Islamabad: Pakistan’s rapidly growing IT industry has emerged as a formidable force in the global tech landscape in recent years.
With a burgeoning startup ecosystem and a dynamic young population, the IT industry is rapidly evolving into a game-changer.
Powering this transformation is an annual influx of 20,000 IT graduates, a pool of 300,000 IT experts, and 5,000 ICT companies.
In 2021 alone, the industry recorded a remarkable $2 billion in IT exports.
Pakistani IT firms unlocking the digital potential
At the core of this dynamic realm are the homegrown companies that are shaping a dynamic and thriving digital future. With their innovative solutions and remarkable achievements, these companies have firmly etched Pakistan on the global tech map, attracting international recognition while showcasing the nation’s untapped potential. Among the pioneers driving this transformation are Systems Limited, NetSol Technologies, 10Pearls and Folio3, each spearheading the charge towards unlocking Pakistan’s digital prowess.
Systems Limited - A pioneer in digital revolution
At the forefront of Pakistan’s digital revolution is Systems Limited which has been making waves globally since its humble beginnings 46 years ago. Established in 1977 by Aezaz Hussain and Syed Babar Ali, Systems Limited is driven by the core belief that people are its “greatest asset”.
Under the visionary leadership of Hussain for more than 30 years, Systems has embraced a “people-first approach”, contributing to job creation and empowering employees to pursue entrepreneurial journeys. This vision inspired Systems to become the first Pakistani company to offer top-performing employees to own company stocks. Today, over 50% of its shareholders are its employees.
With over 6,500 professionals employed across five continents and global partnerships, Systems has expanded its presence and influence on the international stage.
Another prominent player in Pakistan’s IT sector is NetSol Technologies. For over four decades, the company has been serving the global asset finance and leasing industry with cutting-edge software solutions.
NetSol Technologies was founded in 1997 by Najeeb Ghauri whose expertise in marketing and management spanned over 15 years, including significant experience with Fortune 500 companies. As a pioneer in the industry, NetSol introduced digital transformation, launching a comprehensive line of digital solutions that empower businesses to embrace the benefits of digitization.
With a robust global presence and support centers in 8 countries, NetSol’s team of 1300+ experts brings invaluable industry insights to more than 200 business partners worldwide. Their end-to-end products have become the bedrock of leasing, lending, and wholesale asset management operations, providing a competitive edge to companies with diverse business requirements across the globe.
10Pearls fuelling innovation
Founded in 2004 by brothers Imran Aftab and Zeeshan Aftab, 10Pearls has rapidly emerged as a global IT powerhouse with offices in multiple countries. This award-winning digital development company collaborates with startups and enterprises to envision, design, build, and deliver innovative mobile and digital products.
Their state-of-the-art facilities, including 10Pearls Labs, a sprawling R&D facility, help create a vibrant culture of innovation, where employees explore transformative technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) and blockchain. The company works across diverse industries, including healthcare, logistics, retail, finance, telecom, and education.
Systems Limited is a one-stop shop
In an interview with Gulf News, Asif Peer, the Group CEO of Systems Limited, explained that “Systems Limited is a one-stop shop for companies looking for transformative solutions to resolve complex business problems”.
The Lahore-headquartered tech firm specializes in delivering customised, platform-agnostic solutions to two key sectors — banking and financial services and telecommunications. They also cater to the public sector, pharma, retail, and healthcare industries.
The primary offerings are supported by three pillars — digital, data, and cloud. The firm’s range of digital and consulting services includes business applications, cloud services, app development and integration, security, and IT infrastructure. Their cutting-edge solutions and services earned Systems the ‘Forbes Asia’s Best Under A Billion’ accolade for the third consecutive year in 2022.
Systems Limited works with industry leaders such as Google, IBM, SAP, AWS, Azure, Huawei, and Salesforce to deliver innovative solutions. Systems is a Microsoft Inner Circle partner, which represents the top 1% of all Microsoft partners globally. The years 2021 and 2022 were marked by strategic acquisitions and expansions globally. They recently acquired NDC Tech, a company accelerating digital transformation in financial institutions and a partner of Swiss banking software group Temenos.
