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Sunday, 7 April 2013

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On path to 'Smart Sri Lanka' - ICTA CEO

Sri Lanka is now journeying from version 1.0 to version 2.0 of Development Agenda, 'Smart Sri Lanka' moving from pure technology and focusing more on innovation, transformation, entrepreneurship and inclusion, said ICT Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA), CEO Reshan Dewapura at the inauguration of IBMSoftwareUniverse2013 in Colombo. It was organised by IBM Sri Lanka.

Reshan Dewapura

"In the spirit of this event, the IBM Software Universe, where we have heard much about a smarter planet, let's refer to this version 2.0 of the e-Development Agenda as 'Smart Sri Lanka'. Version 1.0 was e-Sri Lanka, and by coining this new phrase we are now moving above and beyond pure technology, and focusing more on innovation, transformation, entrepreneurship and inclusion," he said.

"Benefitting from the latest advances in technology, more intelligence and smartness could be introduced to the country, in all activities in all sections," Dewapura said.

Excerpts of his speech:

IBM is the oldest computer company in Sri Lanka, and have contributed immensely to the Information and Communication Technology sector in this country. And like all technology companies, IBM has also gone through a huge transformation, and I believe one of the objectives of this event, is to demonstrate that transformation and showcase the new IBM and its potential in this country.

Organisational transformation is key to success, or even key to survival.

'Smarter', buzzword in transformation

"Smart or smarter seems to be the buzzword in transformation, and I would also like to bring this notion, in a Sri Lankan context and share a few thoughts on a 'smart country' concept, which we hope to take forward and implement in the future. This I believe is the natural continuation of the journey in ICT led transformation, which we embarked upon over eight years ago.

ICT, Information and Communication Technology is a powerful tool. It can make a tremendous contribution for socio economic development, as a development accelerator in any sector, to boosting a country's economy (specially in developing countries such as ours), and provide viable solutions to the problems of the masses and help improve their lives.

ICT therefore came into the reckoning in national development plans of countries specially developing countries.

Sri Lanka was no different. In 2005 we embarked on the e-Sri Lanka journey, an ambitious and pioneering e-Development agenda for the country, to take the benefits of ICT to every citizen in every village, every business, and transforming the way government thinks and works.

This ground-breaking initiative not only resulted in major and numerous achievements and successes in the field of ICT, but also ensured that this sector developed and matured tremendously in the past six to seven years. And being a transformational tool, ICT is also a great leveller, as it brings in inclusivity for all our citizens, like nothing else can.

"I would like to look at the development in the ICT sector, in three dimensions. The Government, the private sector, and the people. In government, the information infrastructure eco-system is now in place for all government entities to forge ahead, in re-engineering and simplifying processes and developing automated systems, to provide a better service delivery to citizens.

Crucial infrastructure systems

Crucial infrastructure systems such as the Lanka Government Network, the Lanka Gate and the Lanka Government Cloud, are in place. The Lanka Government Network, connects all government institutions in a cohesive network, providing the connectivity for easy communication and for data transfer within the government.

The Lanka Gate, is really a state-of-the-art middleware infrastructure and a flagship project of ICTA. It functions as the service delivery platform for any government e-service. In addition, its front end is also the country portal, with a single window access to citizen services, and has many delivery channels including the mobile phone, which is an ever growing phenomenon.

The Lanka Government Cloud, which was provisioned last year, now provides infrastructure, platform and applications as a service to government, for hosting any government system, application, content or service, without the government organisation having to spend on the infrastructure themselves.

The e-Population Register has also been completed and launched, creating a single system to store all people related data, which is relevant to the government. The e-Sri Lanka initiative has successfully completed a critical number of re-engineering and automating activities, and e-services projects, on behalf of the government, and many others are being worked on currently.

For the private sector, mature ICT platforms are now available as great transformational tools, for progression and growth of their industries and sectors. And for the ICT sector itself, the environment is conducive to maximise the opportunities in our country, as a global ICT destination.

Government interventions

The interventions from the government in terms of capacity building, encouraging quality certification, business linkages and market creation, all backed with the provision of substantial resources, has been key to the tremendous growth and development of the ICT industry.

