The name Anuradha Tennakoon is fairly if not very well known by everyone in the IT Industry. Anuradha was awarded the ICT Life Time Achiever Award or Most Outstanding Contribution Award in 2015 for over 25 years of contribution that he rendered for the development of ICT industry in Sri Lanka.
Who exactly is Anuradha Tennakoon?
Hailing from Nikaweratiya, a remote town in Kurunegala, Anuradha reminisces that IT exposure in his area was almost nonexistent and thus the knowledge of IT followed a similar suit. He carried out his primary education in a few smaller schools in the area and studied for his GCE O/Ls at Vijayaba National College, Nikaweratiya, Maho and then proceeded with his GCE A/Ls at Ibbagamuwa Central College.
Following the completion of his ALs, Anuradha joined the Overseas Telecommunication Service as a Technical Officer, further continuing his engineering studies. In 1979, he joined Oman Telecommunication as a Field engineer. After being employed there for 3 ½ years, Anuradha joined Bahrain Telecommunications Company as a Control Engineer at the International Switching and Testing Center.
It was then that he realized that the telecommunication industry is facing a complete overhaul as everything was going fully digital following numerous advancements in technology. In addition, software based solutions were also being introduced. Ever eager to learn Anuradha furthers studied in computing.
The Prodigal Son Returns
In 1991, he came back to Sri Lanka and joined Singapore Telecom. His initial targeted position was an engineer for the X.25 network but he was actually offered the position of Account Executive as they had seen his technical and customer oriented attitude as well. Never one to complain, Anuradha accepted the post gracefully. From there, he joined Informatics, the leading IT systems integrator as Assistant Sales Manager. During his 6-year employment period there, he rose to the position of Divisional Manager, Marketing.
During this period, Informatics won the award for developing largest computerization systems at the time. These systems included the Sri Lanka Telecom Billing and Revenue System, Department of Motor Traffic System, Immigration System, Maldivian Telecommunication, all of which were developed by Informatics. It was Anuradha’s job as the Marketing Head to ensure that Informatics won the relevant Tenders. It was by all means no easy task, Anuradha says. The market was highly competitive and he and his team pushed themselves to the limit to get the job done, and it clearly paid off.
The Birth of Mobinetix
In February of 1999, Anuradha Tennakoon joined Mobinetix as General Manager, Sri Lanka R&D Center. At the time, Mobinetix was a little known company in US Silicon Valley. A droplet in the vast ocean that is the IT Industry. They specialized in payment terminals. However, Mobinetix Sri Lanka had an advantage. They were the only company at the time specializing in embedded software development. The company began with just 8 engineers. This was the kickstart to Anuradha’s career. Over the next 18 years, the company went through no more than 4 acquisitions.
Anuradha explained that the first 6 to 12 months of an are the most volatile as it can make or break it. He recalls his boss, Llavan Fernando with great respect. Llavan, a Sri Lankan born American was an investor in the US company MobiNetix and @POS. Llavan and Anuradha both then proceeded to develop Mobinetix in selected technologies thus making it technologically competent. As a result, Mobinetix improved their business model to provide more specialized models.
From Mobinetix to Symbol Technologies
In the year 2001, MobiNetix split into two. The hardware manufacturing company was renamed to @POS, and the Software development company was renamed to Crossvue. In the year 2002, Crossvue was acquired by @POS and in the year 2004, @POS was acquired by Symbol Technologies.
Symbol and @POS both applied for a large tender project in the US. Against all the odds and despite their small size as well, @POS won. Their value was immediately obvious to Symbol, thus prompting them to acquire @POS. It seemed again for a moment, that Hardware and Software were again under the same umbrella.
The Symbolic Acquisition by Motorola
Fast forward to the year 2008, where Symbol was Acquired by Motorola Technologies. Anuradha remained at his position of Country Manager, Director (Engineering). Motorola saw Symbol having a complementary range of products serving the enterprise customers and as such, acquired Symbol for their technology.
In the year 2012, Motorola split into two divisions; Motorola Solutions (Enterprise division) and Motorola Technology (the Mobile division). Anuradha became part of Motorola Solutions. That division was responsible for the development and manufacturing of Two way Radios, Barcode scanners, Mobile computers and Wireless LAN. Trading blows with the big names such as CISCO and Juniper, Motorola ranked 4th for high tech routers.
