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Technology is another important area to work on as part of Post COVID strategies.
Technology is a less talked about topic in Pakistan. We still consider technology alien at best and luxury at worst. One major reason is availability of cheap human labor. The additional benefit of human labor is its flexibility. One person can do multiple jobs which a machine would not. Cheap labor is our asset and our bane. We have unskilled labor by the millions which is of limited use actually. If we can make skills training less complex and less expensive, we could increase the number of skilled workers which will fill the gap in local market and may also be exported to earn foreign exchange. It is sad commentary though that our hard-earned foreign exchange is laid waste by importing completely unnecessary items of food, clothing, fashion, cosmetics and other luxury items.
Skills training is carried out in bits and pieces by some old Technical Training Centers and a nominal few private institutes. TEVTA (Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority) is the government institution assigned to promote technical training. When our industrialists consider Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, they invariably end up opening free dispensaries and free primary schools. This is philanthropy/ charity; it is not CSR at all. It is also generally said that the philanthropy work is done by diverting taxable income and reducing the burden of income tax. The Urdu idiom ‘Halwai ki dukaan pe dada ji ki fateha’ (doing charity at someone else’s expense) is the appropriate expression for this. True CSR will be when for example, the industry owners consider opening up technical training centers to produce skilled workers for their respective industry. So much skill has already been lost because it could not be institutionalized.
Other reason for our lagging behind in technology because it is considered expense, not investment. We refuse to see the ease of work because the work is done by cheap labor and we don’t need to worry. We refuse to see the increase in productivity because mostly, we are contented with what is being produced and don’t want to increase. We refuse to see the time saving because we believe we have more time at hand than we need.
Disregarding this background, COVID is certainly forcing the entire world to rethink and redesign the way they do business.
Technology may be seen in several contexts. It may be to supplement or replace or add a new task for added value.
Technology to Overtake Repetitive Tasks – There are several tasks which are repetitive in nature. We still have a large number of offices where daily attendance is recorded manually. In some offices, employees do it themselves; in some, a person spends full time recording entry and exit of employees. Simple and economical solutions are available now to record attendance through thumb impression or face recognition or RFID cards. The system works on its own and is connected to the HR where this attendance goes to payroll calculation, which is also done automatically. This example is probably the smallest example of automation. There are many such areas, particularly in manufacturing plants, where such measures may be urgently considered. There are printing jobs, tagging jobs, wrapping jobs and many more where technology can facilitate and expedite execution of work.
Technology for Accuracy – one area which has seen huge jump in numbers is online business. We can buy a lot of things online, though another lot of things are still out of the ambit of online business. Online business puts the entire responsibility of accuracy on the suppliers. If a clothing is being purchased in store, the customer makes sure she/he gets the correct item. But online business has to ensure accuracy itself. If they fail to do so, they will fail. Accuracy in online business cannot be guaranteed manually; only technology can do so. Take the example of grocery. An ordinary household buys 30-50 grocery items in one go. If the online business is supplying one hundred orders in a day, it 3000-3500 items. We are not talking of Amazon and Alibaba; we are talking of small local businesses.
Technology to Support – technology is already supporting the office and manufacturing processes. Much work still needs to be done; most of which is in the area of integration. Our processes are mostly run on stand-alone format and we integrate these later. Integrated technology can save time which stand-alone processes do not. It is time that technology integration is considered for enhancing efficiency and productivity.
This is just a specimen list. There are many more which may be considered.
Technology is here to stay. We should accept this fact and make sure we do not keep lagging behind in this area. Economy is seriously depressed, and recovery will neither be smooth nor easy. All kinds of efforts will have to be combined to get out of this ditch. Technology can be of great value in this effort.