Compiled by Yamini Sequeira


Ruwindhu Peiris ruminates that corporates are sitting on a trove of data

Q: Managing and making sense of data is a challenge for many organisations. How are Sri Lan­kan companies using the data they collect?

A: The average Sri Lankan corporate is far from making effective use of the data that it collects. Companies especially in the financial services industry are sitting on a treasure trove of transactional and behavioural information.

Some­times simple filters applied to their data have provided a level of insight into customers that they’ve never seen before.

Ideally, large Sri Lankan corporates shouldn’t be in this position.

Disruptive arms of established companies and startups are rapidly encroaching on many industries, and digging deep into their data to provide a level of customised service well beyond what the industry’s incumbents are capable of without analytics.

What telecom companies and fintech startups are doing in the financial space is a good example of this.

Q: So how can Sri Lankan companies set about harnessing data effectively?

A: Simply through people, processes and technology.

The first hurdle is changing the mindset of people – especially those at the top. Becoming a data driven organisation requires a fundamental shift in behaviour from relying on gut or anecdote based decisions, to insight based decisions grounded in a strong fact base.

Secondly, there’s a hurdle in ensuring that data gathering is built into organisational processes. Every interaction with a customer or rupee spent on advertising and production workflow must leave a data footprint. After all, data is a crucial component of making data driven decisions.

The third hurdle is technology – specifically the tools and technical know-how required to answer pressing questions. This could range from using machine learning to offer personalised recommendations to every customer, to using interactive dashboards to provide operational staff and leaders a real-time view of performance against sales targets.

Q: How can AI help companies?

A: It’s important to remember that AI is not a magical solution to all problems. Without the right foundations being in place – i.e. in terms of systems, culture and processes – a premature investment in AI can result in grossly unsatisfactory results.

And so can a vanity investment in AI where rudimentary forms are implemented purely for marketing and promotional purposes.

However, with the foundations in place and a clear view of how AI can be incorporated into a company’s strategic objectives, its main advantage is that by being able to handle cognitive tasks automatically – where human judgement was previously required – it frees up employees to work on customer centric value generating activities that are far beyond the capability of machines.

In addition, because these activities tend to be more creative and rewarding, em­plo­yees are bound to display greater engagement towards them.

Q: What are your rules for focussing on ‘real data’ over ‘noise’?

A: An organisation should always focus on two aspects – viz. revenue generation and cost optimisation.

When it comes to increasing revenue, pay attention to the metrics that drive customer centricity or help you deliver in­creasing value to customers. And when it comes to reducing costs, take note of the metrics that help you achieve operational efficiency.

Everything else is noise.

Q: Are local businesses employing consulting firms to provide better analytics?

A: We’re noticing a growing trend. Many of our most recent engagements involved either a business intelligence implementation or stra­tegic data analysis component. We also offer insights as a service where tailor-made analyses are conducted on a routine basis.

On the flip side, we encounter more than a few companies that are reluctant to provide an external party access to their data or even discussing this. To these companies, we say inertia will be your chief downfall! Do not sit by the sidelines and forgo the competitive advantage that leveraging on your data will provide.

Q: How do you envision the future of analytics?

A: Analytics is advancing rapidly around the world. In many countries, it has spread beyond the corporate realm and even become part of national governance. If Sri Lanka is to catch up, every industry from ICT to agriculture must make analytics a priority.

The engine of the economy, which is the financial services industry, can not only leverage on its customer and transactional data to be better providers of capital, but also actively seek investments in companies that are willing to use AI and machine learning to disrupt the status quo.

This may result in either a complete overhaul of how things are done or at the very least, pressure slow-moving corporates to raise their game.

Asia has attracted considerable attention in recent times. Sri Lankan corporates must serve as a beacon for Asia, demonstrating the capabilities and technological advancements in a frontier economy. This requires a shift away from short-term profit orientation to long-term value creation.

It’s time for Sri Lankan companies to think much bigger. They can start small; but they must act now.

The interviewee is the Managing Director of Stax