The country's ICT industry lost about $1.3 billion of business due to the coronavirus pandemic, said Syed Almas Kabir, president of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) and CEO of MetroNet Bangladesh Ltd, in an interview with Dhaka Tribune's Mehedi Hasan. He also talked about the use of technology during such crisis periods, expectations regarding the ICT sector in the upcoming budget and the industry's challenges.
How is technology relevant during such a pandemic?
The ICT sector is playing a vital role at this moment, as both government and private offices communicate with each other through videoconferencing instead of physical meetings. Other advantages include people buying essential items and taking various services using online platforms from home. Technology is now making it possible.
More needs to be done to prepare ourselves using technology when dealing with such a crisis in future. This is why the government should increase allocation for the ICT industry in the upcoming national budget for the fiscal year 2021.
Is the ICT sector facing any disruption during this crisis period?
The Covid-19 pandemic has badly affected the ICT sector like every other sector. We earned $1 billion by exporting our software and ICT products last year. But this year, 70%-80% of our global work orders were cancelled thanks to the pandemic and the subsequent countrywide shutdown. We estimated that around $800 million equivalent of international work order was cancelled, as well as $500 million worth of domestic work orders.
Cumulatively, we lost $1.3 billion worth of business due to the coronavirus.
What are your demands for the ICT sector in the upcoming budget?
Though the government has already declared stimulus packages worth over Tk1,00,000 crore to tackle the Covid-19 fallout impacting the country's economy, ICT companies might not be able to comply with the banks' demands. Therefore, those working in the ICT industry need a separate stimulus package worth Tk5,000 crore.
The loan packages should include 2% interest rate, one-year grace period and completely collateral-free.
What are the barriers to get bank loans for ICT companies?
Banks demand collateral for applying loans but ICT companies are not able to provide any collateral to the banks because most of our companies have no land asset and no previous record for loans. Creativity is our asset and clients are our strength.
At this point, the industry is demanding to count the list of clients, transactions and order numbers before approving loans.
What challenges are the ICT sector facing now?
At present, there are three challenges in the ICT sector - financing, skilled manpower and high cost of internet.
Financing is the main challenge in the sector because lenders are not interested to invest in the sector due to lack of collateral. Now we are also facing skilled manpower shortage to meet our demand.
Availability of internet is very essential for ICT development but the quality of internet is not satisfactory outside of Dhaka. The internet is very expensive outside of Dhaka due to high transmission cost. In this case, the infrastructure of the internet should be strengthened.
Can you tell us about the demand for local software in the market?
The demand for local softwares is increasing each day. Earlier, local companies were not interested in using local software but times have changed. Local banks previously imported software from abroad but now almost half of the banks use local software, which is a very encouraging sign for us. We need to increase branding of our products and services in both international and local markets.