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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

‘It’s still not easy to sell consultancy service in our country’

If you could vaguely remember something about computers in Bangladesh in the 90s when computers started to reach private users, you would probably recall two brand names more than anything else: IBM and later on HP. IBM became synonymous with computers and it wasn’t uncommon to refer to having a computer as having an IBM. The same was for HP as well, which became an interchangeable term with good quality computer printers. The woman behind the success of those two brands in Bangladesh was Rumesa Hussain. Currently the Associate Director of Ernst and Young in Bangladesh, Rumesa Hussain has had tremendous professional success as an IT professional, not just as a Bangladeshi woman, but by any standards. Her monumental achievements have been remarkable, but they are also completely unknown to the general public. As a woman of IT professional who excelled and reached high positions in the biggest multinational corporations, there is a criminal lack of information about Rumesa Hussain in the public domain.

Fintech sat down with Ms Hussain at her residence for an exclusive interview to bring her illustrious career to the public knowledge for the first time. Here she talks about her background, EY’s work in Bangladesh, and other industry related matters.

FINTECH: Could you start by telling us about your background and how your professional life has progressed?

RH: I’ve been very blessed to go to the best institutions. I went to Holy Cross School and College when I was in Bangladesh. My father was posted to Sweden as the ambassador. After that he was transferred to Germany, where I studied BBA in marketing and I took an associate degree in computer science. After four years in Germany we went to Malaysia, where I did MBA from the University of Malaya. After doing the masters I came back to the country.

After returning my first job was at Beximco Pharmaceuticals, on which I had done my one and a half year-long dissertation. I joined as a product officer. I gained a lot of knowledge of the industry there, like how the pharmaceutical industry works, how branding works, how to create a product etc. So, I could really implement my knowledge of marketing there. I looked after the vitamin range. That was very interesting for me. I used to go to all the clinics and medical colleges to inform about the products. And I had two or three hundred medical representatives that worked under me. We ran campaigns all across the country. It was very interesting. It was the start of my professional career.

I thought a lot about whether I should stay in that industry or move somewhere else. My major was in marketing and sales. So, I thought that I should think about joining another company that has a more solid position in the market. IBM Corporation was in Bangladesh then. I joined there. I and another female candidate were selected after an examination for the jobs. There weren’t any women in IT then.

FINTECH: When was this?

RH: It was in 1994. That was the start of my career. I was in Beximco from 1993 to 94. In December 1994 I sat for the exam to get into IBM and I was selected, as I just mentioned. Mr Shahzaman Majumdar was the marketing manager then. He was a very dynamic person. He took a brave step by hiring two women. It was inconceivable at that time that women would work in that industry or provide IT solutions. But we were so lucky that a powerful brand name like IBM was behind us. We were able to actually capture the market. We placed IBM products in government institutions and big non-government institutions. I was in charge of RA-6000 Unique System, which is now called P Series. I was in charge of providing that solution service in the market. So, I got a lot of experiences and exposures working there. I was there for six years, at the end of which IBM decided to pull off their operation from Bangladesh. It was actually handed over to a company called Thakral. We were asked to promote IBM products, as we were the known faces in the industry. Some of us joined Thakral and stayed there for a while.

At that time HP (Hewlett-Packard) was setting up their operation here. HP and Compact were merging. I joined HP as the first employee. I was given then responsibility to prepare the whole Bangladesh team for HP. I was very fortunate that I was entrusted with such a big responsibility and I could pick the best people from the industry. We formed a great team. We were able to successfully place the HP products in all the important places. We appointed distributers. We got all the big companies like Flora and Computer Source to work with us as partners. I was in charge of partner management or the partner landscape. So, after IBM, working for HP was a greater recognition for me, because I essentially brought the brand in Bangladesh by creating the Bangladesh team and through my subsequent work.

Then my husband was transferred to Bombay (now Mumbai). Before that I had been in Singapore for HP for about one and a half year. I was in charge of six countries in the region: Bangladesh, Brunei, Nepal, Cambodia and Bhutan. It was very rewarding because a Bangladeshi woman working at that level was something remarkable. I could do it because of the support I got from my family. It was great. My boss had total faith on me. After that stint in Singapore I came back to Bangladesh, but then my husband was posted to Bombay. It was too good to let go and people were surprised as well as disappointed. But I thought I needed to make myself available to my family at that time. I was in Bombay for two years before coming back.

