This section provides a brief overview of the history of the Bangladeshi ICT sector and the role that the government plays in supporting the sector in order to give a full picture of the sector and its potential for the future. Importantly this section elaborates on the characteristics of the Bangladeshi ICT market including the different activities it consists of and its size.
Bangladesh has about five decades of experience in using computers. In its early days, the ICT sector in Bangladesh mainly focused on hardware operations. The first ‘second generation’, world mainframe, the computer was installed in 1964 at Dhaka University. Soon after this several large banks and industrial concerns started using computers, mainly for accounting and payroll applications. The Bangladeshi gas and electricity companies also began using computer systems for their customer billing. Unfortunately, the financial crisis that the country faced after its independence in 1971 hampered the expansion of computer use in the Bangladeshi corporate sector. In 1982 a computer center was established at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. This center, later renamed the Department of Computer Science & Engineering, has played a pivotal role in Bangladeshi IT education since its inception. The innovation of software concerning ‘Bangla writing’ on computers materialized in 1987. An engineer named Mainul Islam managed to write Bangla in an Apple-Macintosh computer using his self-evolved font ‘Mainulipi’. With the possibility of using Bangla on computers, the importance of computer use in offices and printing industries in Bangladesh rapidly grew. Soon after the introduction of the internet in Bangladesh, in 1995, the development of exportable software and multimedia systems commenced.
According to the BASIS 2012 survey the ICT industry has consistently grown in recent years at 20 to 30 percent per annum. Over 800 registered ICT companies generated total revenues of approximately $250 million. More than 75 percent of companies are involved in customized application development and maintenance, 50 percent is dedicated to IT enabled services, and 45 percent offer E-commerce/Web services. The survey also shows that 60 percent of companies solely focus on the domestic market. The International Trade Centre estimates that approximately 200 companies export their products and services to international markets (USA 68 percent, UK 32 percent, and the Netherlands 9 percent). In addition to the registered workforce, thousands of independent freelancers offer their services at online market places and 5.500 students annually graduate from ICT courses at more than 80 public and private universities.
Insights provided by semi-structured interviews with 20 industry experts and practitioners indicated that the Bangladesh ICT industry has great potential:
· Considered strengths are the young, well-educated workforce, flexibility to scale up production capacity and cost advantages in general.
· Considered weaknesses are a lack of soft skills, know-how, and investment in the sector, as well as poor infrastructure, telecommunications connectivity, and power shortages. In addition, the sector suffers from poor international visibility.
· The interviewees widely agree on foreign SMEs being the main target group for exporting companies. There are few Bangladeshi ICT companies with sufficient scale to service large international clients.
Some glimpse about the "rise of the ICT sector in Bangladesh":