IT’s the light at the end of the tunnel

By Chrishan de Mel 

How do you interpret this? Positively, I hope. I heard an alternate version some years back, “The light at the end of the tunnel is the headlamp of the oncoming train!” Perhaps a funny, somewhat cynical take on a familiar quote. However, unless we are careful, it’s easy to allow the circumstances around us to fill us with a pessimistic outlook. Despite the pandemic, shortages, price hikes, economic crisis, or the recurring rains, it’s important to dwell on the positives and celebrate our successes as a nation.

I’ve seen many accomplishments over the past few days in the knowledge solutions industry that we can celebrate. During my tenure at the Sri Lanka Association for Software Services Companies (SLASSCOM), I had the opportunity to see the breadth and potential of our industry and engage with most of the leading IT/BPM companies in Sri Lanka. While it’s good to see every individual company’s success, it’s even greater to see this rush of achievements across the industry. Truly, this brings about another level of credibility for our talent and infrastructure.

Achievements at Global Startup Awards 2021

Hatch Works won the award for the Best Co-working Space at the Global Startup Awards 2021. Announced 18 November, this honour for our country is a first for the industry at this level. This award will enable Sri Lanka to position itself as a startup-friendly destination for tech innovation. Personally, this award means a lot to me as I spent 18 months at Hatch during the early days, navigating through the scaffolding and surviving generous helpings of construction dust with my colleagues at SLASSCOM. The pandemic posed its set of challenges for co-working spaces, hindering access to the venue and limiting collaboration. Yet through it all, to be recognised as the Best Co-working Space in the world is a tremendous feat. My congratulations to team Hatch!

In addition to Hatch, there were two other finalists from Sri Lanka as well. Nevindaree Premarathne, who heads Startup Ecosystem Development at the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA), was a finalist in the “Ecosystem Hero of the Year” category. She currently runs ICTA’s incubator/accelerator “Spiralation” among other initiatives promoting startups. Nevindaree is also a featured speaker on the video series for aspiring entrepreneurs “Vyawasayakayanta Athwelak”, i.e. “A Guiding Hand for Entrepreneurs” recently published by StartupX Foundry. Sri Lankan startup Niftron was a global finalist in the “Best Newcomer” category. Niftron is a blockchain as a service platform that enables businesses to integrate blockchain to improve transparency and trust.

Global recognition and local industry growth 

On 15 November, WSO2 announced receiving an investment for $ 90 million from Goldman Sachs Asset Management. This is a solid endorsement of WSO2’s potential and the capabilities of Sri Lankan talent to push product innovation. While WSO2 has grown to be a global company, its Sri Lankan roots are still evident in the leadership team, and it has consistently been one of Sri Lanka’s best technology companies to work for.

In another first, hSenid Business Solutions will offer its Initial Public Offering (IPO) later in November and intends to raise Rs. 700 million, offering a 20% stake. This is a wonderful achievement for a Sri Lankan product company that has gone global with its human capital management (HCM) solution. BoardPAC, CodeGen, and Microimage are other examples of Sri Lankan product companies that have made a mark globally. In local IPOs, I believe hSenid is the first of many to come.

It was also encouraging to see the recognition for Nadini Sahabandu of Mitra Innovation. She won the Global Award for Achievement at the 2021 TechWomen100 awards organised by WeAreTechWomen. I hope this will be an inspiration for more women to explore opportunities in the tech industry. Currently, women account for only 34% of the workforce in the IT sector, while this increases to 49% females in the BPM workforce. In the long term, attracting more women to enter the IT/BPM workforce would be one way to build capacity and ease the talent crunch faced by the industry.

In the area of business consulting and Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO), Stax announced a strategic investment from Blue Point Capital Partners. Active in Sri Lanka since 2010 with over 200 employees, this again is a cause for celebration as it’s an endorsement of the analytical capabilities of our talent to provide high-value research and specialised consulting services in the mergers and acquisitions space.

Progressing to facilities and infrastructure, Digital Reality launched “OrionStellar”, a carrier-neutral, high-density data centre at the Orion City IT Park in early November. This too is a first for the industry. Offering a world-class infrastructure management, this will be an asset for many enterprises in their journey of digitalisation. It is also encouraging to see the emphasis placed by the Government on a techno-entrepreneurship driven economy with IT parks planned in Kurunegala, Galle, Habarana, Nuwara Eliya, and Kandy. While these initiatives will take time to materialise and yield results, they will add capacity for the industry to thrive. We can also celebrate a legal milestone as the Private Data Security Bill was approved by the Cabinet in November as well. The next step is for it to be gazetted and presented to Parliament. 

Despite the challenging environment, the examples above show how the knowledge solutions industry is growing and seeing global recognition across the board. Be it in startups or the startup ecosystem, core tech companies, consulting and KPO, or infrastructure, these are outstanding achievements for the industry. On a personal note, it is encouraging to see many of our clients at 99x planning their visits to Sri Lanka early next year. They are eager to see their teams and collaborate in person – something we all look forward to. There is light at the end of the tunnel!

(The writer is the Chief Marketing and Corporate Affairs Officer at 99x and spearheads marketing activities while supporting business development and customer success initiatives. He is an accomplished practitioner with over 25 years of experience in the tech industry, with complementary roles in programme management and corporate consulting. Before joining 99x, he was the Executive Director of SLASSCOM. His industry experience includes banking and financial services and global IT services with Virtusa, Societe Generale [SOCGEN], Nations Trust Bank, and Union Bank of Colombo)