FITIS to aggressively promote ‘Island of Ingenuity’ brand | Sunday Observer

FITIS to aggressively promote ‘Island of Ingenuity’ brand

Chairman, FITIS, Abbas Kamrudeen
Chairman, FITIS, Abbas Kamrudeen

There is an absolute need to increase the use of technology to meet the productivity challenges that the country is facing and there should be a clear cut plan to increase the dispersion of ICT (Information Communication Technology) use, Chairman, Federation of Information Technology Industry Sri Lanka (FITIS), Abbas Kamrudeen said.

“By working in collaboration with the Export Development Board, as part of the national export strategy, together we have built a brand ‘IOI’ (Island of Ingenuity) which we will promote aggressively to create our own Sri Lankan ICT and knowledge services brand, he said in an interview with the Business Observer.

“A challenge we foresee is managing policy with regards to the ever-changing digital platforms and services we are exposed to. We have pledged our support to government bodies to help formulate effective policy frameworks needed for digital transformation,” he said.


Q. What is the role of FITIS and its contribution to the ICT industry’s development?

A. FITIS was set up in 1996 with the purpose of giving a much-needed focal point for the ICT industry in Sri Lanka. Today, FITIS is the apex body of the ICT sector in the country covering all major industry segments such as system integrators, hardware vendors, software development firms, training and education institutes, telcos and other communication companies, office automation vendors and ICT professional bodies.

FITIS understands the potential of the ICT sector and therefore, has been actively contributing towards changing the landscape of the Sri Lankan ICT industry during the past two decades.

Q. What are the Federation’s plans this year under your leadership?

A. This year we have embarked on a four-pillar strategy focusing on key areas such as:

1. Digital transformation

2. Increase our industry’s contribution towards the national economy

3. Developing a cohesive communications strategy for all stakeholders and policy makers

4. Increasing our value proposition to members

In the context of the digital transformation, we have identified activities which would focus on digital transformation in the upcoming years as a focal point on our agenda. I believe Sri Lanka lags behind in embracing digital initiatives, be it the private sector, public sector or as individual citizens.

The activities we are looking to initiate this year are - Encouraging digital adoption within key industries by providing expert consultation to organizations that require support, creating a platform to recognise digital initiatives, increasing ICT literacy levels within all sections of the population, supporting and assisting in expediting E-government initiatives, working with government to increase smart phone and internet penetration and providing digital advisory and consultancy for export companies by linking tech companies with our exporters.

As a part of creating a platform to recognise digital initiatives we will begin Digital Transformation awards, which recognise companies and industries that embrace digital tools and systems in ways that fundamentally reshape their organisation and the customer experience.

The above strategies are the key external activities planned for FITIS. However, during the year we plan to enhance the member value proposition by way of developing an app to obtain ground level market intelligence.

We will also concurrently plan and negotiate with vendors common to the industry, train and develop technology and business-related programs, actively engage and link new global tech companies with traditional IT vendors, develop special incentives for individuals within the member organisations, and organise membership drives and member networking and partnership creation events. Finally, as a benefit to the members and the industry, a member’s directory and privilege scheme is scheduled to be launched for better opportunity and engagement.

Q. What changes do you envisage to fuel the growth of the ICT industry?

A. The need to increase the use of technology is an absolute requirement when viewing the current productivity challenges the country faces. Therefore, there should be a clear plan to increase the dispersion of ICT use.

All elements of growth must come to play for this to happen such as awareness, education, availability and affordability.

For example, we are currently pursuing better tax benefits for the industry where imports of ICT equipment can have zero tax, which would help in increasing the use of ICT within the country both urban and rural. This would be a small step towards our goal of becoming a digital nation.

Another challenge we foresee is managing policy with regards to the ever-changing digital platforms and services we are exposed to. We have pledged our support to the respective government bodies to help formulate effective policy frameworks required for digital transformation.

Q. What are the measures needed to enhance ICT exports?

A. On the subject of FITIS’ contribution to the national economy, our plans are to assist software and service companies to increase export revenue to achieve the USD 5 billion target by 2022.

