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Major IT Projects in Pakistan Public Sector

IT projects ranging from automated meter reading and computerized land records management to online education and mobile banking are now at various stages of implementation across Pakistan.  In a report released today, the World Bank calls these projects "unprecedented in the public sector in developing countries". The objective of these efforts is to reduce corruption, increase productivity and improve service delivery in both private and public sectors. Here's a brief description of five key areas where information technology penetration is visible:

1. Automated Meter Reading:

Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) project has been rolled out across the country with the help of United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  It is aimed at reducing power theft which accounts for 20-30% of all power generated in Pakistan. It will provide accurate electronic meter readings with little human intervention, using technology to transmit meter readings data via GSM/GPRS and Radio Frequency. It is expected to help power distribution companies (DISCOs) to monitor electricity consumption trends for different consumer categories, understand demand patterns, reduce electricity losses significantly and increase their revenues. Initial AMR pilots indicate significant reduction of power theft in Lahore.

In addition to automatic reading of consumer meters, smart meters have been installed with the support of USAID on incoming and outgoing feeders at all nine government-owned electric utilities. These will help move toward building of a smart national grid to better manage power generation, transmission and distribution in the country.

2. Mobile Governance:

The Punjab government is deploying smartphone applications to crack down on absentee mobile government workers and their corrupt practices. As part of this project, the government employee must send his or her picture and a report of interaction with citizens along with GPS coordinates. For example, a agricultural pest control official required to visit farmers must file reports of his findings and actions in real time via a smartphone app.

An agricultural field monitor uploads a picture of himself and spotted pests on crops using a smartphone. This data is used to ensure visits happen and create easily-accessible time and spatial data. Source: World Bank

An SMS soliciting feedback from citizens is sent out after each such visit or interaction. Responses from users are logged into a central database, and the data then analyzed and mapped. Call centers have also been trained to contact those who do not respond or are unable to read the text due to illiteracy.More than three million users of public services have so far been contacted since the summer of 2012, with both positive and negative feedback, according to the World Bank report. “Sir, we went to the hospital yesterday. They asked for 1500 rupees [in bribes]. We didn’t have the money so we left,” reads one of the reports about a hospital in Lahore, the provincial capital. The feedback is actively monitored by the office the Chief Secretary – the top civil servant in the province – to manage the performance of officials.

Results of Google-sponsored Survey in Pakistan Source: Express Tribune

3. Computerized Land Records:

Provincial land departments in Pakistan regularly show up as the most corrupt in Transparency International surveys conducted every year. In fact, most Pakistanis refer to the culture of corruption in Pakistan as "patwari culture". For the uninitiated, a patwari is a low level official in the land department responsible for keeping land title records. Corrupt patwaris either deliberately misplace such records or delay issuing land title papers when citizens refuse to pay bribes.  With digitization of such records, citizens will be able to check and confirm titles to lands on a computer screen by entering  their computerized national identity card (CNIC) number. Corrupt patwaris are trying to undermine the computerization project.

4. Education and Training:

Pakistan has been at the forefront of using information technology to increase literacy and offer higher education. A pilot program in the country has demonstrated the effectiveness of pushing mass literacy through the use of cell phone text messaging capability.

A UNESCO has recently also started a post-literacy project in Pakistan based on mobile technology. The Mobile Based Post Literacy program is targeted at young rural women, aged between 15 and 25, by keeping them interested in literacy through the mobile phone.

The concept of virtual instruction is finding its way to K-12 education as well. Increasing number of Pakistanis are drawn to various online sites. Silicon Valley NEDians have launched Learntive, an effort to offer digitized lessons in high-school courses.  Virtual Education for All is a local Pakistani initiative extending the concept to primary level.

Virtual University(VU) and Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) offer distance learning programs using information technology. Pakistan's Virtual University (VU) has won the Outstanding New Site Award 2012 for an Open CourseWare website which was created in 2011.

5. Mobile Banking:

Combination of growth of mobile phones and ease of mobile money transfers have enabled many Pakistanis to have access to financial services for the first time in their lives.

