‘She works for an IT company!’
Most parents would struggle to describe what their son or daughter does at an IT company. While they may be familiar with titles such as a software engineer, business analyst, or quality assurance engineer, they will be at a loss to explain what this job role involves during a typical work day. If they had to describe what the company does as a business, it would border on the impossible. At least this is true with my parents! So, for many parents with children employed in the IT industry, the answer “she works for an IT company!” is short, simple, and signals that the conversation can progress elsewhere.
This article describes five of the most common types of companies in the local IT industry and how they compete as a business, either in Sri Lanka or globally. To keep the narrative simple, I will use the term “company” when referring to the local employer in Sri Lanka, “client” when referring to a party the company provides services to, and “customer” for both clients and end-users who ultimately use the software product or the service delivered.
Software development/IT services companies
These companies offer skilled staff who build software products or solutions for their clients. The clients can be large corporates, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and even those making software products, usually called Independent Software Vendors (ISVs). The company provides the expertise to build, test, and deliver a specific project, defined by a technical scope of work with agreed dates for completion. Upon completing the project, the client owns the intellectual property (IP) of what was built or delivered, but will pay for the effort and expertise to achieve the result. These companies can be Sri Lankan-owned or operate as offshore software development centres for global companies.
Software product companies (IP owning)
These companies build software products or provide platforms where intellectual property ownership lies with them. Their clients could be both businesses and individuals, based on what the product offers. Typically, software products can be customised or tailored to fit different customers’ needs and companies invest considerable effort to maintain this flexibility. Most product companies now opt for a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model where the product is hosted on the cloud. Customers can use the product by paying a monthly subscription fee, either based on the number of active users, the extent of features activated, or the amount of storage used.
IT Enabled Services (ITES) companies
These companies offer a variety of services that use technology to improve the efficiency of a business. These include call centres, medical transcription services, medical billing and coding, back-office operation management, and claims processing, among others. The company in Sri Lanka can be a subsidiary or service centre of a global player, or function as a shared-services hub. These companies offer skilled staff in managing business processes or workflows efficiently for large transaction volumes.
Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) companies engage in more specialised, knowledge-intensive, or research-oriented engagements instead of the more operational aspects covered within ITES. They provide outsourced research relating to markets and investments for more informed decision-making. There is a deep specialisation in finance and analytics, such as due diligence assessments for merger and acquisition activity, financial modelling, and projections.
Digital platforms (service-oriented solutions)
These platforms are an emerging area that use technology to deliver a good or service more efficiently or faster than before by aggregating supply and demand. The company uses technology to facilitate the service’s optimal delivery or enable thousands of users to collaborate as consumers or contributors. The platform provider generates revenue through a convenience fee or service fee to maintain the platform.
A system integrator will work closely with software product companies or equipment manufacturers to design and offer a specific market solution. Over time, these companies will become more skilled in using these products and services from different partners to provide a cohesive solution and derive synergies. While a systems integrator may also have employees with similar titles to an IT services company, they may not always own IP. However, they may have proven processes, skills, or an implementation methodology as a specialised competency.
The knowledge services industry is unique compared to every other export. There are no raw materials to be imported, no specialised machinery needed for production, or an additional supply chain necessary to distribute the finished goods. Everything is digital and online. I have seen how bright minds from our local universities collaborate with the best software architects anywhere in the world. I have also seen our teams successfully deliver complex software projects, engagements other vendors said were impossible. Such is the promise of the knowledge services industry to boost our nation’s export earnings.
Even if the specifics of what each company does are lost, I would still love the phrase “she works for an IT company!” to ring out across the land. As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2021 (#IWD2021) and #ChooseToChallenge, let us remember the tremendous opportunity to see more women enter and build careers in the knowledge services industry.
(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 program 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.)