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Driving innovation for business resilience and faster economic recovery: Microsoft

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Hasitha Abeywardena · Country Manager, Microsoft Sri Lanka and Maldives

 

As Sri Lanka continues to deal with the recent surge of COVID-19 infections, 74% of organizations in Asia Pacific say that innovation is now a ‘must’ for them to respond quickly to market challenges and opportunities, and ensure business resilience.

Leveraging their ability to innovate, leaders proved to be more resilient and able to recover faster. Almost half of them believe that they will recover from the pandemic in six months or less. In fact, 50% more leaders, as compared with the rest of the organizations surveyed, expect an increase in their revenue, and one in three of them expect to increase their market share despite the crisis.

These findings were released by Microsoft in its latest study with IDC Asia Pacific, which surveyed 3,312 business decision-makers and 3,495 workers across 15 markets in Asia Pacific within a six-month period, before and since COVID-19. Titled “Culture of Innovation: Foundation for business resilience and economic recovery in Asia Pacific”, it uncovered how organizations can successfully fuel business resilience and performance through innovation.

The study also introduced the culture of innovation framework, which spans the dimensions of people, process, data, and technology, to assess organizations’ approach to innovation. It also provides guidance to help organizations progress to the mature stage and respond to challenges and recover faster, to improve their performance.

The culture of innovation maturity framework captures organizations’ approach to innovation. Through the research, organizations’ performance was mapped against four dimensions (people, processes, data, and technology), with organizations grouped in four stages – traditionalist (stage 1), novice (stage 2), adaptor (stage 3), and leaders (stage 4). Leaders comprise of organizations that are the most mature in building a culture of innovation.

The study found that in the span of six months, organizations in Asia Pacific have matured in the culture of innovation by 11%, an indication that they have increased their ability to innovate. Since COVID-19, the study also found a drop in leaders (68% to 36%) and other organizations (74% to 54%) that find innovation to be hard.

The faster pace of digitization is also key to building stronger organizations. The study found that 87% of leaders will speed up digitization by launching initiatives including digital products, payments, and e-commerce, as compared to 67% of other organizations, in response to the new reality.

Amidst the pandemic, ride-hailing company PickMe experienced a surge in business and app users which led to server downtime and extended passenger wait times. By tapping into Microsoft Azure, the company gained real-time intelligence across its operations allowing them to maximize driver benefits, minimize passenger wait times, and improve the PickMe experience for customers.

The Colombo Tea e-Auction platform developed by CICRA Solutions also leverages Microsoft Azure. The platform was built to safeguard a 150-year-old industry and protect the livelihoods of almost two million people. The platform was recently selected as Sri Lanka’s Best National Digital Solution for the World Summit Awards 2020 under Business and Commerce (Innovative Services) category.

Following the recent surge in positive COVID-19 infections in Sri Lanka, Arimac Digital and ZILLIONe developed contact-tracing apps for organizations to improve business resilience and economic recovery. Both apps leverage Microsoft Azure.

Azure is the cloud platform that underpins all of Microsoft’s cloud services, including Microsoft Teams. Before COVID-19, insurance company AIA Sri Lanka deployed Microsoft Teams to enable seamless engagement and operational efficiency. The company experienced little to no disruption during the pandemic because they had the systems in place to ensure business continuity and workplace preparedness. Microsoft Teams is also helping the governing body of the Maldives conduct virtual online parliamentary sessions thanks to Tech One Sanje as the country battles the COVID-19 outbreak.

These companies followed a process Microsoft calls tech intensity, where tools and technologies are utilized to invent unique digital solutions that would solve complex business and market issues. This would not only empower the business to be more agile in facing new market challenges but also move faster than their competitors.



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Rootcode wins Startup of the Year and People’s Choice Award at SAARC Startup Awards 2022

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Rootcode, one of Sri Lanka’s leading tech companies, recently took home the “People’s Choice Award” in addition to being bestowed with the “Startup of the Year” title at the SAARC Startup Awards 2022. This regional recognition marks a significant milestone for the Sri Lankan tech space and workforce. Rootcode’s mission to build great tech is well underway, and it is gaining traction faster than ever.

