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

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - HENRI VIIRALT

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.

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