Transforming Sri Lanka into the 21st century knowledge-based society

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Answers from Elena Ornig

Technology is the future for Sri Lanka

Two years ago, in November 2013, after visiting Gartner Symposium IT on the Gold Coast,  I made a statement about Sri Lanka: “Sri Lanka is a smart Island with smart people and certainly, with a very smart Government.” Today, I am happy to confirm that I was right.

A few weeks ago, I went to the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2015 on the Gold Coast, Australia to find out what “strategies, insights and tools” were offered to “lead the next generation of IT to achieve business outcome” for CIOs and IT Executives from around the globe.

I went straight to the Sri Lanka’s stand, highly curious about which companies the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka was presenting this time. I was thrilled to see the disruptive startup Arimac which created a unique combination of innovative gamification solutions, the Ceylon Linux which provides Open Source solutions for enterprises;  eIMSky which provides solutions to organisations by augmenting processes with customized technology to increase productivity and profitability; Eyepax IT Consulting which offers Agile web and mobile development with a 10 years proven track record; Orion City which transforms the scope of built-to-specification, cutting age, commercial and office infrastructure for the IT/BPO industry; PayMedia Private Limited which provides custom based solutions for Banking, finance and telecommunication domains; a leading Software Development Centre – Softcodeit Solutions which provides a range of services to the global market place and an internationally recognised Business System Integrator –Totalamber which helps to enhance, upgrade, rollout, support and replace clients Enterprise Resources Planning systems.

In addition, some companies came from Sri Lanka as a part of bigger mission: the rapidly growing innovative technology company FIDA Global which challenges the conventional methods offering end-to-end solutions; Hconnect which provides services from accounting and bookkeeping to high end analytics and treasury management;  iContext which provides both Cloud and enterprise e-Learning and Social Learning Solutions; a Software Development Centre which specialises in Software Development and Product Development;  an award winning boutique Business Process Outsourcing firm –Tellida; a Software Development Centre tekMAZ, specialising in Software Development and Product Development and WinSYS Networks Pty Ltd which provides Hi Tech training and consulting, having trained 19,500 ICT professionals already.

Photo of Colombo

Image of Colombo skyline by Rukmal Kirtisinghe

(Rukmal Kirtisinghe’s photos)

In 2013, when I first time came across the work of the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA), I was very impressed with how much support they were receiving from the government. This time, I was keen to learn more about their achievements, vision, strategies and commitment that drives its IT-BPM industry. I knew their Project Manager, Sachindra Samararatne who I met in 2013. I asked him to be introduced to their Chief of Projects, Arunesh Peter in order to get answers to the Sri Lanka’s secret of how they were able to achieve such a massive shift in IT.

Talking to Arunesh Peter was quite an experience. Hi is passionate about helping his country to transform lives for the better by bringing out the highest potential that his people can offer. He is talented, experiences in IT, hands on and down-to-earth personality. Highly inspirational and real patriot of his mother land, he loves his job and thrives on challenges. Clearly a “can do” man.  He asked me to just call him Peter and quickly moved to share his knowledge, ideas and visions of the Sri Lanka’s present and future agendas.

According to Peter, Sri Lanka is going through a transformation, focusing on revolutionary technologies and knowledge – based economic activities where ICTA, as the Government body was uniquely created with responsibility to progress the e-Sri Lanka development initiative and is directly involved in ICT policy, development and direction for the nation. ICTA does not operate as a large government department rather, ICTA operate as a large private company with a mandate to bring the best skills obtainable in the market place. Today, their direction is to build a high class digital infrastructure which is vital for knowledge – based economic activities. Peter pointed out how important it is to understand that Sri Lanka has its own Ministry of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure in order to make policy in national telecommunication, IT and digital technologies. From 2015 to 2020, the Ministry will focus on two key areas, the telecommunication and digital infrastructure and people’s living standards and quality of life.  The Hon. Minister of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure, Mr. Harin Fernando (M.P.), who assumed his duties in September 2015, is young, energetic, committed and driven to layout a vision, strategy and roadmap for the nation.

Arunesh Peter

Arunesh Peter
Chief of Projects at Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka

“The transformation is huge in terms of size but we have a drive and passion to make a creative, knowledge-based society through digital empowerment. The Sri Lanka that you will see in the next three years will be unrecognisable. When you have desire, vision and the leadership that drive change for a nation, you can achieve a lot.  Take for example Singapore where Lee Kuan Yew’s vision and leadership transformed Singapore into one of the richest places in the world. Yes, sadly we had a war but now we are restoring our nation’s unity through open process of reconciliation. We understand that to take Sri Lanka forward we need our nation’s unity and our government is committed to achieve it through empowering our citizens”, stated Peter emotionally.