This is the first time a Sri Lankan tech company has made a name for itself in the regional competition, and it is a watershed moment that has focused the global spotlight on Rootcode’s distinct approach to fostering innovation in Sri Lanka. This is also the first time that a Sri Lankan company was able to take home two awards of those presented at the SAARC Startup Awards.

Global Startup Awards SAARC celebrates the spirit of entrepreneurship and promotes bridging boundaries through innovation in its regions, which include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, by recognizing them with its most prestigious awards program, attended by top-notch entrepreneurs, corporates, investors, and ecosystem builders from Nordic, Central Europe, SAARC, and ASEAN regions.

Every year, the SAARC Startup Awards bring together hundreds of South Asian startups, entrepreneurs, investors, co-working spaces, and accelerators to provide a platform to highlight trailblazers in the region’s startup world. Rootcode was chosen ahead of dozens of other regional tech startups in the competition.

Sri Lanka is a relative newcomer to the South Asian startup fraternity, and Rootcode’s ability to represent the country on the global stage not long after its inception is remarkable.

“We are extremely humbled and honored by the support shown to us at the SAARC Startup Awards 2022, and being recognized under two categories is a huge milestone for us,” said the CEO and Founder of Rootcode Labs, Alagan Mahalingam. “We have always been driven forward by excellence, collaboration, and integrity, which I believe is the reason why we have come so far and why Rootcode continues to grow every day.”

Rootcode is driven by its focus on helping businesses build great tech not just locally but globally, and its achievement at the SAARC awards stands as a testament to that. Despite the challenging times, this is a win for Sri Lanka.

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INSEE Cement felicitates Sri Lanka’s youngest Commonwealth medallist

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INSEE Cement awarded aspiring wrestler, Nethmi Ahimsa Fernando, who won a Bronze Medal for Sri Lanka at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, LKR 1 million cash reward, to support her to pursue her passion. Suranga Kumara, her coach, also received LKR 250,000 cash reward, in appreciation of his contribution towards Nethmi’s recent achievements. INSEE Cement has also pledged to support Nethmi’s aspiration to represent Sri Lanka at the 2024 Olympic games, while also providing the entire cement requirement for the completion of her new house, which is presently under construction, in collaboration with the Manusath Derana initiative.

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Has Sri Lanka finally learned its lesson on emotional vs evidence-based agri policies?

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By Dr. Roshan Rajadurai

Inflation looms large over every Sri Lankan as the price of food and other essentials continues to skyrocket. At the center of this historic economic, political, social and humanitarian disaster are a series of deeply flawed and widely criticized policy decisions which have plunged the nation’s agriculture sector into complete disarray.

Among the decisions being singled out for criticism both locally and globally is the now infamous overnight ban on the importation all agrochemicals including synthetic fertilizer, weedicides, pesticides, and fungicides.

At the time, the policy was held out as the first and only preliminary measure needed to drive an immediate, island-wide shift to organic agriculture. Dubious “organic agriculture experts”, as well as medical doctors and monks were found in abundance, loudly proclaiming the virtues of a “100% organic agriculture strategy”.

These once vocal champions of organic agriculture claimed at the time that the ‘declining health of the average Sri Lankan’ and the negative impacts of agro-chemicals on the environment, as well as the annual US$ 48 billion that could be saved by halting fertilizer imports was sufficient justification for the ban.

These same “experts” were quick to dismiss the warnings, counter-arguments, and volumes of scientific data of respected academics and professionals with actual agricultural experience as being nothing more than the dishonest lies of what the former Agriculture Minister imaginatively dubbed a “Fertilizer mafia larger than the Sigiriya Rock”.

