IT/BPM Sector, Potential to be No. 1 Export Earner

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This two-part series is based on a recent Sri Lanka Association for Software and Services Companies (SLASSCOM) survey on the country’s IT/Business Process Management (BPM) sector.

While the first part largely revolves around the potentiality of the industry, the second and last part is mainly based around the present state of the industry.

“ IT/ BPM is Sri Lanka’s industry of the future with potential to become the number one export revenue earner for Sri Lanka,” SLASSCOM in a recent report said.

 SLASSCOM in its report titled ‘IT / BPM Industry of Sri Lanka Employability Skills Survey’ released on its website on 5 June 2022 further said that the main purpose of the ‘SLASSCOM Employability Skills Survey 2021’ is to obtain evidence from Sri Lanka’s IT/BPM marketplace to facilitate discussion and initiate action with relevant industry stakeholders.

“The employability skills survey covers SLASSCOM’s member companies that recruit graduates for IT/BPM and related technology job roles, aiming to identify the required employability skills currently required in the industry as well as the emerging skills,” SLASSCOM Chairperson Sandra De Zoysa in a message said. It (the study) also assists SLASSCOM in improving the employability of undergraduates in the IT/BPM industry and enables SLASSCOM to devise appropriate interventions to educate and equip faculties to impart necessary skills that will be useful, she added.

“Unless otherwise explicitly mentioned, all comments and findings in this report are based on survey responses and findings,” the report said. The survey report entails responses from a total of 50 companies spanning diverse operations, business scales and focus industries, SLASSCOM further said in the report.

The survey was carried out via an online questionnaire shared amongst Sri Lankan domiciled companies involved in IT/BPM operations. The survey was conducted between August-October 2021 and shared with senior management officers of participant companies, it said.

Some survey details included:-Nature of business: IT service company (20 per cent); IT product and service company (36 per cent); BPM (12 per cent); “Other” (Consulting services, IT staff augmentation services)-Eight per cent and IT product company (24 per cent), respectively.

“Number of years in business”:- Staff strength Less than three years (four per cent); Between three to eight years (18 per cent); Between eight to 15 years (32 per cent) and more than 15 years (46 per cent).Staff strength:- 0 – 50 (24 per cent); 50 – 150 staff (20 per cent); 150 – 250 staff (26 per cent); 250 – 500 staff (14 per cent) and above 500 (16 per cent) respectively.

Forty eight per cent of the respondent companies offer software services and website/app development services, the survey report said. A considerable number of companies are engaged in IP creation, software products, software services, middleware, and licensing. Of the overall respondents, 12 per cent of firms provide BPO/KPO (knowledge process outsourcing) services, the report added.

Over 50 per cent revenue from exports

Further, the majority of survey respondent companies generate a larger share (over 50 per cent) of revenues from exports, it said. Member organisations of SLASSCOM account for approximately 90 per cent of the IT/BPM industry export revenue, the report also said.

Top five trending technologies currently in use by the surveyed companies were:- Cloud Platforms and Technologies (91 per cent), Mobility Platforms and Applications (73 per cent), Analytics Platforms and Applications (61 per cent), Internet of Things (48 per cent) and Big Data Platforms and Processing (43 per cent), the SLASSCOM survey report further said.

Amongst currently trending technologies in common use are cloud platforms and technologies, mobility platforms and applications and analytical platforms and applications, it said. “Emerging technologies will drive demand over the next 18 months whilst currently high-use areas will continue dominance,” the survey said.

Top five trending technologies to be used within next 18 months:- Machine Learning / AI – Neural Nets Related (25 per cent), Blockchain (23 per cent), Machine Learning / AI – Non Neural Nets Related (20 per cent), Big Data Platforms and Processing (18 per cent) and Robotic Process Automation (18 per cent), it said.

Therefore, the race to acquire top talented technology professionals is on the rise given the digitisation happening across all industry sectors that in fact, even non-tech companies are increasingly recruiting tech professionals to help their digitisation efforts, it said. But this has augmented the continuing scarcity of competent tech professionals, the SLASSCOM report said.

