Implementing a National Digitalisation Strategy

June 9, 2021

By Eunice Ruth

Due to the lack of comprehensive strategies within the country, the digital interventions have not resulted in system-wide changes or brought about scalable impacts. Therefore, this Digital Economy Strategy looks to utilise existing programmes and all relevant partners in the eco-system to develop and implement  an  integrated  Digital  Economy  transformation  in  Sri  Lanka  that  will  pave  the  way  for  a thriving  and  effective  digital  economy,  with  higher  operational  efficiency, low costs and better services and outcomes for its citizens.

However, at an unprecedented time such as this when Sri Lanka along with the rest of the world is facing complex challenges as a result of the prevailing global pandemic brought on by  COVID-19,  we  are  at  a  crucial  stage  in  our  country’s  digital  transformation  journey. At this time, it is vital that the country focuses its attention on harnessing the powers of innovation, digital  technologies  and  the  ingenuity  of  young  people to  galvanise  a  committed  pathway  to achieving the development targets.

The current Digital Transformation Landscape of Sri Lanka is productive  for  opportunities  that  can  create  a  systemic  transformation,  consolidating  and  improving  upon existing  efforts  undertaken  by  all  sectors.  The private sector has taken up the process of developing technological innovation for many industries such as agriculture, tourism, transport and manufacturing sectors. Further, the banking sector is also moving towards digital banking solutions with cash deposit machines, internet and mobile banking solutions and digital payment apps.

Speaking to the Director, Monitoring and Evaluation of ICTA, Jagath Seneviratne, said that with the conclusion of the 2019 Presidential Elections, the people of Sri Lanka have backed a vision to build a resurgent and prosperous country, with a citizen centric digital government at its core. Building capacity of citizens will enable their participation in the Digital Economy resulting in economic benefits to the household and to increase the quality of life.

“ICTA’s vision is to see 300,000 IT professionals, 500 digitally empowered government Chief Innovation Officer’s (CIO) contributing to, and operating their digital infrastructure, while high levels of public sector and citizen literacy rates are achieved.  Also, the ICTA targets significant usage of shared solutions and digital services by the end of 2024, which would vastly benefit citizens of the country. From an industry perspective, Sri Lanka will enter the third wave of technology during the digital transformation, with 750 tech companies, 1,000 IT and IT infused startups and 500 other technology startups in place by 2024.  ICTA believes that this expansion would enable the industry to reach the US$ 3 billion export revenue earner mark,” said Seneviratne.

In order to achieve the vision of ICTA, several unique goals, objectives and action plans have been discussed with the officials and decided to implement within the country. Consequently, this has been built under four main pillars; Technology Industry Development; Technology Diffusion, Capacity Building and Regional Cluster Development.

Technology Industry Development

The Technology based Industrial Development has three main goals which need to be achieved by the end of 2024. Reaching US$ 3 billion of annual foreign exchange revenue generated via knowledge services sector and electronics sector, 1,000 tech and tech enabled start-ups in operation and 700 technology companies (IT + BPM + Electrical & Electronics) in operation within the country, are the three major goals.

In order to achieve the goals, several objectives and action plans have been discussed. Increasing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and new tech companies via FDI promotion and facilitation, increasing Direct Exports of Existing Tech Companies to increase the competitiveness and provide overseas market opportunities and Promotion and Enhancement of the Start-up Ecosystem.

Meanwhile, hosting at least one or two world class tech summits, such as AWS Summit, RedHat events, Oracle events, and others which attract a lot of foreign delegates, are also expected to be done within the end of 2024. Also, it is decided that large scale events could potentially be held in Colombo or Hambantota, where we can attract visitors from the region, including noteworthy industry leaders from India, Singapore and others.

Also, it focuses mainly, on setting up a specialized unit for tech start-up and innovation ecosystem to overlook all the activities to take place in global and local space in terms of start-up growth and community building and education. Supporting the global initiatives for scale-ups, such as matching funds and Government investment into tech start-ups under ‘Spiralation – growth’, encouraging start-ups to go global, and initiate start-up exchange

programmes with global incubators and accelerators. For this, a common platform will be used to verify start-ups in the country in order to provide benefits such as endorsement for banks, give access to every regional start-up or tech hubs to verify start-ups in that province and to support start-ups by performing as a mentorship platform.

