‘Sri Lanka should focus on value-added innovation’ | Sunday Observer

‘Sri Lanka should focus on value-added innovation’

Hiranya Samarasekera
Hiranya Samarasekera

The second International Conference on Business Research (ICBR) 2019 organised by the Business Research Unit of the Faculty of Business, University of Moratuwa, was held recently.

This year’s theme was ‘Calibrating modern-day businesses through data analytics and business information systems in emerging markets’.

VP Engineering, Head of Enterprise Architecture Group (EAG) at Sysco Labs, Hiranya Samarasekera, delivered the keynote speech.

Samarasekera classified Sri Lanka as an ‘Emerging-Emerging Economy’ more popularly known as a Frontier Economy; an economy which is more developed than the Least Developing Countries but too small and risky, with less advanced capital markets to be an Emerging Economy. In the quest to achieve Emerging Economy status, the question Samarasekera posed to the audience was, whether Sri Lanka has what it takes to be on par and remain competitive with countries that are globally classified under the ‘Emerging’ category.

Drawing comparisons with other countries in the region to answer this question, it was noted that Sri Lanka’s total active labour force of nine million is minuscule when compared with Bangladesh’s 60 million, as is Sri Lanka’s IT enabled sector which currently consists of a workforce of 80,000 people in comparison to India’s 3.1 million. Sri Lanka was ranked No. 89 on the Global Innovation Index this year, while other frontier markets such as Vietnam are ahead at No. 42.

Within a landscape such as this, he said that it’s time for Sri Lanka to shift its focus towards value added innovation, i.e., both product and service related innovations that would result in Sri Lanka progressing as a ‘Knowledge Economy’ thereby creating a competitive advantage for ourselves in this rapidly growing borderless global market.

Using an example from Sri Lanka’s ship building industry; he noted that the recent commissioning of the KDDI Cable Infinity built by Colombo Dockyard PLC, the largest and most sophisticated vessel to be built by Sri Lanka (113m), is a great example of such an advantage as it gives us leverage to compete with the top manufacturers in the industry such as China and Japan.

In the same way, cloud computing has made it easier than ever for even a start-up to access large scale computational power, storage and the latest technological advancement within seconds, a feat that would have required enormous capital investments a few years ago. This has largely reduced the barriers to entry and catapulted many startups to success. With the right application of technologies such as cloud computing along with data analytics the possibilities for identifying a gap in the market and servicing that gap effectively are endless. Samarasekera said, “We are at a critical juncture where Sri Lanka needs to adopt digital technologies, embrace analytics and use it as a competitive advantage.”

“The use of machine learning technologies which can be identified as a foundational transformational technology, is also fast gaining momentum in the global market with successful applications across varying industries from self-driving automobiles to facial recognition on smart phones and social media.

“Technologies such as these can greatly assist in governance, enabling decision-makers to make insightful and data-driven policies that deliver better, more cost-effective and citizen-friendly services.

“This would not be limited to governance alone, IoT (Internet of Things) coupled with business process management enables end-to-end digitization of processes, paving the way for process mining and process analytics whilst gaining real-time insights about processes assisting organizations in making proactive decisions.

“The use of technologies to create a competitive advantage are not limited to the applications above, the use of technology in the finance sector (FinTech) has been rapidly developing with the birth of tools such as peer-to-peer lending, cryptocurrencies and crowdfunding platforms among many others.

“Facebook’s recent announcement of a consortium named ‘Libra’ - an effort to create a global digital currency with several large tech and non-tech companies such as eBay, Uber, PayPal, Visa and Mastercard - showcases the level of technological disruption taking place in the financial sector as well.

“We need to develop a new breed of employees who are capable of analytical, quantitative and research skills. Everyone has to take on the role of an entrepreneur or intrapreneur, challenging the status quo and venture into unchartered territories to push the nation to the next level,” Samarasekera said.