ICT Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) CEO Reshan Dewapura congratulated the Computer Society of Sri Lanka (CSSL) on the apt theme of the 30th National IT Conference (NITC). The ICTA CEO praised the CSSL so during his address at the inauguration of the two-day NICT Conference held in Colombo on Monday (9). Commenting on the conference theme “ICT for GAP – ICT for Governance, ICT for All and ICT for Peace”, Dewapura said: “It is indeed a captivating and innovative theme – and I must congratulate the CSSL for branding their conference under this theme – which – in my mind – is entirely appropriate”.
Taking the liberty to expand the theme ICTA CEO bridged the audience in a nod of consensus that implicitly said: ‘Indeed it’s a brilliant expansion’:
“I would like to even take the liberty of expanding this theme. I would extend it to mean ‘ICT for Bridging the GAP, Bridging the Gap in Governance, Bridging the Digital Gap for All, and Bridging the GAP in Peace’. This I think, truly captures the essence of what we are trying to do with this great tool that is ICT: Information and Communication Technology ”, Dewapura said.
The following are excerpts of his address:
I would like to share with you a few ideas on the progression of the ICT sector in our country, especially in the context of the theme of this conference: ICT for GAP – ICT for Governance, ICT for All and ICT for Peace.
Confab theme, ‘ICT for GAP’, close to ICTA vision, goals and objectives
When the ICT Agency was set-up and started its initial operations back in 2005, the vision we wanted to realise, and the goals and objectives which we wanted to achieve, were very close to the theme of this conference.
With a vision of taking the benefits of ICT to every citizen, in every village and to every business, and transforming the way Government thinks and works, the pioneering e-Sri Lanka development initiative, had the high level objectives of contributing to peace, growth and equity.
Cross section of e-Sri Lanka achievements
As this almost mirrors the theme of this conference, ‘ICT for Governance, ICT for All and ICT for Peace, I think it is my duty to elaborate very briefly, on a cross section of the activities and achievements of the e-Sri Lanka initiative, which have been implemented throughout the past few years and how it has contributed to the overall vision, goals and objectives.
Governance is probably the most important or key sector that needs to be addressed from a Government point of view and therefore I will focus a bulk of my talk to this. Governance comes from providing a good Government to the people, which in turn comes from providing decent and efficient Government services or public services to its citizens.
The e-Sri Lanka initiative’s Re-Engineering Government Programme, has looked to spearhead this effort, by using ICT, to make Government more efficient, in order to provide a better service to its citizens.
Many initiatives have been embarked upon and successfully completed in this area. The Government Information Centre (GIC – 1919), The Lanka Government Network (LGN), The Lanka Gate, The Lanka Government Cloud (LGC), the e-Population Register, together with the ICT Policy for Government, has built the foundations, and created the enabling environment, for all Government organisations to move forward easily, in their efforts to re-engineer and automate the processes and systems within their entities.
GIC 1919 serving people 12 h/d, 365/year in English, Sinhala and Tamil
Let me elaborate on some of these projects. The award winning GIC, Government Information Centre or 1919 as it is known, provides information on any Government institution or any Government service, 12 hrs a day, 365 days of the year in all three languages. Further, it functions as grievance handling centre. Plans are now being put in place to elevate the GIC to a Government service centre, where through digital intermediaries, citizens can obtain Government services in addition to information.
LGN connecting all Government institutions
The LGN, the Lanka Government Network, connects up all Government institutions - Ministries, Departments, Provincial Councils, District secretariats and Divisional secretariats in one cohesive network, providing the connectivity for easy communication and for data transfer within Government.
This is also the bed-rock foundation, on which all other e-Gov initiatives are expected to run. It is envisaged that in the future, Local Government Authorities, Grama Niladhari Offices and even state owned enterprises, will also be linked to this, spreading the breadth of connectivity, and expanding the portfolio of services.
The Lanka Gate, which was implemented almost two years ago, is really a state of the art middleware infrastructure and a flagship project of ICTA. The Lanka Gate functions as the service delivery platform for any Government e-service. In addition, its front end is also the country portal, and has many delivery channels including the mobile phone, which is now, an ever growing phenomenon in our entire country.
Any Government organisation can now re-engineer their processes, automate them and develop a system, which can be easily hosted on Lanka Gate, as long as it adheres to the simple rules of open standards, and the agreed inter-operability framework.
LGC providing hosting environment for any Govt. application
The latest of our creations, which has just been launched, is the LGC, or the Lanka Government Cloud – which itself is an extension of Lanka Gate, which now provides a hosting environment for any Government application, content or service, without the Government organisation having to spend on the infrastructure, themselves.
This we believe will go a long way to reduce duplication, bring in economies of scale, and lower the ICT cost of Government.
ePopulation Register, mother database
And finally on the enabling side, the e-Population Register has also been completed and launched, creating a single system to store all people related data, which is relevant to Government. This will ensure easier access to information from this ‘mother database’ to all other Government organisations, allowing them to provide their services in a much faster and efficient manner.
A number of automating activities
The e-Sri Lanka initiative has also successfully completed a critical number of re-engineering and automating activities, on behalf of the Government. e-Pensions, e-Samurdhi, e-Revenue License are foremost among them. Projects such as e-Local Government, e-Land Register, e-Registrar of Companies, e-Import/Export, are being worked on currently, and will add to the growing list of high-impact, efficiency-boosting services, that would benefit many a citizen.
So, the stage is set for Government Organisations and Entities, to push forward with their re-engineering and automating activities, making full use of the eco-system of information infrastructure, which as mentioned, has already been set-up.
