Harin gives sneak preview of ‘2020 Digital Sri Lanka’ at CodeCraft launch

Friday, 2 December 2016 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

untitled-6 untitled-7

untitled-4‘Code Craft’, the nationwide search for Sri Lanka’s Most Secure Programmer, was launched by the Digital Infrastructure and Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando last Friday in Colombo.

The competition is organizsd by CICRA – Sri Lanka’s pioneering cyber security training and consultancy organisation – and the Daily FT. The competition is conducted through an internationally-renowned testing platform of the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants (EC-Council), USA.

CodeCraft is endorsed by the Ministry of Digital Infrastructure and Telecommunications and ICT Agency and the Ministry of Higher Education and Highways and the University Grants Commission as well as the IT-BPM and Knowledge Services Industry Chamber (SLASSCOM).

The competition is for university students, professionals, colleges and corporates engaged in software development and offers attractive prizes and recognition. (See box story.)

At the launch Chief Guest Minister of Digital Infrastructure and Telecommunications Harin Fernando together with ICT Agency CEO Muhunthan Canagey shared the Government’s 2020 Digital Sri Lanka vision.

Following are highlights of their presentation. 

The dream is to transforming Sri Lanka towards a creative knowledge based society through digitally empowered citizens.

Today, we have so many visions around which are diverse in different corners. They are not unified together. That is one of the key challenges that we have. Whether it is within the government or outside the government, we don’t have a unified vision. ICT itself is moving very fast on a day-to-day basis. How do we build this? It is not about going to the micro-level objectives of ICT but making sure a proper ecosystem is built so that macro-level objectives and policies would make sure Sri Lanka evolves as a technology moves forward.

Current education system is a major challenge. Does it (current education system) provide the tools and the knowledge and the know-how and the openness that requires innovation to be scrolled through the whole society and the system? ICT being a single subject but not used as a tool to enhance. We have ICT in our school curriculums but that is not going to change anything across. You need to make sure it is cross-sectional. The lack of qualified IT teachers, obsolete ICT curriculums and the unavailability of content in digital format are huge problems. Lack of entrepreneurial education and training are also limiting the opportunities for young Sri Lankans.

Then the challenge of connectivity. Sri Lanka is well advanced on this aspect with accessibility to broadband anywhere within the country. However true affordability of broadband connection and lack of service quality assurance are issues that need to be addressed.

With regard to economy, there is lack of entrepreneurship education and training whilst ICT development wasn’t a major priority for the Governments in the past. However this Government has laid heavy emphasis on ICT development. We need to keep this untitled-5consistent and it has to be a priority of the government to write along, irrespective of any political changes. Finally the aspect of political stability and how Sri Lanka is perceived by the ICT world and institutional resistance. 

When we try to implement a lot of things, there is a huge resistance. People are threatened by several factors but today, we need collaborative working. There shouldn’t be any silos. Citizens want one service to be achieved with a click of a button and that might requires 20 odd institutes collaborating with each other.  If we do not collaborate, we are bringing inconvenience for citizens.  Collaboration is a key aspect that needs to be a part of our ecosystem and our culture.

Connectivity is key

To achieve our proposed ICT developments, connectivity is the key. Sri Lanka is currently in a very good place, comparing to other APAC countries. We are ranked at the 62nd place without even putting our plans in place.  Countries like China and India are far behind us. So many people have been asking me about Google Loon. ICT is nothing without innovation and if innovation can come to Sri Lanka in the form of a balloon. Sometimes, things tend to fail but if this works, the entire country will be covered with 4G LTE technology. Right now, Sri Lanka has very good space. Two third of the country is covered in fibre optics with ventures by Dialog and Sri Lanka Telecom and we are continuously improving the connectivity on a good pace. Connectivity is something key for all the devices and digitization processes in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has a population of 21 million and we have five telco operators. Unfortunately, a majority of our citizens still use 2G. When you use 2G, the cost of providing Internet is very high. If you look at what the Finance Minister has done by increasing mobile internet charges, it is very progressive thinking. Maintaining 2G stations and providing internet through them is a costly affair. With taxes being imposed, telco operators have to think of switching into 3G or 4G or they have to pay a penalty. I believe it is the perfect way to get these companies into a single platform of providing proper technologies for citizens.

We have put up more than 400 free WiFi sites but we didn’t think of giving publicity for that. Due to that, we are being hammered by the public. We are going to fix that issue soon. However, by the end of December this year, we are trying to complete 500 sites and by next year, there will be 1000 sites up and running. There were some regulation issues but we are happy to say that we have fixed them too.

