The Daily Star and the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) yesterday honoured four individuals and as many information technology firms for their contribution to the country's ICT industry, now seen as the next big export sector after garments.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith handed out the trophies to the winners of “The Daily Star ICT Awards” at Le Méridien hotel in Dhaka.
The event was organised in association with BRAC Bank and the Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), a Silicon Valley-based firm, with Le Méridien as hospitality partner.
Speaking at the ceremony, the finance minister thanked The Daily Star for taking the initiative and hoped the award would continue to take the society forward.
Muhith said the ICT revolution surpassed all previous revolutions in human civilisation and the most important element of the ICT revolution was that it was “democratic, widespread and participatory”.
The government also initiated some developments in the sector and made it participatory. “It is a success for us.”
The Daily Star ICT Awards, first of its kind in the country by a newspaper, aims to recognise individuals and IT firms and raise awareness about the role of ICT in nation-building, and to encourage innovation and excellence among ICT talents and enterprises.
The individuals who won the inaugural awards are Mahboob Zaman, chairman of DataSoft, an internationally acclaimed software firm; late Abu Yousuf Mesbah Uddin Ahmed, founder of IBCS-PRIMAX Software (Bangladesh) Ltd, an IT firm focused on onshore and offshore software development and systems integration; Syed Farhad Ahmed, managing director of Aamra Group of Companies; and Ziaur Rahman, chief executive officer of TigerIT Bangladesh Ltd.
And the firms are ServicEngineBPO, an outsourcing company; Information Technology Consultants Ltd, an electronic payment and transaction processing vendor; Bdjobs.com Ltd, a career management site; and Hungrynaki.com, an online food delivery service.
Mahboob Zaman and Abu Yousuf Mesbah Uddin Ahmed were conferred with the ICT Pioneer awards.
Zaman is a pioneer entrepreneur in software industry. He was president of the BASIS from 2010 to 2012.
Under his leadership, DataSoft has completed many award-winning and innovative projects in Bangladesh since 1998. They include customs house automation, Chittagong Port IT operation and Jute Genome Sequencing. It also developed the country's first business-to-business site and business-to-client sites.
In addition, it is credited with developing the largest Bangla e-book platform Banglabookhouse and automation of a number of commercial banks and more than 3,000 microfinance branches.
A mathematician, Ahmed studied IT in the UK. He headed the IT department of the British Railways and worked as the IT manager at Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in the UK.
At the ICI, he developed many software programmes, becoming an expert software developer.
But he always yearned for doing something for Bangladesh. So he returned to the country, and in 1989 established IBCS-PRIMAX Software (Bangladesh) Ltd with the help of colleagues, investors and friends.
Ahmed, who died in 1996, advocated the importance of IT in Bangladesh and saw the youth as the emerging force to revolutionise the use of IT across the country.
Syed Farhad of Aamra Group also leads Aamra Technologies, which provides clients with customised and integrated technology-based solutions enabling them to maximise their business potentials.
A well-known marketing professional and driver of many successful business ventures in Bangladesh, Farhad received the ICT Business Person of the Year award.
Ziaur Rahman, chief executive officer of TigerIT Bangladesh Ltd, one of the leading software companies in Bangladesh, received the award in the same category.
The firm specialises in biometrics and is a world leader in automated fingerprint identification system. It developed the software solution for the national ID and voter registration project for the 2008 general election.
The company is now working in Nepal, Bhutan, Tanzania, the US and some European countries. One-third of its sales revenues is generated from the local market while the rest from international operations. Its annual earnings averaged $100 million in recent times.
ServicEngineBPO, a Dhaka-based business process outsourcing firm and a subsidiary of Abdul Monem Group, won the ICT Solution Provider of the Year award in the international market focus category.
The company, which also has offices in the US, has been named in The Global Outsourcing 100, an annual listing of the world's best outsourcing service providers compiled by the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals, for the third consecutive year.
ServicEngineBPO employs over 500 people, a third of them young IT professionals. The firm exports its products and services to the US and European countries, with the US making up 90 percent of its overseas sales.
Information Technology Consultants Ltd got the ICT Solution Provider of the Year award in the local market focus category.
Established in 2000, the firm owns payment processing consortium Q-Cash.
It provides advanced infrastructure for transaction processing services to major banks, financial institutions, government organisations and retailers. It also operates one of the largest banks-driven independent ATM network in Bangladesh.
Bdjobs.com Ltd picked up the ICT e-Business of the Year award. The site regularly updates job information and provides jobseekers the platform to post their resumes. On average, more than 2,500 valid job news can be found at any point of time on the site.
The site has received good response from a large number of organisations that employ the online job advertisement service, online CV bank access and online application processing service.
So far, over 10,000 employers in Bangladesh have recruited more than 350,000 professionals through its website. The company has around 100 employees.
Hungrynaki.com won the ICT Startup of the Year award. Launched in 2013, it allows people to search and locate restaurants of their choice nearby and takes orders on their behalf to deliver food to people's doorsteps.
It was founded by Ahmad AD, Sazid Rahman, Ammar Bin Yeahea, Irtezar Ur Rahman and Tausif Ahmad.
The company has operations in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet and employs 300 people. Through the service, people can reach out more than 800 restaurants in the three cities and order food.
