Interview: Lakmini Wijesundera
How do you assess the potential of the ICT/ business process management (BPM) sector to make a greater contribution to the national economy?
LAKMINI WIJESUNDERA: Sri Lanka’s ICT/BPM sector has much to contribute to the national economy. Several initiatives have been launched in recent years to give support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large firms to increase overall sector performance and enhance visibility and market outreach. Sri Lanka’s ICT/BPM sector has been recognised as one of the key earners of foreign exchange and as having high growth potential. It has also become one of the top-five sectors for foreign direct investment (FDI), with a national goal of securing $5bn by 2022. In order to reach that target the industry needs to average 33% year-on-year growth over the next three years.
The proportion of total FDI that the ICT/BPM sector secures in other countries in the region is approximately 60%. In Sri Lanka it accounts for 12% of total FDI, so there is high potential to make a greater contribution to the economy – if the sector’s growth is prioritised.
In addition to the traditional western markets that seek these services, such as the US and the EU, several countries in Asia Pacific have been identified as key target markets. We believe that with the amount of our local talent, both SMEs and large companies can use Sri Lanka as a testing ground and a launchpad to larger markets in the region.
What areas of the digital economy are most in need of FDI to enhance international competitiveness?
WIJESUNDERA: FDI is required to enhance the automation of processes in government services, departments and institutions. Streamlining these services and improving efficiency by using digital tools will improve the country’s ranking in the ease of doing business index. While the country fell to 100th in the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2019” report after several years of climbing the rankings, improving government processes in terms of transparency and efficiency is expected to boost this ranking and thereby attract FDI.
Another focus is widening ICT/BPM training and education across the country to increase student enrolment rates and create a larger workforce. The fundamentals of high literacy and education exist throughout the free education system. Thus, FDI that is focused on key areas of schooling, such as artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT) and data science will be most beneficial. While the internet infrastructure necessary for a strong digital economy exists, it requires targeted FDI to facilitate upgrades and increase competitiveness.
In what ways can ICT business services and solutions be improved to help Sri Lankan corporations leverage ICT and enhance their business processes?
WIJESUNDERA: The ICT sector has seen the emergence of several key technologies that can help companies accelerate, including AI, IoT, data science and tools to leverage big data, blockchain technology, virtual reality and augmented reality. While Sri Lanka has a population of 22m, neighbouring countries have much larger workforces, so we should focus on offering speciality, niche services and high-quality products. This way, we can provide our ICT companies with the advantages they need to improve the status and reputation of ICT/BPM.
Beyond the provision of incubators and government seed money, what more can be done to nurture ICT start-ups and help them achieve global success?
WIJESUNDERA: Access to global networks and opportunities and increased exposure are crucial to global success. Initiatives must be established that enable start-ups to collaborate with representatives from global players and create opportunities to attend events and engage in business matchmaking. A number of industry organisations already offer programmes for these purposes, and it is important that we continue to promote and enrich the offering of such projects.
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