Shafquat Haider, Chairman, Council for Communication & IT, SAARC CCI

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Manoeuvring the ICT maze

In a conversation with Marjiya Baktyer Ahmed, Shafquat Haider explains the path to reaping the benefits of the ICT sector is through bridging industry-academia gap and to equip our emerging workforce with employable skills.

The inauguration of the National Data Centre is a watershed moment for Bangladesh’s ICT sector. Not only will it help save money by no longer needing to pay exorbitant fees for international data centres, but it will also generate income for the country. How are we looking to train the personnel we will need to establish the National Data Centre as the hub of Digital Bangladesh?
We need to leverage the years of knowledge and experience our NRBs have garnered in the international markets and incentivize them to return to Bangladesh and service and train the locals here. We should concentrate on ways and means of attracting our expatriate Bangladeshis.

We should also note that Data Centres don’t have a huge requirement for manpower. It is mostly technology-driven. However, people needed have to be highly skilled.

There is still an industry-academia gap pertaining to the skills needed to bolster the contributions to the ICT sector. What sort of support can incentivize academic institutions to restructure their curriculum to better prepare fresh graduates with the necessary skills?
There are two ways to look at it – one is the private sector and the other is the public sector. The problem is that when public institutions come up with an approved curriculum, it is supposed to be there for a good period of time. Changes are extremely difficult and time-consuming. Information and Communication Technology is a very dynamic subject, requiring quick adaptability with the changing scenario around us. If you just teach the bookish method to the students, it has no relevance to the outside world. This is a major challenge!

Universities need to partner with local industries and work closely with them to ensure that the learning that takes place at the university, is in line with what is required by the industry. For example, many universities are teaching programming languages – Are they still relevant and required by the industry? There is also scope for our universities to liaise with international universities and look at their teaching curriculum and methods. Our universities objectives should be to produce graduates that can serve the international ICT sector.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the skills that you have are “employable” skills! The good news is that the Government of Bangladesh has created the National Skills Development Authority (NSDA) through an Act of Parliament. It clearly mandates that all government educational curriculum will be developed in conjunction and in consultation with the private sector. The purpose is that once standardization is done, it will be locally acceptable nationwide and internationally recognizable. So far,13 Industry Skills Councils including ICT have been formed and are in operation.

When it comes to incentives, the government has to get involved and support it. The government must help you to invest in this change. International donors are also playing a key role in promoting the importance of skills development. Most people on their own are not in a position to implement this.

Just to mention the importance of skills – Australia has more than 8,000 skills including ICT standards approved. It is mandatory to have a qualification or competency certificate to get employment.
Now it is time for all of us together, including the government, to dignify skills and to give skills the proper recognition.

Follow a subset of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – the Euro initiative for data protection and privacy. Bangladesh simply needs to look at the international arena to see what developed countries are doing and adapt these to local markets. We do not need to reinvent the wheel.

Given that ICT is a fairly new sector, software piracy has proved itself to be a widespread problem in the country. What kind of policy support can the government provide to curb malpractices of such sort?
Simple strict enforcement of the law is a must. Many employees as they leave an organization, leave with the source code – there are no laws or resources to protect these companies’ assets. Examples need to be made in such a manner, that these malpractices stop. License Audit should be done on large companies and government organizations, to ensure they have licensed software. Otherwise, huge fines should be imposed. A few cases, where strong action is taken will not only act as a deterrent – but, will ensure that software licenses and intellectual property are protected.

What are the regulatory measures needed for corporations operating in the ICT sector?
There are international, national as well as internal guidelines that an organization or company follows in the implementation of ICT in their ecosystem. The regulatory measures will depend on the type of industry, where ICT is being implemented – for e.g financial institutions, telecommunications companies, manufacturing companies, e-commerce companies etc.

Universities need to partner with local industries and work closely with them to ensure that the learning that takes place at the university, is in line with what is required by the industry.

Data has become a commodity that is being heavily traded. The security issues which arise range from identity theft, hacking, etc. What initiatives can the sector take to ensure consumers that their security is being safeguarded?
You can only reach a certain amount of safety and security, but you can never say you’re 110% secure. Security breaches will happen every time you secure it – this is a fact of life! I think the paranoia about security should not let you lose your sleep. However, you must take and implement all measures possible to ensure data privacy and security. Recently, it was in the news that a Data Policy is going to be done for Bangladesh. There are many countries and regions that have done it or are in the process of implementing it.

I would personally suggest that we follow a subset of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – the Euro initiative for data protection and privacy. Bangladesh simply needs to look at the international arena to see what developed countries are doing and adapt these to local markets. We do not need to reinvent the wheel.

You must take and implement all measures possible to ensure data privacy and security. Recently, it was in the news that a Data Policy is going to be done for Bangladesh.

Even though we reap the benefits of a digitally connected world, the public is largely unaware of the myriad of features lurking within the largely intangible framework. There is a need for a massive awareness campaign. How is the sector looking into informing the public about the realities, blessings, and trepidations that come with an annually growing ICT sector?
Trepidations are hard to explain to people. Blessings are, people are happy to be connected. However, the same thing which is a blessing can also be trepidation. For e.g, when the internet is shut down deliberately to block information about the happenings in the outside world, or when fake information is spread through the internet.

In the end, I would like to add that the Government of Bangladesh and companies in general, really need to hire marketing gurus to address and promote our ICT activities. Unfortunately, we are not very successful in marketing and promoting ourselves, and we are reluctant to look at the international marketing gurus to assist us in this matter. We must learn from the best!

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