ICT: Lack of policy not a limiting issue - Chairman, Software Foundation | Sunday Observer

ICT: Lack of policy not a limiting issue - Chairman, Software Foundation

Chairman and Founder, Lanka Software Foundation and Founder and Former CEO, WSO2,  Dr. Sanjiva Weerawarana
Chairman and Founder, Lanka Software Foundation and Founder and Former CEO, WSO2, Dr. Sanjiva Weerawarana

Having one digital policy will not cure all the ills in the ICT industry and overall, the lack of policy is not a limiting issue. There are concerns on the expansion of State bureaucracy in implementing the proposed digital policies. The number one is that a policy gets in the way, when it creates yet another organisation that the private sector needs to interface with, Chairman and Founder, Lanka Software Foundation and Founder and Former CEO, WSO2, Dr. Sanjiva Weerawarana said.

As several areas in the country don’t even have 3G data connectivity, Sri Lanka needs to increase connectivity to isolated areas to reap the benefits of digital policies, he said at an interview with Business Observer.

However, the government trying to keep up with changing technologies with long-term policy is a bad idea, he said.

Excerpts:

Q. Does Sri Lanka have an ICT policy? What is its current status?

A. There is no single ICT policy for the country at present. We have lot of those policies in pieces which address data security, data privacy and protection. They are in place. However, overall the lack of policy is not a limiting issue.

The number one is that a policy gets in the way, is when it creates yet another organisation that the private sector, now needs to interface with. AI is not new. It’s a misnomer and government trying to keep up with moving technologies with long-term policy is a bad idea. There are concerns on the expansion of state bureaucracy in implementing these digital policies.

As several areas in the country don’t even have 3G data connectivity, Sri Lanka needs to increase connectivity to isolated areas in order to reap the benefits of digital policies.

Q. How is the country’s ICT industry is progressing?

A. First of all, the term ‘ICT’ is misunderstood. When we say ICT industry, it covers a broad spectrum within which there are different segments. These include outsourcing companies, IT enableing services and other parts of IT industry such as traders and buyers of computer components and manufacturers.

The entire sector could be classified as hardware resellers/vendors, hardware manufacturers, software resellers/vendors, software manufacturers, system integrator - local market focused, system integrator – out sources, enterprise internal IT teams, IT enabled services (ITES) and Business Process, Out scourers (BPO), Universities and IT Training Institutes. The industry is comprised of all kinds of different aspects that are critically necessary to run the process. These also support for value creation computing for digital transformation of governance and outsourcing industry where the country has competitive cost for labour.

It is necessary to create a new institute to properly evaluate export products. These should not be traditional products any more. The part of ICT is creating an enabling environment. The ICT is demand driven and it facilitates processes.

The industry needs high level skills and produce high value, which is more difficult to track. Sri Lanka has a very small technology population. What the country has to do is to sell the capabilities to foreign companies. However, they need to scale up and meet the growing demand.

Q. What are the measures taken to increase the number of ICT graduates produced?

A. The number of ICT graduates is not a matter for outsourcing companies. Skills level and competencies play a big role in complimenting IT capabilities. The hard work is done by the servers. It is a high value intellectual property driven mechanism. The value is not in the service business.

Q. What is the present situation of the start-up culture in Sri Lanka?

A. Sri Lanka has a limited start-up focus. It is necessary to tie-up with successful Indian companies as the market is small in terms of producing technology solutions. Start -up companies are still focusing on local companies. They should focus on global market for large scale generation in terms of volume and value.

Q. What more should the industry do to improve export earnings?

A. There is a bad understanding of the ICT industry. The value in the industry lies in the IP, not in the revenue generation. Focusing on export earnings in the form of revenue generation is wrong. This is when there is a buy off of a IT company there will be one off revenue which is actually not reflected as revenue generated.

It is in the pipeline of revenue genberation. It is not realistic to generate US $ 5 billion within 5 years. This may be true for the tourism industry, but will not be applicable for the ICT industry as the value creation is at different scales.

Q. What is the scope Sri Lanka has in terms of diversifying ICT exports?

A. The diversification of products can be done at different stages. The diversifying of IT enabled services will facilitate growth. It is necessary to have an Artificial Intelligence (AI) strategy to derive benefits from this new technology which is becoming fast popular globally.

Q .What are the challenges faced by the ICT industry?

A. One of the major challenges that the ICT industry is faced with is the retention of skilled people. This is because IT skills are highly transferable. The majority involved in the ICT industry which is more than 40 percent is high-end technical people. Most of them leave the country within the first two years of employment. When considered the IT services side, more people are industry ready.

The IT product manufactures have to compete with countries such as China and Korea. As such local companies should scale up operations. The local product companies focusing on the Sri Lankan market have fewer opportunities. The investments in the form of venture capital are very hard to come by.

Q. What action needed to overcome these challenges?

A. A lot of effort is needed to increase the number of university admission. Measures should be taken to introduce better soft skills all the way to the school system. There need to be more schools with Science teaching facilities. The government needs to become bigger advocate of technology.

The leadership should focus more on adopting technology made in Sri Lanka. The ICT industry should shoulder the responsibility towards this for the benefit of the entire country. It is not about any particular technology, as ICT is an enabling technology which make something better.

It is necessary to apply ICT to improve functions of the country such as to control traffic flow, issuance of passport and birth certificates. The country has already benefited from ICT in the instance of issuing of e-license, motor vehicle registration and communication platform.

It is an on going process to upgrade living styles. There are a lot of changes happening due to technological advancements. The ICT needs to take-off. The benefit of this supporting structure in life is huge and has a vast opportunity in Sri Lanka to regain. Technology is a constantly moving thing and is changing fast. It should never be confine to a policy. It is necessary to look at the country perspective. The policy makers should think of what role the ICT has to play to develop the country and the way it should be done.

Q. How has the country benefited from the new technologies emerges in the recent past (AI, data analytics). How well the country has adopted the world technology trends to move forward?

A. Sri Lanka is doing quite well. There are over 50 percent of smartphone users in the country. The internet penetration is also satisfactory. However, we have aspects to improve. The ICT is a market driven tool. It is not the country adopting technology. The government should bring in technology to improve efficiency, transparency and accountability. This high-end mechanism should be integrated to the governance process.

Q. How important is the development of the ICT industry for the Sri Lankan economy?

A. There will be ICT industry related changes that the industry envisages in the next few years. Hence, advocating any policy changes for the advantage of the industry should be done effectively and carefully to derive desired benefits from the upscaling that happens will offer.

It is critical important as we are in the middle of a non digital to digital transformation. The fourth industrial revolution is taking place. With the internet it traverses the world instantly. The technology protection is not possible. However, it keeps the country going and adoption of ICT system to work to do things better acts as a tool for everything. That changes every body’s life. It is not the development of the ICT industry per say, but it is the critical facilitator for the Sri Lankan economy to grow. 

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