 In the above context, it is vital for leaders and the people managers to understand the skills that are in demand in the marketplaces. This understanding will help them to create strategies to attract, engage and retain talent, SLASSCOM further said. However, the responsibility not only lies with the employers and business leaders. The educators in the IT/BPM sector are also equally responsible in considering both the quality and the quantity of talent supply into the market, it said.

Embracing emerging technologies

This situation exists in the backdrop of the ever-advancing technologies and revolutionising workplaces because of the advance of such technologies, said SLASSCOM. Sri Lankan companies have embraced emerging technologies to provide more efficient and effective solutions whilst driving skills demand in such essential emerging technologies, it said.

In particular, exploiting new technologies and re-skilling of the workforce will help BPM companies to capture business opportunities especially in technology-focused sectors, the report said. “This report (see also below) sets out the survey responses analysed and presented in aggregate form,” emphasised SLASSCOM.

Robotic process automation and work flow management (BPM) tools are currently the most prevalent, whilst blockchain, process mining, computer vision and machine learning / AI (neural networks related) are trending technologies planned for wider use within next 18 months, the report said.

Survey responses indicate that local companies are well invested in most of the essential emergent technologies globally recognised as having the highest impact and commercial viability across industries in the upcoming years.:- Artificial Intelligence, AR/VR,  Block Chain, Drones, Internet of Things, Robotics, 3D Printing, Cyber Security, Embodied AI, Automating Trust, Conversational Interfaces, Extended Reality and Intelligent Automation, said SLASSCOM.

Companies will look to develop talent in order to merge these essential technologies to create the next wave of innovation, many of which are already available to witness across multiple sectors and applications, it said.

“Need for professionals in currently high-demand areas will continue in both IT and BPM sectors; however, emerging technologies will drive demand for future skill needs within next 18 months,” were some of the key findings of the SLASSCOM report.

 A majority of Sri Lankan IT-BPM workforce is involved in higher value-adding work with increasing levels of women’s participation witnessed in recent years, it added.

The Sri Lankan talent pool combines technical and cognitive skills developed through a strong foundation of STEM (science, technology, engineering and Mathematics) subject studies. Size of talent pool available for IT/BPM industry sourcing:-State University Statistics (2014 – 2018 average):  312,258 (Sat for O/L); 68 per cent qualified for A/L; 210,866 sat for A/L; 62 per cent eligible to enter university and 65 per cent eligible to enter University are females.

General Education Output: 180,000+: Number of candidates passing A/L exam ( three Subjects) in 2019; 73,000+: Number of students obtaining top marks (A or B grades) in English subject for O/L exam and 71 per cent: Computer literacy rate of individuals completing secondary education.

Sri Lanka University System:- State universities (approximate annual intake): 30,000 + students and private institutes (approximate annual intake): 35,000 + students.

Education in National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ):- 36,000+: Average number completing TVET programmes  in ICT and engineering disciplines p.a; 10,000+: Average number completing TVET programmes in finance, banking and management p.a. Competency levels vary depending on NVQ level Completed.

Professional education in finance and accounting discipline:-16,000+ Approximate number of members of finance and accounting (F&A) professional bodies currently residing in the country (2019) & 85,000+ Approximate number of students currently enrolled for finance and accounting professional exams (2019) Cumulative of those engaged in CIMA,ACCA,CFA,CASL and AATSL.

Nonetheless, 34 per cent of the IT/BPM companies captured in this survey said that among the reasons for failure to fill graduate vacancy positions were inadequate/ incompatible graduate technical skill levels, it said. Among the other reasons were: “Graduates are available, yet inadequate/ incompatible graduate soft skill levels” (22 per cent), “Irreconcilable salary expectations of graduates” (20 per cent), “Lack of availability of required graduates (supply shortage)”-17 per cent, “Company decision to scale down graduate hires” ( two per cent) and “Other” ( five per cent), respectively. Percentages reflect share of respondent companies reporting.

