Sri Lankan Software Industry: Repeating an experiment once failed?

Posted on February 14, 2009  /  11 Comments

murthy2Narayana Murthy, the ‘IT Guru’ is in Colombo. ‘Entrepreneurship and IT for National Integration: A Challenge for Sri Lanka’ was his topic addressing Sri Lankan software industry representatives, on Saturday. The well attended event was organized by the three month old Sri Lanka Association of Software and Service Companies (SLASSCOM) that has ambitious plans to follow elder brother, NASSCOM.

Murthy talked for 40 minutes, and delivered the gems, for anybody to pick. Develop infrastructure; Build HR or import if not enough; Encourage foreign investment; Avoid fat government; Give confidence to private sector; Nurture venture capitalists: Change labour laws; Provide equal opportunities for both genders; Ensure peace, political stability and correct fiscal environment because they are the key to the growth of IT and ITES industries and don’t be scared to innovate. That was the txt ver.

For most IT professionals in the audience, the speech might have sounded strangely familiar. No surprise. It was the same wisdom the speaker shared with almost the same crowd in 2003, as IT advisor to then Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe – who unfortunately wasn’t there in the audience today to confirm. (We are told Murthy was appointed, or rather re-appointed, IT advisor yesterday, this time to President Mahinda Rajapakse.)

Will it be too blunt to ask whether Sri Lankan software industry needs the very guidance, six years later?

Perhaps it does, like that naughty boy who never listen to his teachers. SLASSCOM Chairman Ranjit Fernando repeatedly reminded, in global terms, Sri Lanka’s IT industry is still at its infancy. Not sure what Central Bank would say. In 2003, combined IT and ITES industry in Sri Lanka was USD 80 million. For 2007, Central Bank didn’t give a figure. Industry estimates it between USD 100 -150 million. Some development but might not be as impressive as the ‘Hindu rate of growth’ across Palk Strait. According to Murthy, the USD 60 billion Indian IT/ITES industry now provides 250,000 direct and 300,000 indirect employment opportunities. Fernando wants to increase the 11,000 IT jobs in Sri Lanka today to 100,000 within three years, by following the Indian example. Extremely ambitious plan, in a time of global recession.

Peter De Almeida, of N-Able has different views. We tried, he says, but missed the bus. Why try repeating the same? Why not try differently? Perhaps he has a point. It was Einstein who reportedly defined insanity as repeating the same experiment and expecting different results.


  1. Are you sure this is what the high priest preached?

    Avoid fat government?

    It was just weeks before the President boasted his government increasing the public sector employment from 700,000 to 1.2 million within three years!

    Encourage foreign investment? Import HR?

    I wonder what the JVP sahodarayaas have to say about that.

    Give confidence to private sector?

    How? Most private sector firms can’t even pay their staff salaries these days because of lost business.

    Wonderful advices!!

  2. The ‘Reid Avenue mafia’ has historically dominated, inter alia, the Sri Lanka’s IT business. Now long forgotten, early ‘90s official photographs of computer vendors’ association that hang in many a board rooms tell it all. This was the same mafia, mind you, not business but social, that backed Ranil Wickramasinghe in the e-Sri Lanka days. I was once puzzled why Ranil wanted a Colombo based commercial banker, who has virtually no experience in either IT or rural development to lead such a program. Enlightened later on the mechanism. Though tiny and almost invisible, this network remote controls more things than we think. It was clicking one button to make a bulldozer run. Being a part of it very much Ranil knew its power. Sadly Ranil being Ranil underestimated the power of other networks. His didn’t fail but others were stronger.

    Ironically this is the same mafia that has now gathered around Mahinda Rajapakse. It is only a repetition of history as a farce, when we see another banker, with no IT or rural development experience and incidentally from the same religious and social background is chosen to lead the It component of the IT and English year by a self proclaimed nationalist government. So as we say in Sinhala, although the jungle has changed the spots of the tiger remains same. The nexus between the nationalist and populist government whose voter base is predominantly rural, and the remnant of a once powerful social class is yet to be seen. It would be a game worth watching, Mahinda trying to pump as much money as possible to Medamulana, while the mafia sucking whatever possible back to Colombo. Who takes whom for a ride?

    Meanwhile, Malinda Seneviratne may be shocked to discover how nationalism works at ground level.

    1. Oh No, One guy called Ariyasinghe is not a scholar when it comes to computers. I am sure he was appointed as someone’s henchman. He got fired from 2 us based companies, a guy who find fault with everything how could he lead such a group.

