Information Communications Technology

The Golden Key Company, IBM's business partner for e-servers and POS systems, recently announced a strategic business partnership with Lakeview Technologies, USA, the industry leader in the development and distribution of managed availability, data integration, and clustering through its MIMIX solution, and IBM Sri Lanka. Picture shows Solutions Manager IBM ASEAN/SA - Kamal Wahi, AGM IT at Union Assurance Ltd - Chandana Jayasooriya, Deputy Chairman of The Golden Key Co - Khavan Perera, CEO Union Assurance Ltd - Sarath Wickramanayake, Director Marketing, Asia Pacific of Lakeview Technologies USA - Allan Campbell, and Deputy Chief Executive Director of The Golden Key Co - Suramya Karunaratne. This picture was taken prior to Wickramanayake's resignation from UAL.

Boost for IT from PM's visit to New York
The local IT industry is getting a major boost with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe leading a delegation to New York - one of the aims being to woo Sri Lanka's Diaspora to invest in IT ventures here.

This is also probably the first time several business leaders from the private sector are accompanying a Sri Lankan leader to the US. The delegation comprises representatives of local IT companies

Susantha Pinto, Chairman of Infotechs who is also a member of the delegation said, "The prime minister's presence adds a new dimension to this trip. It is mainly a show of presence encouraging investors to look at Sri Lanka as an investment destination. We are going with an open mind".

Pinto said the approach to encourage foreign investors would largely be through the Sri Lankan expatriate community. This community comprises several high-net worth individuals who would be encouraged to invest. In addition, several of the expatriates are commanding influential positions in investment banking, venture capital, etc.

As a company, Infotech has received expressions of interest from several parties in solutions developed by one of its subsidiaries Wavenet, that has already implemented a cross messaging solution among the local cellular operators.

Some of the activities that are scheduled to take place during the tour are a meeting of the Sri Lankan Diaspora, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce and individual business meetings planned by individual members of the delegation. These meetings have been organised by SriLankaFirst, the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka together with the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and the American Chamber of Commerce.

Similar efforts in the potential of the local IT industry has been highlighted in smaller efforts by local investment companies and others connected with the Sri Lankan Diaspora previously.

Industrialists hope that this visit would further add towards efforts being made to form a global network of the Sri Lankan Diaspora with the hope of raising awareness of the country as a favourable investment destination.

Among other IT representatives going to New York are Tony Weerasinghe (Millennium IT), Zarook Marikkar (Interlink Group), Sanjeewa Wickremanayake (East West Information Systems), Gamini Wickremasinghe (Informatics) and Kolitha Ratwatte (Lanka Online).

ICT Cluster holds retreat workshop
The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Industry Cluster formed with the assistance of The Competitiveness Initiative (TCI) held its second successive retreat/workshop recently at the Club Palm Garden Hotel in Beruwela.

The retreat focused on training people for the IT services sector, business plans, virtual business incubators, telecom reforms and cluster sustainability. Kabeer Hashim, Minister for Tertiary Education and Training presented his ministry's plans to train and make available human resources especially in the field of IT-enabled services. Professor Rohan Samarajiva also made a presentation on telecom reforms and implementation of the government's new telecom policy.

The ICT cluster has been working on various projects with a strategy to strengthen the industry and respond effectively to opportunities. Under the TCI project's short-term technical assistance programme (STTA), William Garrison, an international telecom consultant presented his findings and recommendations by way of a report based on the evaluation of the telecommunications market in Sri Lanka in the context of the communications service and infrastructure requirements for the IT industry. This report has been widely used as a base document for further studies in the telecom industry.

In addition to these initiatives, the cluster was also involved in preparing the very first version of the "Roadmap for ICT Success in Sri Lanka" for the Ministry of Economic Reforms, Science and Technology, which has now evolved into "e-Lanka - The ICT Development Roadmap for Sri Lanka". Other initiatives undertaken and completed by the cluster include proposals for the national budget and investment opportunities in the ICT industry in connection with the Prime Minister's visit to the United States. The cluster coordinator with the Software Exporters' Association co-convened the recently concluded global dialogue by videoconference on the ICT Roadmap for Sri Lanka.

In the near future the cluster with the assistance of the TCI project and Asia Foundation proposes to organise a national e-government conference.

The purpose of the conference is to focus discussion on e-government issues, bringing together local experience and international best practices.

The conference would be followed by the engagement of an international consultant to prepare a draft policy planning framework document on e-government to be submitted to the government.

To complete the cluster activities for this year, USAID/ANE Bureau as a complementary measure to cluster-led activities in Sri Lanka proposes to sponsor an ICT business development-matchmaking programme in the United States. The proposed programme would include at least two networking events in the US where potential investors and venture capitalists can meet with Sri Lankan entrepreneurs to discuss the development of ICT products, outsourcing, business and academic research.

