A Digital Economy With the National CxO Forum 2017


With the aim of empowering leaders in businesses, organizations for better information and empowering digital governments, FITIS organized the National CxO Forum. Held on the 1st of November as a precursor to Infotel 2017, the National CxO Forum and Conference was held at the Hilton Colombo.

A speech by the Prime Minister

Starting things off with the lighting of the oil lamp and a few welcome addresses, we had the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe addressing the gathering at the National CxO Forum. He emphasized on the fact that the IT industry in comparison to the confectionary industry has a lesser turnover. “If we are not prepared to go international and capture the global market, then I may as well go back to Parliament” the Prime Minister stated.

National CxO Forum
Hon. Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe addressing the gathering

He stated that the Government is working on giving free WiFi and that the Ministry of Education is giving tablets. Why? To upgrade our workforce. We have to upgrade our skills and go to the next level. We can’t be a middle-income economy paying low-economy wages. That means we need a change of jobs.

When asked when the IT Industry can become a USD 10 Billion Industry, the room was silent, then Joe Lenora, Founder and Head of Design at We Are Designers replied: “PayPal would help”. Ranil simply replied, “We’re working on it”. Throughout his speech, the Prime Ministers views were that the IT Industry has quite a bit of work to do in order to become a $10 billion Industry within the next few years.

Reimagining the Digital Era

Presented by David Wong Nan Fay, Chairman of ASOCIO, David began his presentation at the National CxO Forum by explaining what ASOCIO is. It is a grouping of IT industry associations established in 1984 representing economies in Asia and the Oceania region.

National CxO Forum
David Wong Nan Fay, Chairman of ASOCIO addressing the gathering

He also explained about the five forces changing the world.

  • Rise of emerging markets
  • Power of disruptive technologies
  • Aging global population
  • The integrated world
  • The return of (geo)politics

David then explained that there will be 2.2 billion new middle-class consumers by 2030. Almost half of this population will be in Asian countries and they’ll be spending considerable amounts of money. Countries such as Chile Vietnam and Sri Lanka are breaking out of traditional zones and embracing digital infrastructures such as Chile, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

By comparison, countries such as Singapore, Switzerland and the US already have strong infrastructure so they already have a steady flow of innovation taking place. Indonesia, Russia, Egypt and Kenya too are slowly catching up.

On the other hand though, countries such Australia and Japan are slowing down in terms of innovation . In order to solve it, David says the solution would be to make young immigrants a part of the countries’ workforce.


National CxO Forum

David’s next topic at the National CxO Forum was to talk about the number of connected devices. He shares that the number of connected devices is expected to be higher than number of humans on this planet. These devices has resulted in so much data being created. Of all of the data collected in this world, 90% of it has been collected in the last 2 years.

He explained that Disruptive Technologies will create enormous impact in the next decade. For example, AliPay takes 3 minutes to approve loans because they have so much data about a person. The top digital disruptor is mobile internet. Records show that 77% of jobs in China are vulnerable to automation, whereas its 49% in the US and 37% in the UK. He also added that 30% of the skills we possess will not be relevant in 2020.

Disruptors can attack all aspects of traditional businesses he says. Technology is accelerating the pace of change especially in software enabled businesses. The traditional view of the market competition is insufficient. Not all startups will survive but banks will have to respond to these disruptions. He quotes Pierre Nanteme saying, “Digital is the main reason why half the companies have disappeared since the 2000s.”

So what kinds of skills should we learn?

Big Data, IoT, and cloud is what will be essential for tomorrow’s leaders to pick up 60 to 70 percent of talent will be relevant after reskilling. He shared the concept of digital free trade zone. There will be double growth rate of SME’s goods exports reach to $38bn by 2025.

It’s a highway for free trade ecommerce. It aims to create 60,000 jobs (direct + indirect) and facilitate the movement of $65bn of goods movement via DFTZ by 2025. The challenge is the customs.

Highways like this allow goods to move from one country to another and pass through customs in a short time. The goal is for goods to be cleared in less than 3 hours in Malaysia and then deliver last mile.

David then outlined eight objectives and action plans to achieve Asia’s potential in a digital future:

  • Promote fast internet
  • Address needs of ICT Human Resources
  • Provide resources for smart city development
  • Use ICT to enhance social welfare
  • Build robust digital ecosystem for startups and SMEs
  • Foster cross border investment and digital trade
  • Ensure fast adoption of new and emerging technologies
  • Address regional cyber security needs

Indika de Zoysa was up next at the National CxO Forum

Indika, a Senior consultant at ICTA spoke about how the ICTA is empowering the country to more towards a digital economy. Two areas he touched on are devices and connectivity. One cannot work without the other. If you don’t have connectivity and content, you cannot do anything.

