Sri Lanka: Whither onshore BPOs @BOP?

Posted on December 29, 2008  /  8 Comments

Recessions are not bad for everybody. Proverbial silver line in the cloud, they bring hope to some. Success of the India BPO industry can partially be attributed to the post 9/11 recession. Tighter the economy, cheaper the solutions business looks for.

How far onshore rural BPOs cater to the needs of their clients? It might not exactly be toy manufacturing outsourced to rural China, but close. The connectivity issues still exist, and capacity building too remains a challenge. The good news is in spite of all that things do happen.


Isura Seneviratne, 22, runs OnTime Technologies at Mahavilachchiya – the first rural BPO in Sri Lanka, born as a joint effort of Horizon Lanka Academy and FARO (Foundation for Advancing Rural Opportunities). Isuru and its first manager Nirosh did the business plan. Trained in Laos and India for BPO work, Isuru knows the nuts and bolts of the game. The operation is still lean, only 8 seats against 25 – the expect target within the first year of operation. Cannot blame because the business had to face the hard challenge of not only building capacity but also pulling legs by different parties. Fortunately the internal politics is now over with the bold step by Lovina Charles, a key donor of the Horizon project at Mahavilachchiya expressing her full backing for the BPO.

At OnTime technologies an operator earns Rs. 8,000 (USD 72) minimum per month, while the highflyers take something like Rs. 13,000 (USD 120) home. Assuming a reasonable PPP ratio this is equivalent to earning USD 240 – 300 in Colombo.


OnTime Technologies offer data entry, data verification, data Indexing, scanning, web designing and graphic designing services. Isuru is proud to mention his clients, John Keells Holdings and Dialog Telekom, two conglomerates. His next goal is a project too ambitious. From Mahavilachchiya Isuru and his team is going to handle the daily issues for a hotel network.

Isuru is not alone in the game.

Jayantha Wickramaratne of Panamura Nenasala, Embilipitita (a telecenter setup under the World Bank funded e-Sri Lanka program) provides e-commerce services using the e-Bay model through the site Advertisements placed by service providers are made available to the large base of site’s users. Anyone who has a job too can place an advertisement which will be then offered to a bidder through a competitive bidding process.

Selvaratnam Sri Kanthan of Koslanda Nenasala too runs a rural BPO service for local and international clients. Partnered with NLingua Services of New Delhi, a voice transcription and translation service, his Nanasala employs Koslanda residents to translate and transcribe audio files from Tamil or Sinhala into English, or vice versa. Web Design is another service he offers.

This does not mean everything runs perfectly. There are so many issues to be addressed. (For example Isuru can do a better job with a link of higher capacity than his present 256 kbps one) Still these courageous and innovative young men and women bring us hope – in difficult times.


  1. Do your BPO but move the agriculture on a parallel line. Concentrate on two or three products. You will have a better prospects on this path.

    Donald Gaminitillake
    I set the standard

  2. I think you should know FARO and Mahavilachichiya BPO also ICTA funded e-Srilanka project.


  3. Thanks. Chitranganie Mubarak of ICTA has been instrumental in starting the project. The project also received Rs. 500k (about USD 5,000) from the e-Society funds which will be used for equipment – purchased but not installed yet.

    Other than that, OnTime is not a typical ICT4D project fully funded by a donor. Standing on its own feet, it is a sound business venture.

  4. It is heartening to read about this project. i4d magazine had published an article recognising this young entrepreneur with a vision in July 2007. It was to encourage a young 19 year old CEO of a rural BPO.

    Now, again in January 2009, we will be revisiting this theme on how this sector has evolved, and to address employment potential of the rural ICT initiatives and sustainability issues that often worry project partners.

  5. In the previous post, please click on my name (which is hyperlinked to the article of July 2007, on rural BPO in Sri Lanka …)

  6. Many thanks i4d. The article you published was a great encouragement…

  7. this is very great full work for rural IT development outsourcing is huge potential for rural youth the work force are in villages but some one must develop the infrastructure so we can change the rural Eranning culture with IT BPO

  8. I want connect with your acdamy.