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Technology the key to accelerate growth in the subcontinent


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  • Romal Shetty outlines Deloitte’s vision for Sri Lanka

 By Darshana Abayasingha

“South Asia offers two special aspects; we are the most competitive market in the world, they demand quality and they know how to extract value,” states Romal Shetty, President – Consulting of Deloitte India. 

It’s easier to win a job in the US than in the South Asian market Shetty explains, adding that top executives in the sub-continent understand the overall business much better with broader focus. Coupled with this management style, he believes that South Asian countries can employ digital technologies to leapfrog even more developed markets in the medium-term. 

Shetty brings with him over two decades of experience in advisory services covering business and technology with large scale transformation programs, and has worked across over 30 markets globally with Deloitte, one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting organisations and the largest professional services network in the world. 

Deloitte is growing its footprint and focus on Sri Lanka engaging in several projects in the financial services, telecommunications and government infrastructure sectors. The company believes the time is opportune for global players to invest their skills and capabilities to further enhance this market. 

“We are bringing a lot more focus now into Sri Lanka, also to bring in some global practices as well. Deloitte is a $ 39 billion company and we’ve been operating in about 150 countries, and the model we always follow is that we build local skills as we build the consulting practice here. Take digital for example; there are a lot of skills around artificial intelligence, cognitive, blockchain… there is a lot of it being built here and in India. Interestingly, a lot of the technology that is being used the world over is actually built in South Asia. We will start recruitment and training the resources here, but we also propose to take people from Sri Lanka and deploy them outside the country as well be it in the sub-continent or even other markets. Also look at some of our folk in markets like the US coming back here. It’s a mixture of people who have been in the market and wherever necessary bring in specialised skills,” he avers. 

Shetty also points to the significant shift and focus globally to Artificial Intelligence, cloud-based systems, robotics and cognitive. Even traditional sectors such as tourism and manufacturing are moving towards IOT, and the technology invasion is well underway. 

Shetty detailed to a project to open 10,000 digital stores employing artificial intelligence, which will use data on customer preference and demographics whereby product stacking will be linked to the intended choice, which is then linked back to supply chain and production. At more grassroots level, technology is enabling inclusion, by converting postmen into bankers for instance, as the postal service really has maximum reach in a country enabling services such as doorstep banking.

Shetty enthuses that governments in markets such as ours are increasingly asking how it can monitor infrastructure and other projects on a real-time basis, and ensure that they happen on time or what maybe the obstacles that are holding them back. Also, implement mechanisms to understand and ascertain feedback from impacted populations constantly, rather than only at a time of election. Building ‘smart cities’ can bring in a lot of efficiency, and these are some of the projects Deloitte is building in.

“In government change management is difficult, but with private organisations it is easier as there is one command and control. With governments it is not only the politicians, but even the bureaucrats need to be in sync and alignment; so how do you get that message and execution even at lowest level. That is much more challenging. But what is encouraging is that we have seen some of the more dynamic politicians – this has not necessarily won them votes in the past – but now we are seeing because we are making that difference is converting into votes as well,” Shetty adds. 

Deloitte has a specialised team that works exclusively with governments and infrastructure projects, who do not engage in general consulting and comprises of specialised personnel with over 15 to 20 years of experience. Such focus makes it easier for people to adapt and implement solutions drawing on their experiences in other similar markets or environments. Emerging markets are very different to developed markets. 

He points to Rio De Janeiro where the company helped install an automated garbage collection system, which he believes could also be deployed over here in Sri Lanka with customisation. Building efficiencies is one of the primary focus points of Deloitte in the sub-continent, and Shetty adds this process is more about simplification as opposed to taking people off, as people costs in the region are much lower than in markets like the US, he adds. Digital and technology will be a primary pillar of this thrust. 

“We are quite excited about two or three things here. One is government infrastructure, because I think this is going to be a reasonably large spend. We have done some big projects globally and we can bring in quite a few learnings. Today one of the things that is happening, both in government and as with business, is the concept of agility. How can you be agile and crash projects? This is very essential for countries like ours, because past experience has been that you take a three-year project and it lasts 15 years. But how do you bring in agility concepts to private as well as government sector, and that’s not about just managing stakeholders. 

“The banking sector is also very significant, it is the bedrock of the economy. If the banking system is good there is a lot more inclusion, and more people come into the formal economy. Sri Lanka already has good tele-density, but how do you get new products out, how do you get a lot more things done through the mobile? Our countries cannot build infrastructure for everything, but you can use this device to enhance a lot of things. Also, a lot of businesses are family owned, and how do you help these businesses – even globally 70 to 80%of businesses are family owned – how do you help them with their diversification and growth strategies. 

“The last aspect, from an economy perspective, to develop skills in certain areas. How can make this a knowledge economy? How do we get more and more people trained in science and engineering? The interesting part of our journey is helping different people at different phases. As Deloitte what do we do? We help investments into a country. We tell other clients, ‘why don’t you position your global shared services in Lanka?’ As we build the practice here, one of our primary aspects is to bring in more MNCs into this country,” says Shetty detailing his company’s focus for Sri Lanka. 

“Different markets and clients pose different and numerous challenges, and Deloitte seeks to become good advisors as part of their operating mantra which is ‘imagine, deliver and, run’. Earlier the concept of consultancy was only about imagining a solution, and but today we will also help run it as a managed service,” he adds.


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