Salah Shakir (Middle East): IT in Iraq - Past, Current, and Future

Dr. Salah Shakir shares his first-hand experience of the IT market in Iraq.

After Iraq became a new country in 2003, it was in need of major rebuilding. Between 12 years of embargos and the war, most of the country's services and infrastructure were either outdated or damaged, including its IT sector. Huge amounts of work is needed to bring the back country into normal operating conditions; Electricity, water, internet, roads, bridges, new housings, new laws, and many more are all in need of fixing to make the country livable.

I wanted to work as an IT consultant in Iraq in 2004, but it became impossible due to internal civil and ethnic war from 2004-2008. A few major construction projects occurred during these years with the help of US military services, but Iraq will need over five millions new housing units to accommodate the growth of population and the return of Iraqis who left the country during old regime and the war. As of 2012, Iraq has only 20-40% of supply of power to the public. Iraq will be rebuilding for the next two decades at least.

I started working full time as an IT consultant in Iraq in 2010 and I would like to share my experiences, difficulties, and thoughts about the IT sector in Iraq and opportunities open for foreign companies. My main expertise is ERP (and e-government in general) development for higher education, E-Learning, and continuous improvement using Baldrige. When I started offering customized ERP for higher education institutions two years ago, many higher level administrators were perceptive to the idea of automating the admission process, registration and finance records.

However, I found out that the majority of officials are lacking the knowledge and benefits of ERP. So for a year I gave many public lectures and workshops at colleges and universities on e-government and its benefits for organizations. These were well-attended, and many of the high level officials (higher education and government) were present and as a result many organizations asked for proposals for ERP systems. Even though my proposals were considerably lower than USA prices or fraction of USA prices, the officials were shocked at the cost. They were shocked at the prices of the software.

The reason for this shock is the lack of digital copyright in the country. You could buy any software, regardless of the type, on CD at the market for less than a one dollar. However, some recent good news was the Microsoft Company announcing their new partner/dealer in Iraq two months ago. So, when officials notice the retail price for Microsoft SQL Database in my proposal, they start questioning the cost. They have no problem paying for or justifying the hardware portion of the proposal. I dealt with IT personnel at one of the ministries in Iraq where they are using a pirated copy of Oracle database server for their daily operations.

In July 2011, the minister of higher education in Iraq contracted with a Korean company for 23 Million dollars to develop an ERP system for the University of Technology in Baghdad. The idea was to generalize the system for the other 18 major universities in Iraq after four years. As of today, the project is way behind schedule. On March 2012, I implemented the first web based multilingual electronic college (ERP) in Iraq for the College of Medicine at the University of Amara. There was a grand opening for the system with many government officials were present and many of national TV channels attended the ceremony. Even the Minister of Higher Education thanked the college for the major effort. The college paid my company all hardware cost and we are waiting for the cost of the actual ERP system which the Dean of the college working hard to release the payment for the rest of the project.

I believe IT sector in Iraq is booming, and there is a great need for high tech expertise to accomplish the thousands of IT projects that exist today and for the next few decades. There are, however, issues and problems that need to be solved by the Iraqi government to make the country move forward, such as corruption and bureaucracy.

If you plan to work in Iraq, spend time on networking with officials and people in general. Most of the government agencies accept well planned IT proposals that will benefit the country, but I have talked to many officials and they have told me many times they do not know what IT projects they really need to move forward.

By Salah Shakir, Chief Executive Officer, STH Business