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Connecting dots: Bringing social, private and public sectors together through technology


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Chandita Samaranayake

  • Chandita Samaranayake shares insights after his 11-year tenure with Oracle Corporation

 

By Hiyal Biyagamage

For Sri Lankan organisations who are in the race to become cloud-ready businesses, Chandita Samaranayake is a familiar face. For the last 11 years, ‘Chandi’ was a key member of Oracle Corporation’s local team who helped the world’s leading cloud solution provider to capture the biggest cloud market share in Sri Lanka, compared to other major cloud vendors present in the local market. Until January 2019, it was based in Singapore working as a Regional Director for Oracle Application business managing Sri Lanka, Maldives, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei markets. 

Speaking with Daily FT, Chandita said that he feels ‘extraordinarily free’ after his long stretch at a global IT company. But his holidays will be over pretty soon; he is getting ready to fly back to Singapore to take up his new job.

“My dream job is to find a place where I can connect all the dots – social welfare, private sector enterprises together with government institutions. Technology will play a crucial role in connecting all these dots,” he said. Here are the experts of his exclusive interview: 

 

Q: After 11 years of extensive work, you bid adieu to Oracle. What were some of the life-changing lessons you learnt working for one of the biggest IT organisations in the world?

 Oracle is a place for performers and it gives you all the right tools and an ideal work support system to perform well. Over the last 11 years, I loved working for my former employer because the organisation gave me that platform and the opportunity to work with almost 200+ companies and 50+ partners across South Asian Growth Economies and ASEAN regions. I got great opportunities to work with top executives to help overcome their business pain points and on top of that, to work with many governments and help with their country digital strategies. 

I guess the most important lesson I learnt at Oracle was excelling the art of work-life balance. I personally applied work-life integration to overcome the complexities and challenges of my work. I was travelling a lot for my work and I had so many responsibilities under my belt. This meant that I had very limited time to spend with my family members. However, the company gave me guidance and showed me some practical ways to balance your personal life and work life. They also showed me how to excel in the art of collaboration and be creative to be different from the rest, to do things differently and think out-of-the-box ideas to overcome the challenges of your customers.

 

Q: During those 11 years, you spearheaded a number of cloud transformation projects in Sri Lanka – both in public and private sectors. Out of the many, what were the career-defining projects that come into your mind?

 I joined Oracle in 2008 to manage their technology channels business. During the first three years as the Regional Channels Manager, I was responsible for developing Oracle Technology Partner Ecosystem and Technology Customers across South Asian Growth Economies – West (SAGE-W). In 2011, I took the responsibility of their application business which included Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), customer experience/customer relationship management (CX/CRM), Human Capital Management (HCM) and business intelligence (BI). 

As the Director and Head of Application Business for Sri Lanka and Maldives, I managed to improve its application business within four years. Since 2016 to Jan 2019 I was managing Indochina, Sri Lanka and the Maldives regions and I was handed over the task of developing the SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) business for the company in those regions. Under my leadership, we were able to complete some commendable work in the region and my performance during FY17 was the best in the ASEAN region, which ended up in me being recognised as the ‘Top SaaS Manager of ASEAN’.

Since 2011, I had been a key contributor and a vital member of the Oracle Applications Business Leaders Forum as well as in the ASEAN leadership team. I also feel that I was lucky enough to be recognised at several key forums in the region including the coveted Oracle Hall of Fame Awards and Oracle SaaS Sales Excellence Awards. 

 

Q: You have been a great preacher on cloud transformation and promoting cloud technology for local companies. How do you view this great pillar for the growth of the industry?

 The conversation about cloud started five years back in Sri Lanka. We actively told local companies to go out of the box, which meant the transformation to the cloud. Two-three years back, we saw a number of companies gradually migrating to cloud after realising the potential cloud brings to businesses. A lot of things have changed today and we have seen huge progress and interest in cloud technologies.

When we look at the regional momentum for the cloud, we are not far away from it. To be honest, Sri Lanka is one of the top countries to adopt cloud technologies in the ASEAN market. In that sense, the country has come a long way and my previous employer has been able to create significant interest and awareness among local businesses about the cloud.