Together with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure, (MTDI), the ICTA is working on developing smartbooks for schoolchildren. This means that school children will be able to use educational resources that are on par with those of developed countries. Indika also spoke about the plans to set up a Content development center in two years. Once completed, that can be used as an export model as well.

National CxO Forum
Indika de Zoysa, Senior Consultant, ICTA addressing the gathering

Once you have devices, content and connectivity, you need teachers. You need to train teachers to use these technologies to teach students. With this regard, Indika explained to the participants of the National CxO Forum, that the Government of Sri Lanka is carrying out these actions. The results of all these actions will be seen by early 2018.

Innovation is a key element to move a nation fast. We need to teach students to come up with problems that don’t exist in order to create jobs that don’t exist. This is where innovation comes into play. Further, this is where innovation centers come into play. As such, from grade one, students will begin to learn coding. Further, each of the 2821 connected schools in Sri Lanka would have 2 WiFi hotspots er school for a total of 5642 hotspots.

Indika’s next topic at the National CxO Forum was to speak about the School ICT society initiative. He used an example of an 18-year-old schoolgoer who has his own company that buys products from Alibaba, to sell it on eBay. He makes around LKR 50,000-60,000 per month and has two others under his employment. Can we make the next Facebook in Sri Lanka? Indika is confident that we can.

Digital Health was Indika’s next section at the National CxO Forum

Indika’s next topic was about Digital Health. With that regard, Indika explained that hospitals are getting digitized. There are 13 hospitals which are already digitized, and 37 more will follow suit in 2018. He also added that 300 Government hospitals would be equipped with access to electronic medical records.
National CxO Forum

Digital Agencies would soon become an integral part of the Government. To that extent, the Grama Seva Niladharis’ would be able to use technology for the villages. Every village of the knowledge agents will in turn also be able to use technology.

What about the Government?

Well, A Digital Government is not too far away. Indika explainedto those attending the National CxO Forum. Very soon, all 330 Government sectors would be fully digitized by the year 2019. He spoke about the electronic document attestation system, a process that usually takes around 6 hours to complete, but now, can be carried out and completed in a mere 15 minutes.

In conclusion, Indika spoke about the 2022 Vision for Sri Lanka. Here, the end goal is to have a LKR 5Billion export revenue, 1000 startups, 10,000 sector professionals and to inculcate an economy of digitally enabled businesses.

We learnt about Cybersecurity

Sujit Cristy, Director – Layer 7 & ISACA was up next at the National CxO Forum speaking about Cybersecurity and the future of the digital economy. The cornerstone of society is going to be security, Sujit said. With advancements such as hotspots enabling almost universal connectivity and internet access, this paves the way for a big opportunity to embark on.

National CxO Forum
Sujit Cristy, Director – Layer 7 & ISACA addressing the gathering

But, while we adopt digitization, we’re also going to face a fair share of digital attacks. Ransomware such as Wannacry and Petya are on the rise. Sujit explained that Different people attack systems for different reasons. Be it extortion, or just to hack a Telco to get a free top up, the parties interested in gaining access to your information can range from countries, hacktivists and criminals.

Why cybersecurity?

Because, he explained at the National CxO Forum, we’re in an era that we talk about information. We need to ensure that data is confidential, integral, while also making sure that it is available when it is needed. In relation to Indika’s session, Sujit noted that content used for educational purposes must be kept secure so that no one can alter it.

National CxO ForumSujit used an example of the Ford Pinto where the fuel tank of the vehicle was located at the back. In the event of an accident, the fuel tank would catch fire. Knowing this, Ford kept the design as it is without changing. The result? Ford was sued. The jury told Ford to pay $125 million in damages but it was later reduced to $3.5 million by the judge. Sujit’s point? When you develop new technologies and features, you need to be sure that you’re looking at the whole picture?

It is important to adopt a cybersecurity framework. Here you would identify, protect, detect, respond and recover from a cyber-attack. Sujit spoke about the NIST Cybersecurity Framework core. If something goes wrong, you should tell your customers or clients immediately before a third party gets the opportunity to do so.

In conclusion, Sujit explained that while we may take a plan of action, it may not always work. You need to look around at what’s happening around you and then respond accordingly.

