Thimphu TechPark Limited (TTPL), Bhutan’s first IT Park, was started a decade ago to attract IT companies from Bhutan as well from abroad to work in a stimulating environment, and build the much needed ecosystem in the IT sector since it holds great potential for a landlocked country, like Bhutan.
“We are in the second phase of its evolution, which is to become the Centre of Excellence in IT. As part of that, we have little more than 60 IT professionals working on various projects,” said the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Thimphu TechPark Limited, Kuenga Jurmi.
Regarding the new growth happening, the CEO pointed out the key initiatives, like the in-house competency development, software development, ERP implantations, international certifications (SAP, Scrum) and ERPNext, in-house built programs based on open source, deployment to numerous large organizations including BoB, BTL, SMCL, CDCL, NRDCL, NHDCL, etc.
TTPL has been working on attracting more FDI small and medium sized BTO/ITO companies to help generate both immediate employment and sustainable long-term quality job pathways for more young people entering the tech industry. This is expected to help build trust and confidence locally as well regionally by providing professional and credible services that is consistent.
As for the potential IT businesses in Bhutan, currently as well as in the future, the CEO replied, “IT businesses are not constrained by geographical location and boundaries. Hence, they have the biggest potential for growth in Bhutan. Currently, we hear that there are many small IT companies and freelancers already doing the work for international companies from Bhutan and earning good money in foreign currencies. This will only grow further in the future with our government focusing more on IT and other technologies. There is huge potential to go global since IT products have international market and the start up capital required is low. What is required is human capital.”
Kuenga Jurmi continued said TTPL as a software company has an immense potential to be the main focal point and foundation for Bhutan’s nationwide experiment of digital job creation and skilling.
However, TTPL, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, need to smartly strategize to provide high operational efficiency and low-cost to compete in the growing BPO/ITO market and make its presence globally.
He said this calls for the creation of large pool of tech talent by enhancing knowledge on advance technology and soft skills.
“The other important potential area we see an expansion in is of home-grown Bhutanese software development and ‘future-tech’ industry through right policy intervention, more efforts from the government in reviewing economic, tax, foreign investment policies and providing incentives to boost local digital economy and investment in upskilling,” he said.
As to how the pandemic had affected TTPL, the CEO said, “The lockdowns and international travel restrictions have led to a decline in productivity and efficiency, and that has affected some of our major projects, which had reliance on our international partners. Secondly, it affected some FDI companies located at the tech park, and some downsized and moved out to private buildings within Thimphu. On the other hand, the IT adoption increased drastically during the pandemic with many public services moving online, and the overall public awareness on the power of IT has increased now. This is a very positive sign and development for a company, like Thimphu TechPark.”
Business has been gradually picking up after the pandemic, and TTPL is now strategizing on marketing its products and developing business applications. The CEO is optimistic about the future and said that the TTPL is also looking for strategic international partners to position themselves on the same lines as other global IT companies, and explore markets outside Bhutan in the future.
Upon being asked how the Third Internet Gateway will benefit TTPL and IT businesses in Bhutan, the CEO answered, “This will definitely help the tech park in attracting more foreign investors to start companies in Bhutan, and create more jobs for our youth. And even for the domestic IT companies, and for that matter, for individual users, this will have a very big positive impact. It would help improve reliability of the online applications hosted in the Cloud. For instance, many organizations are using either MS Office or Google Suites, reliable internet communication will assist in ensuring better uptime. If any company intends to use Cloud to host applications, reliability will be critical and this Third Gateway is expected to improve the service level.”
For TTPL, key challenges are small market size and lack of economies of scale, lack of critical mass of skilled people, ease of doing business still needs improvement despite government doing a lot, and absence of diverse group of talent.
Looking at the way forward, the CEO stated, “We are in a transition to becoming a full-fledged software company, and hence, we are continuously learning as we move. For an IT company, human capital is the most important, but there is difficulty in attracting and retaining experienced professionals. The future plan is to become the centre of excellence in IT, especially in software development, and go global. We need to restructure ourselves, align our strategic thinking and plan that befits software company, have smart recruitment processes and excellent retention plan in regard to human resources, and come out with competitive remunerations.”
Describing the kind of services TTPL provides, he said “We basically have two kinds of services – Tech Park Services and IT Services. Tech Park Services include facilitating FDI and providing office space on lease to the IT companies and managing the incubation centre, which is called Bhutan Innovation and Technology Centre. For this, the clients are foreign investors, data centre, and Bhutanese entrepreneurs and freelancers. These services are being facilitated to launch home-grown companies that strengthen the country’s young, by growing the innovation ecosystem and building the capacity and skills of learners who supply the local talent into these jobs created by FDI established at TechPark. For the IT Services, we provide ERP implementation using Open Source ERPNext, SAP ERP system, custom software development, data analytics. Presently, we are also undertaking two large projects under Digital Drukyul Flagship Program. For this, our clients are DHI Companies, SoEs, private companies, and government agencies.”