Deadly consequences

Back in September of 2021, after many months of frantic discussions with the leadership of the day, I stated the following in a widely published article titled: ‘Sri Lankan tea’s current crisis only reinforces the value of productivity-linked wages’

“Without any prior planning or notice, our entire sector has been coerced into blindly participating in the most unscientific experiment ever attempted in Sri Lanka’s history…The broad consensus among those with expertise is that we can start to see exponentially worse crop losses starting from the end of 2021, hitting approximately 30-40% by next year.

“If RPCs were to have disregarded basic agronomic practices and norms in such a manner, it would have been called criminal mismanagement. With agricultural best practices now being roundly ignored in favour of a undefined and unplanned strategy “100% organic agriculture”, this historic, and intentionally misinformed self-sabotage is being repackaged as visionary and progressive…

“Regardless of short-term political expediency, reality has a way of asserting itself…With insufficient balanced nutrients as a result of the unplanned push for organic, we anticipate a series of cascading failures stemming from a collapse in productivity. No amount of rhetoric will be able to turn back the tide of negative sentiment against such developments.”

Less than a year later, all that we have stated has come to pass. Agricultural productivity in Export crops has dropped by 20%. While export values of tea and rubber have increased, volumes have plummeted by 20% and 30% respectively. Had we been able to maintain production at pre-fertilizer ban levels, we estimate additional export earnings of US$240 M from plantation-related exports.

These shortcomings are reflected in Sri Lanka’s humiliating bankruptcy, and its crippling 54.6% inflation and deadly 81% food inflation. As a result, today the World Food Programme estimates that 3 in 10 Sri Lankans – 6.7 million Sri Lankans – are now facing severe food insecurity. For context, one of the worst famine’s in modern history was the Bengal Famine, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 3 million Indians. If we allow any further blunders, these are the dangerous waters in which we are now swimming.

Meanwhile, the overnight 100% organic agriculture experts, the doctors and monks whose sole concern was for the health and well-being of all Sri Lankans are nowhere to be seen or heard from. And it is left to the once vilified professionals and academics to now chart a roadmap out of crisis and restore the industry on which more than 10% of our national population depend on for their sustenance.

A common framework for progress

Solving this complex misadventure is going to be extremely challenging, but we do believe it’s possible. And we believe the plantation industry will have an essential role to play in this difficult and necessary journey.

However in order to do so, we must acknowledge and examine all of the decisions that led us to this terrible low point. Moving forward, we need to appoint a Sectoral Task force – made up of credible industry experts, whom the Government must consult, particularly when formulating policy decisions that have the potential to impact the entire agriculture sector. Failure to do so even at this late juncture will risk even further irreversible damage being done to our industry and the millions of lives that are impacted by it.

This means that the Government in particular needs to commit to a strict regime of evidence-based policy at all times. If drastic policy adjustments are required, the Government has to take a consultative approach, seek out balanced and credible opinions, and obtain broad approval from stakeholders.

With this common agreement in place, we can finally begin to bring together the best minds in our respective industries and work in partnership towards developing a viable roadmap for a sustainable path to a true Sri Lankan economic renaissance. As Sri Lanka’s first true export industry, we believe the Sri Lankan plantation industry should be the first to take up this challenge.

For over a decade, our industry has painstakingly sought to articulate what the plantation sector requires to move forward. At present, the consensus is that reforms, investment, and knowledge sharing are most needed in our industry are in the areas of:

Sustainable, progressive productivity-linked wages that benefit workers and companies

Agricultural and operational best practices

Research and development towards greater local value addition

Factory, and supply chain modernization

Implementation of a consistent, science-based national agriculture policy framework

We call on all those with the knowledge and expertise to join us in this difficult and long over-due enterprise.

Abouts the Author:

Dr. Roshan Rajadurai is the Managing Director of the Plantation Sector of Hayleys PLC (which comprise Kelani Valley Plantations, Talawakelle Tea Estates and Horana Plantations). A former Chairman of the Planters’ Association of Ceylon, Dr. Rajadurai has 36 years of experience in the plantation sector.

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