Compiled by Savithri Rodrigo

Sanjiva Weerawarana

Peter D’Almeida

Q: How would you rate Sri Lanka’s ICT industry performance in recent years?

Sanjiva Weerawarana (SW): Overall, the industry is performing well but it has much more potential and I don’t think it’s maximising that. It can do much more.

Peter D’Almeida (PDA): In relation to the very ambitious goals that were set, I believe we have fallen short especially on the numbers projected for ICT exports.

Q: Which sectors are driving the demand for ICT in Sri Lanka?

SW  Primarily export services although every growth sector must have ICT involvement to ensure that it is relevant and able to cope with rapid evolution.

PDA  From the point of view of our business, it would be the banking and telecom sectors.

Q: Is there adequate regulatory or policy support for the local industry?

SW  The government’s own procurement procedure makes it almost impossible for a local company to offer any solutions to the state or sell software to it. That’s the clearest example of bad government policy in terms of supporting local industry.

PDA  Quite inadequate – for example, to drive and develop talent in the ICT industry, there must be a policy to make substantial investments in the right type of education and skills that the industry will need for the future. This represents a lacuna.

Q: How would you describe the pace of broadband services being rolled out in the island?

SW  Better than in most countries in terms of affordability but quality must improve and be developed if we’re to achieve our goals. The raw price paid for data by a consumer is much cheaper than in the US. But industrial broadband is too expensive.

PDA  I believe that the mobile broadband roll out has been satisfactory. However, in terms of fixed broadband penetration, Sri Lanka lags behind Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Q: What is your take on the ICT talent that is available in the country?

SW  At present, it’s pretty good. But we need to increase the depth of that talent and focus on developing high quality individuals rather than aiming for numbers. It would be good to follow Israel’s example of nurturing highly paid top-quality engineers rather than follow India, which has built its industry around quantity.

PDA  It’s poor for two reasons. Firstly, while the skills of some individuals are outstanding, the pool of such resources isn’t sufficient to keep pace with market demand. Secondly, the vast majority of technically competent resources fall short in creativity and application of knowledge gained through the education system.

Q: Could you cite a few examples about how digital transformation is driving enterprises?

SW  Take a look at the passport office in Sri Lanka – a passport is issued in a day with little or no hassle. Digitally transforming governmental functions is one of the keys to building a platform for sustainable growth of the whole country.

PDA  Today, Sri Lanka’s banking sector is slowly but surely getting its head around digital transformation. It’s witnessing the value of the vast amount of data it possesses on customers as a critical asset that can help drive richer and more personalised consumer experiences.

Q: Is there adequate technology adoption in the small business segment?

SW  No – because people are too cheap and don’t want to invest in technology. They prefer hiring back office personnel on low salaries to work manually in areas that could be easily transformed in the digital space.

PDA  It doesn’t seem to have access to affordable and technology enabled solutions. The portfolio of solutions targeting small businesses offered by local cloud providers is limited and doesn’t serve the needs of the market meaningfully. There’s also a lack of awareness of cloud based solutions.

Q: What are the main competitive pressures in the IT space?

SW  It is a space with little or no barriers to entry where a good idea can become globally adopted extremely quickly. No one can predict where one can be taken out! Overall, every country is trying to gain a foothold and grow in IT – so competition is global. The key to success is facilitating and encouraging creative innovation.

PDA  More than competitive pressure, it is the challenge of how soon we can scale with access to the right calibre of talent and strategic investments that are needed to address the massive market opportunities that we see.

Q: How are organisations addressing growing cybersecurity concerns?

SW  Most are weak. So far, we’ve been lucky not to have had any but it is only a matter of time and we must be prepared.

PDA  Very poorly; the lack of knowledge at board, audit and risk committee levels on the growing risks of cyber-attacks is appalling.

Q: What are your growth projections for the IT industry?

SW  I don’t have a hard number to offer as I do not track industry stats; but it is easy to keep growing services as long as you can find the right people. However, it is difficult yet much more valuable to grow value added software solutions as well as core technology products instead.

PDA  I’m unable to project a figure for the ICT industry as a whole. But our company has seen net earnings grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 32 percent over the last five years, which could be an optimistic paradigm for the industry’s trend in the next few years.

Q: So what do you believe needs to happen to ensure a more optimistic future for tech firms?

SW  We don’t think big enough. There’s a need for us to be more entrepreneurial, creative and innovative – and work harder. Moreover, we need to offer more products that people want on a global scale. Indeed, we must start thinking big – bigger than we do at present!

PDA  Two things: firstly, a more rapid take-up by state and commercial enterprises of digital technologies to harness the true potential they hold; and secondly, the development of two of the most critical skills of the future workforce – viz. problem solving and creativity.

Sanjiva is the Founder and Chairman of WSO2
Peter is the Managing Director and Chief Executive of N*Able