The adoption of cloud and SaaS has been tremendous over the last five years. We serve some of the biggest organisations today – from financial institutions to telecommunications, apparel manufacturers to blue-chip companies. They are endorsing what we have been preaching about cloud technologies. Our cloud applications have played a key role in this journey, assisting top-notch Sri Lankan organisations to modernise their business processes and systems by helping them migrate to a transformational platform and infrastructure cloud services as well as simplifying and standardising the performance of key business functions. 

 

Q: What were some of the key challenges local organisations have to overcome throughout their journey towards the cloud? 

 Today, all the companies are trying to cut their costs drastically. I guess that was a turning point for us. Everybody wanted to keep their major costs at a very low point and move towards an OPEX (operational expenditure) model from a CAPEX (capital expenditure) model. This triggered us to build a case around the importance of having affordable cloud solutions. We discussed why companies need not invest heavily in building sophisticated data centres and even investing in people. 

With that, we helped customers to understand and realise the importance of moving into an OPEX model, which is our cloud proposition that makes absolute business sense. It is not just about technology but also making a positive return on investment. We spoke not only with IT personnel but with business owners as well. That was the difference. We started talking to the boards, we started talking to the decision makers and we started talking to the process owners. We listened to them closely and helped us to work within their given business framework, which aligned well with Oracle’s cloud strategy.

Today, we have a lot of operational CIOs (Chief Information Officers). Their main job or mandate is just to maintain systems. We have been helping Sri Lanka’s IT economy to build strategic CIOs. With our solutions, we have taken the burden of managing the organisational IT system from them entirely and paved a path for them to build innovative solutions and business processes. This means that they are going to save a lot of time and spend a lot of time on strategic thinking.

 

Q: What is your opinion about the surge of emerging technologies like AI, blockchain and IoT? How will these technologies bring value for Sri Lanka’s overall economy?

 I was reading a recent report from McKinsey about Sri Lanka titled ‘Unlocking Sri Lanka’s digital opportunity’ where it says to be at the forefront of the digital revolution and meet the growth of the digital population, Sri Lankan companies across all industries will have to increase their digital maturity. According to the report, in comparison with other Asia Pacific emerging markets, Sri Lanka exhibits strengths in connectivity, digital marketing, investment in digital initiatives, and has the ability to move quickly. 

Yet when compared with more-developed countries like India and China, Sri Lanka is behind in terms of appetite for risk, ability to integrate digital priorities into the overall business strategy, automation of internal and customer-facing processes, and adoption of a collaborative culture between the digital teams and business functions. To accelerate its digital maturity, the report suggests that Sri Lankan companies need to help further improve their customer experience, make data-driven decisions, and automate both customer-facing and back-office activities.

While companies need to reflect on what their digital agenda is, I believe emerging technologies like AI, IoT and blockchain will greatly empower organisations where in their transformation journey, and then ensure their organisational structures evolve accordingly. According to the global Accenture Technology Vision 2018 Survey, many companies are weaving themselves into the very fabric of how people live through technology. In such a context, emerging technologies will transform conventional businesses into intelligent enterprises and help them to reimagine and reinvent the way of doing businesses. 

 

Q: What would the future hold for you now?

 I am taking a short break now to spend time with wife and daughter. However, staying back at home and doing nothing is something which I am not accustomed to. I have undertaken a few short-term consultancy projects for a telecommunications company to further strengthen their revenue generation streams and to cut down their IT expenditure by introducing an OPEX model. I am also doing some consultancy work for a public sector organisation where I am helping them to align their business objectives and policies. While doing all this, I am mentoring two startups in Sri Lanka and Maldives as well. So according to my wife, it is not actually a break (laughs). 

My next adventure awaits in a region where I have not had much experience during my career. I will be joining a NASDAQ-listed IT Services company to build their Go-To-Market strategy across Japan and the Asia Pacific and I am very much looking forward to that new challenge.


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