What is the future of hi-tech parks in Bangladesh? This is the first part of a two-part op-ed
The government of Bangladesh is tirelessly working with a view to establishing 28 high-tech parks and has already formed the Bangladesh High Tech Park Authority (BHTPA) under the framework of the ICT ministry. The most prominent projects include Bangabandhu High Tech City, Sylhet High Tech Project, Bangabandhu High Tech Project Rajshahi, Sheikh Kamal High Tech Park, and Incubation Centre.
The goal is to earn around $5 billion from this digital revolution. It was actually a meagre $800m in 2017. Within the next six years, this income will multiply six times.
As a Bangladeshi entrepreneur living in USA, I have identified a few problems. Moreover, I have multiple offices inside the hi-tech parks in India that allows me plenty of insight into their success stories. I would like to illustrate some of my assessments in this respect.
High-tech park denotes a specialized area or institution which operates with an aim at boosting up IT progress, targeting an expansion in income from this trillion dollar economic network. It resembles an Export Processing Zone (EPZ) that facilitates garments industries or other export-oriented businesses under special privileges. Bangladesh has already earned some success in this type of management.
How is India reaping the benefits of the IT revolution?
In 2018, India earned above $100bn from IT and its technology sector. We are lagging far behind with $800m. Can we leap forward to $5bn by 2025 without taking any initiative?
India is reputed around the world for their skilled IT manpower. Bangladesh enjoys similar fame regarding its RMG industry. India has effectively captured a lion’s share of the worldwide outsourcing industry. As a rising market, Bangladesh must resolve a few issues to establish its reputation in this field and for that, we may have a look into the footsteps of India’s success.
Most of the Fortune 500 companies, including Cisco, Microsoft, and IBM have set up a project office in India. Financial cost effectiveness has driven this action, as a skilled Indian worker claims a purse five times less than that of a qualified person in the US.
However, the availability of skilled workers should not be considered as the sole reason. Indian IT parks have demonstrated their efficiency in meeting the demand of manpower and other requirements of these Fortune companies at a single location. Bangladesh has not yet been able to attract even one Fortune 500 company. We have utterly failed to publicize even the limited skills we possess in this sector. Our activities are sorrowfully limited to purchasing or selling computers.
Moreover, setting up a park, in our sense, actually means imparting IT training. While some students may come and go, there lies a glaring deficiency in the presence of international vendors, developers, quality hotels, and sufficient communication with the capital city.
Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle and many other famous companies have established their offices in India. These examples further boost up sales of their services around the world. If we are focusing on bringing them to our country, we have to ask ourselves a few questions:
Why should they come to Bangladesh? Have we allowed them 10-20 years of tax holiday?
Can they purchase a suitable location? Are they going to enjoy economic concessions?
Are we removing their security concerns? What about the 24/7 work environment for both day shift and night shift around the park? Have we facilitated international standard hotels, restaurants, entertainment, high speed internet, relentless electricity supply, smooth transportation, and work-friendly environments for both the potential male and female employees there?
In fact, global companies would love to enjoy low-cost products or services. However, they prefer getting their services from India as Indian technological skills are time tested. On the other hand, Bangladesh is a toddler in this sector. Under this scenario, Bangladesh must offer unprecedented facilities to attract those world-class offices.
Such an impetus might allure some of those companies.
Say, Microsoft has an office in a Bangladeshi IT park. They are going to employ local people. At the end of the project, the office might leave this country. However, our native workers will gain some precious skills and experience. They can apply this knowledge in local companies. We have to arrange such a privilege for the tech learners as well as the entrepreneurs.
Fiverr or Upwork jobs alone cannot get us anywhere near the targeted $5bn by 2025. We have to facilitate huge boost in software export and manpower export along with IT solution export. We must produce software and Internet of Things (IoT) components in the local market. Only then, our export target will enjoy some meaningful results. Otherwise, these stats mean very little.
We have experienced a revolution in the RMG sector a long time ago. We are still making formidable progress in this industry. The RMG industry and manpower export are the lifelines of our economy. But technological revolution or the fourth pillar has been singled out as the only way out of our huge dependency on those two sectors. To realize this revolution, we urgently need Fortune company set-ups in Bangladesh.
What do we have to do in order to attract big names?
China stepped into the world economy in 1990. Now, the whole world knows that the latest products come from China. But what should we do to gain such a reputation?
This responsibility lies on the shoulders of the government at the initial stage. Moreover, our tech companies badly need some infrastructural privileges. At first, I am going to elaborate on the issue of marketing. How can our government do this? Our commercial councilor of the Bangladesh Embassy in the US may visit large companies on a regular basis. They can timely post an update to those organizations on our IT parks, skilled manpower, and the other stimuli.
Apart from this initiative, timely road shows, trade shows, or seminars should closely involve those Fortune companies. We can arrange mutual communication among the Bangladeshi and the American companies at those occasions.
It is almost impossible for a Bangladeshi organization to establish initial contact with the Fortune companies. Business folks will have an easy time in this context if the respective embassies take up the responsibility. The same formula has to be applied in Europe and rising Asian economies as well.
Abubokor Hanip is Founder and CEO, PeopleNTech.