As an independent software developer, how does Awrosoft position itself in this market?
The reason that we decided to begin developing software by ourselves is the customization costs. Secondly, the complexity of existing software for the end users in Kurdistan creates challenges. For customization, especially because features are not in Kurdish, when companies want options that do not exist in, for example, Oracle's software, you cannot go to Oracle to address this. For our software, however, we can. This is very beneficial for companies and for the KRG. Additionally, our support is in place, in Kurdistan. Finally, many people, including both the government and private sector, are very happy to see software in Kurdish language. It is very new to many people, so the reaction is very positive.
How do you see the growth of the ICT sector in Kurdistan?
The penetration rates for mobile phones in Kurdistan is quickly closing in on 100%, and internet is around 10%, but it is growing very quickly—it should reach 50% by end of 2015. We are expecting that the market for software and ICT in the future will be very high. Additionally, Kurdistan is a very young country; the median age is around 20. We think that the next generation will demand increased e-services and IT solutions much more than the previous generation. We believe that e-services will be a major source of growth. This is why we believe in Core Banking and e-Payment solutions, and e-services in general.
What challenges do you see in the IT sector for foreign companies?
The challenges here are largely related to bureaucracy. One of the main challenge that I find when foreign companies come here is that because of not having familiarity, they must work with a local company. From the initial marketing and implementation to support for end users, foreign companies require local knowledge that only local companies possess. Awrosoft works with many foreign companies, and is in partnership with Oracle, Microsoft, and Kaspersky for software. For hardware, we partner with HP, Dell and Cisco. However, while we get some support from our foreign partners, we still develop all of our software in-house.
Can you tell us about the training packages you carry out and which ICT skills you find are in most demand?
We decided to open our IT training center initially because awareness of the importance of ICT literacy among the government and society is still relatively low. We began offering general training courses early on, and we are now working on setting up some events. We have two broad challenges. First, people tend not to be well educated in IT. People need basic skills—how to use Windows, for example. For both government and the broader population, there is a major gap in basic skills, which presents opportunities for companies willing to invest in training centers and ICT-focused education. Second, we have established a training center to teach clients how to use our own software packages. While our software is not very complicated, people still require some training to use it well.
Recent public-private IT projects that we have participated in have been hugely successful, and powerful demonstrations of how the private and public sectors can cooperate in a way that creates very successful outcomes.
In what ways does Awrosoft work with the KRG to develop public sector projects?
Our vision is to work on digitizing Kurdistan. Central to this is the development of smart cities and e-government. We have prepared a technical team to directly address e-government, and have developed some integrated solutions, including Document Management System, Correspondence System, Archive System, HR, Payroll, Time & Attendance, Accounting and business processes. The challenge that we have had with the KRG in the past is largely that the ways in which they were working with private companies was not made clear. This has improved drastically under Hiwa Afandi, the current KRG Director of IT; he has truly spearheaded joint ventures with local companies. Recent public-private IT projects that we have participated in have been hugely successful, and powerful demonstrations of how the private and public sectors can cooperate in a way that creates very successful outcomes.
What are Awrosoft's key public sector projects or initiatives for 2014-2015?
Currently, we are working on an IT project with the KRG to create a KRG Employees ID system. This will be a major milestone in the path to e-government. Based on this, major new services will be developed in HR, eHealth, security, and others. So, many of our projects for the coming year will be based on our ID system. Secondly, we have implemented a document management system, which is very central to the automation of the KRG's internal processes. Once this is completed, the KRG will be able to provide an increasing number of e-services to its citizens. Related to this, we have two recent success stories in this regard, the EIA and the Ministry of Planning, which will serve as a model for future projects in other ministries. We provide these ministries fully integrated packages that streamline everything from HR to security. Within e-government, two new major initiatives that we are working on are e-health and e-education.
What private sector initiatives to you have in the pipeline?
We currently have a major project with Newroz Telecom's ADSL system. Based on this, we are hoping to provide more telecom solutions next year. Additionally, we are working in collaboration with other companies to improve aspects of the Kurdistan's financial sector. We are currently working on developing new e-payments solutions. Next year, we hope to have a credit and e-payments system up and running. We believe that this is a prerequisite for electronic services in Kurdistan much more broadly. As this is a major project, we are working with a foreign company for additional support. Security and stability are very important in the financial sector’s ICT systems, and the technology is complex. As such, there is a lot of space for foreign expertise to develop banking ICT infrastructure in Kurdistan.
What major new steps could be taken to bring ICT in Kurdistan to the next level?
A dream for me personally, and a vision for the company overall, is to establish a Science and Technology Park (STP) in Kurdistan. After looking at how ICT systems in developed countries operate, it has become clear that developed countries invest heavily in R&D. In Kurdistan, there are no active R&D centers, especially in IT. We hope to establish an STP where several science and technology-inclined sectors and companies can work together to build and develop new ideas. I have already written a business plan to start one, focusing first on the IT sector, and applying the system to other scientific fields. This could be an opportunity for foreign investors as well, to come and invest in such a complex. While it would be a long-term investment, it could be very profitable over the long term, as R&D begins to churn out new innovations.