By Muhammad Sharif Rana– Research Intern, Center for Global & Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad
Technology has revolutionized organizational and social life around the globe. It is widely used in today’s modern world. The world has become digital. Major operations are being conducted using digital technology. The future of progress lies under the umbrella of digitalization and technology. Even battles are now fought on the battlefield of the modern and latest technology.
World’s Potential is science and technology. The modern world is shifting towards digitalization. It is equally important to study and review how to improve the digital adoption process in Pakistan based organizations to help readers understand the nature of digitalization, challenges and motivate them to shift from offline to online and to give the ongoing awareness of IT.
The study provides the researcher’s contribution to the field of technology. It also contributes to the existing knowledge in this field. The purpose of the study is to motivate people and especially youth to learn new technological skills. It also aims to suggest policymakers how they can design new policies to progress in the field of technology.
This paper specifies the importance of using technology in all fields of life. It also analyses the PM’s Digital Pakistan Policy. The paper focuses on the importance of technology and encourages shifting from offline to online, from paper to screen, from hard tasks to soft-works.
The study also highlights the obstacles that hinder the country’s digitalization cycle to provide policy-makers with evidence for smooth digitalization. In addition to addressing e-commerce, e-government, and other relevant areas, the paper further appreciates numerous projects undertaken for digitalization by governments. The study has also highlighted an issue in NADRA’s online system and primarily concentrated on how to fix it. Finally, it will also address recommendations from the researcher for innovation.
In the dictionary, the word digital is referred to as a series of digits 0 and 1, typically represented by values of a physical quantity such as voltage or magnetic polarization. In actuality, Digital describes electronic technology that generates, stores, and processes data. We use different tools and gadgets for it.
Digitalization is not an option, it is a dire need of the hour, that’s the reason why policy-makers are now redesigning their policies, taking initiatives and planning strategies to digitize every field to improve and restructure their socio-economic structure.
Digitalization is the modern trend where customers can purchase anything online by paying through mobile banking, their credit or debit cards, etc. By digitalization, people can minimize physical socialization with friends and relatives; they can also purchase grocery items, household products, or anything they need.
New ways to ease the life of the citizens by digitalization are being adopted globally. They are provided with improved and rapid amenities through digitalization. Access to free internet services has enabled effective digitalization to paved the way.
Unprecedented growth is seen in the number of internet users and customers demonstrating that society is adjusting to the digitalization. The developed countries have already shifted all their services from outdated ways to online portals to facilitate the masses, which is witnessed.
Digital technology has played a key supporting role in evolving the complexities of information culture and the knowledge economy. It is an important lever for economic development. Numerous independent global institutes have corroborated and praised the growth trends in Pakistan’s economy. The information technology (IT) field in Pakistan carves a respected role as the chosen platform for software creation, BPO, and freelancing.
Having more than 2000 IT companies, 300,000 English-speaking IT professionals with expertise in current and emerging IT products and technologies, more than 20,000 IT graduates and engineers step in the market each year and the number is increasing annually, being ranked at number four for freelance development in the world, Pakistan has the full potential to grow in IT sector. The future of the world in digitalization with this number of professionals, it would not take much time for Pakistan from shifting offline to online.
Pakistan has also developed its IT industry rapidly in recent years by implementing the country’s new technical frameworks. The present government has undertaken the mission of digitalizing the country as a whole and is working hard to build an e-governance structure that will bring down corruption, enhance accountability mechanisms, and also improve prosperity in the region.
Digital Pakistan Policy
To support the IT industry by building a new digital system and blocks, the Pakistan government in 2018, introduced its new ‘Digital Pakistan Policy’. Moreover, in December 2019, Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed his ‘Digital Pakistan vision’ to enhance connectivity, develop new digital infrastructure by promoting innovation and investment in this field. The strategy would also act as the framework for developing an integrated technology environment with innovative principles and components for the accelerated deployment of technology infrastructure, software, and material over the next decade.
The aim is to make Pakistan digitally inclusive and use technology for the greater public good. Based on five strategic pillars (which include access and connectivity, digital infrastructure, e-government, digital skills and literacy, innovation, and entrepreneurship), the initiative marks a milestone in the journey towards creating a digital environment.
