This post is part of my 30 blogs in 30 days series. More details here.
I came face-to-face with the problem of Pakistan’s technological debt, just a few days ago when I went to a petrol pump to fill my car up. I asked the attendant if the POS machine was working any said yes so after my car was full he asked me to park aside and give him the card. A few minutes later he came back and asked me to come to the machine for PIN input.
I asked, “It’s wireless. Bring it here.”
He said, “the signal goes out when we move the terminal.”
Perplexed. I walked to the terminal. When I tried entering my pin, after 5 minutes of waiting it failed. I tried again and it took another 5 minutes to fail yet again. I knew the pin was correct because I had just changed it a few days ago. The guard came and asked me to move the car because it was blocking the exit. He said that they will indeed bring the terminal to me. They did. It didn’t work. I had to give the cashier my ID card and drive to the nearest bank branch, which wasn’t really that far away and took out some cash from the ATM. Drove back, paid them, got my ID card and left.
So now the process that was supposed to take a few seconds has taken me upwards of 20 minutes. This extensive transaction time incurs labor cost. It creates friction. The POS was slow that it was working off of EDGE(yes). This is a regular issue, because all the attendants for familiar with it. The owner of the establishment has not fixed it because it is not a priority.
Since labor is such a cheap resource, and cash is less traceable than electronic payments, this business owner just kicked the can down the road. As is true of all our leaders, big and small.
Why is this a big deal?
Due to the lack of cheap labor in the developed world, they invested heavily in digitization and automation. In the beginning, it just made the fields level. However, with time, the embrace of technology has allowed them to scale their businesses exponentially. The petrol pump owner is Karachi has already hit the upper limit. He can’t grow his business because doing so would require hiring more people. He can’t even imagine the growth possible by making payments frictionless.
This is the Compounding Interest of this debt. It not only stagnates innovation, but makes any growth unfathomable to the mind. All of these problems could have been avoided with a timely roll-out of incremental implementations of technologies in various sectors. The COVID crisis was the perfect time to reset this, but most businesses decided to wait it out. Kicked the can down the road yet again.