Does AI help a business and how?

This was the opening question of Anna Budanova, the next presenter at the National CxO Forum. Anna, the regional manager at ABBYY for South Asia Spoke about the advancements in AI when it comes to various sectors such as manufacturing, augmented reality, image enhancement, and pattern recognition.

National CxO Forum
Anna Budanova, Regional Manager – South Asia, ABBYY addressing the gathering

She then spoke about where AI can create value. It can help in enlightened R&D, real-time forecasting and smart sourcing for projects. With regard to production, it can help with operations where companies can achieve a higher production rate whilst also lowering cost, with an overall increase in efficiency.

National CxO ForumFor promotion, it can provide customers with the right information at the right place at the right time. This is very important when making a sales forecast or coming up with a marketing campaign.

Anna went on to describe a number of case studies where AI had helped in fields such as banking, HR management and even an information governance system and M-Files, where digital files needed to be searched quickly and efficiently.

Going beyond digital in the Financial services sector

Presented by Conrad Dias, the CIO at LOLC Group who was the next speaker at the National CxO Forum, the presentation dealt with how digitization helps with the Financial services sector. According to Conrad, technology is at an exponential growth curve. It is poised to change everything in the future.

Technology has brought in a wave of innovation such as cognitive computing, blockchain, cloud, IoT, VR/AR etc. But how do these influence the financial sector? According to Conrad, the 5th Industrial revolution would be on AI.

National CxO Forum
Conrad Dias, CIO – LOLC Group addressing the gathering

Are we ready as an industry, country, regulators but most importantly as humans for AI? Commercial AI is already here. We use virtual assistants, map assistance and assisted driving. We are being introduced to technologies such as driverless cars, flying intelligent machines, 3D printing, these are all becoming a reality now. Everything we hear is about disruption.

With regards to AI, this means job disruption. The human part of human resources would be redundant, giving way to machines that can do the job better and faster. Because of AI, a whole new lineup of startups has been born. These startups are merging technology with existing industries to create new industries such as FoodTech, MedTech, MediaTech, Real-estate tech, RegTech and even FinTech.

A Digital Economy With the National CxO Forum 2017 2

He also spoke about local challenges such as technology adoption, market size vs investment size, scale, regulatory challenges, the digital readiness of the market, cyber security and associated risks, bankers mindset, culture and view of automation.

Next up was a panel discussion.

Consisting of the speakers for the morning sessions of the National CxO Forum, the panel discussion, revolved around a number of key areas. Once such area was regarding the digital transformation in Sri Lanka. According to Indika de Zoysa, this process takes a lot of time. Indika went on to explain that they are now in the stage of setting things up to be ready by 2018. Now it’s just a matter of fast tracking it.

An important question asked by an audience member was as to why some of the ICTA apps (such as the Train schedule) not updated? Indika’s response was that once again, the ICTA is in the process of working on developing these apps and that they will be updated within the coming months.

National CxO Forum
The Morning panel discussion at the National CxO Forum

Other questions asked at the National CxO Forum ranged from China’s interaction with regard to the digital economy and the steps they take to put the infrastructure in place for a large digitized company to enter the market and offer their services.

The topic delved further in to examples such as AliPay and how they have trouble getting into countries. As a solution, AliPay would resort to partnering with banks

An interesting question revolved around Blockchain and bitcoins. One bank just saying that they will deploy block chain will provide perhaps an internal ease of use, but to improve to efficiency of the banking sector as a whole, Blockchain would have to be launched by all banks.

What is ICTA doing to reduce certain monopolies in ICT?

With regard to digital health, Government hospitals will get more or less the same benefits of a private hospital. They are also creating knowledge agents to educate the masses about technology at a very minimal cost. Further, there are steps being taken to create a framework a framework for a digital economy, tourism, manufacturing and agriculture. They will identify smart methods for high end and low end approaches and it will be put into action very soon.

National CxO Forum

Are we prepared against a massive scale cyber attack?

Again, the panelists said that there are protocols put in place. Sujit explained that there are cybersecurity professionals who have been trained to combat cyber attacks. From the angle of cyber insurance, again protocols are in place, but there is still room for improvement.

Following lunch, we had a representative from HP/AMD

He gave an outlook on the industry and also spoke about Neural Net Prediction and Smart Prefetch, which are some of AMD’s up and coming technologies.

