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Q&A with Ashraf Kapadia

  • Posted On: 11th June 2013
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Q&A with Ashraf Kapadia
Managing Director of Systems Limited Ashraf Kapadia shares his valuable insight on the IT industry in Pakistan with Blue Chip. Systems Limited is one of Pakistan’s leading IT companies and Ashraf Kapadia has helped it maintain its position with a long and illustrious career in IT spanning almost 40 years.
Tell us something about yourself.
Ashraf Kapadia: “I was born in Karachi and completed my schooling from there. At the age of 18, I had plans to go to the US for further studies but instead, I started my career here in the field of Information Technology. In 1971, I applied for the Computer Science programme in a number of colleges and got admission in the undergraduate programmes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and University of California Berkeley (UCB), but before I could leave for the US, I got an opportunity for an internship at IBM Pakistan. I joined IBM as Apprentice Systems Engineer but my internship changed into 30 years of employment with IBM. During my 30-year IBM career, I worked in Pakistan, UK, Italy, and UAE. I left IBM in 2001 and joined Systems Limited in their US subsidiary, Visionet Systems, Inc. After working for three years in the US, I was transferred back to Pakistan and, since 2004, I have been working as the Managing Director of Systems Limited.
I have been working for over 30 years now and I still feel that there is so much more to learn as technology keeps on evolving.”
How and why did you get into IT? What significant developments have you observed in your vast career spanning more than 30 years?
AK: “While I was in school, I got interested in the IT field as it was coming into the limelight in those days. This interest was further fuelled when, in 1970, I visited the Habib Bank Computer Center in Karachi. The huge room full of computer systems with blinking lights, spinning tapes and noisy printers was a sight that fascinated me, and that was the time when I decided to make my career in IT.
During my 37 years in this field, I have witnessed and experienced very significant changes in IT as the industry today is worlds apart and bears no resemblance to the IT industry I started my career in. As I recall, in 1971, the largest mainframe computer installed in Pakistan was an IBM 360 System with a memory of 128K bytes, which is ten times less or in other words only 0.1 MB or 0.0001 GB of today’s  standard laptop with 1 GB memory.
The applications that we take for granted today like email, word processors, spreadsheets, and many more were unheard of in those days. The phenomenon of the Personal Computer (PC) and the development of ‘Killer Apps’ (like the spreadsheet), coupled with the availability of high speed networks has completely changed the IT landscape of the world today.”
Tell us about Systems Limited I believe it has been around since 1977. What kind of projects has it been involved in, what are its revenues like and how does it maintain its position as one of the top IT companies of Pakistan?
AK: “Systems Limited started its operations in 1977 making it the oldest and one of the largest IT and ITeS company in Pakistan. Systems Limited was the brainchild of Syed Babar Ali, an imminent entrepreneur, and Aezaz Hussain, an IT professional. During the past 31 years, Systems Limited has been at the forefront of IT in Pakistan and has been responsible for numerous large projects. Almost all ministries of the Government of Pakistan and large organisations in the public and private sectors have availed the services of Systems Limited at some point in time.
Systems Limited has achieved a lot since 1977, but a list of a few will give you an idea of the breadth of our experience and contribution to the Pakistani IT industry. The application developed by Systems Limited many years ago for Pakistan Customs still runs as the core engine behind the electronic gateway recently deployed by the Pakistan Customs. The central depository system which enabled the Central Depository Company to revolutionise the process of shares transfer and made it paperless was also developed by Systems Limited. And, the applications which power the Pakistan Bait ul Mal are another achievement of Systems Limited helping the Government of Pakistan in their poverty alleviation program.
Apart from Pakistan, Systems Limited is also operating successfully in the US. During the past 10 years, Systems Limited has carved itself a niche as a top provider of services to the US mortgage banking industry, apparel industry, and in some leading technologies like web methods.
Today, Systems Limited employs almost 900 professionals worldwide, and has consolidated annual revenues of more than Rs. 1 billion. The professionals employed at Systems Limited are the key assets and are of the highest calibre. In addition, Systems Limited invests heavily in equipping its professionals with all the appropriate tools and technologies, and providing highest level of trainings. This investment is the key to maintaining our leadership position in the IT industry in Pakistan.
