Syed Noor Alam is a seasoned businessman in Bangladesh’s IT arena. Yet when we contacted him for an interview, he invited us to in his home instead of the office.
Later when we reached at his apartment in Gulshan, he told us that in office, “there are lots of protocols”, but in home he can speak in a more relaxed manner. The tasteful decoration and homely ambience of his home were indeed welcoming and relaxing.
During a half-an hour interview, Syed Noor Alam talked about himself and his company-M&H Informatics. Here is an excerpt of that interview for the readers of Fintech.
FINTECH: Can you take us through your career journey and tell us what motivated you to start M&H informatics BD Ltd.?
SN Alam: Back in 1989, when I graduated from university, IT companies were slowly coming up in Bangladesh. There was Beximco Computers Ltd., then came Technohaven Company, and several others, most of whom were dealing with hardwares. As someone not related to the field, I was constantly curious about the IT sector, and after graduation I visited Unidev Computer Solutions Ltd to see the first computer in my life. Just like that, as soon as I saw the machine, immediately knew that this is the future and it’s going to be big.
I began to take small courses to learn about the operating systems and database applications. Soon, I was offered jobs to teach these systems and applications to the expatriates and foreign missionary employers and employees. It was then that I decided that no matter what my education is based on, this is the sector where I will build my career. I started working with Unidev Computer Solutions Ltd., in the marketing team, where there were 26 other young professionals. I faced a very big hurdle – the computer, albeit an important innovation was expensive and to the general public it was nothing more than an advanced calculator. I targeted the affluent people, the ones who could afford to pay BDT 100,000 for a machine that they would just keep in their offices as a show –off piece. However, I struggled to reach the actual users, the students, the laymen, who couldn’t afford it, but would benefit the most from this machine. I began to wonder – how do we do it? How do we ensure that the general public can access these computers?
A couple of my colleagues and I really began to think about the potentials of reaching a mass audience. We had to travel a lot for work, so when I was in Hong Kong, I enquired about buying a computer in parts. There were 15 different parts to make a computer, and my colleagues and I found distributors to take them part by part to Bangladesh. We used screwdriver tecnology and put together these Complete Knock Down (CKD) kit. We built about 15 computers and we supplied them to educational institutions, so that students could learn and explore these machines. We sold them for BDT 30,000 to BDT 40,000, which was less than half of what it would originally cost them.
One thing, however, kept nagging me. We had all these skilled labour, we had young students and professionals who studied IT, but were struggling to find a stable job. How do we use these potentials? I asked my close friend. How do we get them jobs? As luck would have it, in 2004, M&H Informatics, who provided information, services, and technology, to the health care sector around the worl, approached us. They were later acquired by IMS Health, a US based Global company, and we are currently their off shore IT based Delivery Centre in Bangladesh. They approached us actually to talk about opening a branch in India, and we said, why not consider Bangladesh itself? So we invited their entire board to come over and sit in a meeting with my colleagues & other IT professionals whom I had met over the years. They also interviewed fresh graduates and other young professionals, and by the end of it, they were extremely impressed. Thus began our journey. Since then, Dhaka has proven to be a goldmine of opportunities for IMS Health and we are the leading exporters and outsourcers for informational services to pharmaceutical giants.
FINTECH: What has been the core focus of work at your company?
SN Alam: Our main concentration is on data management in the health sector. IMS Health has been around for like 60 or 70 years and they have been selling data, data analytics, that are used for strategic information and to make business decisions in the biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and healthcare sector, globally. What we do, as the IT portion, is that we manage all these data using our information services, tools, and softwares. We began to provide customized solutions based on their needs by analyzing data from the clients and IMS itself, which proved to be very useful for the company. From production, to sales, marketing, analytics, and more, they could do everything at one platform through applications that were developed by us. We created different dashboards that could generate information systems, graphs, and other solutions that would help them make a measured business decision.
FINTECH: Why do you focus on creating digital healthcare products and how do you think it’s faring in the context of Bangladesh’s IT and healthcare sector?
SN Alam: Our venture into the healthcare sector has definitely been a successful one, and now we are trying to expand our scope into other sectors, however there’s still a lot left to be done in the country’s IT sector. There are very few companies who are at the stage that we are today, but that’s why perhaps, desire out continuous effort to put IT services at the forefront, we are struggling to get to a level where other IT companies have reached around the world. Wher we went wrong was we didn’t concentrate on developing the local industry here. When the company’s operations begun in Bangalore, they jump started with 1800 solutions, and there were many IT professionals and companies available. We simply do not have that level of resources in our country, we do not have people in the IT sector who are properly groomed in communications, project management, quality development, etc. We need to work on this, we cannot just bank on our marketing abilities to get us projects, we need to develop IT professionals and so having them readily available.
The right approach right now would be to develop out IT sector industry and provide solutions with our technologies to other companies who are trying to come up. In India, they asked me, you have such talented people, then why are you still lagging behind? I said, well the Indians have the ability to talk about things they cannot do, while we can’t even talk about things that we can do. We have a major problem with our communication skills. Our schools need to begin grooming the children from a very young age to have impeccable communication and negotiation skills, because these are important, within the country, and beyond. Our destination is not just making money, but treasuring the talent that we have, but for that we need to make sure that the talent is being honed through proper channels.
FINTECH: We heard that you working on a special project for the education sector. Can you tell us more about it?
SN Alam: Yes, we have been working on a special project, which will have a website and an app, and we plan to launch it very soon. The primary objective of this project is to provide better education to our people. See, there were schools 50 years ago, and there are schools today 50 years later, but the difference is that now we also have access to integrate technology and learning to provide a platform where a student can access all the information at one place. We want to spoon feed them at school, but also give them the access to educational facilities once they leave their school premises. Our first target is the development of our country, and then we plan to expand beyond the borders. It’s important for us to speak Bengali perfectly, but we also need to speak English perfectly, or any other language actually, anything that is required for the betterment of our society. We cannot lag behind, despite having such raw talent, just because we lack proper communication and grooming skills. We aim to provide all of that and more. Our culture of saying yes to everything needs to change. Rather, we should say, yes I know this, and no I do not know this, but I can learn. That’s when things will begin to flourish.
FINTECH: What’s your opinion on big data and IoT?
SN Alam: Everything is data oriented these days. M&H itself is a company that provides data. This is where we need to groom up, this is where our new technology needs to evolve. We at M&H have already started training on big data, we are thinking of developing a platform for big data. We must learn how to move on. When we started, the internet facilities available were very different, and now that we are here, we have to think how can we make things better. When other nations are outsourcing skills from us, we need them to think that Bangladesh is two steps ahead of them and this is why we need us. We have made massive progress in the digital sector, but we ave to keep moving on and doing better. We can’t just learn about big data, we need to learn what to do with big data, how we use it for our betterment. I think we have made huge achievements, and the future generation is very promising, but we need to give them more to work with. ■