After coming back, I joined Grameenphone IT. Grameenphone IT became an offshoot of Grameen. They wanted to hire the best people to set up the Grameenphone IT. So, I was there for about one and a half to two years. We did well there. I was involved in the branding work needed to bring GPIT into the market as a powerful entity. After that Accenture came in and they had a different strategy altogether. That’s why I didn’t continue.

After that I was in Dell for a while. That wasn’t for a long time. After that I joined Microsoft. I was in Microsoft for about two years. It was a great experience for me. It was the shifting point, as I moved completely from hardware to the software front. Microsoft was also looking to build up distribution, retail etc in Bangladesh. I was a part of that.

After that I joined EY (Ernst & Young). This is my seventh job. And I’m very proud because I think any capable person should rotate jobs. This increases your exposure. S/he can learn about different managements and products. I think I am blessed to have been able to work in these renowned institutions.

FINTECH: Tell us about EY’s operation in Bangladesh.

RH: EY is a consultancy firm. It’s regarded as one of the “Big Four”, along with Deloitte, PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), and KPMG. These four are the largest professional services network in the world.

EY has been doing big projects in the government sector for about four or five years till now. This includes capacity building, strategic initiatives, training and a lot more. So, this is in the public sector. We have had a lot work in the public sector. Thus far, EY had not been focusing so much on the private sector. They hired me two years ago to look after the private sector. Everyone (at EY) took this as a challenge because it was a concern if consultancy was needed at all in the Bangladesh private sector, or simply if such services will be welcomed. But luckily, we have been able to penetrate in the private sector. Taking my networks and connections as the launching ground, I am focusing on the banking sector. Other than that I’m also focusing on manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, RMG and big local corporations.

Our work is mainly to help with business transformation. Since we have a great knowledge of audit tax, we provide the help needed for the transformation that businesses go through when they expand. A. Qasem & Co. is our partner for providing the audit tax consultancy. So, the help needed for transformation, whether it is financially, logistically, in business, sales distribution, or anything else, we provide that help. And you need strong sector knowledge for these transformations, which we have. My job is to qualify the account and maturing the bid. Then our technical people take over and carry out the work.

So, at this moment we are with a number of banks. We are reviewing Core Banking Systems and exposing where they have flaws or gaps. We do PMO work. If you want to implement a core banking system you need a project management office, what we call a PMO. We can do that work for a client. We will ensure that the right product is implemented in the right place and right business unit, or whether the project is being implemented end to end. PMO is a big service that we provide. All banks now outsource that work. Then they need external consultant to carry out the PMO service.

We are doing IT audit. Cyber security is a major concern now. We are working on that front in many projects. We are also reviewing and implementing the ERP system of SAP and Oracle. There is also a need for quality HR work in Bangladesh. There is a need for subject matter experts. We are providing that service by using proper and rigorous methodology. There is a new service called FIDS or Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services. This is basically fraud and dispute service management. We are providing that. We can help companies by detecting analytical frauds. We use our tools to identify these frauds and advice the company accordingly. We are working with new concepts like ‘anti-money laundering’, ‘know your customer’. EY has over 250 thousand employees worldwide and we are a 27-billion-dollar company.

FINTECH: After the Bangladesh Bank heist, the AMD of City Bank Mashrur Arefin was reported saying that EY was in the talk for a service security deal. Did that project happen?

RH: Yes, we are going to start that work in this month. The help they will be getting from this service is that we will review their controls to see if they are actually secured and if there are any loopholes. If they are not secured, then what steps could be taken to secure them. And there could be many kinds of frauds through the ADCs (alternate delivery channels) like the ATM, card etc.

FINTECH: Also could you tell us about the work you are doing for LICT (Leveraging ICT for Growth, Employment and Governance)?

RH: The work we are doing for LICT is that we are training 30 thousand graduates within a span of three years. We are providing foundational skills training and IT training in order to place them in the industry. It’s a three-year contract and it has been over a year now. In the meanwhile, we got another work with LICT, which is middle-manager training. This is to provide a comprehensive training for middle-managers in the government sector.

FINTECH: Mark A. Weinberger the Global Chairman and CEO of EY launched the Vision 2020 plan in 2013. As a part of that EY is focusing on embracing disruption. Mark Weinberger said EY wants to make the most of new technologies like robotic-process automation, artificial intelligence and blockchain. Where Bangladesh stands in terms of embracing these disruptions?

