Monthly Archives: March 2012

Arfa Software Technology Park: A Cultural Shift?

Second blog in line of narrating my experiences and thoughts about Arfa Software Technology Park (ASTP), Lahore.

Along with dominating the Skyline of Lahore, ASTP have already started dominating ICT environment of Lahore in particular even if you want to believe it or not, everybody in the industry knows about it and everybody is talking about it!

How it brings in a cultural shift?

Arfa Software Technology Park, Lahore

Arfa Software Technology Park, Lahore

It’s iconic! .. will be the most short and precise answer!

It represents a 180 degree shift, it’s like giving people hope and landmarking something which our government rarely think about. ICT has it’s root in academia, it is something which directly create knowledge based economy, it directly get benefited by higher education standards, it directly create value for the country by giving jobs to the people and automating several tasks which eats up billions of rupee every year with little outcome (road traffic signal automation, tracking of police vehicles, automatic number plate recognition of each vehicle entering in the city etc. Yes, these all benefits are still a distant dream and we are still pleading turkish government to help us in them without realising how we could do them all at home in few million rupee rather than giving away billions of rupee but that’s another debate!) and it brings in billions of dollars each year without exporting tangible goods, we actually export just knowledge!

The state of ICT based companies in Lahore

– There are about 20-25 large companies in Lahore which have 100+ employees and I am not talking about Mobilink, Wateen etc. Likes of such companies are Teradata, Nextbridge, TRG, Netsol, Game View Studios, Sensys, Intech, System International etc. these are just the few which I can count from top of my head! Most of these companies are located in posh residential area of Lahore city with Gulberg being the most populated and other’s are scattered around in DHA and Johar Town. Few are in commercial plazas such as Shaheen Complex and only a handful have their own buildings such as Netsol. Remaining which are in residential rented buildings, with 100+ employees you can’t fit them all in one building, so, a number of them have to rent multiple buildings with operations staff scattered!

– Then there are small companies which are mostly Elance and oDesk based and they are also located in small residential buildings around the city. Although small and out of international exposure, each of them have revenue in terms of thousands of US dollars every month! Most of this income is undocumented as almost all of them are non-registered and running thorough personal bank accounts of owners. Fair enough for them but they also need mentors and proper subsidized office space to gain exposure and growth!

– Local ICT industry also include large call centers which work for local companies as well for companies which are established abroad in UK and USA and call centres always have staff in multiple of hundreds.

In such situation ASTP being iconic automatically becomes a hub, it has 17 floors, 3 gone for shops, 14 remain – 5 of which are already gone to Punjab Government and remaining floors come to a grand total of 9! 3 floors were for incubator offices (8th, 9th and 10th) and office size range in these floors is from 211 sq. ft. to 900 sq. ft. Now the actual situation on the ground is:

  • 4th and 5th floor gone to LDA (Lahore Development Authority) and Punjab Police for their IT related projects
  • Reportedly 9th floor (which is originally for incubator offices) is taken by Chief Minister Punjab himself for his personal secretariat
  • 11th floor is taken by PITB (Punjab Information Technology Board)
  • 10th floor was originally designed for incubator offices as well according to original prospectus of ASTP (formerly LTP) but marketing staff don’t show it any more to small companies so odds are that it has been rented out as a whole floor to a large company
  • 1 floor in a technology focused building is gone to Danish Technology University (this idea can only come in the mind of Mian Shehbaz Sharif – CM Punjab)

In this situation, out of 17 original and 14 office floors, 9 are available to local ICT industry for which this building has originally been constructed. Out of 3 floors for incubator offices, only 1 is in the market and PITB people are also thinking about it to rent as a whole floor to avoid rent collection fatigue (really?)

Potential of Cultural Shift

Still, this place has a lot of potential as a breeding ground of a lot of start-ups in the city as I can see a lot of buzz going around with-in, people networking with each other, events are already getting hosted in already functional auditorium!

The need of the hour is to promote a culture which shifts our industry’s focus from an outsourcing based to start-up based industry. Believe me with outsourcing we are going nowhere! A lot of companies here take projects from Internet or western agencies, do the hard-work and get some money at the end, while where we ship our hard work, our name hardly goes forward, we never get recognition of any kind! Secondly, yes developers get money for their work but they never socialise with each other, they never think about developing something new, to try their luck and bring in millions of dollars by selling their own products, the result is that most companies here are not focused on increasing their knowledge base (most developers and companies are happy working on WordPress and Joomla while world is making HTML5 based mobile apps), nor do they think about innovation!