In a country where only 22% of the population owns bank accounts and more than 70% owns mobile phones, mobile banking is proving to be the fastest way to promote financial inclusion considered by experts to be essential to lift people out of poverty. Benefits include easy access for rural customers to banking services through agents in villages without bank branches, better documentation of the economy, enlarging of the tax-base and efficiency of economic transactions.


Increasing use of computers and mobile phones is enabling broad adoption of information technology in Pakistan. It has the potential to increase transparency, enhance individual productivity and improve standards of living of ordinary citizens.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Mobile Internet to Overtake Desktop in 2014 in Pakistan

Biometric Information Technology in Pakistan

Power Theft in Pakistan

Mobile Banking in Pakistan

Mass Literacy Through Mobile Phones

Online Education in Pakistan

Pakistan's Telecom Revolution

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Tags: IT, Pakistan, Technology

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 13, 2013 at 9:29pm

Here's a News report about access to Ivy League school courses in Pakistan:

Any student sitting in Pakistan within the comfort of his bedroom or the ease of his armchair having a smartphone or a personal computer and an internet connection will now be able to access courses taught in the classrooms of Harvard, Yale, Stanford and MIT universities.

The Latif Ebrahim Jamal National Science Information Centre of the Karachi University (KU) launched a website, which will connect students in Pakistan to video lectures of professors at Ivy League universities of the world.

The web portal called the LEJ Knowledge Hub will hold thousands of full courses (0.5 lecture hours), skill development modules, research-based lectures and online mentoring lessons for school and university levels. All of this will be for free.

“Pakistan is among the first few countries of the world to launch such an initiative. History is being written right now,” said Dr Iqbal Chaudhry, the director of KU’s International Centre of Chemical and Biological Sciences, at a ceremony hosted at the Governor House on Thursday. President Mamnoon Hussain was the chief guest.

Students who log onto the website can choose if they want to be accredited for these courses or not. “I ask all educationists in the public and private sector universities to use this facility and include these internationally recognised courses in their curriculum,” Chaudhry said.

Schools can also access the portal as video tutorials from the Khan Academy have also been accommodated in the website.

Dr Atta-ur-Rehman, a former chairman of Higher Education Commission (HEC), said the website would bring about a new paradigm for Pakistan. “Universities are not about beautiful buildings, they are about beautiful minds,” he said. “Education is the only means of survival and our country has 40 percent children out of school.”

He shared a presentation titled “Higher Education: an Imperative for Social Development”, in which he highlighted what was lacking in Pakistani universities. At MIT, he claimed, graduates have started 4,000 new companies which employ 1.1 billion people. In Korea, only 5 percent of youth had university degrees till the 1960, but by 2010, 95 percent of its youth had attained higher education. Their imports increased over 350 times.

He was also hopeful that the status of the HEC would be restored, as in all countries higher education was a federal subject.

Philanthropist Aziz Latif Jamal, whose father established the LEJ centre, said: “We are one of the first countries to launch a website like the LEJ Knowledge Hub, but Pakistan has a lot of challenges ahead. Our literacy rate is a sorry 56 percent, we have untrained teachers and professors and a single digit education budget. If we are not ready to address these challenges then we are merely paying lip service to the cause of education at a time when our youth bulge is drifting towards militancy and crime.”

The president advised educational institutions to increase their pace of development so that it quenches the thirst for knowledge present in the youth of Karachi. “There was a time when business families of the city tried to outdo each other in their service to education. That is why we had the Ayesha Bawani Academy, Adamjee College and Dawood Engineering and Technology College. I pray those times return to Karachi.”

The government, he added, would resolve the pending status of the HEC and “salvage it from being ruined”.

