18 Apr Tech heroes triumph in the time of pandemic
Five firms and two individuals were awarded at the 5th The Daily Star ICT Awards yesterday for elevating the industry to a new height defying all odds and even distressing times like the coronavirus pandemic, creating a solid footing, and establishing a footprint in global markets.
The country’s leading English language newspaper and the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) handed the prestigious awards to the winners at a virtual ceremony in the presence of Planning Minister MA Mannan and VEON Group Co-Chief Executive Sergi Herrero.
The winners are Sindabad.com, Dream71 Bangladesh Ltd, Southtech Ltd, Kotha Apps & Technologies Ltd, Sigmind.ai, Rafiqul Islam Rowly, owner and managing director of CSL Software Resources Ltd, and Shaikh Abdul Aziz, founder of Leads Corporation.
Sindabad.com, Bangladesh’s first business-to-business e-commerce site, won the award in the digital commerce category.
Since then, it has grown exponentially, serving more than 500 institutions and 300 SMEs.
Apart from serving the local market, Dream71 Bangladesh is now providing software solutions to a number of countries, including Japan, South Korea, the UAE, Nigeria, and Kenya.
Southtech Ltd scooped the award in the ICT Solution Provider – Local Market Focus category.
Set up in 1996, the globally certified software company has more than 240 regular customers and more than 4,890 successful implementations all across the world.
The ICT Startup category award went to Kotha Apps & Technologies Ltd, the first Bangladeshi social and lifestyle platform.
It has a growing community of 150,000 Bangladeshi users for its social media and lifestyle content and services integrated into one app.
Sigmind.ai took home the award in the ICT Startup category.
Riding on its expertise in deep learning and transforming any normal camera with artificial intelligence, the company’s facial recognition technology works for a broad range of conditions with great accuracy, allowing for more robust, less biased detection and classification.
Rafiqul Islam Rauli was named the ICT Business Person.
An expert in business process analysis and reengineering, designing workflow-based application architecture and implementation methodology, Rafiqul served as the president of the BASIS from 2008 to 2009.
Shaikh Abdul Aziz, who contributed greatly to the establishment of the technological sector in Bangladesh, won the award in the ICT Pioneer category.
He founded Leads Corporation Ltd in 1992 and about 5,000 of its former employees are now working all over the world.
Planning Minister MA Mannan congratulated the awardees and termed the young entrepreneurs contributing to the information technology sector game-changers.
He said the country had progressed much in the use of digital technology thanks to the immense role played by the young IT professionals in the private sector.
“People in remote areas of the country are now able to get goods and commodities through online orders,” he said, adding that the government is proactively helping to create the environment for digital transformation, which is also taking place in government activities.
“The government has introduced e-tender to bring changes to bidding procedures by using IT.”
He hopes the energetic young generation and the experienced elder generation would work together to make further progress in the IT sector.
He thanked The Daily Star and other organizers for arranging the ICT awards for the fifth time.
Speaking at the ceremony, Sergi Herrero said it was very important to recognize the talents Bangladesh has.
“Believe me, I spent twelve years of my life in Silicon Valley and I can tell you that the talent of Bangladesh engineers is second to none.”
“We have to provide the right tools and facilities so that everybody can develop their talents in a country like Bangladesh.”
Sergi said he was delighted to see the awarding event and the recognition. “It is not something that we should forget tomorrow morning… I think it has to be on top of our minds how we can change the world from Bangladesh. It may sound a bit naïve or grandiose, but I truly believe it… I think the capacity and talent are there. It is up to us to support and encourage this type of development.”
He believes the first thing is an investment as gaps need to be closed.
“There is a big digital gap. We have to unite forces to ensure we allow these new technologies to empower people. If we can’t do that, I think it is going to be a missed opportunity.”
Mahfuz Anam, editor, and publisher of The Daily Star began his speech with a quote by Albert Einstein — “Every crisis is an opportunity.”
“We, in Bangladesh, like in many other countries, have shown how to make this crisis into an opportunity.”
“Yes, it was most devastating. It hit us at the family level, society level, industry, and government level. Yet, given the traditional resilience of our people, government policies, and futuristic entrepreneurs, we all turned the crisis into opportunity.”