While addressing the launch ceremony of ‘Digital Pakistan Policy’, PM Imran Khan expressed motives to
- Access and Connectivity
The main purpose of a policy is to ensure that every Pakistani has access to the internet, as it is a fundamental right –to make it accessible to underserved communities uniformly.
- Digital Infrastructure
That provides opportunities to execute daily tasks in a secure and faster manner by using smart-phones and gadgets
That digitizes intra-governmental operations into a paperless and responsive environment and also digitizes public and business services for an efficient distribution system.
- Digital Skills and Literacy
In this way, tech graduates will win related employment
- Innovation and Entrepreneurship
To offer entrepreneurs an empowering atmosphere to thrive Tania Aidrus, an MIT graduate working as a keynote position at Google as a senior executive was also brought to Pakistan to head the new ‘Digital Pakistan Vision’ of PM. She believes that the 2018 digital policy needed to be revisited. In one of her interviews, she said, “We need to adapt, alter and raise strategy to have a consistent and clear direction at a regional level. We have set out our goals and priorities, but we will review the digital policy to align it with current developments in digital technology”.
Ms. Tania Aidrus has expressed the motive to operate and set the direction of ‘Digital Pakistan Vision’ from the PM Office. In her words, she wants to “put Pakistan on the map” as far as technology and innovation were concerned.
PM IK has appointed a 17-member IT and Telecommunications task force to guide policy reforms and to establish ambitious strategies plans to reinforce the tech ecosystem. The government of Pakistan has already given the task to the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) to prepare and manage IT programs. As part of ‘Digital Transformation’, a sub-department of MoITT named National IT Board (NITB) has now the direction to launch e-government programs in federal ministries. MoITT, NITB, and a combination of public and private stakeholders will work together for the execution of policies made under ‘Digital Pakistan Vision’.
The world widely accepted and the most reliable source of money transaction named PayPal is yet to be launched in Pakistan. Its absence has also caused many difficulties for freelancers from Pakistan. Individual entrepreneurs, small and medium-sized companies who want to grow their business and succeed in e-commerce also face many hurdles for digital money transactions due to the obsolete system for money transactions.
For money transactions, PayPal requires only a PayPal account approved with your credit or debit card. Although there are some other alternatives to PayPal its worldwide acceptance and recognition make it much more important. Although Ms. Aidrus has failed to bring PayPal to Pakistan yet she wishes to arrange its alternatives in Pakistan. These will resolve many issues related to digital money transactions.
Currently NITB is in the process of developing the first e-commerce export portal similar
to Alibaba in Pakistan. Payment and money transactions will be through Visa card, MasterCard, and Alipay which can be linked to local banks and microfinance companies.
Ms. Tania Aidrus also aims to bring global companies like Google, Facebook, and related Apps to Pakistan but it requires a proper mechanism.
Currently, the ‘Digital Pakistan Policy’ focuses on the following areas.
ACCESS & CONNECTIVITY
- Low-cost devices
- Internet access
- Affordability of data
- Taxation of broadband Internet
- Regulations and mechanisms for the digital economy
- Identity systems
- Payment solutions
- Paperless procurement
- Easy sharing of data within depts.
- Interlink/ expand govt. resources
Digital Skills & Training
- Technical skills
- Boot camps, vocational opportunities.
- Digital literacy
INNOVATION & ENTREPRENEURSHIP
- Enable the start-up ecosystem
- Ease of business
E-governance can help the government to make people’s lives stress-free while e-commerce will make the country’s economy prosperous and if Pakistan remains successful in digitalization, reliance, and dependence on foreign investments and loans will fall momentously. It will also help to increase our exports both on governmental and private level.
Policymakers, entrepreneurs, economists, business leaders, and other stakeholders are now in a fierce discussion regarding the impacts on the economy and society of digital transformation. Digitalization will change society. It will affect employment, income, health, use of resources, and others, etc.
During this Corona pandemic, the world is using technology to trace Corona patients. People are being advised to stay homes. Precautionary measures are being announced and set in motion. Pakistan government has also launched a WhatsApp helpline to Corona related queries. People can stay updated and alert and can get questions about their queries from the helpline.
