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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Technology and Policy In Sri Lanka....

Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka
My first meeting in Sri Lanka was a hit. I met with the team at ICTA which is a private/public organization that provides telecom regulation and recommendations to the Sri Lankan Ministry, creates technology focused public private partnerships between businesses in Sri Lanka and business around the world, and lastly fuels innovation in the Country by establishing funds for the creation of technologies and various applications.
I met with Reshan Dewapura, Chief Executive Officer, Jayantha Fernando, Programme Director and Legal Advisor, and Radley Dissanayake, Programme Manager. Reshan, Jayantha, and Radley, all took special care of me and my proposed Eisenhower objectives, but more importantly they took a very keen interest in the meeting.  They each laid out a very detailed presentation and discussion with me about the telecommunications landscape of Sri Lanka and what the Country was doing in regards to innovation, and how, in their perspective, the telecommunications and IT sector in Sri Lanka, is and will be a valuable alternative to the Indian powerhouse status quo.
Some of what we spoke about was that Sri Lanka basically has 5 providers who offer a majority of the services to the Sri Lankan marketplace.  These providers are made up of mobile providers, telecom providers, and government owned providers. Very little, if any, hard wire providers are in the current marketplace.  Like India, Sri Lanka leapfrogged technology and went straight to wireless and mobile infrastructure platforms.  Thus, most of its infrastructure is wireless/ mobile, thus giving the Country a “step ahead” to innovate and create a new and ripe eco system made up of Sri Lankan technology development, initiatives, partnerships, and creations.
ICTA has been building the agency and recommending to the Country m-governance solutions, SMS applications, and building funds to grow Sri Lankan technology development companies and individual creators of apps and IT software.  It will be an uphill journey, but ICTA is very confident in its abilities to capture a market and offer the world alternatives for business operations and service solutions. I am confident as well.
DIALOG Sri Lanka
Dialog is one of Sri Lanka’s large mobile and satellite television providers. The company’s CEO is Hans Wijayasuriya. Hans is considered as one of Sri Lanka’s leading figures not only in technology, but in the general Sri Lankan business and intellectual circles as well. Quiet as kept, he is also being considered as a future Eisenhower Fellow and is on the short list of nominations to receive the honor and travel to the USA.
I had the pleasure of meeting Hans and we had, yet again, another very good discussion about the Sri Lankan telecommunications landscape and what the Country is doing to propel its once antiquated infrastructure, into a world class destination of data service and access.
In Hans perspective, he totally believes in the “Bottom of the Pyramid” (BOP) (see weblink)  marketplace and has analyzed this unique community in a way that I appreciated and helped shaped my own beliefs about the best way to approach and serve this very relevant group of consumers.  Hans believes that the ability to offer “life enhancing” content is the foundation to create a business model for the BOP.  “It’s not that they ( BOP) can’t pay..its that they do not want to pay”.  Hans and I engaged in a fruitful conversation about content and the development of a model to close the loop in offering ways for the BOP to consume broadband and ultimately purchase the service as well.  For Dialog, this is a somewhat easier for them, because they are a service provider. Which means Hans company is firmly positioned as THE premier mobile provider thus giving Dialog the ability to charge for services and include these charges in the monthly billing statements.  This may sound like an easy feat, however, its all “in the method of payment. That makes the difference”, states Hans. 
In addition, Dialog is beginning to also create mobile applications that are social service oriented and are interesting and targeted enough to get the BOP market to engage in mobile app purchases.  Interesting medical application along with television application platforms and agriculture applications, are fueling the Dialog brand into an entirely new stratosphere.  Joint ventures with application developers doesn’t hurt this progression as well. 
In the end, Dialog is positioned to continue to hold its stance as Sri Lanka’s number one go to service provider.  “Simple, cheap, delivery with purpose and applicability”, is what Hans confirms, is the secret to the future growth of the company.  “The facilitation of transaction that are fast and reach every village, town, and city center, will also be the important factor to building and growing the tele eco system in Sri Lanka”.  I believe him.  Renaissance in progress.

I have been hearing about Lirne Asia all throughout my travels and even beforehand from leading ICT executives and technologists. Lirne Asia is a  (get info from website). 
 I met with the iconic Rohan Samrajiva, Chair and CEO, as well as Sriganesh Lokanathan, Senior Research Manager. Both Rohan and Sri took a good amount of appreciated time to explain their perspective and thoughts on the landscape in Sri Lanka as it pertains to ICT, policy, development, and innovation.
Rohan, who has a resume that rivals any US FCC Commissioner or Chairman, is a wealth of information. He has taught in the US at Ivy Leagues Universities, was once the Director of the Sri Lankan Telecommunications agency, and is respected as one of the leading experts on South East Asian ICT reform and thought.
Rohan, like many others, believes that mobile is the future, particularly for Sri Lanka due to the state of the infrastructure and the affordability that a wireless and mobile network provides for the Country. “ You have to start thinking of the BOP marketplace as people who just have irregular incomes….not that they are poor”, stated Rohan. This comment resonated and was probably the most poignant to come from our conversations. It’s true, irregular incomes is what defines and should be the leading circumstance and factor when developing and creating a BOP model that is effective and successful.  He himself talks about the fact that he has an irregular income, not because he is poor but mostly due to his methods of getting paid.  He mentioned hits because everything that a company does to reach and prosper from low income individuals, must keep this fact in mind.  Irregularity means that a company needs to be creative, adaptable, cut unnecessary costs, and above be, be flexible in its approaches.  “You have to look at every cost item and beat it down”, retorted Rohan. “You have to, in order to survive”. 
We lastly engaged in discussion about some of the research he is working on with the World Bank and other initiatives to fuel the mobile application models and to produce social service applications that target and benefit the BOP market.  Mobile banking was a huge topic of interest as well as the idea that one has to “close the gap of the money” as it pertains to limiting the barriers of growth from the market and producing a relevant model that will capitalize and benefit the people who it serves.
Thank you Rohan. As expected, great insight and perspective from one the worlds best. 
Sri Lanka proves itself once again. 