Focus on customers and employee empowerment
Peer, who joined Systems as a programmer in 1996 fresh out of university, said that “customer-centricity, digital-first mindset, and agility” make them stand out. By focusing on customers’ needs, Systems has doubled its revenue and profitability over two years.
Another key strength considered “crucial to success” is the culture of employee empowerment by offering stocks to employees. Khurram Majeed, General Manager for the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region at Systems Limited, says the employee stock ownership fosters a “strong sense of ownership” among staff. He described Systems as a “launching pad” that enabled workers to venture out on their own. This approach had a major impact on Pakistan’s IT industry as former employees established multiple companies, “creating collaborators rather than competitors” in the industry.
• 5,000 ICT companies
• 300,000 IT experts
• 20,000 IT graduates every year
• $2 billion in IT exports
Expansion into the Middle East region
With a robust presence in the MEA region, Systems Limited’s regional headquarters in the UAE accounts for an impressive 75 per cent of the total revenue generated in the region. Notably, the UAE is also home to approximately 1.7 million Pakistanis, representing the second-largest expatriate community globally.
Maintaining a presence in UAE, KSA, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt and South Africa, the Pakistani tech company now plans to enter Bahrain as well as East and West Africa. In the fiscal year 2022, Systems generated PKR 28.83 billion in revenue, with 42 per cent coming from the Middle East, Africa and others, 33 per cent from North America, 20 per cent from Pakistan, and 5 per cent from Europe.
According to the CEO, Systems has a “strong focus on creating an impact and generating employment” in the countries where they operate, particularly in the Middle East where they have dedicated “best talent and leadership”.
They actively conduct training and upskilling programs in Pakistan to help students gain in-demand skills and prepare a future-ready workforce. They now plan to replicate these programs in the Middle East with the collaboration of universities. The company regularly hires fresh graduates and has an average workforce age of 29.
Since 2018, Systems experienced rapid growth in the Middle East region, building on its 20 years of experience in North America. The UAE subsidiary is led by Khurram Majeed, who rose from a junior software engineer in 2007 to head the MEA region in 2015. Majeed credits partnerships with Microsoft, IBM, and Informatica as critical for establishing credibility with enterprise customers.
With nearly 50 customers and more than 400 employees based in the Gulf state, Systems has become the largest Pakistani IT company in the MEA region, working primarily with telcos, banking and services, the public sector, and health industries. The company has a nationality-diverse and gender-balanced workforce of Pakistanis, Egyptians, Lebanese, Jordanians, and others at its UAE office.
Systems in Saudi Arabia - working with core ministries, telcos and banks
The Pakistani tech giant entered Saudi Arabia in 2022, impressed by the country’s welcoming attitude towards foreign investment and its diverse, young, and energetic workforce, Rao Hamid, General Manager at Systems Arabia, told Gulf News.
Fast forward to 2023, Systems Arabia has grown from a small startup to around 40 employees within a year, with plans for further expansion. Systems came to Saudi Arabia as a 100 per cent foreign-owned entity and today, they are working with core ministries, large telecom operators, more than 10 financial institutions and KSA’s energy and utilities sector.
They are also engaged in “direct collaborations with some of the largest Saudi companies” including state-owned entities. The company’s core work in KSA revolves around digital transformation, including application integration which involves “making government apps talk to each other, modernizing them and improving the overall customer experience,” Hamid explained.
The firm actively recruits and trains local talent, with half of the company’s workforce consisting of Saudi nationals. They also provide training to young talent as a means of giving back to the economy they operate in. With over 2.5 million Pakistani expatriates residing in the Kingdom, the company’s accomplishments exemplify the potential between the two nations in harnessing technology to foster economic growth and innovation.
Pakistan’s IT industry can be a game-changer
Systems Limited’s global expansion is solidifying Pakistan’s position as a top IT outsourcing destination. Systems CEO envisions Pakistan’s IT industry to become a significant “game-changer” for the economy with its cost-effectiveness, quality services, and the largest freelance workforce. However, this would require bridging the skills gap and training its workforce.
Peer emphasizes the need for “massive training and vocational programs” for thousands of skilled workers to meet the growing demand for IT services. To facilitate this growth, the government must harness public sector machinery and diaspora support, alongside providing flexible foreign exchange policies to encourage investments. “That’s all we need. The industry is self-run and does not need subsidies or tax breaks,” he assured.