National CxO ForumWhile these technologies are powerful, it’s important to use power wisely. He then spoke about security at the Silicon level with AMD secure technologies. He emphasized that AMD based systems have not been hacked in a long time. He spoke about what AMD is and what they do.

We learnt about Digital Education and Smart Society

Presented by Sameera Jayawardena, Program Manager at ICTA, the session involved enabling grassroots for a digital economy. His topic was about empowering the next generation. The “Digital Sri Lanka” vision is to transform Sri Lanka towards a creative knowledge-based society through digitally empowered citizens.

National CxO Forum
Sameera Jayawardena, Program Manager, ICTA addressing the gathering.

He emphasized that Sri Lanka needs a paradigm shift after the introduction of free education to the country. Akin to Indika’s session, Sameera outlined the work carried out so far with regard to this. The biggest challenge faced, according to Sameera is the issue of sustainability mechanism. This essentially deals with how to sustain new initiatives once launched

He then spoke about a number of key areas that would be developed within the coming months, or have already been developed.

  • Digital Infrastructure – we will have a sustainable master plan for the next 5-8 years. This would include plans such as a Device strategy, smart classroom and teacher PC programs etc.
  • Content – Even if you have the infrastructure, without content, it is nothing. This is where initiatives such as eThakshalawa, Smart textbook and eLibrary comes into play. To that extent, Sameera announced that the first ever smart textbook would be launched in January 2018.
  • Connectivity – This deals with connecting all schools in the country using high-speed internet, thus giving access to educational material to all.
  • Capacity building – This would involve creating an awareness program for parents
  • Innovation – Beginning at a school level, this would begin with ICT clubs. From there, they would concentrate on paths such as Educert, innovation corners and makerspace. With regard to makerspaces, Sameera also announced that they are planning 300 makerspaces by early 2018.

Sameera also briefly touched upon other enables of digitization such as a document management system for the Ministry of Education, an Education Management Information system and Akura, a school management system. All of these are either being implemented or at procurement stage.

National CxO ForumHe then spoke about citizen empowerment. The primary objective of this initiative Is to be the foremost social movement to foster ethical and responsible use social media and other emerging ICT trends.

Empowering the Nation through digital health

Shryananda Ratnayaka, who is another Program Manager at ICTA was up next at the National CxO Forum. He provided some statistical information regarding the health of Sri Lanka such as a high life expectancy rate, low rate of maternal mortality and a low rate infant mortality. He then spoke about the digitization of hospitals in Sri Lanka and the challenges related to it.

He went on to talk extensively about the steps taken to bring all the government hospitals in Sri Lanka to the digital age. This is what the HHIMS or Hospital Health Information Management System would carry out.

National CxO Forum
Shryananda Ratnayake, Program Manager – ICTA addressing the gathering

The system would have all medical records of all patients admitted to any hospital that the system has been implemented in. This enables a greater level of efficiency when it comes to diagnosing an illness and prescribing medicine.

We learnt more about security

Presented by Mohit Puri, Director – Presales at Sophos, the session dealt with the security measures that Sophos has in place to protect its clients and their data. Mohit explained about the devastation caused by the Wannacry ransomware which has since amounted to a loss of around 325M USD. If attacks sucha s this continue, by 2020 it could go upto two trillion dollars.

National CxO Forum
Mohit Puri, Director – SOPHOS addressing the gathering

Mohit then explained exactly what a Ransomware is and what it does. Despite having security measures in place, malware such as these have around a 70% breach rate. Even if your system is locked down tight, threats evolve and one needs to have a holistic view to be safe from all angles. With that in mind, Mohit began to explain some of the new technologies at Sophos such as a next gen Firewall, Secure Wi-Fi, web and email security.

The last session of the day was another panel discussion.

This dealt with topics such as education, health and change management when adopting to a new system. The panel comprised of the speakers from the afternoon session. They spoke about an integrated campaign to educate both teachers and students. With regard to the health industry, adapting the system in the hospital is a challenge. Adoption and change management is tricky.

National CxO Forum
The Evening panel discussion at the National CxO Forum

That brought an end to the National CxO Forum

With that, the CxO Forum officially came to an end and the participants (ourselves included) were invited for refreshments and networking before calling it a day.


  1. He stated that the Government is working on giving free WiFi and that the Ministry of Education is giving tablets. Why? To upgrade our workforce.

    Let’s not get started on the corruption and how disorganized the government is on the wi-fi and free tablets. Can the Gov tell one success story proudly or as a case study? No! Ranil and his bullshit.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here