RH: For Bangladesh, it is still a little early. But our work will be to create awareness about these new concepts. New concepts like blockchain will become mainstream reality in the future and replace SWIFT etc. As a consultancy service one of our works is to build up knowledge in the market. Robotic automation that you mentioned is becoming a reality in digital banking. These are disruptive forces. So, we have to create the awareness and we are trying to do that through different means. But it is early for Bangladesh, as I said.

FINTECH: Do you have any local programme to build up knowledge in the market?

RH: The project we are doing with LICT is doing precisely that. This is a huge project. We will train 30 thousand graduates, like I said. Other than that we provide training. We did a programme on transfer pricing. Companies that import-export have to set a price, which is basically deciding what prices are right for export, what prices are right for import and work within a standardized framework. So, we help with that process and methodology. That process is called transfer pricing. So, we did an event on that.

We also did an event on FIDS. Slowly we are creating the tools to create the knowledge base. But I think door to door is more effective for us. When I was at IBM we had to constantly conduct programmes on what new products are coming up, which partner can do what, what are the after sales services etc. For product selling, those kinds of event are effective. But since we sell knowledge, the common methods of creating awareness is not as effective.

FINTECH: Could you give us a sense of what are the future projects EY will be doing?

RH: We have a lot of projects coming up. We are looking to get power plant projects. We are working on roads and highways, LGED projects already. We just completed another big project. This was a World Bank funded Bangladesh Bank initiative. It is called FSSP or Financial Sector Support Project. Under this project we studied 14 organisations, including government banks, insurance academies, insurance agencies, to see they have as is in IT control, risk, technology, security, in these aspects. WE also found out what are the gaps and we proposed what could be the possible road maps for them. We suggested road maps under the FSSP project. It was a very prestigious consultancy and we just submitted the report this month. We hope to get involved in many more projects.

FINTECH: What is your impression of the government’s ICT initiatives and activities under this government?

RH: It’s been very positive. We are working a lot with the ICT Division. We are very much close to them and we are working with them in many projects. Palak bhai (state minister for ICT Division) is very dynamic. Mustafa Jabbar bhai is also a very important figure who is great and very welcoming.

Look, we sell knowledge that we acquired over so many years. EY in India is now 110 years old, with 30 thousand people working. So, we have vast experience. We want share to that expertise with the government as well as other big companies.

FINTECH: How much expansion you are anticipating for EY in Bangladesh? And could you talk about your human resources? Do you try to find out local competent candidates?

RH: I think expansion will happen naturally. As for human resource, in the Bangladesh bank project, we had 30 EY consultants working. I push EY to hire local talents. It’s not feasible to always have people coming from India to work. What we have to do is acquire local talents and plant them in the local projects, so that they too can take training and learn. We always want to include local talents in Bangladesh.

Going back to expansion, the more projects we have the more expansion will happen. We are opening up another project office for the middle-manager training.

FINTECH: EY has a great reputation globally for work environment for their employees. How does EY Bangladesh compare to the global reputation?

RH: I would say we are very much conscious about maintaining that standard. The most important thing is recognition. EY tries to give you recognition as the individual and for your talent. That is our biggest strength. In the EY culture, knowledge sharing is very important. We want everybody to reach a certain standard level and that’s why we put so much importance on knowledge sharing.

It hasn’t started in Bangladesh yet, but globally EY engages in a lot of CSR. So, even though we are new in Bangladesh, we want to maintain the standard.

FINTECH: EY is known for its diversity in the workplace. What is the condition in Bangladesh?

RH: In our office 50 percent are women. We have a lot of women working in all of our projects. Diversification is a key issue. We are ahead of India in that respect. EY India has 20 percent women.

Personally, I want to see people coming into IT or technology, both men and women. It is a thriving sector. You can learn a lot in this sector. I still learn something new every day.

FINTECH: What are the challenges you face in Bangladesh as a consultancy service?

RH: It’s still not easy to sell consultancy service in our country. It’s not easy to convince people to buy this service, as opposed to material products. I have to quantify the value of the service, like saying we will take your growth to such level, increase your sales, minimize your cost, etc. We can only convince a potential client if we can make him/her understand the business impact. This is not an easy task, mainly because people think that they can get those things done in-house, which is not correct at all.

People working within the organisation are really trying to do the day to day duties. They do not and cannot think about strategies. That’s why you need experts. People would spend a lot on buying cars and opening up expensive offices, but they hesitate to hire consultant. We have to pick our clients carefully. But this is changing slowly.

FINTECH: Thanks very much for speaking with us.

RH: Thank you for talking to me.

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