The Corona pandemic made us realized that health services need to be linked, we need more technology-focused measures to diagnose and curb the diseases and when Doherty Institute discovered a way to develop Coronavirus, without any delay they
shared all the knowledge with the world paving the way to counter Coronavirus outbreak.
Cellular mobile companies are offering free calls to emergency numbers. They have also started SMS service sending awareness messages regarding the Coronavirus. Cellular Mobile Operator (CMO) companies upon directions from Pakistan Telecommunication Authority have replaced their common ringtone with a COVID-19 awareness message.
Besides, all CMOs offer free emergency telephone numbers (1166). Jazz has offered calls to various selected government offices/doctors/laboratories. Zong also offers free calls to 4343 which provides access to hospitals and doctors in the local government while dialing 1030 from Ufone, customers can connect to Pakistan Red Crescent Society.
Telemedicine is now one of the options that people are looking to prevent placing an unmanageable influx of patients on the hospitals. Telemedicine streamlines the processes of diagnosis and treatment by giving virtual consultation, making them faster and easier. Under this, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Shah Farman inaugurated the Khyber Medical University (KMU) telemedicine project to provide patients with prescriptions online. That should work with those living in the province’s isolated and tribal lands. The project will initially provide online services from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and, with the support of more than 50 specialist doctors, will be extended to 24 hours. Patients just need to visit the official website of KMU or call the helpline number directly (0317-1777516).
There are many other technological innovations in the field of health. Many android apps have been built to get help for queries regarding health. Top five apps which provide health assistance in Pakistan are,
This app delivers a laboratory testing service and doctor’s appointment. Except for providing health tips, the app has also a feature ‘find a doctor near you’ as well. The feature ‘blood needed’ helps to find blood donors near you.
- Healthpass TeleDoc
Healthpass Teledoc is the ‘Find a Doctor’ software that lets you locate physicians around you and lets you schedule an appointment as well. It’s a simple, clean application that also lets you pay from your phone.
Dawaai is like an online medical store. Here you can find all the information about all the medicines, where to get them from and the side effects of a drug used etc. Except for offering the facility of Lab tests at home, it also gives the option to order medicine online.
- Pharmapedia Pakistan
One can find any information from this app about any drug available in Pakistan. It may be called as Encyclopedia of Pharmacy. This app contains all the information about drugs available in Pakistan including their chemical formula, usage, and side effects.
- Medical Guide App Pakistan
The app includes all the details about doctors, medicines, and ambulances, etc. that one wants. The biggest advantage of this ad-free software is it works offline, too.
Pakistan is an agricultural country with 70% of the rural population and overall of 70% of total labor is linked with this profession. This covers about almost 19% of the total GDP. Technological advancements have resulted in increased production.
Here are the top 5 apps which are playing their role as the best to transform the farmers and farming sector of Pakistan.
1) Bakhabar Kissan:
Developed by a private organization named Jazz, Bakhabar Kissan is the app that provides farmers with the latest knowledge and technologies to increase their crop yield. The main feature of the app is that it guides farmers about anything from soil planning to post-harvest. It also provides knowledge about livestock and environment alerts through audio, photo, and pictorial presentations.
2) Ricult Pakistan:
This app aims to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of small farmers in the country by providing them with knowledge of agriculture, solutions to their challenges, and exposure to finance and the marketplace.
3) Kisan Zar Zameen:
Kisan Zar Zameen is a monitoring android software that provides farmers with different
resources by utilizing multi-spectral satellite imagery such as soil status, crop health data, and weather alerts etc., thus making it a digital one-stop solution for farmers. The consumer can discover early crop stress, monitor crop growth, and also can call for drone spraying and mapping service thus helping the farmers to increase their crop yields.
4) Kissan Bazaar:
This app is like an online superstore with separate fruit, vegetable, poultry, and livestock sections. It provides the facility to farmers where they can sell and buy their agricultural items.
5) Agri Smart:
Agri Smart provides a broad variety of facilities including various training courses for farmers, insect alerts, agricultural product monitoring, soil analysis, and complaint receipt.