When a Zebra became the King of the Jungle
2014 was the year that Motorola Solutions enterprise division was acquired by Zebra Technologies. It’s name came from the black and white stripes of zebra similar to that of a barcode. As such, Zebra, already a pioneer in the fields of barcode labels and printers, acquired Motorola’s mobile computing, barcode scanners and Wireless LAN, the latter which they dropped. In case you were wondering, Zebra Technologies is a 46-year-old company.
What are the challenges that the IT Industry has faced?
The IT industry Is growing. In the past, our economy was based on agriculture. Upto the year 1977, our main exports were the holy trinity of Tea, Rubber and Coconuts. Then came the Free Trade Concept. If you take the apparel industry for example, there will always be challenges faced by that industry by lower cost competitors.
“Sri Lanka has the potential to make it big” – Anuradha Tennakoon
With regard to IT, Anuradha is confident that we have the potential to make it big. We have educated manpower and that is the key. The best alternative for us is to focus more towards a knowledge based economy. Even though IT/BPM is the key player, It’s actually IT that plays the bigger part in the whole game. Then again, we are not alone. There are other countries waiting to make a name for themselves as well. Anuradha also spoke about steps that are being taken to improve ICT in Sri Lanka further. For example, the University of Kelaniya is scheduled to implement a Faculty of Computing and Technology of which Anuradha is the Chairman of the Industrial advisory board.
The Inter University Innovations Championship
During his ICT career, Anuradha Tennakoon was also responsible for introducing the ‘Inter University Enterprise Mobility Software Development Competition’ which was thereafter renamed as the ‘Inter University Innovations Championship’. The competition gained significant popularity and was the most sought after inter university competition. We are inclined to agree. We were there at the Inter University Innovations Championship and saw so many great ideas, that we wrote not one, not two, but three articles about the ideas we saw. In addition, it was also nominated for the US Secretary of State Awards in the year 2012.
Bridging the Digital Divide
One of Anuradha’s goals is to close the digital divide to the extent of his abilities. In that regard, he was also responsible for setting up a fully furnished library and computer labs for a school in a remote area, much like the one where he studied. Furthermore, Anuradha Tennakoon describes himself as a firm believer and evangelist of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education. As such he’s also set up a mathematics laboratory at the Hithokadawala Vidyalaya, another rural school with underprivileged children close to Ambanpola.
Universities and the Industry working together
Anuradha went onto explain the Industry university relationship. This is where companies in the industry offer internships, joint research projects, and joint workshops. These are indeed in place, but at a limited nature. He emphasized that this needs to change, especially the joint research area. Anuradha shared an example of an online portal set up at SLASSCOM to link students to the industry. The portal still exists, but sadly, no one uses it.
In addition, universities can also work in collaboration with the community. For example, IT undergraduate in a University can go meet a local business community and inquire if they need assistance to improve their business. A simple tool, but if used properly, can greatly improve the economy of our country.
Sri Lanka as a country needs to have a strong brand built for itself. The IT industry is doing all that they can but ultimately, it’s the duty of the Government to see it through. Despite the attempts by the Government to this regard, it leaves much to be desired. Anuradha also strongly believes that Sri Lankan Missions overseas should take a leading role in this. Since the mission is in a foreign country, they can link those industries , Universities and investors with our companies to create new partnerships.
“Innovation is the key to competition” – Anuradha Tennakoon
The key to staying ahead of the game is to Innovate, innovate and innovate. Failure to do so would only result in you getting left behind. Learning is a life time thing. Young people should not be afraid of taking risks. Do it, make the jump, see the world your way. People have to be focused. Students especially should focus on what they should be doing.
Anuradha’s Future plans are not set in stone, yet.
Anuradha has also been a Board Member of SLASSCOM as Head of HR/Capacity forums,General Secretary and Director – Finance. He was actively engaged with SLASSCOM’s predecessor Software Exporters Association to cultivate technical skills of IT engineers of member companies. He is also a founder and life member of Colombo University MBA Alumni Association and also a life member of Sri Lanka Institute of Directors.
As of 2016, Anuradha Tennakoon completed his tenure at Zebra Technologies and is now pursuing his Doctorate on the knowledge economy. Though he currently remains unoccupied, he says that he has begun to look for options in areas where his skills and expertise would be most suited.