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 20, 2013 at 7:24am

Here's an Express Tribune story on the use of tracking devices to monitor Afghan Transit Trade (ATT) through Pakistan:

In an attempt to reduce hurdles to trade, the government of Afghanistan has asked Pakistan to reduce the high cost of tracking containers and prime-movers as it is causing trouble for Afghan importers and businesses.
Afghanistan made the request at the fourth annual meeting of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority (APTTCA) held on October 8 and 9 in Kabul.
The Afghan side said their traders were being charged both for the tracking device installed on trucks and containers. They suggested that the cost of the device installed on prime-movers should be borne by the transport operator and also sought a reduction in the device cost.
In reply, Pakistan officials assured them that they would take up the issue with the stakeholders for its resolution.
The request from Kabul comes at a time when the government of Pakistan has vowed that it will set up an advanced information technology database and container tracking system in one month to stop theft of Afghan and Nato containers and discourage smuggling along the Pak-Afghan border.

Afghan officials also said that during the third APTTCA meeting held in October 2012 Pakistan agreed to allow partial shipment of consignments from December 2012, but the facility had not been provided so far.
Pakistan’s delegation responded that they were allowing partial shipment on case-to-case basis. The software and procedure for partial shipment was in place and would be operational in one month to address the hardships faced by Afghan importers.
Shedding long-standing mistrust, the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan are fast coming closer to streamlining bilateral trade by removing barriers that have been encouraging smuggling and discouraging formal business.
In the meeting, the Afghan side was led by Deputy Minister for Trade, Ministry of Commerce and Industries Mozammil Shinwari and Pakistan’s delegation was headed by Commerce Secretary Qasim M Niaz.

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 20, 2013 at 9:18am

Here's Bloomberg on 3G-4G auction in Pakistan:

Pakistan plans to auction licenses by March to run third- and fourth-generation mobile-phone networks, with both existing and new operators eligible to bid, the country’s telecommucations regulator chief said.
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has hired Value Partners Management Consulting to advise on the sale, including the base price and number of licenses to be auctioned for a 15-year term, Chairman Syed Ismail Shah said in an interview in Islamabad yesterday.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government expects to fetch between $1.2 billion to $2 billion as a result of the spectrum auction, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar told reporters Dec. 11.
“The licenses will be technology neutral and will be offered through an open bidding,” Shah said. “It will not only be for 3G, they can introduce any other advance technology including 4G.”
The telecommunications market was deregulated in 2004, and the number of mobile-phone users in the South Asian nation grew to 129.58 million as of September this year from 12.7 million in 2005, according to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.
The regulator plans to auction 30 megahertz of spectrum to new as well as existing operators that include Pakistan Mobile Communications Ltd.’s Mobilink, Telenor ASA’s local subsidiary, Warid Telecom of Abu-Dhabi group, the Pakistan unit of China Mobile Ltd. and Ufone of Pakistan Telecommunication, part-owned by Emirates Telecommunications Corp.
The government hasn’t specified how to divide the available spectrum. “It could be three lots of 10 megahertz each or there can be several combinations,” Shah said.
The regulator has yet to decide whether to leave it to the market to determine the tariff or if any regulatory intervention was needed. “We don’t want a price war because it compromises quality of services as well as profitability of companies.”

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 20, 2013 at 5:50pm

Here's a report on digital literacy centers in Pakistan:

Pakistan’s Ministry of Information Technology is expanding its network of Universal Telecentres from 35 to 500, looking to deliver e-services, promoting ICT literacy and distance education in rural areas of the country.

Minister of State for IT, Anusha Rehman, highlighted that telecentres play a crucial role in serving the “neglected and unprivileged population of rural areas in all provinces”. The telecentres will offer not only access to broadband facility and information, but also be able to generate employment and entrepreneurship in the rural areas.

The centres will provide opportunities for e-learning, e-commerce, e-agriculture, and verification/registration of SIM cards and ID cards through the National Database and Registration Authority. E-health services will also be subsequently provided to the communities, the Minister added.

The telecentres will focus on providing services at the grassroot level, the Minister said, and that District Coordination Officers would monitor the project to ensure its proper and smooth functioning within their respective jurisdictions.

