COVID-19: How the Sri Lankan public sector is adapting to the Coronavirus

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It’s only been a few short weeks, but the novel coronavirus has changed how we work. In a previous article, we covered how organizations in the private sector were adopting measures to allow their employees to work from home. Of course, the public sector has also been adopting similar measures. 

Currently, the Information Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) is working with several government departments to enable them to deliver their services to the public digitally. Meanwhile, the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) has already adopted such measures and serves as an example for others to follow.

How the TRCSL adapted to working from home

On the 20th of March 2020, the TRCSL ended the day with its employees working from home for the first time in history. This was the result of a proactive investment in digitalization the organization made 3 months ago. 

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Director General of the TRCSL, Oshada Senanayake shared that the organization invested in the creation of a digital road-map and IT governance framework. It was this decision that allowed it to adopt remote working today. 

Speaking to ReadMe, Director General of the TRCSL, Oshada Senanayake shared, “Over the past 3 months, the TRCSL took a strategic decision to prioritize the creation of a digital road-map and an IT governance framework. This would be in tandem with an organizational restructuring plan that’s in progression to optimize existing internal business processes and workflows. All division requirements for technology solutions have been identified and provisional budgets already allocated to streamline execution.” 

The overall digitalization road map is expected to take longer and will be executed in tandem with the ICTA. But the critical aspect of staff collaboration was prioritized. As such, it enabled the TRCSL to swiftly fulfil the government’s request for its employees to remotely work from home while offering its services without disruption. To facilitate this, the organization adopted a cloud-based enterprise content management system. 

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Having prioritized staff collaboration, the TRCSL adopted a cloud-based enterprise content management system. This allowed for the delivery of services while its employees safely worked from home. (Image credits: TechnologyAdvice)

The system serves as a content repository to share documents and allow teams to collaborate. To ensure this is seamless, each team has its unique virtual environment created to map the actual physical department structure. While offering seamless access to employees, the system is based on a strict privilege and access mechanism to ensure security. 

Further, the system also includes an integrated communication app. This allowed discussions and meetings between teams to be conducted online. All without the need for third-party connectivity such as Skype or Zoom. In turn, all collaboration within the teams of the TRCSL is unified under a single platform. 

Lessons learned by the TRCSL 

Reflecting on their success, Oshada shared, “We are still in the early stages of executing the digital road map. Yet, we are already reaping its benefits. This includes the ability to provide critical services to our stakeholders while ensuring the safety of our employees given the COVID-19 lockdown. Looking forward, the long-term benefits would include optimization of staff bandwidth alongside the enhanced delivery of services with greater efficiency and transparency. This is a continuous process and there are further areas to be enabled as the next steps in the digitalization journey.”

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While still in the early stages of digitalization, the TRCSL is already reaping its benefits states Oshada. It’s a continuous process. One that in the future will allow the enhanced delivery of services with greater efficiency and transparency.

Of course, this journey wasn’t without its fair share of challenges. Lacking a dedicated IT department, the TRCSL found itself lacking the required skills and core competencies for digitalization. To overcome this challenge, the organization has garnered volunteer support from the industry. With this support, it’s bolstering the IT skills of its staff to move forward on this journey.

Another challenge is to update certain existing processes. Elaborating on this, Oshada explained, “While we continue to set up an IT governance framework, the current internal audits, policies, and procedures must be also updated to recognize the use of digital solutions and digital artefacts such as documentation and online records management versus traditional paper.” 

How ICTA is utilizing technology in the fight against the novel coronavirus

The story of TRCSL is a progressive example of a public sector organisation embracing digitalization and adapting to the circumstances of the novel coronavirus. Behind the scenes, the ICTA is working towards empowering other government organizations to do the same. Due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, a critical challenge faced by the public sector is to deliver its services without disruption.  

Tackling this issue is a team at ICTA dedicated to assisting various public sector organizations to reshape their processes and adopt digital tools. Currently, this team is conducting remote training programmes to enable these organizations to adopt a well-known collaboration tool for instant communications. Additionally, they’ve also introduced a custom video conferencing platform at meet.gov.lk, which is based on open-source technologies and hosted on the Lanka Government Cloud. 

Speaking to ReadMe, Head of Transformation at ICTA, Sameera Jayawardena shared, “We were already running trials with a few government organizations before this crisis. Since then, 17 organizations have adopted these measures. The Presidential Secretariat is also drafting guidelines to enable working from home for government officials. In the future, we will introduce greater functionality to further empower these organizations.” 

Alongside empowering the public sector, the ICTA is also pursuing other initiatives to utilize technology in the fight against COVID-19. Back in January, when the first case of the novel coronavirus was detected in Sri Lanka, it worked with a group of doctors attached to the Health Informatics unit and developed a system to monitor the health of tourists. This was done using the DHIS2 open-source platform. This work led to the global DHIS2 community adopting Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 surveillance tracker and was subsequently made widely available as a package for the community. 

Earlier this month, the ICTA also facilitated a virtual forum of the IT industry to explore how to collectively utilize technology to keep COVID-19 at bay. Most recently, it worked with open-source software developers to create a website for Sri Lankans residing abroad to receive official updates from the Ministry of Foreign Relations. Moreover, the ICTA is also collaboratively working on other fronts in utilizing technology for citizens to remain engaged, informed, and positive during this time of crisis. 

Simple steps forward in the era of the novel coronavirus

Over the years, the Sri Lankan government developed a mixed record when using technology. But the stories of the TRCSL and ICTA serve as positive examples of it being used effectively. While still in the early stages, the swift adoption of measures to enable public servants to work from home is admirable. 

Particularly, given the current situation due to the novel coronavirus. Hopefully, in the coming days, we’ll see more government organizations follow suit and embrace technology. Thereby delivering their services seamlessly while ensuring the safety of their employees.

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