I have to say, that when Peter speaks of its country’s future, I have no doubt that people like him are able to deliver. I could close my eyes and see how Sri Lanka is transforming with the existing conducive business environment and the large scale projects driven by smart government, and experienced individuals like Arunesh Peter. I mean, look at what they, as a developing country have achieved in a short period of time. This is a matter for the history books. In the 1970’s they were the first country in South Asia that liberalised its economy and it has followed a pro-business and pro-investment policy ever since. In 1989, they became the first South Asian nation that released mobile phones. In 2004, they were the first nation that established a 3G network. They will be the first country that will deploy the Google Loon Project which will cover the entire island, instantly connecting the whole nation to the Internet. They are the first country in South Asia that has available 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) network. Sri Lanka, today has the highest literacy rate in South Asia and its 90,000 IT/ITES workforce is growing at an annual rate of 15%. Their companies have delivered software and services to global telecom companies, including British Telecom, Singapore Mobile One, Mexico’s Telcel and Florida’s TODO 1. I am not surprised, considering that Sri Lankan undergraduates have excelled in several global competitions.   Some of the biggest clients of Sri Lankan built software are eBay, Emirates, London Stock Exchange, Three Gorges Dams, Microsoft, Expedia, Virgin Holiday.

Peter is absolutely right about the high level government support. It shows in the results. Their government facilitates business missions to different countries, including Australia. Their government provides substantial grants for IT companies. The ICTA has supported 32 startups through the tech startup acceleration initiative named ‘SPIRALATION’.  This particular program is unique. Startups receive funding as a grant with no equity taken.  Then, they are given intensive training on several subjects from idea generation to legal aspects and Intellectual Property laws. How thoughtful and more committed could any government can be? And what about their goals? Read this: “Sri Lanka’s IT/BPM industry has set its vision to achieve USD 5 billion in exports by 2022 while generating 200,000 jobs and creating 1,000 startups in this process” stated in the Sri Lankan IT/BPM Industry 2014 Review by Sri Lanka Association for Software Services Companies (SLASSCOM).

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I have met with one of the Directors of the Board of Directors of SLASSCOM, Jeevan Gnanam who is also the Founder and CEO of the OrionCity (Pvt.) Ltd which is Sri Lanka’s first and only IT-Park. He supports startups, contributing to the creation of the Sri Lankan Tech Ecosystem.  His Orion City IT Park already houses 24 companies with 5,000 employees, quickly becoming one of the most sought-after locations for the IT/ITES companies. The next milestone is to build Orion City Towers, a state of the art, custom designed and environmentally friendly space to make Orion City IT Park as a one-stop hub for innovation and collaboration. Jeevan knows how important to develop a startup ecosystem in order to nurture innovation and help his nation to achieve economic prosperity. I also talked to some of his employees. They said Jeevan Gnanam thinks outside the box. He is a hard worker, a problem solver and a man with great integrity; and I know this is true.

What is also true and obvious, is that Sri Lanka has smart government with the right approach and the right people to produce the next success story in South Asia, in the nearest future.  Just recently, Sri Lanka became the first country in South Asia, signing into the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime as a member, demonstrating a real commitment to law enforcement and judicial cooperation at the international level. Arunesh Peter has also explained how the Lanka Government Network (LGN) will provide vital infrastructure to dissimilate information through the entire government and with the additional Lanka Gate project, delivering a centralised portal to take government services to the citizens. Peter stressed how well the government understands significance of education. He said that ICTA works on several projects, collaborating with the Ministry of Education. For example, in 2016, they are planning to open 200 digital classrooms which will grow to 1,000 in the year 2017.  He expressed pride in talking about the leading role of ICTA because Sri Lanka has already ratified the  UN Electronic Communications Convention which will come into force in February 2016, opening the doors for e-Commerce and e-Business providers to feel certain about international legal instruments in regards to international contracts.

In addition, and this is my favourite part, Arunesh Peter revealed the most ambition project that Sri Lankan government is about to embark on – Western Region Megapolis Plan (WRMPP), developed by a Singaporean firm CESMA. This project aims to transform entire Western region with a size of 2,684 square kilometres, enveloping capital city Colombo. “It is a huge project with the concept of a Smart City. It will have Business centres, IT centres, production centres, housing locations and green spaces. We will have the best Megapolis in the world. A newly formed Ministry of Megapolis, with a new Minister who is an Engineer, has been created by the government to implement this project, proving again of how seriously the Sri Lankan government is committed to transform Sri Lanka into a cutting age country” concluded Peter.

I commenced this article with the observation that “Sri Lanka is a smart Island with smart people and certainly, with a very smart Government”. That statement is indeed true.


Photo from Western Region Megapolis Planning Project’s Facebook Page

(Link to Facebook Page)

Updates: A.T.Kearney’s Global Services Location Index recently ranked Sri Lanka  #14 in the world.

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Written by Elena Ornig

Managing Director of Publishing Company "Julia Sophistique Pty Ltd". Committee member of Australian Computer Association GC Chapter. Member of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Member of the Chamber of Commerce & Industry Queensland. Member of the IT Forum Gold Coast. Sponsor of the Helensvale Writers' Group, Gold Coast. Committee member of the Gold Coast Writers Association Honored VIP Member of STANFORD WHO'S WHO in America. Publisher, writer and blogger.