With ASTP, we can create a whole eco-system for entrepreneurship! This building will serve as a networking hub automatically, investors and developers will come together and that will be the start of something bigger, the government just need to faciliate the change rather than doing things which it is not ment to do.

How other’s did it?

We all know Mountain View (famously known as Silicon Valley) as Mecca of ICT but what made it turn into a Mecca? US defense department! They first made a missile factory in the area, then HP was born and by late 50s they were making electronic components for defense factories in the area and they had more than 10,000 employees, that made everybody around that area an engineer! Then Standford University opened an innovation center spread over an area of 50 acres! that all happened in 40s, 50s and 60s and today we have a place known as Silicon Valley, the birth place of literally everything we know in the field of ICT. These factors were just catalysts, people automatically did the remaining job!

What our Government is doing?

Exactly what they are famous to do!

Instead of giving the projects to local companies, our government is pleading Turkish and other foreign companies to take billions of rupee and automate our systems. Do we really think that we can’t do those projects here? Take a chance, you will be surprised! Our ever energetic Chief Minister is offering 2 billion rupee to a turkish company to install automated traffic signal system in Lahore, did he have any idea what a change this money can bring to local industry if he let that money flow within Pakistan? But no, why we would give it locally, first if that would be awarded locally, the project will be scooped by some cousin of someone sitting in the government and that cousin would still be a student somewhere (exactly what happened in irrigation telemetery project, reportedly) and then a whole cycle of corruption will start and nothing will get delivered, that’s another debate but corruption is a controllable factor and only takes intention, right?

– Technology University in ASTP

As of what I will think about the scenario is that the CM must have seen the building first time and must have thought ‘uh, such a huge building, I should not let it remain empty and turn into a white elephant, let’s start a technology university on a floor here!’. A wonderful idea Sir but ‘a’ building is not the right place for it. Universities should be at open places with plenty of space for labs, playing grounds and class rooms. One floor of a technology building is not enough!

Secondly, it will destroy the working environment, students are mostly non-serious about facilities they would use while in business, facilities and time essentially translate into money! There will be a problem of security, students will use same elevators which would mean they can go on any floor and will put a strain on building facilities for which it is not designed.

There is a plus point that a university will encourage academia and industry collaboration but that is already happening, we recently went on a talent hunt to COMSATS (CIIT) which is 13 Km from Thokar Niaz Baig (literally 13 km out of the last corner of the city!) and we had no problem, we were there exactly out of the need and we were happy doing that! We knew we are going to meet students, idea of meeting students in our own elevator instead of someone who is working on a cool mobile app and need partner? – shrugs!

– CM himself on 9th floor?

What are you doing there Sir? We will be most happy with the thought that our CM has his own office in the building and he sometimes come and sit with us. We will be happy because we will have a chance to interact with CM, give our input into the existing and new technology projects and maybe if the presence of CM can become catalyst in joining hands with foreign governments! (Pay attention: I am talking about taking projects and doing them here rather than pleading other governments to do our projects!)

But what a CM would be doing on a whole floor? Sir, there are more than 500 small companies in this city, they all need to grow, they all need to become likes of Apple and Microsoft and they can! Instead of taking up their space, you should be providing them space! We don’t need your 200 useless secretariat employees sitting with us, instead we will be happy sitting with 200 innovators who can bring real change.

Continues CM presence will also bring in security challenges for the businesses inside the building, if CM should come, it should be granted a low-key event status and his presence should not hinder business activity.

Conclusion

I will conclude this blog by congratulating previous and current Punjab Government to construct a hub for the industry at a right place and with right facilities and I will hope that now on the operational side Punjab Government will also show the same spirit and will prove itself a catalyst in creating a knowledge eco-system to encourage entrepreneurship and bring value to the country rather than creating obstacles in the process!

