Tiqri’s Dev Day initiative attracts talent from all over the world to Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is gaining prominence as a prime destination for tech investments and outsourcing
Now in its fifth consecutive year running, Dev Day is an international software developer conference, held annually in Sri Lanka. Founded in 2013, Dev Day has risen to become the nation’s prime platform for tech industry’s experts, both domestic and international, to share their knowledge, experience and insights with the community.
“I feel that sometimes there’s a sound barrier between Sri Lanka and India – while India has managed to create a lot of buzz and attract significant investment, the Sri Lankans haven’t really received the exposure they deserve. That was one of the reasons for us to create an annual industry event that would draw prestigious international speakers and companies to come and experience Sri Lanka,” says Finn Worm-Petersen, Group CEO of Tiqri, a global technology and development firm headquartered in Colombo.
In 2013, Mr Worm-Petersen initiated dialogue with Sri Lanka Association of Software and Service Companies (SLASSCOM), the national chamber for IT/BPO outsourcing, to help establish a professional relationship with ICT Norway, in order to leverage each other’s resources to develop the event in an annual conference format.
“Essentially, we started out trying to address two issues: attracting great speakers to Sri Lanka and creating a platform for the local tech industry to promote the nation and to showcase what’s happening here. Over the years it’s become a very important tool for international companies to come and visit Sri Lanka as a destination for either investment or outsourcing,” says Mr Worm-Petersen.
He notes that these days, there are several tech conferences taking place in Sri Lanka, but most of them either tend to be regional or have been unsuccessful in attracting renowned international speakers. He sees that the goal of Dev Day is to steadily raise the bar while accelerating the development of the Sri Lankan ICT industry.
“Our slogan is ‘by developers, for developers’, and conceptually the event is to keep us in line with what’s happening internationally; making sure we are exposed to the latest technologies and innovation. This is crucial since the local market has historically been lagging behind when it comes to the latest technologies, so we need to actively create and nurture these relationships, with both visitors and speakers.”
The 2017 Dev Day, held on 9 November at the prestigious Cinnamon Grand Colombo Hotel, focused largely on robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud technologies.
One of the highlights included a keynote by Satyajeet Singh, Head of Platform Partnership in India at Facebook, who shared their vision of bringing the world together and their responsibilities beyond it.
After the main keynotes, the event was split into parallel sessions, one of which had Ragnar Harper, Telenor’s Chief Architect for Infrastructure and Security, confirm that the cloud is here to stay and talk about its vital role in eliminating the days of troubleshooting infrastructure. Another great parallel session was conducted by Ben Saghedi, Advanced Analytics Technology Specialist at Microsoft, focusing AI systems and the Microsoft Cognitive Services APIs.
Sri Lanka’s competitive advantage in IT/BPO is built around agility, cost, a niche talent base, ethics, cultural adoptability and a pro-business environment. Since the 1970s, Sri Lanka has worked toward creating conditions favourable to foreign investment. 100% foreign ownership is permitted across most areas of the economy with no restrictions on repatriation of earnings, fees, capital with safety of foreign investment guaranteed by the constitution. Tax holidays for corporate and tax incentives for individuals are in place to attract high value investments in priority sectors, including IT/BPO sector.
The country’s IT/BPO client portfolio includes the London Stock Exchange, Microsoft, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Lenovo, JP Morgan and Google among others, and companies like HSBC, IFS, Intel, Motorola, Pearsons and Accentura have already set up shop in Sri Lanka.
The government has set forth an ambitious goal of achieving USD 5 billion in BPO exports while creating 200,000 jobs and 1,000 startups by 2022. This will mean a lot of investment in creating a mature startup ecosystem, complete with initiatives for skills development and talent management, but also fostering and bringing in foreign venture capitalists and incubation programs.
In an effort to support Sri Lanka’s IT industry hit that USD 5 billion target by 2022, SLASSCOM and ICT Norway signed a memorandum of understanding in 2016, vowing to enhance startups and entrepreneurship in the local ICT sector.
In September 2017, this resulted in a unique opportunity for the best Sri Lankan startups to be able to participate in a pitching session during the Oslo Innovation Week. This is an event that has earned a reputation as an important global event looking for business solutions to address the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The solutions combine three important areas - entrepreneurship, technology and innovation.
Three startups that were selected to represented Sri Lanka at the Oslo Innovation Week: BotFactory, ShoutOUT, and Right Posture.
ShoutOUT is a mobile marketing platform, which allows companies to send personalised and targeted messages in bulk to their customers to help customer conversion and retention, either via email or SMS. It also helps aggregate all customer data from different sources to the ShoutOUT dashboard, allowing to create dynamically updating segments based on several factors, such as gender, interests, purchase history, etc.
Right Posture is a startup offering a smart chair with sensors that monitor posture. In case it detects that the user is sitting with an unhealthy posture, the chair sends push notifications through the smartphone app to correct it.
Chatbots have been a sweeping tech trend that began in 2016, comprising a program which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods, and they are widely used for various practical purposes, including customer service or information acquisition. The problem is that they’re notoriously difficult to create from scratch, but BotFactory promises to create and deploy chatbots to Facebook Messenger in as little as 5 minutes, utilising a simple flowchart to generate the dialogue patterns.
In November 2017, the Sri Lankan government also announced its plans to launch an exclusive fund to develop the IT industry with the assistance of the island’s universities.
H.E. The Minister of Finance, Mangala Samaraweera announced the “angel fund for the IT industry”, which will invest LKR 3 billion in various projects over the next five years, in projects supporting and developing the local startup ecosystem through establishing incubators and attracting foreign startups to Sri Lanka. The fund will also support the acquisition and augmentation of skills and knowhow in collaboration with the local universities.
H.E. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also said the government will provide further tax concessions for the IT industry to expand and provide funding to train the workforce. The government is starting a new Bank for Development Finance, targeting the IT industry growth.
“There are very interesting things happening in the Sri Lankan IT sector, and at Dev Day we’re seeing a lot of renewed interest in the country, and international companies are recognising this, too. There are numerous ones that have either set up offices here or integrate with existing ones, and while we can’t take full credit for it, we’re very proud that we’ve managed to create an important platform to help facilitate new partnerships and ventures,” Mr WormPetersen concludes.