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.
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?
- 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!