Pakistan offers cut-price development to UK firms

Pakistan is offering UK companies bargain software development deals, as it gears up to establish itself as a major offshore...

Pakistan is offering UK companies bargain software development deals, as it gears up to establish itself as a major offshore software services centre to rival India and China.

The country is investing billions of dollars to create a national broadband infrastructure, an education system capable of supplying highly trained IT professionals, and technology parks to attract Western software and services businesses.

For £6,000 a month - a fraction of the equivalent costs in the UK - the Pakistan Government will provide Western companies with computer-equipped, air-conditioned offices, broadband links, and a team of 10 developers, three bteam leaders, an accountant and support staff, to kick-start their offshore development work.

The offer, alongside a string of similar incentives, is a key part of a national plan by Pakistan, which aims to grow the country's income from software development work from $100m to $700m within two years.

"The IT recession in the US and Europe has meant that people are looking for cheaper alternatives. More and more companies are coming into Pakistan because it is far more economical than their own countries," said Atta-Ur-Rahman, Pakistan's minister for science and technology, in an interview with Computer Weekly.

The country is investing heavily in training to ensure a supply of qualified IT professionals to meet this growing demand. Ministers are promising Western firms that if they cannot find IT professionals with the skills they need, the Pakistan Government will step in and train local staff for them.

"The success of any project will depend on the quality of training that the people locally have been exposed to. If there is a British company that wants x-hundred people trained in a certain field then the Government will come in and bear the cost of training, including the air fares of the trainers and their living costs in Pakistan," said Atta.

In the longer term, the Government is investing in specialist IT universities. Seven have been created within a year, alongside a virtual university that will enrol 50,000 students over the course of the next 18 months. Course fees are deliberately low, at about £14 a month.

Offshore development in Pakistan can also allow companies to benefit from 15-year tax holidays, zero-rated duties on computer equipment and a minimum of red-tape, which, in theory at least, will allow companies to establish offices in Pakistan in as little as 48 hours.

Businesses should not be put off by the current tension between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, said Atta.

More details from Uzair Kahn at the Pakistan High Commission.

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