Sri Lanka presents a wealth of opportunity for ICT investment, says Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga. Weeratunga said so while participating as the Guest of Honour and delivering his keynote address at the inauguration of the two-day FutureGov SAARC Summit 2012 held in Colombo recently (18). Addressing the audience including eGovernance experts from the SAARC countries and the international community the Presidential Secretary explained how IT has permeated Sri Lanka so pervasively as even to contribute very much for winning the war and restoring peace. Postwar Sri Lanka provides not only a wealth of opportunity for ICT investment, but it is also one of the safest and lowest risk emerging markets in the world. After underlining eGovernance for greater level of comfort to the people, Weeratunga led the audience also to a consideration of ways of mitigating against its s flaws through transformational government.
The following is the full text of the Presidential Secretary’s keynote address:
Conference, remarkably effective forum for interaction
“This is the first occasion that Sri Lanka is holding a FutureGov SAARC Summit, and the third in a series of FutureGov Conferences. I was present on the two previous occasions of FutureGov Conferences in 2008 and 2010 as well. I have seen the event’s remarkable ability to create an effective forum for governance. It provides an ideal forum for experts, practitioners and private sector service providers for exchanging views on new developments in the public sectors in Sri Lanka and in the region.
IT’s contribution for bringing about peace
Many distinguished personalities are present here today. I wish to recognise all of them and express my happiness to see, Secretary Defence in particular, as he has used IT in all his activities and modernised our armed forces to create what we now see as a peaceful Sri Lanka.
Well, Sri Lanka’s own achievements in the ICT sector has seen leaps and bounds with innovations in how the government delivers citizen services, increased investor confidence and necessary infrastructure gradually taking shape.
Sri Lanka as centre for delivering IT
For many years that the war was on, Sri Lanka had to struggle to achieve its true potential in the world stage in many sectors – ICT is one such area. Now in peacetime Sri Lanka, we are gaining global recognition as a centre for delivering IT as well as an emerging Knowledge Services Industry. Today, more than 300 IT and BPO companies operate in Sri Lanka serviced by a workforce of over 60,000 and generating USD 400M in exports.
Wealth of opportunity for ICT investment in Sri Lanka
For a small country reviving after a recently concluded war, Sri Lanka presents a wealth of opportunity for ICT investment - which makes it all the more realistic to attain the goal of over USD 1 billion in revenue by 2016. An example of this potential is highlighted in the Global Services Location Index – published by A T Kearney, and reputed as one of the world’s leading barometers on the relative attractiveness of countries as services locations. The indexing is based on the fundamentals of three categories: financial attractiveness, peoples’ skills and availability, and business environment. Sri Lanka is positioned at 21 out of 50 countries, which is considered a remarkable feat for a small country in the midst of giants such as China, India, Egypt and Mexico.
Sri Lanka’s NRI
Sri Lanka’s Network Readiness Index (NRI) ranking published by the World Economic Forum has also improved from the 86th position out of 122 countries in 2006/07 to the 66th out of 138 countries in 2010/2011. Several e-Government initiatives have resulted in enhanced delivery of public services on-line, with overall 15,000 government officials having being trained and skilled in ICT. Also, 10,000 citizens have been trained under ICTA’s e-literacy project.
I am also aware that in 2005 Sri Lanka had the ICT literacy rate of just under five per cent and today we are certainly close to about 40 per cent. His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa is keen to see the entire public service equipped with ICT skills.
Sri Lanka’s unique position in knowledge services industry
We enjoy a unique position in the Knowledge Services Industry, particularly in Financial and Accounting Outsourcing due to a strong talent base. Sri Lankans form the second highest number of Chartered Institute of Management Accountants in the world, with a considerable number of graduates and undergraduates with US qualifications as Certified Public Accountants, CTAs.
Sri Lanka a safe and low-risk market
Post-war, Sri Lanka is now regarded as one of the safest, lowest-risk emerging markets. This is amply evidenced by the increasing number of international visitors to Sri Lanka and the booming tourism industry since the end of the terrorist conflict. In fact, Sri Lanka has been cited in the National Geographic Traveller in 2011 as among the top six places to visit in the world.
