Interview: Madu Ratnayake
How can Sri Lanka best continue to position itself as a knowledge services centre amid increasing competition in the region?
MADU RATNAYAKE: Sri Lanka is uniquely positioned to market itself as a centre of knowledge services in the region. We have the perfect mix of a high-quality, innovative talent pool with extremely competitive pricing that is attractive to businesses. A large portion of the graduates receive an international education on par with global standards due to education partnerships established with universities from the UK, US and Australia. This talent base with sophisticated technical skills has been the backbone of Sri Lanka’s competitive advantage as a destination and a regional innovator.
Sri Lanka also has very high-quality infrastructure – be it roads, telecommunications or electricity – compared to other countries in the region. The unique lifestyle in the Colombo business district offers a great platform to attract and retain expats, and provides a sophisticated atmosphere for business entertainment. The neutral position and strong economic ties with countries in the region and further afield makes Sri Lanka an ideal place from which businesses can launch in the region. According to A T Kearney’s “Country Competitiveness” report, Sri Lanka is amongst the safest, lowest-risk emerging markets, both in terms of personal safety and business security. Furthermore, the Sri Lankan government has identified the IT and knowledge services industry as a growth sector for the economy, allowing companies preferential incentives.
What have been the overall challenges in rolling out IT systems to the public sector?
RATNAYAKE: Successive governments have had a strong focus on digitally transforming the public sector. Under the new prime minister’s digital initiatives, a major multi-pronged strategy has been laid out to transform the public sector with technology. Major focus areas include nationwide IT literacy improvement, automation of key agencies, empowerment of digital commerce, cyber law enhancement and enforcement, and connectivity for all citizens through a fibre-optic backbone and Google’s Project Loon initiatives. The national focus on all things digital creates significant opportunities for private sector participation, and government spending on technology is expected to uplift the local IT industry further.
In what ways can the private sector work with the government on digital empowerment?
RATNAYAKE: Sri Lanka is relatively small, so there is a very strong relationship between the government and industry. This has helped in setting up the collective vision and direction for digital empowerment in the country and has, in turn, resulted in many public-private partnerships to handle the larger infrastructure projects that were initiated by the digital vision. In many countries, government IT spending has led to the expansion of the sector, and we are seeing the same developments in Sri Lanka currently.
How much has Sri Lanka evolved to meet new challenges in recent years?
RATNAYAKE: There has been a strong collaboration between academia and industry to drive the quality and quantity of the talent pool. In the last five years there has been more than 100% growth in the output of talent. Liberalising education policy to encourage global universities to collaborate with local partners has been a key factor that has driven this significant increase in the country’s talent pool.
Sri Lanka has also seen an evolution of the start-up ecosystem over the last five years. With high-quality connectivity, increasing mobile coverage and a strong focus by industry associates to drive start-ups, a new breed of e-commerce enterprises has started to emerge. As the region gets more connected, companies in this sector are poised to expand their footprint.
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