From next year, we are trying to introduce coding to every school, starting from Grade 9. We have put up a tender for 100 schools to untitled-9be digitally-equipped, implementing digital classrooms. For those 100 schools, we are looking at introducing tabs for every student from Grade 9 onwards. We will launch a pilot project soon for these 100 schools, that would be around 1.2 million students. If this works, we will have the perfect education system in Sri Lanka. Microsoft which is a strategic partner for CodeCraft is also partnering in the Government’s initiatives to empower schools digitally. 

We are progressing with the National Digital Identity (NDI), national backbone and National Security Operations Centre (SOC).

The tender for NDI has already closed. The technical evaluation has been done and the awarding has to happen before 20 December. Seven of the world’s best companies have quoted for this. It is a highly complicated project and after Estonia and Sweden, Sri Lanka will be the first country to implement this. The NDI will ensure that every citizen will have an NFC (Near Field Communication) card with a cryptographic private key embedded in it. This card will enable every citizen to do secure transactions. Every citizen from birth will have a digital wallet and this would mean that every citizen will be able to transact online. Digital documents can be digitally signed and dispatched digitally to Government institutions, reducing inefficiency and cost.

Developing a national backbone is about connecting all the regional cities into one common backbone. When that is being done, we have Internet access to all. 3G and 4G coverage are up and running in most parts of Sri Lanka. You should also look at this year’s budget. If telco operators don’t go into rural areas and do not implement 3G, there is a tax of Rs.100 million for every district that they don’t go in. It has been so long and we need to get going. It is not just about the return of investment but we need to make sure that societies are covered with proper technologies. If we are to run a digital economy, we need those in places.

On the other side, as all these technological developments take place, you need a solid data centre. Data has to be protected and citizens need to feel safe. That is why we are building a data centre. It is not just about ensuring the safety of data but making sure it is continuously on and running. 

On National SOC, we are spending Rs. 1 billion on the consultancies as well as setting up the National Security Operations Centre (SOC) for cyber security by 2017. The tenders are already out for that from ICTA. We can build the SOC but developing it is not something that we can in the short term. This is where we are working closely with international cloud providers who have actually studied the impact of cyber security threats. Those aspects are being closely monitored and we are trying to map those scenarios along with developing our CERT, in order to ensure that any threat could be negated.

A Date Privacy Act is also in the offing. Every citizen will have a digital wallet and empowered by financial inclusion. Every citizen will have a digital signature too. These initiatives will foster electronic transaction.

ICT industry is the future with so much potential and opportunities and ICT industry can take Sri Lanka forward.

We are fortunate to have a Prime Minister who is technology savvy and completely understands the importance of IT. This is a great boost for all of us, the ICT industry and Sri Lanka’s aspirations to become digitally inclusive.

Pix by Daminda Harsha Perera

untitled-10 untitled-11 untitled-12



UGC Chairman Prof. Mohan de Silva

University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman Prof. Mohan de Silva who was Guest of Honour in his speech emphasised the significance of the CodeCraft competition.

“This is a competition to get the university students and the corporate sector onboard into a competition, Code Craft – Hunt for Sri Lanka’S secure Coder with the objective of raising awareness and to highlight the importance of secure programming,” he said. 

Prof. de Silva said the competition will help to bring out the existing security systems in coding; highlight the strengths and weaknesses and helps to create innovative methods for secure coding.

“The competition will also help to identify and recognise new ideas. It will help to identify innovative talented young man and women, stimulate them and obviously such a competition will help to develop quality IT professionals in Sri Lanka. It will also bring the universities and Industry closer and helps to create able graduates from our state university system,” the UGC Chairman added.

In his speech, Prof. de Silva also said: “Change is inevitable. But the speed of change of the world during last two to three decades has been phenomenal. With the explosion of Information and Communication Technology, the world is becoming another small planet in the universe. As highlight during the recent BITT Asia Conference in Malaysia, South East Asia will be the fourth largest market in the world by 2030. It is expected that 40 million jobs to be created by 2030 and these are to in the fields of IT, Science and Technology. We in Sri Lanka must be appreciate of this fact.”

With such speed of change, there comes the global competition; new imaginations, new makings, novel creations and new innovations have been in the forefront of this global competition.

“For all these we need new knowledge and imagination. This is essential in the world competition. Man is curious by nature. In fact, Albert Einstein has once said, I quote, ‘I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious’. Curiosity leads to imaginations. Imagination is thought to be more important than knowledge. Imagination increases the thirst for new knowledge to make imaginations, a reality.

“Imagination embraces the entire world. It is a continuously stimulating process and this is a real factor in progress for research and innovation and eventually commercialisation and as this competitions highlights the security of cyber information. Such attempts in young minds create new abilities; the focused thinking; the analytical skills and learning to come to conclusions based on the presently available information. It is a secondary outcome.

“This makes an able human resource within inverted commas an ‘employable people’ and helps to fill the skills mismatch that we all see in our country. May I wind up by saying again, how honoured I feel, to have been invited to be part of this important event.”