Systems Limited’s current portfolio of services include IT consultancy, development, systems integration and business process outsourcing. In addition to developing custom solutions, Systems Limited also offers cutting-edge banking solutions in collaboration with Misys Banking Systems, and state-of-the-art ERP solutions in collaboration with Oracle JDE.”
What sets Systems Limited apart from its competitors, as IT has really become a competitive and challenging field?
AK: “The professionalism of the Systems Limited team distinguishes it from its competitors. Apart from the professionalism, Systems Limited is a process driven company and its processes are certified and are compliant with ISO 9001, ISO 27001, CMMI, and SAS70 standards. The professionalism and process orientation ensures that our clients receive solutions of the highest quality in a timely manner. As such, almost all clients have given business repeatedly to Systems Limited, fuelling its growth.”
How is the global recession affecting Systems Limited in particular, and the local IT sector in general?
AK: “The turmoil in the global financial markets has had an impact on all industries and IT is no exception. It seems that 2009 is going to be a very difficult year and we will not see the growth that we have become used to during the last four years. In particular, revenues from software exports are likely to decline. However, the domestic IT industry still shows signs of some growth, and will compensate to a certain extent but will not fully cover the shortfalls in export revenues.”
What roles have you have played in PASHA and PSEB?
AK: “Systems Limited has always supported the Pakistan Software Houses Association (PASHA) and has been appreciative of the role played by the Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB). Aezaz Hussain, Chairman of Systems Limited, was one of the founders and a key force behind the formation of PASHA. I have served as the President of PASHA and as a member of the Board of Directors of PSEB. I have also served as the Chairman of the Computer Society of Pakistan (CSP).”
What are the challenges being faced by the IT sector in Pakistan?
AK: “There are many challenges faced by the IT industry in Pakistan. Two of the key challenges can be broadly categorised into ‘human resource’ and ‘infrastructure’.
The phenomenal growth experienced by the IT industry over the last few years has put significant pressures on the availability of high quality human resources required by the IT industry. While the recent economic downturn has alleviated the pressures to some extent, we need to continue our focus on enhancing the quality and quantity of the IT human resources, otherwise, when the turnaround comes, we will again be constrained and will not be able to capitalise on the opportunity when it arises.
In terms of infrastructure, facilities like suitable office space, uninterrupted power supply, and fast reliable data communications are critical to the growth of the IT industry, both in terms of local projects as well as export projects. Unfortunately, these infrastructure facilities are woefully inadequate, and there are no visible plans to address these issues.”
What improvements can be made in the local IT sector? How can the government facilitate the local IT sector?
AK: “The Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) is playing a very significant role in supporting the IT industry. PSEB’s certification, apprenticeship, and training programs have benefitted many companies including Systems Limited. We would not have been able to achieve CMMI appraisal and ISO 27001 certification without the support of PSEB. As such, the government has provided much needed support through the PSEB. However, in other areas, particularly infrastructure, government support is seriously lacking and the Ministry of IT needs to take urgent steps to address the situation.”
As far as IT and especially, outsourcing is concerned; comparisons are immediately made with India. Please comment on this.
AK: “The Indian IT industry is significantly larger than the Pakistani industry and cannot be compared in terms of size. However, I take great pride in the fact that the type of projects undertaken by Pakistani companies are significantly higher in terms of complexity and creativity delivered. Unlike our Indian counterparts, we are not only coding to specifications, but are involved in the design, architecture, and development of entire solutions. Many Pakistani companies, including Systems Limited, have been recognised as providing ‘Best of Breed’ solutions in the industry they serve.”
What are your plans for the future?
AK: “As far as the future plans for Systems Limited are concerned, let me say that we plan to maintain our leadership position in the IT industry in Pakistan. The plans for the international market are to continue our focus on the enhancement of our solutions for the mortgage banking and apparel industries. In addition, we will provide technology based services around key technologies including Web Methods and Sharepoint Services. Whereas, for the Pakistani marketplace, we will continue to focus on solutions for the banking industry in partnership with Misys and the ERP solutions across industries in partnership with Oracle JDE. In addition, we will continue to participate in large public sector projects.
Regarding my personal plans, presently my plans are to continue working in the IT industry. However, I would like to be involved in social responsibility projects, so that I can give something back to the community to which I owe my success. One of the projects I am involved with is the Publican Alumni Trust (PAT) as a member of its Board of Trustees. PAT has been formed by old students of Cantt Public School, Karachi and the objectives of the Trust are to support the cause of education in Pakistan.”

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