The pandemic has made the impossible possible although it came at a great cost, he said, adding, “But a nation is known, praised and appreciated by how it turns around and Bangladesh did that. We are doing an excellent job.”
Mahfuz Anam said the awards were introduced to recognize, inspire and encourage.
“Through recognition, inspiration, and encouragement, this award is trying in its own modest way to push the country forward.”
The award also aims to draw the attention of the policy-makers, who see the initiatives and new thinking now prevalent in the society through the awardees.
“We also like to attract additional investment to this sector because ideas can’t go too far without funds.”
Selim RF Hussain, managing director and CEO of Brac Bank, said, “This is a very inspiring time for the ICT sector of Bangladesh. Possibly, the only positive outcome of the pandemic is the entire digitalization agenda in Bangladesh has received a great boost and significant acceleration.”
He added that information technology and digital technologies, in particular, have made new headways and reached people in this country at almost every level.
“Our march with innovative ideas in terms of ICT and digital services began many years ago with the honorable prime minister’s dream of a Digital Bangladesh. Today, that dream is a reality,” he said.
Md Sabur Khan, Chairman of Daffodil International University’s board of trustees, said the pandemic has made people realize the importance of digitalization in daily life, business, social life, and even in family life.
The newspaper and the ICT sector should now focus on how industries can benefit from the best practices in the ICT sector, he added.
The pandemic changed lives overnight, took away lives, caused businesses to close and revenues to plummet. But the world survived and this has been possible because of the ICT sector, said Syed Almas Kabir, president of the BASIS, adding, “The pandemic has made us realize the necessity of ICT across all sectors. New opportunities for the sector will also open up in this new normal.”
Almas said the ICT is a perfect industry for Bangladesh because it depends on knowledge workers that the country has in abundance.
In order to embrace the fourth industrial revolution, upskilling and reskilling the human resources is extremely important, he said. “By making ourselves skilled in frontier technologies, we will rebrand Bangladesh as a country of skilled labour, not cheap labour anymore.”
The ICT Awards is powered by Brac Bank and Daffodil International University and enlightened by the BASIS.
“The award is more for the employees and everyone,” said Zeeshan Kingshuk Huq, co-founder, and CEO of Sindabad.com.
Asif Zahir, its managing director, said, “The year 2020 was a trial by fire for all of us and the industry.”
When the pandemic began, the traditional supply chain collapsed, and there was massive disruption everywhere, he said.
Luckily, Sindabad was prepared to some extent and stepped up to face the new challenge, filling the gap in the areas where customers were looking for a solution, Asif said.
“During the pandemic, we are able to reach the customers through the app and e-commerce site and delivered essential products. This is an excellent testament to the power of digital technologies and e-commerce.”
He dedicated the award to the frontline workers who worked day and night risking lives to deliver the goods, the warehouse staffers, and the sourcing and IT teams.
Sayed Mamnun Quader, managing director of Southtech, said, “Getting the award means a lot not only to myself but also to everyone who works at Southtech.”
In response to a question during a newspaper interview in 1992, Shaikh Abdul Aziz had said all documents had to be thrown out of the windows of government offices to develop the ICT industry.
“I am telling this even today. Otherwise, our ICT industry would not flourish,” said Aziz yesterday.
Rafiqul Islam Rowly said The Daily Star has been organizing the awards for five years. “It has already set a benchmark and encouraged many other companies.”
He said when the whole world had been going through a pandemic, technology players and businesses kept nations up and running.
Abu Anas Ibn Samad, CEO of Sigmind.ai, said, “The pandemic hit hard at the beginning of 2020 but it could not stop our progress that much. We have been innovating and reimplementing our solutions, thinking out of the box.”
Tashfin Delwar, chief executive officer of Kotha Technologies, said, “The award really means a lot to us.”
Dream71 Managing Director Rashad Kabir said, “We have been working for the last six to seven years to export Bangladeshi IT products and services to other countries. We are also working to present that Bangladeshis as skilled workers and engineers.”
According to the ICT division, Bangladesh’s export earnings from the ICT sector reached about $1 billion, riding on the growth of more than 1,500 firms and 40 offshore development centers.
The sector received a massive boost in 2008 when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid out the vision of building a Digital Bangladesh by 2021.