The cluster includes CEOs of software development and hardware companies, heads of university faculties and research institutions, lawyers and senior officers of government agencies which include the BOI, EDB, TRC, UDA, CINTEC, etc.

As the cluster includes members across the business value chain, i.e. government agencies, academia and allied and supporting industries, it serves as a proxy for the ICT industry and as a special forum for examining and representing issues that are strategic in nature and are critical to the competitiveness of the industry.

VIP Lanka for busy individuals
A business and leisure portal launched by DPMC Electronics (Pvt) Ltd a few months ago is fast catching on among local Internet users as a one-stop portal for all their personal web-based activities. The Virtual Internet Plaza ( since its commissioning has developed an array of features from weather forecasts, business information to online transactions such as Internet shopping and banking.

The portal offers information services, transaction facilities and other Internet services like emails, etc. These include services for every individual comprising E-shopping, SMS Broadcasting, Enterprise Email, Exporters' Gateway, Fax Engine, Stock Market News, etc.

VIP Lanka is supported by a fine blend of sub-portals adding information related to finance, business, entertainment, leisure, news, education, shopping, sports etc. A unique feature, which is a favorite among visitors to the VIP Lanka site, is the online, real time payment facilities.

In addition to transactional activities, its information services include Online TV Programme Guides, Exchange Rates Information, Email Profiles, Online Library, Downloads and Mobile (WAP) interfaces etc.

VIP Lanka is hosted and maintained by DPMC Electronics (Pvt) Ltd, a company launched in October 1997 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of David Pieris Motor Company.

New cable to link SE Asia, ME & Europe
Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) and 12 other international telecommunications carriers recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Bali, Indonesia, to work jointly on the construction of a new submarine cable linking South East Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

The optical fibre cable will connect 12 countries: Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Italy and France. Some of the partners of the project include PT Indosat, Singapore Telecommunications Limited, Telekom Malaysia Berhad, Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board, Bharti Telesonic, Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited, Emirates Telecommunications Corporation, Saudi Telecom, Telecom Egypt, Telecom Italia SPA and France Telecom.

The project is currently in its planning stage and it is proposed to be built using Dense Wavelength Division Multiflexing (DWDM) technology with a capacity of 1.28 Terabits per second. The network will provide much needed bandwidth as the existing cables along the same route become saturated. At present, data traffic from South East Asia and the Middle East to Europe is routed via smaller capacity cables, mainly SEA-ME-WE 3 and FLAG.

Speaking about the cable project that is expected to be ready for service in 2004, SLT's CEO Shuhei Anan said, "Once the project is completed Sri Lanka will be poised to provide most required infrastructure to become the information communication technology hub of South Asia. In fact, we in Sri Lanka will be experiencing the discovery of the telecommunications silk route."

Support for IT systems very critical
By Akhry Ameer
As the use of ICT grows in leaps and bounds in many organisations today, various key drivers come into play in determining the appropriate technology and infrastructure. Nigel O'Shea, Head of IT at SriLankan Airlines, probably one of the largest IT centered organisations in the country, says the primary determinant is 'support' followed by reliability.

The Sunday Times spoke to O'Shea to ascertain how a large organisation manages its ICT capability. SriLankan's ICT growth could be described as exponential because until 1999, this large organisation was still using eight-inch floppy disks, a storage medium which was widely used in the 1980s, and it had only a data and communication department. Today the airline makes use of 71 network servers handling Local Area Networks (LAN) and Wide Area Networks (WAN), over 1900 desktop workstations and 2700 log-in accesses to meet its ICT needs.

According to O'Shea, it is the magnitude of this complex infrastructure that necessitates the need for standardisation of hardware and software technology. He said, "Too often the focus is on price, but support and reliability is critical. The products and suppliers need to have a proven track record." Such mission critical application needs have compelled many of the local suppliers to change their attitudes. The suppliers at the outset specified the support services available with them. In the case of SriLankan Airlines the suppliers now have to conform to the support needs specified in the tender documents.

SriLankan Airlines is different from many of the other large organisations because as an airline it has to run several specialised applications in addition to the normal business functions such as finance and procurement. In terms of software technology, SriLankan adopts Microsoft as a network, operating system and office application standard, while using Oracle and Oracle Financials for its data bases. In addition to this Unix servers support its backend requirements.

In response to a query on the development capabilities of the organisation, O'Shea said that only valued added systems are developed in-house such as fuel-monitoring, staff travel and leave applications. However, the IT department also provides the support for other systems in the various departments including the most critical flight operation systems. These include fleetwatch, cargo, schedules and flight planning systems that are provided by Societe Internationale Telecommunique Aeronautical (SITA), which manages a large part of the global airline industry network. The fleetwatch is a unique system in that it tracks all details of the entire fleet even while in the sky, so that the senior management have access to up-to-the-second information of its main product - air travel. SriLankan also leverages on its alliance with Emirates and uses the same system for reservation and departure control operations.

