18 Sep Wahidur Rahman Sharif, President Bangladesh Association of Call Center & Outsourcing (BACCO), Managing Director Digicon Technologies Ltd.
Wahidur Rahman Sharif is the founder and Managing Director of Digicon Technologies Ltd. since its inception (2010). He started Digicon Technologies Ltd. as one of the first BPO Companies in Bangladesh with a vision to provide unparalleled expertise and cost effectiveness to existing business processes with a mission to deliver solutions through right sets of people and technologies to ensure maximum value for business.
Educated on MIS at University of Texas (Arlington), Wahidur launched his career as Manager, MIS, and Administration in Placemark Investments, an Envestnet’s portfolio consulting group, located at Addison, Texas. He later joined as Managing Partner Impetus Consulting, where his fields of experience span from hard core technology disciplines to sophisticated financial management. Under his leadership, Digicon Technologies was awarded the ‘ICT Achievement Award’ at the Digital World 2015 in Dhaka.
Wahidur is also one of the co-founder and Managing Director of Digicon Global Services Limited and Tahoe Communications Ltd. At the same time he is serving as the President of Bangladesh Association of Call Center & Outsourcing (BACCO), as well as member of FBCCI, BASIS & AmCham (American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh).
Bangladesh has emerged as an important player in the BPO sector. What are the future possibilities for this industry?
The possibilities of the BPO sector are immense. We must be ready to grasp the opportunities that are being presented to us. These opportunities are arising as our competitors in India, Philippines and Sri Lanka are facing resource constraints. However, we currently don’t have this problem. We have demographic dividends that means we have huge number of youthful workers. We will have this advantage for the next 15 to 20 years. This is a vital point for the BPO industry, a situation India enjoyed during the late 80s and early 90s. If we are able to use this young resource pool along with the government policy support and extended support from the local industries we should be fine.
“THE POSSIBILITIES OF THE BPO SECTOR ARE IMMENSE. WE MUST BE READY TO GRASP THE OPPORTUNITIES THAT ARE BEING PRESENTED TO US. THESE OPPORTUNITIES ARE ARISING AS OUR COMPETITORS IN INDIA, PHILIPPINES AND SRI LANKA ARE FACING RESOURCE CONSTRAINTS.”
What are the main challenges for the BPO sector right now?
The main challenge is that we have an abundance of young resources but we have a dearth of skilled resources. The resources we are getting from our education system are not industry friendly which means that they are not skilled enough to cope. Technical and communication skills, basic understanding of English and so on; these become major problems for us. Although training is now being offered by the ICT Division for the up-scaling of these skills, they are all time bound ad-hoc solutions. To fix this situation we have to focus on the developing their education, starting from school to university. The current crop of students will hit the job market in around 10 years so we have to take a holistic look at the teachers, students and education system and implement a proper curriculum which can help facilitate their movement from their education life to their work life.
Another challenge is capital. We need options for venture capital; however, we are still only reliant on loans from banks. The banking sector is not as welcoming towards the IT industry as it should be. Our industry is not asset based as we consider our main asset to be manpower. We cannot run under mortgages. Therefore, we have to go to the banks for finances. We look at the situation in the RMG sector where they had policy support through back to back LC, cash incentives and so on. Therefore, we think the growing IT sector also needs that support. Cash incentives and tax incentives are required though we are enjoying AIT exemption. There are also VAT issues along every step. In every hand over, there are new VAT costs added so the cost is rising. We are demanding VAT exemptions it is a new industry which could thrive with this cost burden being removed.
Our labor law is industry-centric but it does not focus on knowledge workers. In India and Philippines, laws are favorable for knowledge based industries. They adapted with the times. Policy support of this kind will benefit the industry over the long run. Addressing these issues will help us grasp the opportunities properly.
What are the segments you are working on now?
The main work is coming from telecom sector and they are very open to outsourcing. The next segment will include the multinationals and FMCGs. We are getting overseas work mainly from the USA. We have seen numerous opportunities arising in the health sector and insurance claim processing. The government sector is a huge area where we can help with citizen services. It has to come in a massive way as it will help the local industry to grow. People will get better services.
What are the policy awareness in this sector?
The ICT policies and telecom policies are favorable. The other stakeholders such as the Finance Ministry, NBR, and Labor Ministry must also follow suit. I am personally very hopeful, in last five years the industry is progressing positively. Our growth in last the 3 years is 100%. In next three to four years our projection of growth is 80%, given we receive the right support. It is a prospective sector and the opportunities are huge. As we have huge population we have scarcity of land so we have to grow vertically. For the absorption of the people we have to grow this knowledge based sector.
“THE MAIN CHALLENGE IS THAT WE HAVE AN ABUNDANCE OF YOUNG RESOURCES BUT WE HAVE A DEARTH OF SKILLED RESOURCES.”
What is the progress of the IT Parks in the country?
The Sheikh Hasina Software Technology Park at Jessore is close to completion. The Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City at Kaliakoir, Gazipur will be in operational in 6 months. More are under construction. The primary issue now, is to get the skilled workers and make our presence known in the international market. The delivery of services is very important. What is the value proposition of Bangladesh? Why I am different from India or Sri Lanka? What are my strengths? Sri Lanka is very good in accounting, Philippines are very good in spoken English and getting the voice based work. India is knowledge based. We have to find our own niche as well. We are good at accounting but we are getting very low end jobs. We are now targeting non-voice work like data processing and payroll processing. We are getting this work due to the competitive prices in the market. The costing of India and Sri Lanka is more than us.
This is the right time for a knowledge based IT sector. Every sector has its own phase and time limit. We have the success stories in front of us like India and Sri Lanka. The RMG sector in our country is a success story. The successful curriculums and education systems are also available for us to see. The government has to remove the hurdles so we can move forward and grow.