With the innovation in technology, the business world has also changed. Now, customers don’t have to go to business centers, shopping malls or plazas, etc. for shopping. They shop online and get their orders on delivery.
In Pakistan, many local and multi-national firms are offering shopping from online stores. Sooner or later, with more innovation of technology, every business will shift from offline to online all over the world.
The use of technology to promote business is the fastest and easiest way. The owner just has to create a page or account with the name of his/her business, then start uploading products’ pictures. The customers connect and deal with the owner and in this way, consumers purchase things.
By emerging as one of South Asia’s most tech-friendly states over the past two decades, Pakistan is one of the world’s largest app developer nations. Entrepreneurship startups have been taken with technological advancement. Techpreneurs have access to the right mentors who will help them to further expand their startups. Pakistan’s biggest startups are Uber, Careem, Olx, Swvl, and so on.
Daraz.pk is the best mobile app developed for online purchasing. Many other websites and social media pages are also offering this facility.
Another app Olx.com is also offering online selling and purchasing. This creates more employment opportunities for delivery.
Many banks and telecom operators have introduced the branchless banking concept, and the number of branchless banking agents facilitating offline payments for online purchases has recently tripled, making money transfer in a secure environment much more convenient. Telenor’s Easy Paisa, Zong and Askari Bank’s Timepey, Mobilink’s Mobicash etc.) and Inter-Bank Fund Transfer (IBFT), are also underway. This is also much useful for fund transfer and payments.
Since Imran Khan came into power, he is continuously trying to digitalize everything and shift life from offline to online so that Pakistan may compete with the rest world. In his address at the opening ceremony of ‘Digital Pakistan Vision’ PM, IK said, “E-governance is necessary to curb corruption, which is rampant across the country at all levels, and this initiative will ease the lives of the citizens. Our government will put all-out efforts to promote Digital Pakistan. The future of Pakistan is very exciting.”
In order to make it simpler and to increase the standard of living in the developing world, the idea of e-governance, e-commerce, and e-banking is being applied on a wide scale using all the available tools. For starters, from municipal and public services to finance, industry, commerce, and trade- none of the governance and policy fields may be excluded from digitization.
Online innovations emerged in several countries across the world and are now being applied. For example, Estonia, a tiny European nation, has digitized and online many of its infrastructure and daily government and non-governmental, civil, and household services.
So much so the use of the internet and digitized data may be achieved electronically from alpha to omega in Estonia. Likewise, several other countries have taken steps not only to get them more and more digitized but also to focus on the electronic data accessible 24/7.
The government of Pakistan has been taking great huge steps in technological advancements. In accordance with the ‘Digital Pakistan Policy’, many steps have been taken by the government. By launching the Mohafiz app, the government has digitalized postal service and the launch of the Tax Asaan smartphone app has given taxpayers easy access to various authentication features such as the Active Taxpayer List (ATL), NTN / STRN inquiry and exemption certificates, etc. and much more.
Now it is easier for people to register an FIR as a new online FIR system has been launched where people can submit their complaints online which will be facilitated by government officials.
The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) program is a genius project, which has a profound benefit over those in Pakistan. Any person is caught on the grid (which is a simple requirement to construct on in the modern landscape).
The Pakistan Citizen Platform where you can initiate all government-related grievances is an outstanding illustration of how a centralized development approach can inject accountability and turn a sector that is traditionally lagging behind in development use.
One may think that government work cannot be properly shifted from offline to online but in reality, this practice has helped government officials to better reflect their goals and institutional success to the public via social networking channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc.). Different government departments are now using social media tools for providing updates to the public.
To fight against COVID-19 pandemic, govt. has also used social media. Except for this digitalization, creating awareness would never be so much easier. The role of social media during pandemic has proved that this is truly a first-hand source of knowledge, which offers timely feedback to users.
Now, it is the need of the hour to define some governmental social media accounts from which only authentic information may be shared. Although, there are many flaws left behind in governmental matters likewise NADRA’s system is poorly designed and implemented. They cannot accept persons with disabilities, individuals who move to another faith, people who don’t know who their parents are, etc. There aren’t many side cases covered.
