Iran seeks software support under Islamic banner

As Iran squares off with the world over its nuclear program, a handful of software companies from there at Cebit say the backdrop of international tension hasn’t affected them.

A group of Iranian firms are displaying products at Cebit under a large banner that says “Islamic Republic of Iran” with the bold green, white and red stripes of their country’s flag. It’s the fifth year they have come to Germany for the massive annual IT show, to promote both fledgling and established businesses.

Why come to Cebit? The companies — like all of those in the software business — need help. “We are trying to find different partners,” said Amir Masoud Oskouilar, head of the Software Export Research and Development Co. (Sanaray), based in the capital, Tehran. Those partners would allow for strong support of Iranian software in countries where those products are procured, he said.

The Iranian government has funded about 80 percent of the cost to set up a display in Hall No. 4 at Cebit, no small sum to have a large exhibition a short walk away from the mega-displays of software heavyweights such as Microsoft Corp. and SAP AG. The firms picked to come to Cebit typically have at least 10 years of experience, Oskouilar said.

Sanaray is a consortium of private software companies. Its shareholders are solely composed of Iranian software companies, and it has close ties with government bodies such as the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.

Iran was strong in mainframe computing in the 1960s, and the software industry grew in the 1970s with in-country branches of companies such as IBM Corp. and NCR Corp., according to “Building Iran’s Software Industry: An Assessment of Plans and Prospects Using the Software Export Success Model” published by the University of Manchester in 2003.

But Iran’s revolution in 1979 caused the industry to stagnate, and the subsequent war with Iraq fostered negative perceptions that have continued, the report said.

These days, the country’s software makers are creating a range of applications, from electronic tendering systems to document management applications, utility services and billing systems and point-of-sale software, Oskouilar said.

One of the flagship Iranian companies is Iran Rayaneh Engineering Co., which produces FilerPro. The application is document management software that can also be used for archiving, business process management and web content management.

The product is aimed at small businesses with fewer than 25 employees and who may also be using open-source databases such as MySQL, Oskouilar said.

So far, FilerPro is being customized for Saudi Arabian customers who need the program in Arabic and compatibility with Oracle Corp. databases, Oskouilar said. At Cebit this year, the company has received requests to translate FilerPro into Japanese and also a potential customer from Uruguay who was interested in a Spanish-language version, Oskouilar said.

But FilerPro faces tough competition. Oskouilar had a list at hand of some 200 other software firms at Cebit who produce similar products.

The Iranian software industry does have several strengths, Oskouilar said, most of all is government support. Over the last five years the government has given grants and low-interest loans to seed the IT sector.

“They believe that IT is very important to be developed country-wide,” Oskouilar said.

Iran also enjoys a low-cost advantage. Wages in the country are one-fifth to one-sixth those in Europe, making software products much cheaper to produce, and those savings are passed on to buyers, Oskouilar said.

Some of these advantages help take the edge off the impact Iran’s standing in the international arena can have on business for the software companies. At worst, Iran could soon face U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program. The Security Council is discussing ways to steer Iran ran away from further developing its nuclear prowess, and the specter of sanctions clouds the future for Iranian businesses.

The confrontation will have an impact on business, Oskouilar said. But so far at Cebit, those greater complications have been absent, he said.

“It’s not political,” Oskouilar said. “Because of that, it’s not that much of a problem…because we do business in spite of all that tension.”

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