The outgoing CEO of TTPL, Dr Tshering Cigay, in conversation with Kuensel’s Jigme Wangchuk as he departs after 10 years with the company
When, why, and how did Thimphu TechPark start?
Thimphu TechPark, Bhutan’s first IT Park, was conceptualised way back in 2006 under the leadership of Lyonpo Leki Dorji with the support of the World Bank. But the actual project started in 2010 with DHI as an important partner along with APG from Singapore. The construction of the park’s physical infrastructure was completed in 2012. I joined Thimphu TechPark in early 2012 to launch and run the operations.
The IT Park was established mainly to create employment opportunities for our youth in the IT sector, as the number of graduates entering the job market started to increase drastically from around 2006 onwards. In 2000, the number of graduates attending the graduate orientation programme was only about 250. By 2007, it crossed the 1,000 mark. And by 2015, it was almost 3,000. Since then, it seems to have stabilised at around 3,000. But the domestic job market is hardly able to absorb even half of that.
What are some of IT Park’s key activities, and how can the interested youth engage with the Park?
We facilitate and host FDI companies in the IT and IT-enabled services sector, and these companies right now employ over 500 Bhutanese youths. Secondly, we also actively promote youth entrepreneurship and innovation through various programmes at the Bhutan Innovation & Technology Centre, the first business incubation centre located at the Park. Thirdly, we also run an IT services department which now employs around 80 professionals. All these help to make the IT and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Bhutan vibrant. The doors of the IT Park are always open. Youth can just walk in and talk to our staff, or contact us via our website or social media pages.
You have been with Thimphu TechPark since 2012. How far has it come today, and what are some of the challenges?
Firstly, as the IT Park was a completely new and untried project at that time, it was not easy. So, it took time for things to pick up. Attracting FDI companies to locate at the IT Park was a major challenge. When the media found the place empty, they even called it a “white elephant”. But we persevered. But things started improving gradually. Although managing the IT Park may be seen from outside as simply managing the real estate, our main efforts went into attracting reliable and trustworthy FDI companies from abroad and helping them set up business in Bhutan, which is not at all easy. It is not like running a hotel or renting out flats. The fact that we got some good FDI companies at the IT Park despite all the challenges and have been able to retain them to this day gives my team great satisfaction.
All in all, the IT Park has grown from strength to strength thanks to the support of many key stakeholders, especially DHI, the government, DITT, board, etc., and our valued clients and supporters. By the end of 2015, we reached full capacity, and the employment figure crossed 600 in February 2016. His Majesty the King graced us with a visit in May 2017, and in 2017; our shareholder, DHI, supported us to start the construction of our second building, which was completed in 2019. From the end of 2018, in line with DHI Roadmap, we became an IT services company and currently we employ around 80 professionals in the IT services department working on some very important projects, including the Bhutan Integrated Tax System (BITS) and Electronic Patient Information System (ePIS), which are among the biggest projects under Digital Drukyul Flagship Programme of the 12th Plan.
What’s the Park’s future then?
In line with His Majesty’s vision for the future of our country, I see a very bright future for Thimphu TechPark. It will play a very important role in creating a vibrant ecosystem for the tech industry in Bhutan – supporting tech startups, facilitating FDI in relevant fields, linking the industry with the government and the academia etc. With DHI DRIVE Centre and Super Fablab being located here too, the IT Park will be the happening place where researchers, thinkers, innovators, entrepreneurs and investors, among others, can come together and take action. This is already happening! The IT Park itself would expand into a much larger area from the current five-acre campus.
Further, for TechPark as a company, it will live up to the vision of becoming the Centre of Excellence for IT, especially software engineering. It has already become the biggest IT services company in Bhutan that employs a total of about 100 people, out of which around 80 percent are in the IT services department. It will venture into cyber security services as well as new technologies like Blockchain, IoT, AI, Big Data, etc.
In about five years from now, TTPL must become a significant exporter of IT services given the small size of our domestic market. Otherwise, the company would not be able to sustain with around 100 employees. That is one of the most important KPIs for the company as envisioned by our board and DHI.
The media called the Park—some still do— a “white elephant”. How did you keep going despite the challenges?
I think it was my belief in the potential of IT for Bhutan, a small landlocked country. This belief was in me for a long time and this even fuelled my interest to pursue my Masters and PhD in the field of computer engineering. I believed that the IT Park would work out ultimately.
In addition, meeting great people along the way helped keep me motivated and energised. In my capacity as the COO and CEO of the IT Park, I got to meet some of the greatest minds from both within and outside Bhutan. I was also very lucky to have hardworking colleagues who are dedicated towards achieving our common goal. Last but not the least, seeing our young boys and girls happily employed in the companies at the Park and seeing them start their working life, meeting their life partner at the Park, and having children who now go to school, has been very satisfying. Knowing that we have been able to touch the lives of so many young people in our small ways is probably the best part of working at the Park.