Ingredients for the best concoction of knowledge
Need for an apex body to pull things together
Focusing on four key areas he posed as questions that need answers in order to move forward with a successful knowledge hub concept, Commercial Bank Chairman Dinesh Weerakkody noted that the country must concentrate on getting the key pillars of creating the hub right and then form an apex body that integrates all projects under one roof.
His four focus areas or questions were:
1. What is a knowledge hub? (Because there is so much confusion about what it really means)
2. Do we have a goal of aspiration for this knowledge hub? What is our positioning?
3. What are the key pillars required to create the hub?
4. Finally how do you pull this together to create the hub?
“A knowledge hub in my view is a location where you can source skills you need for the creation of products and services and for the creation of wealth,” Weerakkody said. In terms of a goal, the country must know what its positioning is for the future.
“Like Bangladesh is aggressively luring global pharmaceutical manufacturers and their universities are also focusing on that or Philippines being very good at developing people for call centres, what is Sri Lanka’s positing?” he questioned. Dr. Navaratne replied that with good analytic graduates and CIMA graduates, the focus is on KPO development.
On the key pillars needed to create the knowledge hub, Weerakkody mentioned skills and competencies the markets/investors require, the infrastructure necessary for this such as universities, the VTCs, facilities, networks, research labs, etc., and the right policy framework to attract knowledge hunters, manufacturers and developers. “My argument is that unless you get the three pillars right, there is no way you can create this hub.”
The biggest challenge of them all is how we can pull all this together. Unless we get the primary, secondary education, universities and other educational institutes to work together towards one common goal, all other efforts will not make the necessary impact.
“If you want to create a knowledge hub, we have to have the right skills. Private sector also needs to leverage on this talent,” he said. Time has now come to form an apex body that has the power to pull everything together and under one common goal. “Unless that happens it will be tough creating this knowledge hub and we will continue doing the same thing and not achieve much,” Weerakkody assured.
The need for global branding
SLASSCOM Chairman Madu Ratnayake noting that the past five years have been good for the IT and knowledge services, said that the country must internationally create a brand for itself, flaunting its capabilities to attract more attention on its knowledge-based services.
In the past five years, from SLASCCOM’s point of view, in IT and knowledge services, revenue grew over 180%, with US$ 600 million coming in as exports. The employment base also grew over 100% from 32,000 to 62,000, along with the number of enterprises in Sri Lanka.
“From an employment, revenue, and enterprise point of view we have made great progress over the last five years,” Ratnayake said.
Globally, the country has been recognised for its excellence in IT and BPO. Among its accolades is the title of ‘Destination of the Year’ by National Outsourcing Association (NOA) UK last September.
He noted that times are good for the development of financial services, especially in the KPO sector. Sri Lanka has the second largest school of UK qualified accountants after England and this could be pitched to the global multinationals coming here for talent. It is also an exciting time for product developers because the technology that is required to build software product is affordable. “Global companies such as Intel and Motorola are coming here for product development. Local companies have also been able to get into the global market with their products.”
The industry is looking at 1,000 start-ups by 2022 on which to focus its development for the future. “To get there you need a few things,” Ratnayake said. Among them branding is key. “Sri Lanka has still not gone for knowledge services globally. We have to focus on elevating the brands globally.” World class education to ensure that the talent is continued is also imperative.
Having the need to serve, leave ‘no debts to the country’
One of the biggest problems to date is the retention of knowledge, Codegen Ltd. CEO Harsha Subasinghe said. Noting that a large sum is invested by parents, Government and a considerable sum going from taxpayers’ money on creating knowledge and educating students, he assured that more often than not, those educated seek employment overseas.
“Are we going to create knowledge for Singapore or for us? Retention is important,” he said.
What must also be considered important is how we make money out of knowledge. “We must go back and think why we cannot make Apple or Google here. Is the knowledge we create suitable?”
As an industry, the capacity available in the market at present is not enough, he expressed. Lack of capacity forces costs to increase – R&D will cost more, and along with that cost of development, cost of wages, manufacturing, etc. will also rise. “Are we going to be competitive is the next question.”
What must be done? Changing the education system is imperative, Subasinghe assured. “Capacity must increase, this means increasing infrastructure and that means lecturers. How can we attract them?”
Fundamentally, what is needed is a mindset change where people will start creating new products and brands. Government, he said has taken a lot of steps to improve education and industrial sector, even retaining efforts such as city beautification so that they could live in the city, just as comfortably as in Singapore.
“If they want to give something back to the country they must. If you can say ‘ratata naya netha’ – no debt to the country, then that is when you have served your country well,” Subasinghe said.