Google India Managing Director Rajan Anandan – Pic by Lasantha Kumara
Google India Managing Director, Lankan-born Rajan Anandan, yesterday urged Sri Lanka to harness both local and international talent to successfully tap the boom in the global technology business.
“The next generation of technology and computing will open up unprecedented business opportunities. Sri Lanka has talent but the issue is where do you focus? Sri Lanka must also look at attracting global talent, top companies and a favourable regulatory environment to benefit from this opportunity,” Anandan told the second day of the Sri Lanka Economic Summit organised by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.
Speaking at the session titled ‘Growing Sri Lanka’s Talent Pool - Reality Check & Pragmatic Options’, Anandan, who left Sri Lanka at the age of 17, noted that Sri Lanka’s software engineers were among the best in the world but the country needed to nurture more of them while focusing on quality and not necessarily quantity alone.
“Sri Lanka needs to expand the computer science programs in universities. Why should Moratuwa University, which is world-famous, restrict itself to an intake of around 100 students? Sri Lanka needs to invest further in capacity building. I understand not a single university focuses on data science or maybe Moratuwa has just started,” he opined.
“In next generation technology if there is no data science then there is no future,” he added.
Noting that Sri Lanka only produced around 8,000 IT graduates annually, the Google India Chief said the country needed to seriously consider attracting regional and global talent.
“For example Sri Lanka will not be able to match India’s scale but drawing a small percentage and incentivising them and global firms will help build a robust ecosystem,” he emphasised.
Putting into context the neighbouring giant’s prowess, Anandan said India’s IT industry empoloys 3 million and IT services industry exports amount to $ 100 billion and by 2025 it is forecast to grow to $ 300 billion, nearly four times Sri Lanka’s entire GDP. One of the major firms, TCS, employs over 300,000 while Sri Lanka’s entire IT industry workforce is around 80,000.
“Whilst India has been riding on cost arbitrage and numbers, Sri Lanka cannot and need not necessarily focus on quantity but address quality as well. Just basic programming alone will not help in the future because even that too will get automated,” he said adding new and growing technologies include Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Realty, Augmented Reality, Internet of Things, 3D printing, driver-less cars, etc.
“These will bring about massive opportunities and challenges. The nature of work and doing business will change. The future includes building application on these technologies and platforms. Sri Lanka’s IT talent pool can help traditional businesses to adopt and grow from these technological advancements,” Google India’s Chief said.
In that context he emphasised that Sri Lanka needed to do whatever it took to attract talent and world-class companies with an innovative and forward-looking regulatory framework to differentiate from other destinations.
An example he highlighted on the regulatory aspect was Sri Lanka establishing a zone dedicated for testing and flying drones. He said that although hundreds of drones were being developed it was illegal to fly a drone in India and perhaps Sri Lanka could seize that opportunity. Financial technology was another new industry he identified as a high growth sector.
Anandan also recapped the extraordinary advancement in technology. Within two decades, there are 3.3 billion internet users out of a global population of 7.3 billion. By 2020 the number of internet users will rise to 5 billion and mostly via mobile and remain always connected. This phenomenon has changed the way businesses are built in comparison to the heavy capital required a few decades ago.
He cited the case of WhatsApp, which within five years built a business serving 400 million customers despite having a staff of only 55. In 2014, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $ 19 billion. He also said China’s online behemoth Alibaba’s revenue was greater than the combined turnover of five of the giant offline retailers.
If the first generation of internet and computing has made a significant transformation “then what we have seen so far is just a trailer whereas the movie is about to begin. The next phase will be 100 times more interesting and exciting.”
He reiterated that traditional industries would be significantly impacted by the rapid advancement in technology and people and businesses and countries needed to be mindful of challenges as well as seize the resultant opportunities.
“I left Sri Lanka when I was 17 years. But the question Sri Lanka needs to ask is what are the options available in Sri Lanka for the best talented 17-year-olds today and what decisions will he take. What can the country do or need to do to retain such people?” queried Anandan.