Virtusa is one of Sri Lanka’s largest companies that provide BPO services and technology and software development to Multinationals or companies overseas.  The company was started by a Sri Lankan from his mother’s garage and is now in revenue growth of over $100 Million.  Very impressive.

Similar to many of the companies I visited in India, Virtusa like Tech Mahindra or InfoSys, is also an organization that provides a host of business services offerings and proclaims to be the best in what they can deliver and will niche themselves according to your business needs.

I liked the conversation with Virtusa because it allowed me to see that Sri Lanka had large MNP companies that, like many China and India, participate in the global tech eco system. Until this meeting, I wasn’t sure that a company existed such as this in the Country.  Virtusa is located in an old textile mill in Colombo.  The employ thousands and thousands of people and are growing at a tremendous rate. Their biggest customer is AETNA life insurance. 
One of the most interesting business plans and offerings that I loved about Virtusa is in regards to their social service activities and private / public partnerships that they have with the government and with non profit organizations to rebuild Sri Lanka as a Nation.  As I mentioned, Sri Lanka is undergoing a tremendous re-haul of their economy, brand, politics, infrastructure, citizen trust, etc…  Virtusa is playing a huge roll to transition the Country and the people efficiently and expeditiously.  They have several key corporate responsibility programs that I found very impactful, one includes the Campus Reach Initiative.   The Campus Reach Initiative allows Virtusa to partner with Educational Institutions and help develop curriculum, internship programs, the professors, advise of academia, student mentoring, and engage in knowledge sharing.  Inevitably, the strong ties to the school allow Virtusa to attract top talent immediately and provide jobs to graduates, thus offering sustainability of this model and progression of the Nation. In addition, Virtusa then offers awards and scholarships to those who they see as top in their class this offering educational full rides to those students who without help, could not afford to attend University. 
So Virtusa was definitely a great visit. Again, I was treated with the upmost care and attention and was very honored to have been shown a presentation by such a respected and highly influential institution of Sri Lanka!

My last meeting in Sri Lanka was held with CEO of Etialsat, Dumindra Rathayake. This was one of the best conversations I had while in Sri Lanka. Loved Mr. Rathayake’s passion and understanding about the power and future of social media, innovation, and the ability to spur the technology movement in Sri Lanka.
Etialsat is the largest telecommunications company in the UAE and has a market in Sri Lanka, of which Dumindra is the CEO. Within the mobile space, they are not as big as Dialog but definitely make an impact within the market.
Why I loved Etialsat and meeting with Mr. Rathayake is that through his leadership of the Sri Lankan subsidiary, he personally is progressing the use of content, devices (tablet), and innovation by launching entertainment and educational mobile applications niched to Etialsat users. Why is this special, because he is the only provider launching these applications in all three languages spoken in Sri Lanka, Tamil, Sinahlese, and English. THIS IS POWERFUL!!  No other provider is doing this in the Nation.  Etialsat is the only operator that has a tri lingual web page. 
In addition, he has launched a tablet using the Android device that will also be available for use in all three Sri Lankan dialects.  This table allows for more open and better access to broadband in the Country. His applications are niched to Etialsat users and because it is very affordable, it fits within the BOP model inherent in Sri Lanka.  In Sri Lanka, and actually all over the world, the ability to communicate and have devices interact and utilize local languages in KEY to spreading, organizing, and reaching the community, users, etc..                
What Dumindra understands is that the user experience is matters most! Also, the ability to have devices niched to the local languages is imperative for wide dissemination of messages, services, and adoption.  So if I was a parliament member that needed to reach the masses, particularly youth and users of social media to galvanize, organize, and mobilize, I would start having conversations with Etialsat and/or purchase an device from the Company.  
Lastly, Etialsat is holding innovation conferences and forums all over Sri Lanka. Just this past year he has held two and is preparing for another early 2012 with Google representatives present to talk about technology and development in the mobile application space.  Already he has a following of new Sri Lankan web developers hungry to get their products out in the open market.  I admire that Mr. Rathayake is taking the lead to push the innovation boundaries and develop young engineers in the Country.  Not that many private companies take on act such as this.
So Bravo Duhmindra for having a vision and taking ownership of the moment!!  Keep on leading and changing the landscape. Many well wishes to stay ahead of the curve and create and cultivate a future talent base for Sri Lanka.


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