Top public sector institutes for graduate hiring:- University of Colombo 72%, University of Moratuwa 70%, University of Kelaniya 28%, University of Sri Jayewardenepura 26% & University of Peradeniya 24%. % of respondent companies Note: Value shows % of respondent companies selecting given institute as amongst their top three picks for graduate recruitment

Top skills employers seek from new graduate hires:- Analytical and problem solving84%, ability to acquire new knowledge62%, communication skills 60%, conceptual knowledge 50%,  theoretical skills 50%, teamwork 44%, ability to work independently 40%, ability to come up with new solutions & ideas 38%, demonstrating responsibility at work 28%, strategic thinking 16%,  decision making skills 16%,  business acumen 8%,  negotiation & leadership skills (2% each respectively). % of respondent companies. Note: Value shows % of respondent companies selecting an attribute to be amongst their top 5 skills / attribute sought from new graduates.

Skill level satisfaction for graduates recruited from popular higher education institutes:- Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology: Analytical and problem solving (3.1), ability to acquire new knowledge (3.2), Communication skills (3.2),  conceptual knowledge (3.3) and theoretical skills (3.3). Informatics Institute of Technology: Analytical and problem solving (3.2), ability to acquire new knowledge (3.3), Communication skills (3.3), conceptual knowledge (3.3) and theoretical skills (3.7). National School of Business Management: Analytical and problem solving (2.9), ability to acquire new knowledge (3.1), Communication skills (3.0), conceptual knowledge (3.1) and theoretical skills (3.1).

National Institute of Business Management: Analytical and problem solving (2.8), ability to acquire new knowledge (3.2), Communication skills (3.1), conceptual knowledge (3.0) and theoretical skills (3.2). Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology: Analytical and problem solving (3.2), ability to acquire new knowledge (3.7), Communication skills (3.6), conceptual knowledge (3.4) and theoretical skills (2.8). University of Colombo: Analytical and problem solving (3.6), ability to acquire new knowledge (3.7), Communication skills (3.4), conceptual knowledge (3.6) and theoretical skills (3.8). University of Moratuwa: Analytical and problem solving (3.8), ability to acquire new knowledge (3.8), Communication skills (3.2), conceptual knowledge (3.8) & theoretical skills (4.0). University of Kelaniya: Analytical and problem solving (3.0), ability to acquire new knowledge (3.5), Communication skills (2.7), conceptual knowledge (3.0) & theoretical skills (3.7). University of Sri Jayewardenepura: Analytical and problem solving (3.2), ability to acquire new knowledge (3.5), Communication skills (2.8), conceptual knowledge (3.3) & theoretical skills (3.7). And, University of Peradeniya: Analytical and problem solving (3.3), ability to acquire new knowledge (3.6), Communication skills (3.1), conceptual knowledge (2.9) and theoretical skills (3.2). Note: Based on survey responses, ‘horizontal bar’ represents the satisfaction level across top skill levels sought by employers and performance of graduates recruited from popular institutes (average score with 1 – lowest and 5 – highest)

Majority of BPM companies have also preferred graduates with IT related degrees whilst Bachelor’s Degrees in Business Management, Entrepreneurship / Innovation and Multimedia Studies are few of the specific programs sought by BPM sector respondents:- Preferred Degree programmes offered by popular higher education institutes: Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology: Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology 42%, Bachelor’s Degree in Computing 23% and Other programes 8%.Informatics Institute of Technology: Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology 30%, Bachelor’s Degree in Computing 17% and other programmes 11%. National School of Business Management: Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology 8%, Bachelor’s Degree in Computing 15% and other programmes 9%. National Institute of Business Management: Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology 11%, Bachelor’s Degree in Computing 8% and other programmes 2%. Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology: Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology 9%, Bachelor’s Degree in Computing 4% and other programmes 2%. University of Colombo: Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology 32%, Bachelor’s Degree in Computing 25% and other programmes 8%. University of Moratuwa: Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology 30%, Bachelor’s Degree in Computing 21% and other programmes13%. University of Kelaniya: Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology 8%, Bachelor’s Degree in Computing 9% and other programmes 6%. University of Sri Jayewardenepura: Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology 6%, Bachelor’s Degree in Computing 6% and other programmes 8%. University of Peradeniya: Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology 6%, Bachelor’s Degree in Computing8% and other programmes 9%. % means, percentage of respondent companies. 

(Next week: SL Possesses ‘Advanced’ IT/BPM Pool)

By Paneetha Ameresekere