Global technology giant Cisco renews commitment to rebounding Sri Lanka

Tuesday, 9 April 2024 01:18 –      – 28

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  • Cisco India and SAARC President Daisy Chittilapilly rates Sri Lanka well poised transform from knowledge to digital economy
  • Says digitalisation of Sri Lanka will really determine the size of tech market
  • Opines Sri Lanka must identify the space on which it can stand for something in the global IT industry
  • To manage public sector digital transformation, Daisy suggests greater focus on skills development

By Nisthar Cassim

Witnessing rebound in Sri Lanka, the global technology giant Cisco is renewing its commitment to serve the growing customer base.

“Sri Lanka is now very much on the rebound. There’s a sense of optimism and confidence in the country. It is great to be here and reinstate our commitment to Sri Lanka,” Cisco India and SAARC President Daisy Chittilapilly told the Daily FT in an interview during her recent and first post-COVID visit to Colombo.

She said despite challenging times Cisco’s relationship with Sri Lanka has been longstanding.

“Cisco has been in Sri Lanka for 23 years and counting. We have been with Sri Lanka through thick and thin. We are here to stay as well for the next phase of growth and development and progress in Sri Lanka,” she said.

According to her, the global giant cherishes its partners and enjoys serving its customers. The partners manage a very large ecosystem of resellers in Sri Lanka for Cisco, the worldwide technology leader in networking hardware, software, telecommunications equipment and other high-technology services and products.

Its purpose is to power an inclusive future for all by helping customers reimagine their applications, power hybrid work, secure their enterprise, transform their infrastructure, and meet their sustainability goals.

Daisy noted that technology is always evolving and there are always newer things that Cisco is innovating. “Everybody knows we are the people who powered the internet. But today we are known equally for being leaders inside the security in the emerging world of observability and automation. There is a lot of AI capabilities in our tech,” Daisy added.

She described Sri Lanka as an important market for Cisco. “All of the transitions we see in the tech world anywhere are similar in Sri Lanka too. There’s no gap between the adoption of technology in Sri Lanka versus anywhere else in the world,” she said.

“We don’t differentiate between Sri Lanka and other markets. But then I said there is no gap. Anything that we talk to, anything we talk to any customer in any part of the world, we bring to the India and South region as well. There is no gap in the propensity to explore or consume the technology that we make. We do not have a differentiated technology strategy depending on the market. So, everything Cisco makes is available in Sri Lanka. I don’t see a difference between what we sell in the West and what we sell in India and South Asia,” Daisy emphasised.

She noted that the writing is on the wall in terms of ambitions Sri Lanka has put out. “To be competitive and succeed in the new world, it has to be a digital world. It has to be a digital nation and digital country with a digital literate citizenry and Sri Lanka is very well poised to be on the path to becoming a knowledge country, a knowledge economy. The transition from knowledge economy to digital economy is also well underway,” said Daisy, who has over 25 years of experience in the technology industry, including 19 years of leadership experience at Cisco.

“The digitalisation of Sri Lanka will really determine the size of the tech market more than anything else. Demographics certainly can become a dividend in that conversation, but it is not the only thing which contributes to success in the digital world,” she pointed out.

According to Daisy Sri Lanka has a young population that is very digitally savvy. Mobile penetration in Sri Lanka is one of the largest, as a percentage of population. So, high familiarity with technology is the first indicator of a nation poised to be a good place to go for digital talent and digital literacy.

“The spread of telecom and access to the internet, which is usually a harbinger of people who are very comfortable being in the tech space. The rest is about building skills and finding out what can be the space where Sri Lanka can stand for something,” she said.

“There are a plethora to choose from, whether it is AI or cyber security, whether it is the application to AI of a particular sector. It can also be innovation related to application of technologies in certain sectors. So, picking that and making material moves to scaling the workforce towards that is important,” Daisy emphasised.

Talent and skills development

She also said Cisco remains well committed to talent development and skilling in Sri Lanka with initiatives carried out with well over 20 partner institutions. “We are very happy to take on more,” she added. Cyber security, IOT and AI are three technologies where Cisco has expertise. Innovation is something that every business has to do to keep up with the times.

