Ruchi Gunewardene Managing Director of STING Consultants and Brand Finance Lanka, outlines broader initiatives the industry could adopt to establish the country as an IT hub through the new brand essence
After an extensive strategic evaluation around the distinctive capabilities of what Sri Lanka IT / BPM and Knowledge services could offer global markets, a powerful and compelling brand positioning was presented and agreed by the industry. Built around Knowledge Solutions as the core product offering, the brand idea that best serves to express the innovative solutions that Sri Lanka-based firms could offer was cleverly captured through the “Island of Ingenuity” brand idea.
This highlights the industry’s capacity to offer customers high-value solutions through small, flexible and agile teams. The term “Island” also subtly suggests an island of creative problem-solving in a global market full of competitors providing non-creative, standard solutions, and it also connotes a nice place to do business in.
For the “Island of Ingenuity – Sri Lanka Knowledge Solutions” brand, success will hinge on its capacity to deliver its claim. For this reason, there needs to be standards and initiatives implemented providing the inspiration for owners, managers and employees to seek opportunities for innovation within each company.
The industry should also consider some long term initiatives, providing the right elements to take it to even greater heights and even make an impact in transforming the country.
Be proponents of STEM
The brand that was defined establishes that creative problem solving is core to delivering a superior product to global customers. Doing so requires getting more young people into the work stream with a problem solving mind set. There has to be greater emphasis around what is commonly called the STEM subjects to achieve this goal. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math which are the four subjects that are most important for children to be learning now, if they areexpected to be successfully integrated into this growing industry. Getting the attention of the Government and education authorities to align with this thinking will not be easy. The industry could play a role to be the catalyst by directly engaging with parents and students to create awareness and an interest around these subjects. Initiatives around weekend camps, quiz programmes, on-line learning, scholarships, to provide opportunities could result in increased adoption of these subjects.
STEM education holds the key to fill the engineering and tech jobs that will grow at an incredible rate and where there will be a need for workers who can code, designers who can problem solve, and innovators who can understand what is needed before its time.
Speed is of the essence
To compensate for the lack of scale within the IT and BPM businesses, a competitive advantage that the small centres have, is to rely on speed and being nimble in serving customers.
Sri Lanka’s apparel industry focused on this over many years to cut down on lead times to ship its products to customers. Companies such as Brandix worked with US consultants looking into all aspects of their processes whilst MAS studied the likes of Toyota Motors and used learnings from there to ensure flawless execution at rapid speed.
There could be lessons that the industry could gather by looking at different industry sectors on how they excelled on the speed of cognitive execution, which could be explored. Meanwhile, individual companies need to instil these attributes into their own business models.
Source from anywhere
The Island of Ingenuity should be a place that people from across the world would want to come and work in. Whilst cost arbitrage is a definite advantage that customers are looking for, local IT companies should not be constrained in knowledge growth because it is not locally available. Whether it be one or two people who provide an initial R&D platform that could be built on, there should be a sense of being open to international influences and talent.
Welcoming and recognizing diversity encourages people to excel in their own right. It is this diversity that will drive up the country’s own capabilities and set new benchmarks in product delivery excellence. There are benefits of working in an exotic island with a comfortable environment in Colombo as an incentive to attract students to take a gap year from University, or specialists who could supplement the local resource teams. Therefore, engagement with external institutes of study from across the world should be a part of the broader agenda.
Capital is not a constraint
Sri Lanka has sufficient funds to support start up initiatives that are ground breaking or have business potential with world class capability. There are many venture capital funds that have started and that are constantly evaluating potential for new ideas.
SLASSCOM or FITIS the main industry bodies are well positioned to provide a formal listing of such funds in a manner that would be beneficial for potential start- ups and entrepreneurs who are looking for seed funding. This should be an active process, that defines the parameters, the needs of the individual funds and potential backers so that there is a constant and dynamic environment that is created that start-ups could tap into.
As the global economy increasingly moves East, so should the knowledge services industry.
For example, there are major advantages in jointly marketing Sri Lankan IT with India. Whilst India offers cost efficiency and scale, Sri Lanka offers a different set of capabilities which are more solution oriented with greater management supervision. Thus, whilst India could be the main hub for a customer, Sri Lanka could be a supplementary spoke by providing small dedicated teams of specialists who could provide more value added services. By working in tandem, there could be significant benefits accruing to customers.
Australia, Japan and China have large companies that could possibly need solutions through small dedicated specialist teams. Chinese companies (think Volvo, MG, Lenovo etc) are going global with many more, and would require services that Sri Lankan IT companies could be well positioned to provide.
Changing the conversation
Taking a broader more proactive view to living the Island of Ingenuity brand beyond the immediate needs could pay off, as we begin to be recognized for our unique capabilities.
The key is to work around the archaic education system and think outside the box, so solutions could be found around the bureaucratic Government grip that sometimes stifles growth opportunities.
Becoming more ingenious in doing so, is the key to success!