Ambitious plans are now on the cards to develop the Sri Lanka Association for the Software Industry (SLASI) - which represents the Software Chapter of the Federation of Information Technology Industry Sri Lanka (FITIS) - to its full potential to drive this key body in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector to achieve an enhanced $ 5 billion annual target in foreign exchange revenue through the export of computer software products and services, says Abbas Kamrudeen, the association’s new president.
“At present, Sri Lanka’s earnings from the export of software products and services is in the range of $ 850 million. We are optimistic of pushing up the revenue from this segment to $ 5 billion within the next few years,” he said.
"At present, Sri Lanka’s earnings from the export of software products and services is in the range of $ 850 million. We are optimistic of pushing up the revenue from this segment to $ 5 billion within the next few years"
SLASI President Abbas Kamrudeen
“In order to achieve this new, enhanced target, we have to make a series of significant changes for the forward-march and overall progress of Sri Lanka’s software industry. We have worked out a comprehensive plan of action to make this initiative a reality,” Kamrudeen stressed.
The key objectives under focus are increased import substitution through the enhancement and development of locally developed software products and services and the extension of assistance to members to initiate and increase software exports in order to meet the national target of the IT/BPO industry, as the highest net foreign income generating industry in Sri Lanka, he said.
The focus is on four salient pillars to achieve these objectives - attracting human capital to the industry, increasing the quality and efficiency of human capital through training and development, business development activities for members and canvassing/addressing policy decisions necessary to develop the industry, he explained.
Some of the new initiatives lined up for this year include an incubation centre to assist local software vendors to move towards export-oriented business advisory services, international market information, market penetration strategies, identifying and selecting partners, communication training, collateral preparation, product customisation, localisation requirements, mentoring, etc.
“As members of regional ICT bodies such as ASOCIO and APICTA, we plan to carry out extensive business match-making events between local companies and counterparts in other countries to promote local software internationally,” Kamrudeen noted.
“We will also be studying the feasibility of setting up a software product testing and certification facility. This would allow clients to make informed decisions and vendors to differentiate themselves,” he said.
He said that many other ideas were under discussion and they encompass initiating escrow facilities for finance and intellectual property. These facilities are not readily available in Sri Lanka mainly because of the complexities involved.
This facility would allow payments for software solutions to be held in escrow and disbursed on a basis such as project progress or functional deliverables. Source code can also be held in escrow to give clients peace of mind that their software investment is protected irrespective of the vendors’ continuity, the Association’s president noted.
Dispute Resolution Centre
“We are also looking at setting up a Dispute Resolution Centre to hear software related disputes. This would guarantee peace of mind for both local and international clients who shy away from legal proceedings due to the complex nature of the industry and its practices,” Kamrudeen emphasised.
The ongoing strategy seeks to boost local and foreign businesses with the objective of carving out a vibrant market in Sri Lanka for software products developed by these companies, while extending the necessary facilities and advisory services to make a positive impact on the global marketplace, he explained.
Plans are also underway to establish a separate dedicated centre to facilitate the purchase of software products by potential local buyers. This centre will feature a collection of software products developed by member associations. This will give a wide and varied choice to potential buyers, he elaborated.
In terms of the plan of action to emerge victorious in the global marketplace, Sri Lankan developers will be afforded the opportunity of accessing information relating to the international market, map out strategies to venture into the market and identify and select the right buyers. They will also be provided with training in communications, facilities to stabilise their products and offered advisory assistance.
A general overview of Sri Lanka’s software industry shows that the biggest obstacle to growth in this vital sector in the future will be a dearth in software engineers. We will have to give up large-scale foreign software projects if there is a mismatch between human resources development and software industry growth. They should go hand-in-hand. To overcome this obstacle, the Sri Lanka Association for the Software Industry has identified the potential in youth and adopted a strategy to absorb them into the industry under a series of long-term programs that have been launched.
What is unique about the information technology industry is the constant transformation it goes through with a relatively new outlook in an evolving environment. Therefore, it is important to keep professionals updated on the new trends and developments through a consistent learning process.
For the development of any industry, a long-term policy framework is imperative. Similarly, for the greater progress of the software industry also, a firm policy framework is vital for its long-term existence. This is not a task our association can do by itself. We have, together with other related associations in this sector plus representative bodies in the IT field and the Government, shouldered the task of formulating a policy framework for the industry, he stated.
A critical factor in purchasing computer software products is the inability on the part of the customer to identify at that point whether they would work or not. In other words, whether the product is faulty or not. This situation creates mistrust between the developer and the customer.
Kamrudeen said that to overcome this obstacle, the association plans to establish a centre to examine these products and get reputed companies in the field to certify them. He asserted that this would go a long way in ensuring quality-tested products reached the market and also ensure a cordial relationship between the developer and the buyer.