When you drop your hand tomorrow in NADRA ‘s network you won’t be able to prove your identification. Could you think they planned and implemented a network around the world without needing to pay for these things?
In India, they capture multiple biometrics, so that your identity can be verified via iris scans even if you lose your limbs. The deficiencies in NADRA are representative of our national psychology issues. We are not paying attention to information which is mostly about computer systems.
Pakistan’s Most Successful Start-ups
Pakistan has tremendous potential for developing professional business personals. Here are some top entrepreneurial startups that have been developed in our own country.
Founded in 2006, Zameen.com is the biggest startup in Pakistan. It is regarded as the
best property portal for sale and purchase or renting of property in Pakistan.
To date, Zameen.com has managed to secure $29 million in reported venture capital funding. Its value was estimated at around $80 million over the latest funding.
Founded in 2018, Airlift is an app-based mass transit service provider that allows users to commute on fixed routes. With its performance, it has grabbed the customers of Uber and Careem across Pakistan in a very short period. Airlift has already received reported venture capital investment of $14.2 million, half of which was earned in 2019. It was founded by two Pakistanis Usman Gul and Ahmed Ayub.
Rozee.pk is the best job searching portal in Pakistan. To date, Rozee.pk has successfully secured reported venture capital of $8.5 million. It was founded by Monis Rehman in 2005. It has helped over 1 million people for a job hunt.
Bykea is bike riding and delivery service available on-demand in major cities of Pakistan. It was founded by Muneeb Ahmad in 2016. Till now, it has raised $5.7 million of venture capital.
Founded in 2004, Inov8 is a groundbreaking B2B payment solution specialized in e-commerce, mobile banking, and branchless banking. Inov8 raised a $5.4 million investment from Dubai-based venture capitalist Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan.
In this age of technology, mass media is also transforming itself into digital media. The age of print and electronic media is about to end. Many mainstream channels and newspapers have started their online digital edition. Even the whole world’s media is transforming itself into digital life. The biggest benefit of digitalization of print and electronic media is that the subscribers can access news and information from anywhere and any part of the world at any time. BBC, The New York Times and Washington Post have also started their online edition. In Pakistan, many channels have started their online editions. Many journalists have started their own YouTube channels and entrepreneur startups. This will also create jobs and opportunities for newcomers as journalists and also for technical persons. Pakistan’s largest digital news websites are ‘Urdu Point’ and ‘Daily Pakistan’. Their visitors cross the number of millions daily.
Pakistani freelancers, for example, are not only talented but work on better rates than any other freelancer in the world. Hence, the government has also been working tirelessly to provide a more supportive regulatory environment for entrepreneurs to build and grow their businesses.
The future of the world is digital and wireless. To grow in this modern digital world, the need of the hour is to developed new sound policies to tackle the challenges of the digital world. Pakistan’s economy is already lagging due to an imbalance between exports and imports. Our tax collection system is also very complicated not much relieving. The lack of government funds makes us borrow from the IMF, World Bank, and others. The devaluation of Pakistani Rupee is also due to the trade deficit and soaring borrowings. A well-implemented Digital Strategy will help both to increase exports and boost tax collection.
Pakistan Vs. Other Countries
Data from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) shows that the total number of mobile third-generation (3 G) subscribers in 2015 was 10.3 million and in January 2020, there were 76.38 million internet users in Pakistan, which indicates that the number of internet users increased by 11 million (+17%) between 2019 and 2020 and that internet penetration in Pakistan was 35%. The number of subscribers to the 4 G or Long Term Evolution (LTE) has risen to more than 68,000.
With respect to social media users in Pakistan, the number has risen by 2.4 million (+7.0 percent) between April 2019 and January 2020, indicating that there were 37.00 million social media users in Pakistan in January 2020 and a penetration rate of 17 percent. The root of this penetration in Pakistan largely depends on mobile connections.