An important aspect for an organisation of this nature is its total dependency on IT systems. When asked how they manage system failures, the answer was 'manual procedures'. The airline also has certain specified manual procedures which the staff have to be aware of and these procedures are randomly checked from time to time. Yet another question that persists is how the staff is trained to use such systems. This is carried out through constant training sessions at the airline's Human Resources Development Centre by specialised trainers. Training also includes the better use of desktop tools like office applications and email which govern 75 percent of its correspondence. In addition, the IT department also runs a 24-hour help desk throughout the year with hotline numbers within the company for all IT problems. Training for the IT department staff on new technology is carried out by outside trainers and sometimes by sending members of the staff for specialised training to local and foreign institutions. The relevant IT staff is also encouraged to obtain Microsoft vendor certifications at company expense.

On the issue of security, O'Shea said that this is a highly vulnerable area and even with the best technology available, the ultimate protectors are the staff. The staff is required to sign an IT security policy when taking up employment and are educated and constantly urged to be imaginative and to change passwords often.

Having such a large infrastructure, yet another area of concern is managing them. The SriLankan Airlines IT department has its own procurement and asset management team due to the technicality surrounding the IT systems. It also has a system of barcoding every single piece of equipment and maintaining inventories of its physical location, etc. within the organisation.

One of the wisest investments ever made by the airline in terms of IT according to O'Shea is the purchase of a telecommunication licence. This has enabled the airline to have its own exchange and curtail high expenditure on telephone bills as it now only has to pay an annual licence fee to the Telecom Regulatory Commission.

When questioned on future IT developments, the IT head said that several projects are at various stages of development and feasibility study. These include a dedicated corporate database for management information, corporate networks for the overseas offices, migration from Microsoft NT Server to Windows 2000 Servers and an infrastructure refresher programme.

News in brief
Educational website
A local organisation has moved away from the general trend of regular websites and portals by launching what it claims, the first educational portal in Sri Lanka. has received a positive response from Sri Lankan students, parents and professional bodies, as a comprehensive educational portal within a short time since its launch, according to its creators Logical Systems (Pvt) Ltd.

The portal has details on studying abroad, corresponding agencies, affiliated universities and access to institutional directories, education financing entities, and professional bodies. It also provides information on local external university degrees.

The portal is also being expanded to provide e-learning facilities for international certifications such as Oracle, Microsoft and Sun, while partnering with reputed book publishers to enable online textbook purchases. Logical Systems is currently pursuing further investment to develop the portal.

eChannelling through Vanik branches
Local medical channelling website, has signed up with Vanik Incorporation (Pvt) Ltd to provide a corporate solution for the company's staff to obtain doctors' appointments through its Human Resources Division.

In addition to this, the solution will also be made available to the public through Vanik's 14 branches spread throughout the island. This enables the public living in areas like Kandy, Anuradhapura, Chilaw, Galle, Gampaha, Kurunegala, Matara, Nuwara Eliya, Ratnapura and Embilipitya to obtain appointments for over 500 doctors at hospitals such as Nawaloka, Durdans, Asiri and Oasis.

Echannelling Limited is Sri Lanka's first technology company listed on the Colombo Stock Exchange. Its main shareholders include Millennium Information Technologies, Ayojana Fund, Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation and DFCC Bank.

Low-priced laptop from Sala
Sala Enterprises Ltd launched a low-priced 2Ghz Pentium 4 laptop computer in the local market recently. The FOSA Elite 6100 has all configurations and facilities found in other brands and is targeted at the low income sectors globally.

The FOSA Elite 6100 has a Pentium 4 processor running at 2.0Ghz and a built-in memory of 128MB. It also has a 30GB hard-disk drive and video memory of 32MB with a 256bit 2D graphics engine. The machine also has an option for a combo drive where the user can switch between a DVD ROM and CD writer.

The FOSA Elite 6100 has been chosen as the best performance notebook of the year by the international IT magazine PC World in its July 2002 issue, according to its local agents.

Gestetner launches SMS service
Gestetner of Ceylon Ltd has launched the first SMS based Service Management System in Sri Lanka for its technical service operation.

Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya, Chief Executive Officer of Dialog GSM, inaugurated the system by sending the first SMS message to a field technician in the presence of Anton Senadipathi, Chief Executive Officer of Gestetner, Sabry Hafeel, Deputy General Manager of Gestetner and Jeremy Fernando, Managing Director of Innovative Data Solutions (Pvt) Limited (IDS).

This system was custom developed by IDS for Gestetner and it uses Short Message Service (SMS) of Dialog Network for two-way data communication between the Technicians and Gestetner head office in Colombo.

All customers of Gestetner can now report a breakdown or request for services by SMS in addition to the traditional modes like telephone, fax and e-mail. The company plans to provide over 10,000 of their customers this service.

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