Welcoming the guests at the ceremony, Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star, commended the winners who helped put the country's ICT sector on the global map.
“The newspaper is committed to carrying on the initiative in the coming years,” Anam said.
He added some slogans have captivated the imaginations of people in the past -- like “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (liberty, equality, fraternity) of the French Revolution or “Joy Bangla” during Bangladesh's Liberation War.
“Likewise, the two words 'Digital Bangladesh' are inspiring us and showing us dream. I thank the prime minister for giving the slogans.”
He said Digital Bangladesh was not limited to some people running around on the internet, hundreds of thousands of people using computers or people knowing about the ICT.
“The fundamental challenge of Digital Bangladesh is the change of mindset. We have to bring in change to our thinking, mindset and dream.
“The digital revolution affects every part of the society -- you talk about health, education, industries and governance,” said Anam, adding that digitisation was the best instrument to fight corruption.
Amin Ahmad, chairman of Best Holdings Ltd, the owning company of Le Méridien Dhaka, Selim RF Hussain, managing director of BRAC Bank, Sonia Bashir Kabir, founder president of TiE Dhaka, and Mustafa Jabbar, president of the BASIS, thanked The Daily Star for initiating the award which they said was first of its kind for any media outlet in the country.
“This award is putting us in a dignified position. It is a pioneering initiative,” said Jabbar.
Selim RF Hussain said, “This award is most timely as it comes at a time when technological transformation is happening in the country.”
Amin Ahmad said this initiative would encourage the people of Bangladesh to embrace technology further, helping to reach the goal of Digital Bangladesh.
Sonia Bashir Kabir said the winners were making technologies ubiquitous and inexpensive and creating huge opportunities for social and economic development across the country and building a Digital Bangladesh.
She said technology was an all-time enabler, cutting across all kinds of businesses and in sectors from health to education to agriculture.
Technologies can bring about a paradigm shift in economic and social spheres, offering new directions and growth strategies and opportunities for traditional as well as emerging industries.
Bangladesh's ICT sector is a $1-billion industry with more than 1,500 firms and 40 offshore development centres.
The sector got a huge boost in 2008 when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid out the vision of building a Digital Bangladesh by 2021.
Since then, the industry has gone on to become a huge hub for freelance work via online marketplaces such as Upwork, punching with heavyweights like India and the US and coming higher in the rankings than China, Canada and the UK.
Gartner, an American IT and research firm, counts Bangladesh among the top 30 outsourcing destinations in the world, and the country came in at No. 26 of Chicago-based global management consultancy firm AT Kearney's index of top 50 offshoring destinations.
The reason for the wave of optimism is the country's large youth population, who happens to be very receptive to the latest technology.
To harness it, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the finance ministry have taken up projects to train about 59,000 IT professionals over the next three to four years.
The government has granted tax exemption until 2024, withdrawn value-added tax from e-commerce and given 300 acres of land in Kaliakoir to develop an industrial park.
The government has now set its sights to hit $1 billion in exports of IT and IT-enabled services by 2018 and it has already registered $450 million, according to the ICT division.
The government envisions that the ICT sector would be the largest employer and the largest income-earner by 2040, Muhith said.
“I hope that this is going to happen. But I think 2040 is a distant target, and it will happen before 2040. From that perspective, today is a day of festival.”
Receiving the awards, the winners thanked the organisers for initiating the accolade.
Mahboob Zaman, chairman of DataSoft, said it was a great recognition not only for him or DataSoft, but also for the ICT sector. “It also throws new challenges at us -- the challenge to achieve the Digital Bangladesh Vision and $5 billion export target by 2021.”
ASM Mohiuddin Monem, chairman of ServicEngineBPO and also deputy managing director of Abdul Monem Group, one of the largest private sector enterprises in Bangladesh, said all credits went to the employees of the company and the government that gave the ICT sector a vision.
A Towhid, an adviser of IBCS-PRIMAX Software (Bangladesh) Ltd, collected the award on behalf of late Abu Yousuf Mesbah Uddin Ahmed.
Syed Farhad Ahmed, managing director of Aamra Group of Companies, said the company was providing international standard IT services without hiring a single foreign employee.
"There is a huge potential of IT business in Bangladesh and it is growing with the rising young population in the country," he said.
Kazi Saifuddin Munir, managing director of IT Consultants Ltd, which provides payments services to three dozen banks in Bangladesh under Q Cash brand, said the horizon for IT businesses had been widened a lot.
He attributed the growth of IT businesses in the country to the rapid expansion of mobile phone services.
"The e-commerce sector is growing and many people are interested to invest in the area. But quality logistics, such as transport, are still a big bottleneck for the growth," he said.
AKM Fahim Mashroor, chief executive officer of Bdjobs.com, said people working in the software industry should develop software that meets the local demand.
Tausif Ahmad, co-founder and chief operations officer of HungryNaki, said: “This award will work as a motivation for us to move forward and reach greater goals in the future.”
For the awards, 156 nominations were submitted online. The jury panel shortlisted 44 nominees. After further assessments, the panel selected the eight awardees.
Stand-up comedian Naveed Mahbub kept the audience jovial throughout the event while popular singer Arnob enchanted them with three songs.