Monday, February 23, 2009

Can IT help develop Sri Lanka

Information Technology today is a vast field spreading its roots to the nooks corners of every economic aspect of life. Having said the same presence of IT dose not necessarily make things happen, until it is being applied to the context of efficiency improvement.

IT can be used to help our economy, mainly in two directions.
  1. Usage of IT for improving the internal efficiencies of our complete Eco system, including government, corporates, enterprises, industries to individuals, reducing cost of production and improving the quality
  2. Ability of exporting the expertise in IT to other countries, commonly known as outsourcing
While we assumed that we can go the route TWO without having the ONE (true in some cases, such as simple BPO operations) the actual gain had been minimal on the economy. But we have jumped on the band wagon for a while and saw ourselves not being able to compete with countries like India. The very reason is being that Sri Lanka is not capable of producing large number of low level workers due to our size of population and available infrastructure. However we have been producing good quality specialists.

Specialists will emerge from practice, if we do not practice it is difficult to produce a workforce with those skills. Repetitive outsourcing jobs do not produce high skilled innovators, where encouraging small entrepreneurs to work on verticals would produce more specialists. The fortunate situation in IT industry,unlike any other industry is the initial investments are not that high and the number of people to start is also not so critical.

Recently I saw our Hon. President has appointed an Indian as his IT adviser, which that person has refused to accept for certain reasons. Hon. President, while India is very strong in IT, they are in a different business paradigm, their business model would not work for us. Further, there are enough Sri Lankan's (many who are living even abroad) who will be willing to give you advice on what is right for our tiny nation. Ask for it, you will have our heart and soul with you.

I can point few things that we should do, if we are to really use IT for our economic development.

  • Apply IT for internal processes to improve efficiency
  • Create more number of smaller IT related businesses in the country
Let us start with IT for internal use and discuss what are our burning issues as a country? my thinking it is Internal inefficiency
  1. We should have a ministry for IT (any way we have so many ministries, what difference it makes having one more). Currently it is mixed with science and Technology which is much more broader to handled by one minister. Then we need to find someone who is young and enterprising who can take the lead in. (just for an example see when Dr Palitha Kohona speaks in international PR)
  2. We should have compiled our citizen database ( we have been talking, ...... and still do). The story so far is we have made it so complicated and we invited large international companies to design it for us, where still nothing happens. Hon. President, this should be one of your accelerated programmes (like "maga neguma"), we should do it in months, not years. Also we don't need so many experts, let us do it ourselves. It cannot be a miraculous job to create a 20 million record database.
  3. Why cant RMV(registrar of motor vehicles), Registrar of Persons, Elections commissioner and Police use a common database. They don't work together, ask if they do!!! Without this there are isolated islands of information, recollected many times without any significant proactive usage. Imagine if this information is available it can be simply be disseminated for authentication and verification of citizens and vehicles, driving licenses etc. If you drive around you will know how many times your ID number and Vehicle number is manually written down by officers, without any ability of cross referencing the information they see.(since this is a seperte topic itself, I would write an another article on this)
  4. Once we achieve these basic infrastructure, link income tax to all the other citizen services. Don't think too complex. The more complex you think would take more time. All IT systems need to be improved over period of time, faster than you think.
  5. Once we achieve this we need to link all the citizens and enterprises to the same system
While doing this we will develop this we would have develop enough experts whom we can sell value added services to outside world.

On the other hand development of expertise and enterprises
  1. Promote local IT services companies against the rest, but ask them to be certified , dont use tender conditions such as last year revenue which will disqualify all local bidders (instead of revenue measure the capabilities) - if tender processes are not correct- change those.
  2. Promote smaller IT companies more - take their taxes off - Trust me they will bring foreign exchange when they are up and running
  3. Create more environment for research, tell the problems you have and asked people to come up with solutions - Don't publish tender documents prepared by people who has no knowledge to write specifications - if rules need to change - change those!
  4. Provide the infrastructure - not the capital - Innovative IT projects do not need large sums of capital, but innovative thinking and proper infrastructure to survive.
I have tried summarizing in a nut shell what we should do, specifically as the first step of improving the security of our country the base platforms should be fully IT driven.

1 comment:

  1. Saner,
    I had a idea somotime back, but still I believe, it will work very fine, if properly implemented with greater accountability and legality.
    Ideas is to connect Inventors/people, who wants to start business with investors as a partners or as joint ventures.

    It is like share market, people should be able to sell their shares or accquire shares of these small businesses.
    If you see in the news papers, there are so many small scale business looking for financial help to expand their business. Most of the time they get money from illegal methods for very high interest rates.
    most of the people, who need this assistance, know very well about their business and how to make profit.
    If there is a mechanism to bridge the gap, automatically, diaspora is investing money, while productivity of the country is rising.