Moreover, we will also contribute to increase the current ICT workforce of 80,000 to 200,000 in the coming years as human resource remains the single most limiting factor to the industry’s growth. We have a number of on going initiatives with NAITA, Ministry of education, and other Education related entities not excluding our own education and training institutes to increase the human capital available to us. Discussions are ongoing to commence a graduate conversion program for non ICT graduates.

FITIS is also a member of regional bodies such as ASOCIO and APICTA, which enables us to position the Sri Lankan ICT industry especially at forums of regional importance and share our success stories internationally.

By working in collaboration with the Export Development Board as part of the national export strategy, together we have built a brand ‘IOI’ (Island of Ingenuity) which we will be promoting aggressively to create our own Sri Lankan ICT and knowledge services brand.

FITIS members within the software chapter develop internationally recognized ICT products and solutions. As FITIS we encourage and support companies to focus on Intellectual Property creation as we believe this to be the future direction of the Industry. IP creation enables companies to develop sustainable competitive advantage and reduces exposure to upcoming low rate ICT Service destinations.

Q. What action should the country take to derive maximum benefits from modern technologies such as data science, AI and robotics?

A. Create awareness of these new technologies and encourage both private and public sectors to use these technologies for their digital transformation processes. At the same time, educating decision makers on the importance of modern technologies, which I believe is vital to carry our economy forward.

Government policies to encourage adoption of such technologies could outweigh the risk elements organisations foresee when adopting new technology. A few good case studies could be all it takes to make this change. We hope some of our initiatives mentioned earlier would kick-start this.

Q. What changes do you propose in the education sector to accommodate the evolving ICT industry?

A. In my opinion, we should allow schoolchildren to experience the use of ICT at a very early stage within the school curriculum so that that when they complete their secondary education, they will be equipped to use the full potential of ICT in whatever field they may choose. Therefore, the use of technology, and relevant educators should be available within the school system.

Q. Does Sri Lanka have enough ICT professionals and what action is needed to improve the quality of these professionals?

A. No, as mentioned before, we are not producing enough professionals to cater to market demand but I believe all relevant stakeholders are aware of this and a number of plans are in place to try and bridge the gap by way of projects such as graduate conversion programs.

In the long run we should provide an environment where the students learn modern technology at an early stage and evolve with the trends to attain the relevant knowledge to stay current and informed. This would create enough interest in attracting youngsters towards the industry, but the IT infrastructure facilities must develop within the country to support this.

Q. How will you make ICT a driver of economic growth in the coming years?

A. We must take the lead and look at the holistic picture. To this end it is important to digitizing the government and private sector for improved connectivity and productivity. There need to be more day to day encounters with technology, as this would only make the economy more efficient, thus, making IT more prevalent within our Society.

Q. Has ICT been sufficiently used as a tool to develop the country? What more should be done?

A. No, Sri Lanka has a tough road ahead. While some of our industries are leading the charge regionally when it comes to adoption of innovative technologies such as 4G, most industries have not even begun to embrace new technology. We must adapt to modern technologies such as IOT, 5G, AI, machine learning and robotics so as to stay competitive globally and increase national productivity.

There is a mindset change that’s required as well. A good example would be Smart Cities having successfully eliminated a number of challenges faced by authorities such as crime, congestion and pollution. We have yet to adopt such systems.

Q. How do you see the industry in the next five years? What changes does it need to reach the optimal level of development?

A. There is a desire to make Sri Lanka a digital nation, however we see the progress has been slow compared to neighbouring countries. More education, training and awareness is necessary.

Having said that, there have been some great digitisation efforts by the government and the private sector such as healthcare which we should be very proud of. Every single industry we have will have to adopt digital transformation to survive. We are seeing digitally enabled companies becoming a threat to traditional giants every day.

Uber and Pickme are reshaping the transportation industry. Tesla is the biggest threat to the automotive industry as it moves towards self driving cars.

The advertising industry has been reshaped by companies such as Google and Facebook. Any country needs to be digital to be relevant and moving forward.