 

 

Moving into Arfa Software Technology Park Lahore

Arfa Software Technology Park (formerly known as Lahore Technology Park) is one of the most iconic buildings in Lahore. You can’t help but noticing it when you first go towards Model Town or on Ferozpur Road towards Qasur after Kalma Chowk. Tall, Sleek, Hi-Tech look grabs your attention and you can’t stop yourself from asking ‘oh, what’s that?’. Well that was my response when I came to Pakistan last year in January after spending some good years abroad, I was completely unaware of this development but this came just forward when I was looking to establish a development office in Lahore.

Arfa Software Technology Park

Arfa Software Technology Park, Lahore

A little search on the web followed – found PITB site and it was written that construction will be complete by April 2010 after delaying for an year, well, that was already January 2011 and even probably due to delays PITB (Punjab Information Technology Board) staff was fed up to update their website (well, what else you do PITB?).

I immediately decided to have an office there and as from the look of building it seemed that outer structure is complete and they may take 6 months or so to finish any interiors work, we took a temporary office in a residential building (as is the norm in Pakistan for software houses) and started from there. I kept on calling PITB but they never had any clue when technology park will be complete, finally I found a reference in PITB and went to visit the site, on that day I got to know for the first time that it has been started, an advertisement was placed in national newspapers that weekend and building is ready to move-in, the marketing staff (they outsourced marketing to some company known as SFA) was eager to get bookings while they even didn’t had a clue when inauguration will be done and what are the per square foot rates or what will be the cost of electricity. That was November, 2011! I went there another 2 times and still the marketing office had no clue what was happening and that was because PITB being a government run organization (and because of the fact that their salaries are secured even if they work or not) was not clear about anything.

Why I liked Arfa Software Technology Park? 

Actual Image: Data Centre in Arfa Software Technology Park

Actual Image: Data Centre in Arfa Software Technology Park

– Purpose built floors: you want to have your own LAN – just pull out a tile, get your cable under the floor and ceil the tile again.
– Back-up electricity: Technology park building has 3 power sources, WAPDA and a backup generator and then a backup generator again. Building has double sourced connections for WAPDA supply as well, ensuring 80% less electricity outage!
– Fibre Optic cable until the office with in-house NOC for broadband suppliers!
– Plenty of parking space for both motor-cycles and cars, we are getting 1 car space for free with 345 square foot office space, motor-cycles are free anyway unconditional!
– In-house data center, so suppose we are going to demo something tomorrow and we need our own servers for that, you got a data-center just in your building!
– Auditorium and seminar rooms

What I don’t like about Arfa Software Technology Park?

–  There could have been small meeting rooms in the building, even if you have occupied a whole floor, it’s not necessary that would like to call every client or prospective employee inside the development office!
– A large hall to hold hackathon’s or such events!
– Food hall, well I know there are some ‘Food shops’ on 3rd level and marketing people are pushing out the likes of KFC, McDonalds etc. to open up franchises there but really if you can have a simple large canteen where anyone could go and have a simple lunch everyday – that would have been wonderful!

Top questions I asked every time and had to push for answers!

– What is the rate in per square foot on level 8 or 9? (A: Finally, it’s Rs. 110/sq ft.)
– What will be the electricity unit charge? (A: Standard WAPDA commercial unit)
– What will be backup electricity (generator) unit charge?  (No answer still)
– How I can get Internet connection in my office and what will the charge? (A: You can request any supplier, PTCL and Transworld are already in there and you can deal with them directly OR ASTP itself also provides Internet, details of which are unknown!)

And then we got to know an amazing thing, while doing the agreement, we came to know that we are only allowed to operate for 10 hours a day in the building and if we want to go beyond that, we will have to pay extra (which ranges from 26 paisa/sq ft to some figure far greater than that – but this rate has not been finalized yet!)
My Response: C’mon! are you kidding me? You have made a technology park, you are only allowing technology companies and call centers to step-in and you don’t even know how we work? Mostly it’s 24 hours! Software houses always have late sittings, a 8 or 10 hour day is a dream for most developers then call centers work round the clock, it’s support they give and even if they don’t work round-the-clock, most of them work for clients in UK or USA, they can’t take an office which is open from 0800 to 1700 PST! We were told about this conditon by marketing staff downstairs and I never believed my ears on what I am listening to so we requested them to have a word with PITB staff which are already enjoying 11th floor in ASTP. After speaking to one of their managers, we came to know building is running on BMS (Building Management System) and HVAC plant will be running for 24 hours anyway even if somebody uses it or not – and people will be paying for electricity getting used in their offices, guards will still be in place for their security duty – why this extra charge and ridiculous timings then? He, himself had no clue and told us that they are still thinking about that. That was a month ago and now when we were sent an agreement copy to create an agreement like that by ourselves and sign and send it back, this condition was still written that we agree to use building for 10 hours a day and will pay extra charge for over-usage. How wonderful!
This month (March, 2012) we applied for an office at 8th floor which is reserved for incubator offices and our application was approved, then we were asked to create an agreement document by ourselves and send them to PITB for approval, that’s been done and a cheque for initial payment is under process, when we will get possession – nobody knows still!

