Business

Tech workplaces power Sri Lanka as a preferred knowledge hub

By Chrishan de Mel

The pandemic has reminded companies to take their digital roadmap seriously. No longer can an enterprise be content by only digitising their customer-facing systems or services. Although this was sufficient during the early days of the pandemic, with long lockdown durations, it’s now clear that digitisation is not only for customer-servicing systems. Digitisation must permeate every business process for an organisation to remain competitive.

As millions of businesses worldwide aim to automate their internal processes, be it in finance, manufacturing, or managing human resources, it will require digital products and platforms that will make such transitions possible. As a result, there is a heightened demand for skilled software professionals globally. This is evident in the local industry as companies compete for talent and experience higher employee attrition. However, unless this is handled responsibly by both employers and employees, it will damage Sri Lanka’s reputation as a preferred hub for knowledge services.

Role as an employer

By glancing through a few posts on LinkedIn, you immediately notice the concern IT companies have for their employees’ wellbeing. Whether it’s through Covid care packs, special treats, or checking on the mental health of employees, companies make an extra effort to care for their remote workers. Many companies have supported employees and their extended families in their time of need by sourcing quarantine centres and covering the additional medical expenses.

Employers must continue to invest in skilling their employees to build the capabilities and capacity of our talent pool. HCL Technologies, which began operations in Sri Lanka just last year, crossed a milestone of 1,000 employees to celebrate their first anniversary. In a recent interview, HCL Technologies Corporate Vice President Srimathi Shivashankar explained how they adopted “hire and skill” as their staffing strategy by partnering with local universities. They identified the potential available in Sri Lanka and invested in our emerging talent to meet their strategic objectives.

As responsible employers, companies in the IT industry lead the way in making Sri Lanka a great country to work in. The Great Place to Work rankings is one metric that shows the investment IT/BPM companies make in their people. Considering the Best Workplaces for Women awards for 2021, five of the top 10 listed are technology companies. In the Best Workplaces for Millennials, seven of the top 15 companies recognised are IT/BPM companies, including Ascentic, Calcey Technologies, Collective RCM, Gapstars, ISM APAC, Synergen Health, and 99x. In addition, 10 IT/BPM companies are also included as Best Workplaces in Sri Lanka.

Tech employers strive to understand their employees and provide fulfilling work experiences, collectively improving the standards of people practices in Sri Lanka. I was encouraged to see how Ascentic, a Swedish software services company based in Colombo, announced an equal-partner paternity leave policy at a time when companies may look to curtail benefits.

However, employers have ethical responsibilities as well. Relating to hiring, employers should understand the industry dynamics and not pressure potential hires to compromise notice periods. Regardless of the opportunity or urgency, forcing a candidate to join early without serving the notice period has a ripple effect on the industry. If the company chooses to pressure the new candidate to join early, you initiate a vicious cycle. The result is multiple engagements where customer expectations are missed or experience quality issues due to poorly managed transitions, impacting the local industry negatively.

Responsibilities of an employee

While employers go many extra miles to care for their employees, let me address three areas where employees need to be accountable as well. First, to not leave a company without serving the required notice period. Second, to avoid going back on an accepted job offer in favour of another. And thirdly, not demanding a salary increase that is unrealistic based on industry scales, exploiting the current market conditions.

When an employee refuses to serve the notice period, typically two to three months in the IT industry, the employer may lose planned billing revenue. In addition, the employer may also experience difficulties in providing the client with a seamless transition, resulting in quality issues downstream. Serve the notice period required or obtain your employer’s consent to leave early where a replacement is in place.

Next, let’s look at dropped offers. When a company makes an offer that is signed and accepted, the recruitment team focuses on other open positions while the candidate serves the notice period. During this time, if the candidate continues to explore options and chooses to take up a more attractive offer, the initial company must start the talent search afresh. In addition, the customer needs to be informed of a new date, possibly months away. Again, there is a billing loss for the company, maybe a poor transition and loss of reputation for the industry.

Finally, the industry is also negatively impacted when prospective hires demand unrealistic salaries. In some cases, a candidate can demand twice the current compensation to join a new company in a similar role. In the long term, this is not sustainable for the industry as when renewing customer contracts, the annual rate increase would typically be between 5% and 10%, sometimes even lower. If companies bid for projects, our proposals would not be competitive due to these cost structures, or the company will be forced to operate with lower margins and profitability. The high cost of talent will also impact start-ups negatively, as they will struggle to match these unrealistic expectations.

Current macroeconomic factors weigh in

Human behaviour is complex, with protection or self-preservation at the core of our being. The pandemic, loss of exports, and other factors have contributed to the current economic challenges in Sri Lanka. The IT industry continues to thrive compared to other sectors that have either contracted or seen marginal increases. Amidst all this uncertainty, an individual driven by self-preservation may demand the best possible deal from a potential employer or choose to change his mind and drop an offer when a higher-paying opportunity arises. However, we cannot ignore the negative impact on our reliability, reputation, and attractiveness as a knowledge services hub.

Conclusion

Both employers and employees must hold onto ethical practices to preserve the industry’s reputation at this crucial time. The knowledge services industry is uniquely positioned to respond to our nation’s need for increased foreign exchange earnings as we ride out the pandemic. While it may not be popular, we need to work together as an industry for our national interest, as the Japanese did when rebuilding the nation after World War II.

We can be proud that Sri Lanka won the Global Sourcing Association’s “Delivery Destination of the Year” award in 2013, 2014, and 2019. However, that accolade will only be valid if the industry continues to be financially attractive while offering predictable growth and high-quality service. If we keep this in mind and act responsibly, both as employers and as individual professionals, the ICT industry can lead the way for Sri Lanka to be a knowledge hub of choice.

 

(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)