  3. @Gamarala,

    Castism was there even in Indian IT industry. If I remember correctly, Murthy was the odd one out of the big four, being a Brahmin with a different background (civil engineer, former Marxist); the rest, traditional business class.

    Such things are inevitable and will change only with time. But there are exceptions. Not sure about software, but see the growth of PC House from the scratch.

  4. Mata nam beriyoooooooooooooooo

    Murthy pulls back as IT advisor to president

    Infosys Technologies chairman and chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy has declined to be the IT advisor to the Sri Lankan government, the IT bellwether said Wednesday.

  5. How dare you say this? See the people lined up fpr Year of English and IT. The best in the field.

    Presidential Task Force on English and IT


    Hon. Dr Sarath Amunugama, Minister of Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion



    Mr Sunimal Fernando,
    Advisor to the President

    Member/Coordinator – English


    Mr Ranjit Fernando, Project Leader – ICBP, Information & Communication Technology Agency

    Member/Coordinator – IT


    Mr Nimal Bandara, Secretary, Ministry of Education



    Ms M B Ekanayake, Secretary, Ministry of Science & Technology



    Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary, Ministry of Disaster Management & Human Rights



    Rev. Metthavihari Thero, Dharmavahini Foundation



    Prof. P W Epasinghe, Advisor to the President/Chairman, Information & Communication Technology Agency



    Mr Deepal Sooriyaarachchi, Managing Director, Eagle Insurance Ltd



    Mr Duminda Ariyasinghe, Executive Director – Investment Promotion, Board of Investment of Sri Lanka



    Mr Reshan Dewapura, Chief Operating Officer, Information & Communication Technology Agency



    Mr Lucien Rajakarunanayake, Director, PRIU, Presidential Secretariat



    Dr Lloyd Fernando, Programme Director – Distance Learning, Postgraduate Institute of Management



    Mr Maxi Prelis, Former CEO – DFCC Bank, and Director Dialog Telekom Ltd



    Mr Ravi Perera, Consultant, Lake House Ltd



    Ms Alikie Perera, Additional Deputy Secretary General, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce



    Ms Chandra Amarasekera, Consultant, Ministry of Education



    Mr Neil Gunadasa, Director (IT), Ministry of Education



    Ms Gowri Shankar, President, CIMA – Sri Lanka Division



    Mr Mano Sekeram, CEO, Euro Center DDC



    Mr Sanath Fernando, CEO, Ridgecrest Asia (Pvt) Ltd



    Mr Madhu Ratnayake, Senior Director, Virtusa (Pvt) Ltd



    Mr Roshan Razool, Director/CEO, Softlogic Holdings (Pvt) Ltd



    Mr K Lionel Premachandra, Director/English, Ministry of Education



    Mr Anura Dissanayake, Project Director Secondary Education Modernization project, Ministry of Education

  6. Although my name is there, those fellahs at Pres Sec didn’t even give me a speech. One way, that too is better, because had they given me an opportunity, I would have not known what to say.

    Epa Seeya, Kirimandala Mawatha

  7. Please do not drag me into this. I know nothing about Narayana Murthy. I only reengineer governments.

  8. It is sad that Sri Lanka ICTs has entered to second Jurassic age. We thought it ended when the Tyrannosaurus rex kicked the bucket but looks like a next set of dinos have taken over.

    See the above list. Sunimal Fernando, Ranjit Fernando, Rajiva Wijesinha, P W Eapasinghe, Lucien Rajakarunanayake.Who are these people? What do they know about ICTs?

    They are basically very old, retired and otherwise unemployable people from various disciplines, know next to nothing about ICTs and just gather around the light because ICT is not a profession. Like in case of doctors, engineers, lawyers and accountants there is nothing to prevent their entry. All they need is a fat figure to supplement their meagre pensions. That too was the case of old Tyrannosaurus rex. The reason that compelled him that heavily paid job was money. Not that he wanted or could do anything to ICTs.

    I have nothing against these relics earning few bucks; they also have to pay their electricity and phone bills; but that should not be at the cost of blocking talented youngsters.

  9. One of the main reasons for me to back down was this list of dinos. We did the changes in India with relatively young and dynamic people. But in Sri Lanka, the people who gave dead ropes to previous governments and led them to dead ends are still leading the President into the dead ends. So, I cannot damage my reputation.

  10. Please do not drag me into this. I know nothing about Narayana Murthy. I only reengineer governments.