The teledensity of Pakistan is 73 percent (Google). Over the last five years, e-commerce has risen to approximately 100 percent year-on-year. Eighty-two percent of customers in metropolitan areas that have internet connectivity make an online order by 2018, up to six points from 2017. Thirty-seven million active users in social media raise at 5.7 percent a year and Facebook accounts for 87.98 a cent of use. Pakistan is the fourth largest market of freelancers with an approximate number of 1 million offering their services around the globe. There are more than 152 million mobile users in Pakistan; making it one of the few most technology-aware countries of the world.
In the Digital Evolution Index 2017, Pakistan was ranked 56th, while the size of its ICT industry was $3.5 billion.
Global Connectivity Index
Pakistan still scores low than average in the GCI indicators that measure the supply side. IT spending, telecoms, and connectivity both rate only 2 points, well below this year’s global average. Internet penetration remains low, with the volume of mobile broadband services exceeding the fixed broadband sector. Smartphone adoption continues to grow, and consumer interface indicators have increased this year in terms of customer support.
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World economic forum Networked Readiness Index
World Economic Forum Readiness Index also called as Technology Readiness Index is that which measures the tendency for countries to exploit the opportunities offered by Information and Communication Technology.
Future of Digital Pakistan
We have moved from modems to broadband to smartphones and undergone a revolution in the way we conduct our daily activities, the fact is that Pakistan has been reluctant to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by ICT. But now after PM’s vision, the digital revolution has started in Pakistan after advancements in technology.
Jazz thinks the period is perfect for some form of a global revolution in Pakistan. While Pakistan is dedicated to meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, emerging technology has tremendous potential to enable Pakistan to meet those goals.
Technology will help to achieve the milestones that involve ending deprivation, malnutrition, and ensuring quality education, peace, and justice and access to clean drinking water by 2030 (among others) to allow it to enter the upper-middle-class league.
If we become successful to achieve our goals of digitalization, Pakistan will totally shift from offline to online.
Conclusion and Suggestions
To conclude we have to encourage democracy, industry, and civil society to accept access to the Internet as a constitutional right. It was acknowledged by the United Nations as early as 2011 when the UN Special Rapporteur on Promoting and Protecting the Rights of Opinion and Speech declared that all member states had a responsibility to maintain free access to the internet. It is only when we consider the problem of Internet connectivity as one of the universal human rights that we will take steps to guarantee equitable and non-discriminatory connectivity.
The government must call on the state and companies to invest in public Wi-Fi hotspots in high population density areas during these times; nevertheless, free Wi-Fi must not come at the detriment of the safety of consumers and clear protection policy and protocols does complement such steps.
The government should also emphasize the need for further exports relevant to IT. Software houses must be granted an opportunity to build and export further.
There is a need to encourage efforts to invite global tech players (Google and Alibaba among others).
The notorious “Why isn’t PayPal in Pakistan? ‘Phenomenon has become the subject of many jokes in tech circles, mostly because it demonstrates a general lack of awareness on the part of the government regarding the financial infrastructure needed to handle PayPal and the like.
Multiple digital ability acquisition projects have been initiated by the government (to its credit) to assist the entrepreneurial area. Though such initiatives are commendable, they are not sufficient to set up Pakistan for digital success. The government needs to initiate public-private partnership programs that will work together to give the ecosystem what it needs sustainably and profitably.
The mobile, one of the digitization’s emblematic innovations, has now made a significant difference to social and economic accomplishments. It has allowed greater access to knowledge, more efficient connectivity, and more successful data collection in rural healthcare; improved banking in remote areas, and much more. Further digitalization of services can, therefore, offer equal opportunities for economic participation to the underprivileged sections of society. In a developed nation such as Pakistan, ICT may directly accelerate the achievement of such targets by offering connectivity to impoverished communities.
Even so, the digitization phase is commendable and in line with contemporary needs, since the latest emerging innovations are being developed not every day, but almost a minute. Pakistan wants to make its contributions to digitizing data to cope with the technologically developed nation, Because innovations such as the Block-Chain, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence Algorithms, Robotics, Cloud Computing, Machine-to-Machine (M2 M) Communication and several Crypto-currencies – all involve a large amount and digitized data to be used for digital products and services. Once available, digitized data can be used in any way for services to the public and ultimately for society as a whole to be improved.