|Lebanon - Software leader slams Lebanon's Internet infrastructure
At the 12th annual Termium ICT fair, The Daily Star talked to Hicham Tawil, Developer and General Manager of "Software Group," one of the leading Software companies in Lebanon. Tawil, 40, studied IT in France and has 20 years of experience in the business.
Q: How is business going?
A: For a medium-sized IT company the situation is difficult. I sometimes get the impression the political authorities deliberately slow us down. Do they want us to make money or not? There are so many obstacles. To open a company in Lebanon you have to pay for a permit. France for example is doing much better, there you get credits and benefits. Also the technical circumstances are terrible here. For developers a fast and reliable internet is a must. But we have one of the weakest and most expensive internet infrastructures in the world. Even Sri Lanka has faster connections.
Q: But isn't there cause for optimism?
A: The government has announced to launch DSL next year. The Professional Computer Association gives high growth rates for the IT industry. And despite everything this IT fair still took place. Last year we had twice as many visitors as today. We're still experiencing a political crisis. Before the murder of [former Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri I sold some 80 software applications a week. Now I sell five a week.
Q: So is it still worth selling software in Lebanon?
A: Actually, yes. There is much demand for business IT solutions, especially for customer-services, compatibility and point of sale software (POS). For restaurants and supermarkets for example POS is a must as these sectors are extremely dependant on speed and reliability. This is what we are specializing in. We also sell in the Gulf, but mainly concentrate on Lebanon.
Q: How do you deal with software piracy?
A: It is a big problem in this country for obvious reasons. Most applications are way too expensive relative to people's incomes. For an official Microsoft version I pay some $300. People don't feel guilty copying software, it is like jumping a red light, everybody is doing so. This also concerns our work. Our applications run with Microsoft so we recommend our clients to buy it.
Q: And how do you protect your own software?
A: We spend a lot of time developing copy protection. After all, there is not much awareness of wrongdoing. And you have no controlling mechanisms. The authorities neither control nor inform people about intellectual property rights. Consumers take everything for granted. They don't appreciate the years of work behind the development of software applications and are seldom ready to pay for an update. They expect the product to remain intact and immune to bugs for eternity.
Q: The Professional Computer Association fears a brain drain of Lebanese informatics. Do you also fear this?
A: Definitely. ... I know that our IT cracks are very well educated, very creative and motivated. But they can't find jobs and if they do they are badly paid. So it's no wonder they leave Lebanon to work in the Gulf. - D. Steinvorth
The Daily Star