IT park with 100,000 job opportunities
In four to five years time, Sri Lanka will have a new 250 acre information technology park in the South, in Suriyawewa, in Hambantota, that is, in the island's south. It will provide job opportunities for an ICT sector workforce of nearly 100,000. It will have a number of custom-made facilities including next generation telecom infrastructure.
Hambantota already has an international port. And early next year it will also be the form for Sri Lanka’s second international airport thus supplying vital physical connectivity to the world.
Benefits of Sri Lanka’s e-Government policy
Sri Lanka’s current e-Government policy has enabled citizens to gain access to a wide range of services. Let me just list some of these, which I think, you have already seen, but nevertheless I would talk about it in brief:
Increased affordable access to ICT for citizens across the country through 633 Nenasalas, the rural tele-centres. Nenasala is Sri Lanka’s brand for rural IT centres.
Civil Registration (Birth, Marriage and Death (BMD) certificates etc) - availability of documents within minutes.
One of the most popular interventions by the government to reach the public is the internationally acclaimed GIC 1919, a call centre which is operational on 12 hours x 7 days basis. It currently responds to 5,500 calls daily from people making queries in Sinhala, Tamil or English. Over the last six years it has handled nearly eight million telephone calls. About 290 government institutes feed and update information to the centre regularly with the assistance of the Chief Innovation Officers (CIOs) who are themselves public officers.
The e-Society Programme of the ICTA, you have already heard about it, has successfully implemented over 200 ICT based projects across the country. These projects have delivered to the door step of rural communities a host of valuable services – crop price information delivered to farmers via their mobiles; we saw that mobile phone is a device that we have to look out for much use in the near future; coordinates for fishing locations delivered to fisherman via their mobiles; Text-to- Braille software which opens up the Internet and e mail up for the visually impaired; e learning software that makes learning fun for kids etc.
Private sector participation
There are also many instances where the private sector has come forward to join forces with the government to reach the citizens. One such recent initiative is the online, e-learning tool Web Patashala’ programme where the State Trading Corporation (STC) and Etisalat are collaborating to bring a radical change to facilitate educational needs of our children. For the first time in the country, students and teachers can access educational material in the national syllabus from their homes. This will circumvent certain problems such as scarcity of teachers and educational material in some rural schools. It also allows students to study on their own by providing them with access to lessons and content that goes beyond that of the school syllabi. With text materials and study guides, this innovation will act as a strong supplement to school lessons at a much more affordable cost that tuition.
Sri Lanka’s first women’s rural BPO in Jaffna
A few months ago, ICTA collaborated with an NGO, the Foundation for Advancing Rural Opportunities to establish the first women’s rural BPO in the country in the Jaffna District in the Northern Province which had been affected by the war.
ICT penetrating every aspect of life
Today’s Summit has brought ICT governance experts, practitioners and service providers from across the globe to engage in dialogue learning from one another. I understand that the Conference today and tomorrow will feature exhaustive discussions on themes such as mobile government, information security, cloud computing, citizen engagement etc etc. Compared to about a decade ago, we are now feeling that ICT is penetrating every aspect of our lives: as citizens, how we receive services; as government officers, how we deliver them; as policy makers, how we are inspired by it. There cannot be any government in the world today that does not embrace technology for it sees technology’s potency to deliver effectively; “do more with less”, and satisfy the people.
Transformational Government to mitigate flaws in eGovernment
Even with government technology interventions to provide better citizen services, the needs of the citizens nevertheless continue to grow, together with the demand that they be met with greater efficiency. Hence, governments have to equip themselves to meet these needs - not incrementally, but rapidly. Governments must not only “do things better” but they also need to “do things differently”. This requires radical transformations, which brings me to dwell briefly on the concept of Transformational Government.
