Studio Mason Ltd is an information and communication technology company with a strong lineage that goes back to the very beginning of Bangladesh’s IT industry. Much of the company’s strength comes from the long experience and industry expertise of its managing director Abu Mostofa Chowdhury Sujon.
Fintech sat down with him for an interview, where he talked about the backstory of the company, Bangladesh’s ICT industry and particularly the solution market, among other things. Here is the excerpt from that conversation.
FINTECH:Tell us about your background and how you came into IT business?
AMC Sujon: I studied accounting. After my graduation I started a company named Network Computing Line Ltd or NCLL in 1997. That’s when I started to think about IT business seriously, although at that time I mainly looked after the finance of the company. There were only a handful of people in IT then. We got two big projects then. One was automation of the Chittagong Stock Exchange and the other was with voter ID, the work of which got started in Bangladesh for the first time then.
NCLL also started an ISP, which was the third or fourth ISP in Bangladesh then. With that we also started solution business, including routing, security, server storage, etc.
So, that’s when my experience in solution began. All of that was within 1997. It continued until 2005. At the end of 2005 I left the country and went to USA, where I also started an IT business. I got back to the country in 2009. After getting back Arif bhai of Computer Source expressed interest for starting solution for his company. I had known him from before and he actually contacted me while I was in the US and asked what I wanted to do after getting back. When I said that I will be in solution, because that’s where my experience was, he told me that he had been thinking about starting solution under Computer Source. After coming back I started the solution business for Computer Source and continued that until 2015. In 2016 I started Studio Mason, as I wanted to start my own business.
What I started doing in 1997 – switching, routing, security applications, data centre – I’m still doing those. Even though technology has changed a lot since then, the basic is the same.
FINTECH: What was the IT and solution market like in 1997? Compare that to what it is like now.
AMC Sujon: There were about three or four companies then in total. There was no competition as such. There was competition, but not ‘price competition’ as you see now. The competition was more solution oriented. People used to think a lot before getting a solution. Now, there are so many options. Foreign companies are coming into the country. There weren’t many SI back then. Local companies used to invite foreign companies to work on something. Now foreign companies even have offices here. So, it was challenging then. We had to work really hard for building up a solution. But then there was immense satisfaction after you complete a solution successfully. Now, companies have the solutions ready in their hands.
FINTECH: One of the main hurdles that you must have faced at that time was scarcity of good quality human resources. How did you tackle that? AMC Sujon: What we used to do was that we used to take a lot of fresh graduates, and then give them hands-on training. We took students that studied computer science in India. Most of the people we recruited were were graduate and masters degree holders, who we then trained for many different courses at Microsoft certified training center.
They would then sit for tests online. Online tests were available then, like now. Through these we developed expertise.
FINTECH: You parted company with Computer Source. Was it friendly?
AMC Sujon: It was and it’s still friendly. I never had a problem at Computer Source. When you work you have some liabilities. I had a number of large projects there and I waited for the completion of those projects. Even though I have had my company for three years, I didn’t announce the company until one year ago. The purpose was to take care of everything I was responsible for at Computer Source. That’s why there hasn’t been any conflict. My exit was very smooth and based on mutual understanding.
FINTECH: Tell us about Studio Mason. What’s its prospect and what you are doing?
AMC Sujon: We basically do solutions. We take care of the work for Banglalink call centers. We do a lot of work for bKash call centers. We do most of the works for South Bangla Agricultural Bank. We’ve also done some work for One Bank.
We are also working in switching, routing, security. We have IP telephony. We are doing a few big projects with video conferencing. We are also working with server, storage and backup. We are doing some work with power data center.
FINTECH: One of the main goals of BASIS is to reach the one-billion export mark, from software export. But not just that. Now they are saying it can be ‘one plus one’, meaning one-billion dollars from export and another billion dollar can come within the domestic market. The potential is there certainly. What is your thought?
AMC Sujon: My understanding of the local market is that, simply put, we have over 59 banks in the country. We have 30 to 40 insurance companies. We have seven to eight telcos. So, let’s think about the 60 banks for a moment. 60 banks need 60 core banking systems, 60 ERPs, 60 loan origination systems, Internet banking, phone banking – they need everything.
There are banks here that paid 15/20 crore for a core banking software. Let’s say the banks spend Tk6 crore on average for a core system. That’s Tk600 crore from the banks alone. There is a market in Bangladesh. I haven’t mentioned other sectors, like hotels. There are many hotels now and it’s growing. I think there are over 15 five star hotels, and at least 100 three-star hotels. And then there are over 300 garment companies. So, it’s a huge market. But the problem is that the sector is dominated by foreign companies.
FINTECH: What you think can be done to capture this market?
AMC Sujon: The government could take an initiative, where it can regulate the banks to use local software. India did it once, the Indian government mandated that you cannot import the products for which local equivalent are available. Bangladesh government can take similar initiative.
FINTECH: Sujon bhai, thanks very much for taking the time to speak to us.
AMC Sujon: Thanks to you as well. ■