Insider Reports and Rumours:

– Incubator offices were scooped quite fast – even companies like Teradata are taking full floors, judging by the amount of IT companies in Lahore alone and their work staff strength – 14  office floors are still very less!
– Chief Minister has acquired whole of 9th floor – God knows for what and that’s in a technology building! What a CM secretariat will do there?
– And this is announced that CM is opening a Danish University in the building, well, can you open a university in ‘a’ building? Will that not damage working environment? I will write a separate blog about it.

I will leave this blog here, just take it for your information, ASTP is a very nice and well equipped building but people running it are obviously from Punjab Government so you know the likely state of it’s operations. Next, I will blog about a cultural shift which such a central hub of IT can bring to Lahore in specific and Pakistan in general.

Any comments or if you want to know anything from my experiences, just use the space below!

 

Tutorial: iOS Twitter app in 60 seconds using MoSync and Sencha Touch

Assumption for this video tutorial is that viewer don’t know Sencha Touch and MoSync at all, that’s why it is a bit longer than 60 seconds :;)

Introducing MoSync – SDK for Cross Platform Mobile App Development
MoSync is a cross platform mobile application development SDK which allows you to write cross platform apps for as many as 6 different platforms including iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7. Developers can develop their native UI web apps using HTML5 or native UI apps using C++. You can find more information about MoSync on http://www.mosync.com

Introducing Sencha Touch – JavaScript Framework for Mobile Devices

Sencha Touch is a JavaScript framework to write HTML5 based web applications targeted for touch based devices. It is specially designed to support touch based devices. Sencha Touch is from the same people who are behind ExtJs and Sencha Touch 2.0 is largely based on ExtJs codebase. You can find more information about Sencha Touch on www.sencha.com

Let’s get to work!

First step is to download MoSync IDE from www.mosync.com. You can download MoSync Mobile SDK or MoSync Reload which is specially written for HTML5 apps. I have used MoSync 3.0 Mac OSX version for this video tutorial.

The second step would be to have latest release of Sencha Touch with you, at the moment Version 1.1.1 is latest while version 2 is in developer preview only. You will need to give your email address to download free commercial version which I have already downloaded and unzipped on to my machine.

Let’s create our twitter client app. Open MoSync -> go to New Project -> Choose MoSync Project -> Choose HTML5 Project -> Choose HTML5 WebUI Project and then click Finish.
As you can see we have a HTML5 project ready for us now, it’s based on a template, so even if we don’t do anything and run it straight away on the iOS simulator, it will work for us!

A tip for you here will be that beside that you don’t need to configure anything on MoSync to run HTML5 apps, it come bundled with iOS simulator but you still need to have XCode installed on your machine to get it working, XCode is already installed on my MacBook at it’s default location and we can start using it straight away.

Now, back to our twitter client app, when you download Sencha Touch 1.1.1 and unzip the folder, you get examples folder in it, just open the examples folder, find twitter folder in it, copy it’s contents, go back to MoSync, delete all files from Local Folder and then paste the twitter folder contents in it. Then copy sencha-touch-debug.js from sencha touch folder and copy it also in Local files folder in MoSync. Then open index.html and change the path for sencha-touch.js file accordingly.

Now start you simulator again targeting iPad (because twitter example is not supporting iPhone resolution) and hey! you have your twitter client ready to go!
That is that easy! (I know this is cheeky)

Next time I will come back with a tutorial to target the same app to work on Windows Phone 7 and Android platforms.

Till then see ya!

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