It is 2006, and it is debatable whether we have reached that target. But we're not doing too badly. Deregulation has brought competition in telephony and among internet service providers. There are now competing operation systems in Nepal with the release of Nepalinux and software vendors are still hoping the IPR regulations are implemented.
In 2000, the Computer Association of Nepal (CAN) also announced a target of software export earnings to reach Rs5 billion in five years. We are nowhere close to that figure but even here we are making progress.
GeoSpatial Systems was one of the first information outsourcing companies established in 1998 with direct foreign investment from Japan. Nepali employees sitting in Kathmandu combine aerial pictures with topographical data to make 3-D topo maps. The work requires high concentration and precision outputs.
Suresh Shrestha joined the company in 2001, returning to Nepal after spending good part of his student and working life in Japan. GeoSpatial now has 80 fulltime staff (pictured) but it can employ up to 250 people in shifts. Because of the specialised nature of work, all employees are continuously trained, with senior engineers spending from six months to two years in Japan to learn Japanese mapping techniques.
Rajesh Shakya, another entrepreneur runs a HiTech Valley iNet which employs 200 staff. It specialises in internet based applications from clients in North America and Europe. After starting out small with only five people the company is now one of few large scale software operations in Nepal. "Our customers are amazed at the speed at which the programmers in Nepal can meet deadlines and revert back within 24 hours," Shakya told us, "initially we had communication problems but now with simple instant messenger softwares we have solved those problems.
Serving Minds is now the largest outsourcing company in the country and has just moved into a larger and state-of-the-art 35,0000 sq ft office in Tahachal that can house 1,500 people. D2Hawkye is a cost-centre local operation of an established firm abroad that employs 50 people. Yomari Inc is a web design company with offices in the US but all its operations in Nepal.
There have also been unsuccessful dot com startups as well. The first high profile company to open a development center in Nepal was Pilgrims Asia, which moved operations to Bangalore after realising that it was hiring more people from India. The number of companies involved in medical transcription have also gone down.
IT companies have evolved their own ways of operating given Nepali conditions. GeoSpatial mostly hires people who are walking distance from work. HiTech Valley has representative offices abroad and recently moved to its own building. D2Hawyke has high turnover rates and has invested heavily in power backup systems. None is happy with the speed of internet access in Nepal due to satellite induced latency on links here.
Yomari is seriously considering setting up larger operation in the US, mainly because customers are demanding high risk insurance on work done in Nepal. If forced to pay higher premium it doesn't make sense to base here.
Companies which have survived and are growing despite high insurance costs, negative investment ranking in global markets and average infrastructure, deserve appreciation.
Nepal may be nowhere close to the Rs5 billion software export target, but companies are learning to adapt and that can only be good in the longterm.
CAN Info Tech 2006
The annual mela of computer goods and gadgets has started in Kathmandu. This year, CAN has designated the first two days as business days. The exhibition space has been greatly expanded with the use of the outdoor exhibition tent. There are more than 100 companies, and more than 100,000 visitors are expected. Parallel to the exhibition, a conference with the theme 'Leveraging ICT to Create an Engine of Growth for Nepal' is scheduled for 24-25 March.