Provinces have already identified potential areas for establishing the proposed telecentres, and the first three e-services are expected to be delivered in the next year.

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 20, 2013 at 10:23pm

Here are highlights of a research report on Pakistan's telecom sector:

Despite an overall slowing in the country’s telecom market, Pakistan continues to grow its mobile sector; Mobile subscriber numbers were growing at close to 10% annually in 2011/2012, modest growth indeed compared with the earlier boom years; By mid-2013 there were around 125 million mobile subscribers for a penetration of 70%; Five mobile operators were competing vigorously for subscribers and revenue, all being able to claim a reasonable share of the market; Fifth-ranked Warid Telecom, however, was struggling and by 2013 was being put up for sale by its owner the Abu Dhabi Group; After many delays, 3G licensing looked as if it was proceeding in earnest with the auction scheduled for late 2013; it was more likely to be early 2014; To allow the spectrum auction to happen as planned the Prime Minister had approved relevant policy directives in October 2013; While Pakistan’s broadband internet penetration remained low in relative terms (less than 2% by mid-2013), there has been a significant surge recently in broadband services; The growth in wireless-based broadband has been especially important, representing around over 50% of subscriptions by 2013; Growth in the country’s fixed-line market remained sluggish, fixed teledensity standing at just over 3% in 2013, the numbers having actually fallen at times; One positive factor in the fixed market has been the success of wireless local loop technology which was supporting just over half of all fixed subscribers and looked to still be growing.

Comment by Riaz Haq on January 26, 2014 at 2:00pm

Here's a Huffington Post review of a book about second Industrial Revolution:

Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, from MIT's Center for Digital Business, have a new book out this week called, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies.
That's why we invited McAfee to join EMC's leadership team in Boston a couple of weeks ago to talk with us about how every business model in every industry is going to be redefined in some form by software. If the first machine age was about the automation of manual labor and horsepower, the second machine age is about the automation of knowledge work, thanks to the proliferation of real time, predictive data analytics, machine learning and the Internet of Things -- an estimated 200 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020, all of them generating unimaginable quantities of data.

McAfee and Brynjolfsson's favorite example of automated work is Google's self-driving car, a marvel of ingenuity enabled by technology's ability to capture the data of so many moving variables and act on them instantly, free of human error. If a self-driving car seems far-fetched, how about software that grades students' essays more objectively, consistently and quickly than humans? Or news articles on about corporate earnings previews -- "all generated by algorithms without human involvement."

We used to speak about how organizations had access to databases. Now, leading organizations are building "data lakes" -- giant reservoirs of information in heterogeneous formats, to aid decision-making and to offer new services to customers. Mobile apps collect intelligence from vast networks of drivers on highways to direct us to the least congested routes between points A and B. "Massive online open courses" offer thousands of college level students access to the best lecturers halfway around the world -- at a fraction of the cost.

But progress always has a flip side -- and its critics. Sweeping technology-driven transformations are as much about disruption and dislocation as opportunity. To explore this trade-off, we at EMC are hosting a breakfast conversation in Davos on Thursday with McAfee, Brynjolfsson and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who has written about these topics in previous books and columns. No conversation about the future can ignore the human costs of progress or the discomforting question of whether everyone is adequately prepared.

On this question, McAfee and Brynjolfsson are generally optimistic about the future of technology and the opportunities for humanity. The good news is, living standards increase with gains in productivity. But why are so many innovative large companies awash in cash while unemployment rates have hardly budged?

Harvard Business School's Clayton Christensen, who has devoted a career to studying disruptive innovation, spoke with us about this recently. The challenge, he notes, is that so much of the innovation we see in the world today is efficiency-based in nature: it's about doing familiar things in cheaper, more efficient ways.

