Changing Everything With IT at NITC 2018


IT Changes everything. But how does it change it? Well, that’s what we were going to find out at the National Information Technology Conference 2018. Organized by the CSSL, the NITC 2018 took place on the 3rd and 4th of October 2018 at the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo.

The two-day conference was broken down into common sessions and parallel sessions. Following lunch, the attendees could take their pick between one of three parallel sessions that were taking place throughout the hotel.

Kicking things off at NITC 2018

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Damith Hettihewa addressing the gathering at NITC 2018

First off on stage at NITC 2018 was Damith Hettihewa – CEO of ICT to talk about the current state of the IT blueprint in Sri Lanka. From 2003 to 2018, ICT literacy has gone up from 5 to 40%. ICT exports are now close to 1 Billion USD and IT is the 5th in Forex Earnings. “We have made progress”, Damith said.

We learned about the Digital journey of People’s Bank­­

Sandalal Edirisinghe – Head of IT at People’s Bank was up on stage to share the digital journey of People’s Bank. The journey began 3 years ago, Sandalal explained. Laying out some figures, Sandalal explained that People’s Bank caters to the rural areas. “That’s where our strength lies”, he added.

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Sandalal Edirisinghe talking about the digital journey of People’s Bank

As such, People’s Bank launched self-banking units, Cash deposit machines, and ATMs , all in order to address the nation’s digital divide. Apart from using it just to withdraw and deposit cash, people can also use these services to pay their utility bills as well. “You have to use technology intelligently,” Sandalal explained.

“IT changes the way we practice IT”

That was the opening line of Prof. Michael Johnson. Prof. Michael, a member of the Australian Computer Society spoke about Cybersecurity, the threats it causes and the opportunities it has. The world is a very different place now. That is because of cybersecurity. If you have the right skills, Cybersecurity has a very profitable market.

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Prof. Michael Johnson NITC 2018 talking about Cybersecurity and how IT changes the way we practice IT

Prof. Michael also spoke about the interconnectivity in systems. While it’s easier to get things done when all systems are connected to each other, it also means that if one component goes down, all services related to that would be directly affected as well.

Fintech Disruptions and the future of banking

Channa De Silva – General Manager/CEO of LankaClear was on stage at NITC 2018 to talk about FinTech and how they would affect the future of banking. Channa spoke about how mobile banking apps are shifting to lifestyle apps. With regard to that, Channa also spoke about the various technologies that LankaClear has developed to process retail payments.

NITC 2018
Channa De Silva addressing the audience about FinTech Disruptions

A key point Channa emphasized was about PayPal in Sri Lanka. As you may or may not know, PayPal is not available in Sri Lanka. This is not because the Central Bank of Sri Lanka is blocking PayPal, Channa explained, but rather because the Sri Lankan market is too small for PayPal to come into.

Channa also emphasized that just because PayPal is added to an app, that wouldn’t necessarily make it more viable for people to use it. But then again, one can also argue that the exact opposite is true. This is especially true for freelancers who prefer PayPal as a payment method because it has a lower transaction cost.

A walkthrough of Social networks

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Prof. Gihan Dias talking about Social Networks at NITC 2018

Following that, we had Prof. Gihan Dias speaking on the governance of social networks. Prof. Gihan explained what a social network is and then went on to explain about decentralized social networking systems and spoke about the features of a social network. These range from individual user profiles to Pages, groups, and feeds. Prof. Gihan also spoke about the various governing bodies of social media as well.

The Parallel Sessions

Following lunch, the NITC 2018 split into three simultaneous tracks. The themes for the sessions ranged from the social implications of AI to ICT and Sustainability to our digital lives and security in the information society. Here are the sessions that we found particularly interesting.

Making trades easier for businesses

Presented by Dr. Prasanna Lokuge, the session revolved around the Sri Lanka Trade Information Portal. This is a one-stop point for all information regarding imports and exports to and from Sri Lanka. The whole point of the platform, as Dr. Prasanna explained was to incorporate a Single Window Operational Model.

Without a National Single Window, you would have duplication of data and documents, and no standard mechanism in place to process them either. This, in turn, would be time-consuming to process and you can’t monitor the status either.

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Dr. Prasanna Lokuge speaking about the Single Window Model

The National Single Window would do away with all this hassle. It would provide a single point of entry for processing imports and exports. In addition, it would also provide an online interface between traders, regulatory and government agencies. Further, it would also take care of duplicate data and documents. The portal is already online and you can check it out here.

Challenges to Cyber Domains and National Security

Presented by Prof. Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, the session dealt with how cyber threats should be handled. Cybersecurity threats can happen in the blink of an eye and could be completely unexpected by the state. Prof. Asanga then went on to speak about how things we take for granted, such as IoT, Data collection and even usage of biometric data can all relate to national security.

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Prof. Asanga Abeyagoonasekera carrying out his session

For example, if a hacker gained access to a database containing the biometric data of customers such as fingerprints or voice prints, they can use these data to gain access to private and confidential information of those in power.

Using your behaviour to identify security threats

Adding to this was Harjith Prabakar – Product Manager at Exabeam speaking on Machine Learning and Behavioral Analytics for practical insider threat detection. Essentially this dealt with using machine learning to detect threats inside your system. Speaking of insider threats, these can either be malicious and compromised.

A malicious attack would inject malware into a system to cripple it, whereas a compromised threat would deal with reducing the security of a system, making it easier to break into.

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Harjith Prabakar carrying out his session at NITC 2018

In comparison to traditional attacks, with an insider threat, the attacker is already inside your system. The attack uses legitimate credentials, known devices, and valid access privileges. The attacks don’t even sound alarms, because the system doesn’t know it’s being hacked into.

So how does one protect themselves? Harjith explained that behavioural analytics and machine learning are the solutions. Here, you can scrutinize users and their usage patterns to detect unauthorized entrants. For example, if the algorithm sees an unusual login from a terminal or a system that is at a different time to what the usual login time is, it can generate an alarm. Based on that, you can see if the login was a normal one or if someone was trying to gain unauthorized access to your system.

The impact of digitalization on our working lives

This session was carried out by Peeyush Arya – Partner at Deloitte. With an introductory video, Peeyush explained that robots and various other technologies are going to impact us more than ever before. But then again, this is like any other technology before us.

Peeyush went on to explain that technology is everywhere. We are faced with a potential tsunami of data. With this wave, new technologies related to AI, cognitive computing and robotics would be on the rise. This, in turn, would lead to jobs being vulnerable to automation.

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Peeyush Arya carrying out his session

There is also a huge diversity and generational change. The workforce would become more heterogeneous. The life expectancy of humans has increased. This also means that people would retire at a much later age, resulting in an older workforce than currently available. There would also be an increase in contingent work, as people would not be working full time, but rather, working from home, etc.

In conclusion, Peeyush noted that jobs are not going away. Rather, they would just change. As individuals, we would have to engage in lifelong learning to stay updated. On the other hand, it would also hope to shape your own career path and allow you to pursue your passion. For organizations, it would mean redesigning work for technology and learning and also implementing new models of organizations structure, leadership, culture and even rewards.

A sign of more things to come

The end of the parallel sessions at the NITC 2018 brought an end to Day 01 of the conference as well. So, what happened on Day 02 of NITC 2018? Well, that in itself is another article that you will have to stay tuned for.


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