these e-governance projects that NTIB is trying to bring to Pakistan.
Enhance Foreign Revenue For Pakistan
Ignite is not just limited to start-ups within Pakistan but can work with international startups as well. In order to bring foreign revenue to Pakistan, this could help promote the country’s telecom sector and improve Pakistan’s brand equity.
I would like to see our technology go beyond the boundaries of our country and can be seen by the rest of the world.
Future of Digitization in Pakistan
NITB aims to create a paperless environment within Pakistan’s government departments. In this time and age, paper and hard copies are less efficient or reliable whuchis why, through E-Office, NITB aims to have all the government and public documents stored in a central data system. This will provide improve efficiency and provide accountability and transparency.
According to Shabahat Ali Shah, there should be at least one billion dollar startup from Pakistan. This will greatly uplift the entire country’s IT/telecom industry and attract more foreign investors into Pakistan to utilize the capacity of talent in the country.
CEO NITB’s Opinion
Pakistan has the kind of potential that is found in very few countries of the world. Given a bit of exposure, Pakistanis have a phenomenal skill set that is incomparable with many major countries of the world. As the world continues to advance in technology and IT, it is time for Pakistan to take a step forward and enter the digital age.
“My message to everyone is to not be so negative about Pakistan. I believe Pakistan will be able to reach the same level of technology as the rest of the world and will be a future technology hub of the world,” says Shabahat Ali Shah.