Re-Engineering and Automating processes and systems, can be a time consuming endeavour for some organisations, an interim solution has also been implemented, to provide e-services right now, while these bigger, more complex activities are taking place simultaneously.
The existing infrastructure environment mentioned earlier, is also capable of providing – what we call – VBT (Virtual Business Process Transformation) e-Services, where any existing automated or semi-automated system, of any Government organisation, can be pulled in and delivered to the citizen as a VBT e-Service.
This is an excellent methodology, to provide service efficiency to citizens, and at the same time ensuring, that money already invested, does not go to waste.
A number of these types of services, are already being provided through the Lanka Gate Country portal. The Train Time Tables off the database at the Department of Railways, Exam Results off the database at the Department of Examinations, Weather Information off the database at Department of Meteorology, ID Card application status from the Department of Registration of Persons, Status of Police clearance reports from the Police, are some of these. Many other such e-Services from the Water Board, Department of Immigration, Foreign Employment Bureau, the Tea Board and many others, are also planned to be launched in the near future.
That is a very brief overview of the activities of the e-Sri Lanka Initiative, in the area of e-Government, and I’m sure you can observe the length and breadth of this activity, all of which we are sure, will greatly contribute to good Governance.
ICT for ALL
Let me now briefly touch upon the other two areas, ICT for All, and ICT for Peace. The first area looks at making sure that, every-one in this country gets the full benefit of Information and Communication Technology, in order to better their day-to-day lives, and secure a brighter future for themselves and their children. This need for inclusiveness, has been a key focus of the e-Sri Lanka initiative, and three key programmes have been targeted at achieving this.
The first is the Nenasala programme - a concept of none other than H.E. the President himself - is not only an example of taking the fruits of ICT to the very rural, underserved areas of this country, but also demonstrates the practical leadership provided from the highest office of the country for e-Development activities in Sri Lanka.
The Nenasala’s provide access to, ‘internet connected computers’ and other associated ICT Infrastructure, to especially rural communities and also communities with special needs. There are 725 Nenasala centres set-up across the country, at present, with a target of reaching 1000, in the next few years. This is to fully ensure that, ICT is within the reach and the grasp of ALL in this country.
The access to ICT itself, is not enough. Content and applications are required to make use of these tools. And just any content won’t do either. Content that is relevant, and of benefit to society, especially to rural society, is the need of the hour. The e-Sri Lanka initiative’s e-Society programme, has been specially designed for this. Through this programme, through many ideas that have come directly from the grassroots itself, over 200 societal applications and contents have been developed and deployed.
These are all localised content, mostly in local languages – except where it is appropriate to have it in English, and these have gone a long way to address, very real needs of Sri Lankan communities. Over 75,000 people per month, benefit from these projects.
The third area in ensuring that, everyone benefits from this information revolution, is the e-Literacy drive, which has been carried out on a multitude of fronts. The ability to comprehend ICT, the ability to use ICT, is fundamental in ensuring that citizens are able to receive, consume and enjoy the benefits of ICT. Being ICT literate or ICT savvy therefore, is hugely important.
With the various projects that have been implemented to drive this effort, the ICT Literacy in Sri Lanka which was around 4-5% in the early 2000s, is now well above 40%, and has target to reach 75% by 2015...
All these components together contribute to our second area of focus ICT for ALL.
ICT for Peace
And the final area to touch upon is ICT for Peace. In an overall sense, one could say that everything done in the ICT sphere, in a country’s e-development agenda, contributes to peace. Because it breaks down barriers that were there before, creates a true cyber class, and brings in that inclusivity, which is vital, for sustaining peace and harmony.
The e-Sri Lanka initiative is no different, and almost all activities embarked upon – including all the e-Government activities, mentioned earlier, contribute to this noble cause. However, let me touch upon a couple of specific things, which have had a direct impact in this area.
The Local Language Initiative of the ICTA is a key activity, which has contributed in this area. This programme, also known as the LLI, has made sure that, ICT can be used in this country, in our National Languages. All activities to ensure, that both Sinhala and Tamil language capabilities, are available in computers, have been carried out.
Creating Unicode standards, Unicode fonts, standardising keyboard layouts, registering top level domains, creating local content, are some among many things, which have been carried out to ensure, proper Sinhala and Tamil language computing.
IT/BPO industry 5th largest foreign exchange earner
The expansion of Sri Lanka’s growing IT/BPO industry, in all parts of the island, is the other activity that I want mention. As you are all aware, the IT/BPO is an emerging, forward looking industry in our country, and is currently our 5th largest foreign exchange earner.
The growth prospects for this industry are extremely positive, and we must ensure that the entire country, and all its people can benefit from it. To this extent, together with the unstinted support from the industry, we have gone to all parts of the island, with-out discrimination, to spread this message, to create awareness of a lucrative industry, of the great career prospects, to encourage and ensure that everyone gets the chance to participate in this opportunity.
By making certain all segments of our population are gainfully employed, greater peace can be sustained. This is an endeavour in that direction.
These activities I’m sure would give you an idea if how ICT has contributed to peace, and how it can continue to do so in the future.
In this post-terrorism era, where Sri Lanka 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, and many things I have mentioned earlier will be differentiators, or even trail blazers in this effort.
It is my opinion that institutions such as CSSL will also, not least with conferences such as these, and with themes such as these, contribute at the core, of such endeavour and will be an important factor in its success.
I sincerely hope that we can exploit and target all our energies in our ICT led development activities for Governance, for All, and for Peace.”
Minister of Telecommunication and IT, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, Presiential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkodi, MP Thilanga Sumathipala, and CSSL President Mahesh Perera also participated in the event.
ICTA CEO Reshan Dewapura addressing the 30th NICT conference