Network Academy, is Cisco’s flagship scaling program and since inception, it has trained about 90,000 students in tech.

“One is to train, but the other is to also check whether that training really helps them in any way. The good news is anybody who goes through the Cisco Networking Academy program in Sri Lanka, there is a 100% employability rate. So, that is the really good metric of scaling. It leads to employability and 200% employability is a great metric,” said Daisy who also serves on the Executive Council of the trade association of Indian IT BPM industry – the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) and is the Co-Chair of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) National Committee for Artificial Intelligence and Digital Transformation.

Technology shifts

Daisy welcomed Sri Lanka’s decision to launch the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) in partnership with India. Sri Lanka is doing about 7 billion in transactions value in the digital. “Intention to take that to 14 billion in one or two years. Sri Lanka will get there faster because it is a smaller country. You can educate people at a much faster pace and get to that outcome,” she said.

Additionally, Daisy said ‘digital public infrastructure’ is something that India is taking a position and talking to the world about. “Digital public infrastructure has been a great innovation and success for India at population scale and something that India is very happy to share with many parts of the world and interest is coming from countries like Sri Lanka,” she added.

Daisy identified a big technology shift is taking place in core sectors like energy moving from clean to renewables. Social sectors, both healthcare as well as agriculture, agri-tech and health tech, are gathering momentum. This digital world is really accelerating as well and transforming these core sectors.

“The overarching of all of this is AI along with cyber security, because the more everything is connected, the more everything needs to be protected. When it comes to cyber security there is a recognition that you can’t just bolt it on as an afterthought. It has to be part of the core design and there’s much more intentionality around it than there was,” Daisy explained.

“AI can help create complex threats, but AI can also be the way to manage the cyber infrastructure, because the pace at which things are connecting to the internet and the networks, it is no longer possible to manage IT manually,” she added.

The Cisco official also pointed out that there is recognition in the manufacturing world that industrial automation has outlived its utility in terms of it cannot crank out any more ambitions. Therefore, bringing in digital is very important to sharpen a firm’s competitiveness and generate new revenue streams.

Digital transformation in public sector

To manage public sector transformation, Daisy suggests greater focus on skills development.

“In most countries, the opposition to any automation or any tech is really concerned about security. We saw that when computers were first introduced, and the projects were called computerisation. Every time there is a new technology with a pervasive impact, you see the test and I think the new conversation is around AI,” said Daisy, who has also held the position of Managing Director for Cisco’s Digital Transformation Office.

As a tech practitioner, Daisy sees augmented AI is really the conversation at least for a few years. “It is about freeing human beings from mundane tasks that do not add anything to them in terms of skilling them or making them more capable or productive. We are already through the first generations of tech adoption; we have successfully crossed that chasm. But to do the same thing again with AI is the challenge before the world,” she pointed out.

“As per McKinsey the economic value addition of AI to the world is anywhere between two and a half to four and a half trillion annually. This means that some jobs will become a run, I completely agree, but new jobs will also emerge. The only person who will be more successful than a regular human being today will be a human being who knows how to interact and work with AI,” the Cisco official said.

Sustainability from intent to accountability 

According to Cisco most large businesses have pivoted the conversation around sustainability from intent to accountability.

She said that Cisco’s intent is to be net zero by 2030 and is aggressively pursuing sustainable solutions. “We are already building systems which are 30% more efficient than performance but are up to 90% lower on energy. We are innovating to work that way. Our clients are also asking what they can do with tech to make their systems and processes more sustainable. We see this interplay that we can do what we can do in our products, but then we can also bring tech to solve the sustainability concerns and lead to better energy utilisation and productivity in enterprises,” Daisy explained.

Daisy was of the view that there is responsibility on tech companies to power inclusive futures because that is what tech is making happen. “We also have outreach in this part of the world. As a company we have committed to positively impacting a billion lives with 50 million identified in the Indian South Asia region. We have achieved 30 million so far. Cisco also works on economic emancipation, women and child welfare and climate and sustainability.”