Technology Diffusion

Collaboration between universities and industries is widely recognized as one of the key factors which contribute to the improvement of innovative capabilities of companies, and the development of innovative countries. Accordingly, Sri Lanka is also about to create a collaboration between universities and industries. Using Technology Diffusion, making technology as the core of the business which increases efficiency and productivity for a total of 750 SMEs, 500 new technology Start-ups in operation as a result of Technology Diffusion strategy, and to increase the competitiveness ranking of Sri Lanka by 30 compared to the baseline in 2019 (WEF) are expected to be done by the end of 2024.

Creation of New Technology Products via Research and Development, Technology Diffusion to Local Businesses and Packaging for Export and Business Transformation through Technology Adoption, are the objectives which are planned to execute to achieve the goals of Technology Diffusion by the end of 2024.

Capacity Building

The major goals of Capacity building are to establish 300,000 ICT workforces employed in multiple sectors, with a supply of 150,000 skilled individuals, 500 Government CIOs deployed to various Government organizations, Building small IT divisions and teams in all the government organizations, 75% citizens digitally literate to effectively consume the benefits of digital technologies and tools and 100% Public Sector IT Literacy achieved.

Several objectives have been discussed and planned to achieve the goals and accordingly, increasing the output of Employable Recruits to Technology Sector, developing a National Skill Platforms, increase percentage of females selecting tech sector as a career choice, attracting Diaspora for key strategic roles in the tech sector, increasing the use of Technology by Citizens within the country, strengthening Government organization for better public service, Government CIO Development and increasing the use of Technology by Government Staff.

Under increasing the output of Employable recruits of technology sector, it is expected offer re-skill and up-skill ICT programmes to all youth populations around the country through repurposing the existing infrastructure networks located around Sri Lanka (ie: Nenasala, Vidatha Centres, CRCs etc..). A special focus to be on providing these programmes to youth from marginalized communities, such as the estate sector, who pursue other careers after their A/Levels or students who drop-out of school. Also, loans will be provided for the students who study at vocational and non-state universities.

Regional Cluster Development

Five regional clusters will be set up in Western, Central, Southern, Northern and Eastern province, in close proximity to an existing university and each cluster will include a cohort of Technology education institute, Technology companies. , shared working space with incubation facilities, a government arm and a technology diffusion cell.

All the objectives and action items will directly aid to ensure that each cluster has an active eco-system which will support the implementation of the strategy. The regional development unit will be the managing arm of all the regional clusters and will be closely liaising with TD, TID, Capacity Building and Startups & Innovations units wherever necessary.

The goals of regional cluster development are to build five regional Tech/Edu Hubs which consist of a Technology Diffusion cell, facilitating the setting up of regional arms of a minimum of eight main local/international Tech/BPM companies in the clusters, facilitating and setting up of five start-up hubs with necessary infrastructure for start-ups and innovation, facilitating 750 selected Non-tech SMEs to use technology in their core business, setting up five Technology education institutes with international standards (1 per cluster), and the implementation of basic digital literacy programmes for the age group (15 – 60)

In order to achieve the goals, assessing the readiness of each region, to determine the requirements for each cluster is an essential thing. In addition, regional infrastructure development, decentralization of main tech companies, creation of education hubs

Technology diffusion cells, building a knowledge and support hub for all business /tech related needs, instilling entrepreneurship and innovation, technology adoption of citizens, increasing digital literacy in the country, career guidance for students, capacity building for Government staff and recognition are considered to implement within the period of implementing.

“A special World Bank team will visit Sri Lanka in the near future to support us in achieving this National Digitalization Strategy and they will support us in both financial and technological ways. Also, all these process will be carried out under result based management and monthly evaluations will be done for each and every process implementation,” said Seneviratne.

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