Transformational Government is “the use of computer-based ICTs to enable radical improvement to the delivery of public services. The term is commonly used to describe a government reform strategy which aims to avoid the limitations which have come to be seen as associated with a traditional e-Government strategy”.
The concept of Transformational Government is a response to observations that even despite governments investing on ICT to increase quality of public services and reduce costs, there are still poor outcomes when e-government programmes are partially delivered or when they fail. Almost every government nowadays, even economically least developed countries, is an "e-government" - with websites, e-services and e-government strategies. It is obvious that something needs to go beyond e-government to bring benefits to people.
Developed countries such as the UK, Canada and Australia have all recently adopted strategies to shift decisively away from "e-Government" towards a much more radical focus on transforming the whole relationship between the public sector and users of public services.
The focus is on the process of transformation: how a government can build a new way of working which enables it rapidly and efficiently to adapt to changing citizen needs and emerging political and market priorities. In the words of one of the earliest governments (UK) to commit to a transformational approach: “…. the vision is not just about transforming government through technology. It is also about making government transformational through the use of technology”
Fourfold difference between Transformational Government programmes and traditional e-Government programmes
There are four major ways in which Transformational Government programmes differ from traditional e-Government programmes:
1. Transformational Governments take a whole-of-government view of the relationship between the public sector and the citizen or business user.
(Most governments are structured around a set of vertically-integrated silos - agencies, departments, ministries. By and large, it is these silos which the Governments of developed countries have spent "e-enabling" since the 1990s. However, this is an ICT investment strategy which is fundamentally not customer-focused, because the needs of citizens, businesses and others cut across the organisational structures and hierarchies of government. It has inevitably resulted in low levels of take-up for e-services. Governments in developed countries are now grappling with the legacy of thousands of fragmented, silo-focused websites: more than 270,000 in the US public sector, 9,000 in Germany, and 3,000 in the UK. An increasing number of governments are now seeking to make a fundamental strategic shift, towards a holistic, 75 customer-centred approach, driven at the whole-of-government level).
2. Transformational Government initiatives e-enable the frontline of public services: that is, staff involved in direct personal delivery of services such as education and healthcare - rather than just looking at transactional services which can be e-enabled on an end-to-end basis.
(Traditional e-Government has focused on e-enabling transactional services and providing online content. The great majority of public sector staff and expenditure is not however involved in such services, but rather in "front line" delivery: teachers, healthcare workers, police, court officials, etc. Leading governments are beginning to understand how the work of such front line staff can be transformed through the use of real-time knowledge management and mobile workflow applications)
3. Transformational Governments take a whole-of-government view of the most efficient way of managing the cost base of government
(People’s experience of new technologies is shaped by the best that the private sector has to offer globally and - increasingly - through the ability to co-create content and services as individuals or in peer-to-peer networks. They will demand ever greater interactivity and ownership in their relationship with public services. Transformational Government programs embrace this. Where traditional e-Government programs focused on the user as "the customer", Transformational Government enhances the relationship between government, citizen, and business on a richer, more reciprocated, and more empowering basis).
4. Transformational Governments focus less on service customers as passive recipients of services and more with citizens and businesses as owners of and participants in the creation of public services.
(The silo-based approach to ICT investment typical of much e-Government has not only resulted in "un-customer-centric" services (as discussed above), but also in duplication and inefficiency. Governments have "reinvented the wheel" in ICT terms - over and over again - with different agencies each maintaining their own databases or building applications for e-service functions common to all or many agencies (such as payments in and out, eligibility, notification, and authentication)”.
Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga delivering his keynote address as Guest of Honour at the FutureGov SAARC Summit 2012 in Colombo on 18th July, 2012
A part of the audience at the FutureGov SAARC Summit 2012 (From left to right in the ‘first row’) ICTA CEO Reshan Dewapura, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga and Secretary Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. ICTA Chairman Senior Advisor to President and Peradeniya University Chancellor Prof. P. W. Epasinghe is also in the picture.
This article is carried in the Daily News of 24th July 2012.