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A Techie Among the non-ITs –COO Technopsis

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[This interview was published in CodeWeek in March, 2011]

Nabeel Akmal Qadeer, the Co-Founder and COO at Technopsis is one of the most sought-after IT professionals in the local SME sector of Pakistan. His views are often thought to be unorthodox yet brilliant. CodeWeek interviewed him a couple of weeks back in his office at Shapes Pvt. Ltd. Head Office [which is the Head Office of Technopsis as well], where he treated us to a hot cup of coffee and some very interesting ideas.

Even though the extraordinary success story of automation at Shapes is what brought Nabeel on the map, he has had the opportunity to contribute to various other SMEs within Pakistan with completely diverse business domains including the Nirala Group, Sufi Steel Industries, DDFC Group, and Best Juices Ltd. to name a few. With majors in Computer Sciences and Software Engineering, Nabeel made sure to back his technical expertise with tangible experience in management, as a result of which he has managed to provide local businesses with an immaculate understanding of technologies that have enabled them to formulate effective business strategies and streamline their processes more efficiently.

CodeWeek: Tell us about Technopsis...

Nabeel: Technopsis came into being in 2009. Ideologically, it is all about conducting a technological synopsis of businesses. Our aim is to help businesses absorb technology effectively, where IT serves as a business enabler as well as a reliable source of information for timely and effective decision making. Primarily functioning on the norms of an IT house but differs in a way that it provides management consultancy and process engineering with the aim to streamline their client’s business process before we actually go ahead with software automation.

Technopsis is not generating huge profits, mainly because we end up investing more than we get in return in our client’s business, as we believe that this will instill a culture in the local SMEs to be accept automation which will be beneficial not just for Technopsis but for other software vendors as well; yet our focus from day one has been on process improvement of our client’s business. In exploring and providing MIS consultancy, Technopsis is being backed by the Shapes Group of companies. The merger of Shapes and Technopsis is an interesting story. In short, it was a result of a mutual understanding between me and Mr. Ahmed, The Group CEO of Shapes, who after seeing the amazing results of automation within his own organization chose to replicate the same in other companies as well.

CodeWeek: Where did the idea of setting up such a company come from?

Nabeel: After completing University, I took a rather unconventional road by opting to work for a ‘mithai’ manufacturing organization, Nirala Group of Companies and was able to play a vital role in automating their business. I also had the opportunity of contributing to the automation Stylo shoes, and then later worked for numerous other local brands in the domain of Engineering, Manufacturing & Retail etc. helping them revamp & automate their business processes as a Consultant. These engagements helped me answer a question that basically was the reason why I chose be a Business Technology Consultant and it was that why is it that Pakistani local organizations fail to become Multinationals?

During the course of my technical degree at FAST, I started exploring the dynamics of the corporate sector by working with three multinational banks. Sadly, wearing and a suit and a tie and performing the same tasks everyday like a machine were just not my cup of coffee.

So that first thing I did right after completing my degree was that whenever I got a chance in Pakistan or abroad, I attended numerous management programs and diplomas in order to polish my technical skills and make them compatible with the management roles that were demanded of me in my consultancy engagements. This period helped me understand the core concept of Management Information Systems and by this time I was sure that this was the field I intend to pursue.

It all began at Shapes where we initiated implementing technology and streamlined systems within the organization over three years ago. In the process I got to interact with numerous C-level executives, who were already part of established businesses of their own – They were driven towards meeting with us as they experienced the remarkable improvement in service levels backed by Technology. The general claim was that people were inspired by the speed of development and growth at Shapes, while we were automating our processes, introducing computerized systems Online Real Time Reports, RFID cards, automated billing, records of diet & exercise plans on a click of a button, automatically generated customer service messages and lots more.

As a result, numerous local entrepreneurs started asking us for advice on how they could automate and improve their businesses. This led to thinking on the lines of having our own set up through which we could practice the best practices of MIS [Management Information Systems] in its true essence.

CodeWeek: Where did the idea germinate from?

Nabeel: Our country is laden with businessmen who are rich, who have money, who have exposure but lack ‘direction’. In order for me to be able to bring in Technology in other people’s businesses, I realized the importance of understanding their mindsets, and the things they need of us as IT professionals. I started understanding and logging the problems they faced in their businesses – and after thorough analysis, I came to a conclusion that our local entrepreneurs need a change of mind set, and need to be given the feeling control that they love to exercise, using the tools and techniques available through Technology.

I realized that whatever we learn at good universities within and outside of Pakistan is of no use, until we translate it and present it in a way that a local entrepreneur can relate to us. Introducing software within organizations cannot do miracles by itself. It is the right implementation of systems and procedures & SOPs that need to be respected and followed by all stakeholders within an organization, and this requires a change of mindsets.

It is a mistake to think of our local businessmen as part of the Facebook generation, trust me they’re not. They have the money, they have seen the world, but they are reluctant to change, mainly because they have a fear of the unknown when it comes to investing technology. If you as an IT Pro, are able to remove that element of fear and give answers to his questions and concerns by making him realize the importance of SOPs, half of the job is done.

CodeWeek: So what were your initial steps to cater towards this technologically reluctant mindset?

Nabeel: Initially we took off by providing consultancy to various business owners voluntarily, and once the processes are in place, we go ahead with automating those processes for them using the standard software development practices. This formed the basis of our business model at Technopsis – To be able to take responsibility of automating a business process in its true essence in a way that it instills the client’s trust in technology has been our goal ever since.

Our model has been criticized by some in the IT industry and supported by numerous in the business community of Pakistan. We have client’s who we’ve advised must not move towards software automation as their company dynamics won’t be able to absorb technology the way it should. For starters, we’ve advised them to work on the documentation of their processes, and bringing those processes in practice within their companies. Once everyone in the organization absorbs the new refined processes, only then shall they move towards investing into IT. Such advice has helped us gain their faith and trust in our brand, values and service quality, which becomes the basis of successful future contracts.

CodeWeek: Surely you would’ve been discouraged and asked to go back to the IT industry rather than trying to introduce IT into local businesses. Don’t you consider your work similar to a software services company?

Nabeel: Yes, it is a software services company but our model is a little different. We provide our customers with consultancy and process improvement services prior to initiating software development. For this we utilize skills of industry professionals / consultants on a contractual basis where they provide us with their consultancy services in their respective domains. As an example, we recently designed a Human Resource Management System for an organization. After our first interaction with them, we realized that they lacked proper HR processes. Hence, we engaged a credible HR consultant on board for that very project who helped us evaluate and streamline the client’s process. Once all stakeholders were on board, and the revised process was put into play that is when we initiated work on the software development front.

We firmly believe that the hard work we’re putting in today in conducting numerous awareness exercises within local SMEs of Pakistan, instilling within them the culture to absorb IT in its true essence will benefit not just Technopsis but numerous other IT service providers. Technology can do wonders for a business, if used smartly and appropriately. I’m hopeful that our businesses will revert towards technology and software automation as a tool to implement & practice their SOPs in a more effective manner, hence enabling them to grow beyond borders.

CodeWeek: Any parting words or advice for IT professionals?

Nabeel: It is my utmost desire to give a perspective to graduating Technology students that career in a conventional software house is not the end of the road. There are numerous other avenues within the domain of IT which can be pursued as a career. Until and unless our graduates do not assist the local businesses with their knowledge of Technology, no one’s going to come from outside to assist them – We must take responsibility of improving our local businesses, and introducing the right amount of Technology is the best way to do it. Your career should not just be about fulfilling your financial needs; Chase the vision not the money. Just keep doing good work, and money will come as a buy product. I say this out of experience.