Bangladesh’s IT industry, inspired by the Indian model, is growing fast. It earned $ 1 billion last year by exporting IT services and programmes, but by 2021, it plans to raise its export earnings to $ 5 billion.
Bangladesh is boosting and diversifying its exports, with readymade garments topping the list by raking in more than $ 30 billion a year.
“$5 billion in IT exports is a very doable target, we are far behind India but we are growing fast,” said Syed Almas Kabir, president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS).
According to the Global Location Service Index, a market analysis tool offered by AT Karney, Bangladesh ranks 21st in IT outsourcing, business process outsourcing and software development.
The country also has the second-largest number of freelancers worldwide, according to the Oxford Internet Institute, and more than 40,000 people work in the outsourcing industry, earning more than $300 million every year, according to the Bangladesh Association of Call Centre and Outsourcing (BACCO).
According to BASIS president Syed Almas Kabir, many local firms are now getting involved with new technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and blockchain. Demands for more services in these areas will increase, he told DW, adding that universities also needed to modify their subjects to cater to new demands.
Kabir thinks that once the government completes laying fibber optic cables, internet will be available in Bangladesh’s villages as well.
“Digital Bangladesh is soon becoming a reality,” he said, adding, “It is no more just a slogan.”
BASIS is now looking to expand its outreach in potential markets, including Japan, USA, UK, Denmark and in African countries.
”We have already submitted a proposal to the government to create a Bangladesh desk in Japan. We will recruit some local people in this endeavor to promote our companies,” said Kabir.
He said BASIS was looking for opportunities in Northeast India after Tripura emerged as the country’s third internet gateway.
IT companies in Bangladesh started exporting software around two decades ago, joining the business process outsourcing (BPO) bandwagon in the 1990s.
Since then, many of them have diversified into exporting computer programs, Kabir said.
Kabir’s organization, BASIS, started with 17 companies in 1997. Now, the association has over 1,170 members and several have begun exporting their services globally.
Data Soft, for example, began its journey in 1998. Its managing director Mahboob Zaman recalls visiting Bangalore, India’s IT capital, with Muhammed Zafar Iqbal, a teacher at the Shahjalal Science & Technology University in Sylhet, in Bangladesh’s Northeast.
Iqbal is also a leading writer and has been attacked often by Islamist hardliners.
“We visited the offices of the software giant, Infosys and that was a huge lesson,” said Zaman.
After they returned, Zaman established Data Soft with the slogan, “We make software, we make computers meaningful.”
Data Soft now exports IT services to countries like the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, England, EU, USA, and Saudi Arabia.
Three years ago, the company introduced an IoT-based toll management system in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Recently, it partnered with Johnson Control Hitachi, one of Japan’s biggest technology firms. Data Soft is also working with Face Recognition Systems for some schools in Florida in the United States and providing a monitoring technology for central water management in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Similarly, at the end of 2016, another IT firm called Reve Systems released its first antivirus software in Bangladesh.
The company’s Ibnul Karim Rupen said, ”Commercially, we launched it in 2017. After receiving positive feedback from users, we started to export it to India at the end of that year and then expanded our market to Nepal.”
Now Reve has begun exporting the product globally. “We started exporting to African countries like Tanzania, Kenya and so on. Then we expanded to Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova,” Rupen said, adding that Reve had online customers in 50 countries.
Other indigenous companies like Tiger IT have developed a voter registration system for Nepal and followed it up with a transport management system in the country.
Tiger IT has also been involved in projects in India and Bhutan. Recently, Pathao, a startup, launched ride-sharing services in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu.
Bangladesh has ambitious IT development plans under the ‘Digital Bangladesh’ scheme that is being implemented by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s son and her IT adviser Sajeeb Wajed Joy.
Speaking at the inauguration of a 2-day business process outsourcing (BPO) summit recently, Joy said Bangladesh will now focus on creating young entrepreneurs and new innovators in the IT sector and not just produce programmers to serve big multinationals.
Joy said, “Bangladesh does not need to follow countries who have made remarkable progress in the BPO sector. The focus shall be on creating young entrepreneurs and new innovators, who will lead the 4th Industrial Revolution with their innovative ideas.”