Japan, the land of rising promise for Bangladesh’s ICT sector
Japan -- ever at the forefront of science and technology thanks to its culture of intensive mathematics education and reverence for engineers.
So it is a marvel then that Bangladesh's fledgeling ICT players are slowly carving a space for themselves in that market over the decade, spearheaded by Mahboob Zaman during his time as the president of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS).
Today, Bangladesh's annual exports of information and communications technology (ICT) products to Japan amount to about Tk 100 crore. In the last couple of years, Japan has been the single largest market for Bangladesh's ICT sector.
And the exports can grow manifold within the next couple of years if the local companies can leverage the market's potential. So much that the Far Eastern nation can generate the lion's share of the government's 2023 export target of $5 billion, according to entrepreneurs and industry insiders.
Moreover, the global coronavirus pandemic has further opened doors for local firms in Japan, which is keen on shifting its associated businesses to destinations other than China, they said.
Within the next three to five years Bangladesh might become the main driver of Japan's ICT market if the local companies can grab the opportunities where relationships will play a vital role, said Rashad Kabir, managing director of Dream71.
His firm is currently one of the 50 or so local entities doing business with different Japanese ICT companies and this number can be increased further, said Kabir, also the director of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS).
DataSoft Systems was one of the first local companies to focus on Japan.
It opened an office there and ran some projects, including one in which it partnered with Johnson Control Hitachi to develop Internet of Things (IoT) products for them. It is now engaged in a research partnership with a Japanese university.
Its Managing Director Zaman inspired several local companies a few years back to focus on that market as it has a shortage of ICT engineers, whereas Bangladesh has workforce aplenty.
"At the diplomatic level, we have a warm relationship. The local companies' only responsibility now is to nurture this relationship to their benefit," Zaman said.
The Japanese government has already decided to move its companies from China to other destinations and for that, they have declared a stimulus package of $2.43 billion.
This prompted 24 companies to move to Vietnam, 11 to Hong Kong, 3 to India and only 2 to Bangladesh, he said.
"We need to play a role in bringing the Japanese ICT investment here by giving them confidence in our capabilities and innovative ideas," he said, expecting the pandemic to open new windows of opportunities for the local firms.
The BASIS started attending Japan IT Week every year since 2015 to showcase its members' products and capabilities. And a good number of Japanese companies have also been attending BASIS Softexpo for the last couple of years.
Earlier, the BASIS was mostly focused on European markets, especially some Nordic countries and the US. But in the last couple of years, Japan turned out to be the single largest market for the ICT sector.
To grab these opportunities, the BASIS, largest trade body of the ICT and software industry of the country, yesterday opened a special "BASIS Japan Desk".
It was inaugurated by Salman F Rahman, the prime minister's private industry and investment adviser, through a virtual programme where State Minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak was also present.
Bangladesh could be a new destination for Japan and that is why the BASIS felt the need for the introduction of a special desk, said Syed Almas Kabir, president of the organisation.
The dedicated desk for the Japanese market will have features like business to business (B2B) matchmaking, links to Japanese IT companies and research on the Japanese market.
The desk will participate in all ICT events in Japan, provide grooming sessions on Japanese businesses and culture and inform Bangladeshi entrepreneurs about the latest technologies, said the BASIS.
The initiative will help Bangladeshi companies expand their businesses in Japan and boost export revenue, they added.
The government was working to increase its ease of doing business ranking and he was hoping for next year's position to be much higher, Rahman said.
"There is no alternative to attracting foreign direct investment for the development of a country and the BASIS has chosen such a country which has been a trusted partner for decades."
He also requested the BASIS to showcase their successes before Japan and other countries as currently Bangladesh was going very strong in this sector.
Rahman also asked to set up a corresponding help desk in Tokyo.
Senior Secretary to the ICT Division NM Zeaul Alam; Commerce Secretary Md Jafar Uddin; Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Dhaka Ito Naoki; officials from the Bangladesh embassy in Tokyo; and JICA Bangladesh Chief Representative Mikio Hataeda, spoke at the event, among others.