This industry is now on the path of being a critical growth pillar in the country's development effort. The IT BPO industry has become the fifth largest foreign exchange earner in the country at $ 475 million p.a. and has generated over 50,000 new jobs during the past six to seven years.

For people, opportunities have been created and the stage set to use ICT for the betterment of the people, rural communities, and the disadvantaged and underprivileged groups.

Access to ICT for all through the well-known Nenasalas (the local tele-centres), the enabling of local language computing, the creation of local and localised applications, all these have bestowed benefits to many rural and specially marginalised and under-served communities.

Over 200 ICT based community projects have helped and continue to help rural and disadvantaged communities on regular basis. ICT literacy in the country has gone well above 40 percent from being around four percent only a decade ago.

These efforts have also gone a long way to spawn a local e-content creation industry in the country, which has now come to be recognised globally by winning international awards for innovative and impactful digital creations.

The phenomenal penetration of the mobile phones in Sri Lanka (which is now over 100 percent) has brought out another dimension to this thriving developer community, in producing pioneering mobile applications, and giving rise to a booming mobile content eco-system in the country, which has been showcased in the UNCTAD Information Economy Report 2012.

These are some of the achievements in the past, let's move now to see what the future holds in this e-Development Agenda. What can we expect in the future? Sri Lanka today, reaping the benefits of post-terrorism peace, is looking to transform itself to a dynamic global hub in the region, and more specifically from our point of view to a 'Knowledge Hub', in the region. Information and Communication Technology will always play a key role or even the implementation of version 2.0 of the e-Development Agenda, will be the differentiator, or even trail blazer in this endeavour to become a Knowledge Hub.

Smart Sri Lanka

In the spirit of this event, the IBM Software Universe, where we have heard much about a smarter planet, let's refer to this version 2.0 of the e-Development Agenda as 'Smart Sri Lanka'. Version 1.0 was e-Sri Lanka, and by coining this new phrase we are now moving above and beyond pure technology, and focusing more on innovation, transformation, entrepreneurship and inclusion. Benefiting from the latest advances in technology, more intelligence and smartness can be induced to the country, in all activities in all sectors.

The aim is to provide a launching pad for Sri Lanka to become a knowledge economy and information society, and finally a knowledge hub. To get to 'Smart Sri Lanka', activities will need to happen in three areas as before; in government, in the private sector, and in the citizenry. Albeit, with a much higher emphasis on concepts and activities which are, more than just technology led improvements. And again we can coin the phrases 'Smart Government', 'Smart Jobs' and 'Smart People' for these three focused areas.

Smart Government would leverage on the infrastructure eco-systems already in place, and would use e-government services to demonstrate transparency, accountability and participation. The continuation of re-engineering and automating government processes would take place until all the key public services are available electronically. This we believe would not only present tremendous benefit to the citizens and increase participation and usage, but would also improve government revenue collection and expenditure management systems and boost its planning, and management activities.

The latest e-Government concepts and trends such as cloud computing, Open data (albeit with appropriate sensitivity filtering), big data analysis, and mobility of application and content, should be fully embraced. With these new concepts, while contributing immensely to the transparency and accountability of government, citizens will be able to garner many benefits and would certainly make the government look smarter in their eyes.

Smart Jobs

As Sri Lanka seeks to become a knowledge and innovation hub, a highly vibrant ICT services sector becomes a crucial enabler. In this context, Sri Lankan ICT industry's core competences, which are, the highly sophisticated software development and the high-end knowledge-process-outsourcing come into play. This industry can be the catalyst in bringing global knowledge and demonstrating best practices in ICT products and services for the benefit of all sectors in Sri Lanka. It will also help grow, develop and mature, the booming digital-content industry.

Investment in increasing the capacity, capability and quality of the Sri Lankan workforce will play a key role in creating this demand.

Empowering and increasing small and medium enterprises, and encouraging more public-private partnerships, specially with the industrial sector need to be pursued. To cater to infrastructure demands, development of technology parks and implementation of state-of-the-art data centres need to be carried out.

There should be innovation to ensure that the economic environment is conducive to attract more Foreign Direct Investment, for the formation of Venture Capital companies, and foster incubators.

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