In The Second Machine Age, the great software-defined businesses of tomorrow will be the ones that usher in breakthrough innovations that do new things entirely -- the kind of innovation that generates new value by opening up unforeseen market opportunities: new products, new services, new ways of servicing customers, and new jobs. That's what the first machine age was all about. Ready or not, the second machine age is already underway. And the value and disruption it will generate will stagger us all.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 3, 2014 at 1:19pm

Here's a Forbes piece on PITB chief Umar Saif:

Umar Saif has done a lot in his 35 years. A Pakistani, he earned his PhD in computer science from the University of Cambridge at 22. He began a post doctorate degree at MIT at an age when most of his peers – age wise – had not completed their bachelor’s degrees. He worked at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory where he was part of the core team that developed system technologies for the $50 million Project Oxygen. He collaborated with Anant Agarwal, now the president of edX, among other legendary computer science and artificial intelligence professors. After spending years away from his native Pakistan, he found that he enjoyed the entrepreneurial spirit of MIT and of the US more generally. However, it was a conversation with a colleague about what he wanted to achieve in his life that got him to rethink his plans for the future. He decided that he wanted to help establish a comparable entrepreneurial hot-bed like the one he found at MIT back in Pakistan.

He returned to the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), where he found that his top students were the equivalent of the top students at MIT, but they did not realize the potential they had. His own story became an inspiration for a series of entrepreneurs, many of whom he has started businesses with. He was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2010, selected as one of top 35 young innovators in the world by MIT Technology Review in 2011 and received a Google faculty research award in 2011.
In 2011, Saif became the Chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), heading all public-sector IT projects in the province of Punjab province. In 2013, Saif was appointed the founding vice-chancellor of the Information Technology University (ITU). At the age of 34, he became the youngest vice-chancellor of a university in Pakistan. Saif has accomplished a lot, but, as he explains it, he has only just gotten started...

PH: You also lead one of the first incubators in Lahore, SCI, and as Chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board you have launched the Plan9 incubator. As such, you have great reason to think about trends and areas of opportunity where you might invest time and money. What excites you as you look forward?

US: There are two industries that are going through a fundamental re-think: education and media. The changes in each are just fascinating. Companies like edX, Udacity, and Coursera are really changing the way in which students will be taught. In five years, I think the classroom will be much different from the historical norms. Fewer professors will be lecturing at the head of a classroom of hundreds of students. Rather students will have watched the lectures before they get into the classrooms, and professors will have to stimulate more conversation and collaboration. We are actively experimenting with variants of the MOOCs, possibly in collaboration with initiatives like edX, in ITU, especially evaluating how cellphones can be leveraged as a platform to extend the reach of education in Pakistan.

Print media is dying, and technology is partially the reason. My work with citizen journalism has informed my opinions here. I get most of my news through Twitter today as opposed to the newspapers and television reporting that my parents use. This is the new wave. Old media companies were powerful and profitable. They are losing each, and the means of monetizing opportunities in the new world is unclear. This lack of clarity is exciting. It means many entrepreneurs are trying new things. Some will succeed and others will fail.

Ultimately, I hope to create the kind of entrepreneurial spirit here in Pakistan that exists in the US. I am optimistic with the progress we have made thus far.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 28, 2014 at 11:02pm

Installing smart meters at customer premises is an essential part of the smart grid project in Pakistan or anywhere else. It also includes: Advanced Metering Infrastructure solutions including metering and backend software and server system that shall be deployed at all nine DISCOs as well as the National Power Control Center (NPCC). The project has been designed to eliminate incidences of unscheduled load shedding by accurately assessing total load demand information on a near real time basis, and thus shall impact the lives of the hundreds of millions of people connected to the national electricity grid network.

Comment by Farhan Khan on March 2, 2014 at 4:13am

Sir, I completely agree with you on all the points but the problem is that the sitting government is still not far-sighted and is not doing "real work"...Both PMLN and PTI are showing-off more and doing less. Many people are wishing for a stable economy just like the one we had in President Musharraf's times.

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 2, 2014 at 9:50am

Farhan, I agree that the Sharif brothers lack the vision that Musharraf had in his years as President. However, Sharifs are still better than the PPP in governance. And, among the provinces, the Punjab govt is clearly run better than other provincial govts in terms of both economic and human development.  


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