By Marianne David
Delivering on its promise of making IT accessible for all, Microsoft Sri Lanka has positively transformed the local IT landscape over the last seven years, going to the extent of donating a staggering US$ 40 million worth of free software since 1994.
|President of New Emerging Markets Microsoft South East Asia Akther Ahmed (left) and Vice President Public Sector (Asia) for Microsoft Ken Wye Saw (right) are all smiles as they conclude the press conference to mark Microsoft Sri Lanka's seventh anniversary
Addressing the media at Microsoft’s seventh year anniversary press conference last morning at Cinnamon Lakeside, Microsoft Country Manager, Sriyan de Silva Wijeyeratne outlined the company’s far-reaching initiatives which have touched millions of lives across the country.
ICT capacity building
“This is a very joyous occasion for all of us here at Microsoft. The seven year timeframe is not something that we want to talk about in terms of duration because there are many parties that have been here for 70 years. However, during these seven years we are happy that we have been able to contribute to Sri Lanka and during this time, Microsoft has become easily the largest contributor to ICT capacity building in the country. We’ve also run a number of initiatives based on the beliefs and philosophies of our founder Bill Gates and the magic that software brings into countries such as ours,” he noted.
Pointing out that Microsoft has given away more software in terms of commercial value than it has sold over the last few years, Wijeyeratne said this was because Microsoft believes that software is an element for Sri Lanka’s success in the future. Over the years, Microsoft has contributed significantly to change the way ICT adoption permeates in Sri Lanka, thereby helping the nation stand tall in the competitive global arena.
Vice President Public Sector (Asia) for Microsoft Ken Wye Saw – who was instrumental in the setting up of Microsoft office in Sri Lanka during the inception and personally involved in almost all the key activities it has carried out during the last seven years in his previous capacity as the Vice President for Sales and Marketing, APAC region – was also present at the occasion.
Sri Lanka’s progress
Speaking to the media, he said: “Having been associated since the inception, it is with great pride that I look back at those formative years of operations in Sri Lanka, where we were instrumental in laying the foundation to many of these great partnerships with a group of very passionate people who shared the same vision. Especially in relation to the public sector developments in the region, governments are increasingly relying on IT to spearhead development, and Sri Lanka too is making significant progress within a short span of time, and these steps would take the country in the right direction.”
|Microsoft Country Manager Sriyan de Silva Wijeyeratne
President of New Emerging Markets Microsoft South East Asia Akther Ahmed, while expressing his pleasure at witnessing the progress Microsoft Sri Lanka has made across all segments of its business whilst reaching out to millions of Sri Lankan lives, said the company “remains deeply committed to further strengthen its engagement towards the growth of the country’s IT industry and its people”.
Most companies today do not necessarily compete with the local competitors but with companies in the world since we live in a global interconnected economy, Ahmed noted, adding that, therefore, from day one you compete globally.
“To effectively compete globally, you need a very effective strategy in terms of understanding your unique value proposition to the world. The same principle applies to the world and I think Sri Lanka is at a very important point, with all the conflict behind and a lot of aspiration and opportunity for the future. What is Sri Lanka’s unique value proposition to the global economy and how is Sri Lanka going to compete in the global economy? Now, one can say it is low cost manufacturing, but I think it will be a difficult value proposition to sell when looking at Asia, where in other countries in the region such as China, Bangladesh and Vietnam, the population size is very big and unit cost of labour is very low. I think that will be a very difficult defensible strategy for Sri Lanka in the long run.”
Ahmed noted that an interesting defensible strategy for Sri Lanka is to play at a much higher level – provide services and products which are not necessarily a low cost strategy but in the medium or even higher cost strategy: “If you look at Sri Lanka, there is a high literacy rate compared to its neighbours and at least from what I’ve seen, the intellectual capacity and professional maturity is incredibly impressive. I believe that Sri Lanka can build a defensible strategy to compete in the global market by building skills sets around technology.”
“What we are trying to do in this country is contributing towards the strategy of building this skills set in terms of building awareness around intellectual property and building broad-based awareness and capability around technology. That’s where the country has the opportunity to become essentially a destination for high end technology services around IT and BPO. In our small way, we would like to continue to contribute to the country and bring that type of capacity and training to the country, which will hopefully help Sri Lanka to grow,” he asserted.
“Do we have interest in terms of our commercial interest in the country? Do we want to sell more products here? Yes, absolutely. We are a commercial entity. But I think the agenda is much broader and over the next three to seven years, you will see that broad agenda of the desire to contribute to the local economy more and you will hear more announcements from the local subsidiary in terms of how we are trying to further that agenda,” Ahmed concluded.
At the press conference, Wijeyeratne also shared a message sent to Microsoft by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on its anniversary, lauding the company for supporting one of the primary objectives of his Government – that of increasing ICT literacy to assist in the forward march of the country. In his statement, the President noted that by supporting this vision, “Microsoft has contributed greatly to increase ICT literacy in Sri Lanka since its establishment.”
The Country Manager asserted that the last seven years “have been tremendously exciting and littered with milestones for Microsoft in Sri Lanka,” with the company significantly demonstrating how it can support the development of the local IT industry.
Beyond ‘business as usual’
“Microsoft has grown into a company which is valued by all stakeholders for its contributions that extend far beyond a ‘business as usual’ approach. The sheer magnitude of our grants and other funding initiatives have easily made us the strongest contributor towards ICT capacity building in Sri Lanka, but what really inspires us most is the manner in which IT has transformed the lives of millions during the past few years, including students and teachers mainly from outside the cities, migrant workers, rural youth, small businesses and marginalised community segments,” Wijeyeratne added.
In fact, the company has directly engaged over 200,000 students and teachers through its initiatives, while its Gamata IT programme has reached a further 80,000 people and trained 27,000. The donation of free software over these years has enabled more than 25,000 university students and many NGOs to use some of the world’s best software for their own initiatives, a press release noted.
Wijeyeratne revealed that four global case studies, and many Enterprise Agreements with top corporates had helped Sri Lankan businesses leverage IT in many new ways, and some of its local partners had grown their businesses significantly due to their interaction with Microsoft.
This year Microsoft also marks the celebration of successful partnerships and far-reaching affiliations with the Government, ICTA, Ministry of Education, NGO partners and leading corporates.
North and east
Touching on its presence in the north and east, Wijeyeratne said Microsoft has been engaged there “long before it became the trend to be there,” by training teachers many years ago. The company distributes its Tamil language interface pack free in the area and has also launched a ‘train the trainer’ programme in the north and east through an initiative with HSBC and Sarvodaya.
Wijeyeratne revealed that Microsoft’s philosophy stems from Microsoft Corporation Chairman Bill Gates’ desire to see as many people as possible have access to software across the world. “We see this as a responsibility, stemming from that philosophy. As a result, when a need is there, Microsoft will stand behind that need. Our focus is very widely spread.”
Pix by Daminda Harsha Perera