Mr. Yasa Karunaratne was educated at Ananda College, Colombo. In 1967 he obtained his B.Sc. (Honors) degree from the University of Ceylon and served for two years in the Departments of Physics and Mathematics in the University. Thereafter, Mr. Karunaratne joined the State Engineering Corporation, which had the first public sector computer installation in the country, and it is here that he started his career in computing.
In 1970 Mr. Karunaratne joined the Department of Census and Statistics where he was fully responsible for architecting the 1971 Census of Population. In 1972, he joined the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation as the Systems Analyst and later became its Data Processing Manager. In 1979, Mr. Karunaratne was awarded a UN Fellowship for post graduate studies at the Colorado State University, USA, where he obtained his Master’s Degree in Computer Science in 1980. While he was there, he worked as an Information Specialist in a consultancy project for the US Department of Agriculture on the numerical integrity of their Road Design System. He returned to the Petroleum Corporation in 1981 and in 1983 he joined the Employees Trust Fund (ETF) Board where he was Deputy General Manager (Computer Services) until 2001. His appointment at the ETF Board allowed him to carry out consultancies for other organizations and Mr. Yasa Karunaratne was a Consultant to the first current accounting system at the Bank of Ceylon. He was a respected IT consultant to many Sri Lankan and International organizations and several Government agencies. He was a National Consultant to the United Nations in 1984. He has contributed to the development of Information Technology in diverse areas.
Mr. Yasa Karunaratne was one of the pioneers and a key figure in the Computer Society of Sri Lanka (CSSL) which was inaugurated in 1976. He has served in the Council of CSSL for three decades. From 1991 to 1999, Mr. Karunaratne was the President of CSSL. During his tenure as President, many milestones were reached. One such innovative venture was his idea to send Sri Lankan school children to software competitions overseas. Overcoming many impediments, he had put this idea into action in 1990. His determination yielded results when the Sri Lankan team won the International Software Competition in 1995, beating many countries in the region. Another milestone was securing a State of the Art building for CSSL, which had previously functioned in a room in the OPA (Organization of Professional Associations) building, which he almost single handedly planned and pioneered. In recognition of his contribution to CSSL, Mr. Karunaratne was awarded a distinguished Honorary Fellow of CSSL in 2001. Mr. Karunaratne has been the representative member for Computer Science at the OPA since 1989.
In 1992, Hon Ranil Wickremasinghe invited Mr. Karunaratne to assist in organizing the Infotel 1992 Conference and Exhibition. He was appointed as a member of the Main Organizing Committee and as Chairman of the Infotel Conference. This was a very successful Conference.
One of the key events during Mr. Karunaratne’s presidency in CSSL was hosting Sri Lanka’s first International IT Conference – SEARCC’95 of the South-East Asia Regional Computer Confederation. Mr. Karunaratne’s leadership as the Chairman of the SEARCC ’95 Organizing Committee enabled to boost Sri Lanka’s image internationally. Mr. Karunaratne has the distinction of being the first Sri Lankan to be the President of the South East Asia Regional Computer Confederation which comprised 13 countries in the Asia Pacific Region.
In 2002 Mr. Karunaratne was elected as the Secretary General of the South East Asia Regional Computer Confederation. In this position he was responsible for running the Secretariat and coordinating activities carried out in various countries. Mr. Karunaratne has also represented SEARCC in the World body, International Federation for Information Processing, IFIP. By participating in events in these countries it was possible to invite eminent ICT professionals to IT conferences in Sri Lanka and also invite them to conduct workshops which benefited professionals in Sri Lanka. In recognition of Mr. Yasa Karunartne’s contribution to the region, he was conferred “Distinguished Fellow of the South East Asia Computer Confederation”. He is the only person who has received this prestigious award.
He was also the recipient of the National Apex Award for Professional Excellence in Science and Technology in 2013 conducted by the Organization of Professional Associations.
Mr. Karunaratne was a member of Council for Information Technology (CINTEC) the previous Government apex body on ICT policy, from 1993 to 1999. He was also the inaugural Chairman of the Sri Lanka Information and Communication Technology Association (SLICTA), established with representation from the ICT industry, IT Professionals, Telecommunication Providers and Internet Service Providers.
Considering the future, Mr. Karunaratne states that technology and robots have replaced human labor in many industries, such as the car manufacturing industry and there is concern that the work carried out by professionals also may be replaced by technology. Therefore, the challenge for professionals is to explore ways and means of exploiting this new technology to make this world a better place.
Video in Brief
Mr. Yasa Karunaratne was educated at Ananda College, Colombo. At Ananda College he was the President of the English Literary Union and he took a leading role in student activities. Subsequently he entered the University of Ceylon from where he graduated with Honors in 1967. Before the results were out Mr. Karunaratne was appointed to the staff and served in the Departments of Physics and Mathematics.
During this period, Mr. Karunaratne developed an interest in computers and noticed an advertisement in the newspapers calling for staff at the State Engineering Corporation, which had the first public sector computer installation in Sri Lanka. There had been approximately 400 applicants and Mr. Karunaratne was selected to the post of Trainee Systems Analyst/Programmer. Here he had the opportunity of working with pioneers in the ICT field, such as Dr. RB Ekanayake, Mr. Ranjan Perera, Mr. Nimal Amerasinghe and others. Mr. Karunaratne states that there was a large computer at the State Engineering Corporation with 16 K memory and a tape operating system. He observes that mobile devices used now have million times more memory than that computer. The Corporation undertook work of other organizations (as a Bureau) and the results of the GCE Ordinary Level examination were processed by the Corporation in 1969.
In 1970 Mr. Karunaratne applied to the Department of Census and Statistics and after a selection process similar to the above he was appointed to the post of Programmer. At this Department there was a large IBM 360, model 25 computer, with 24 K memory. The computer had been installed on the ground floor and on the first floor there was a viewing gallery from which schoolchildren and others could view the computer. At this Department, Mr. Karunaratne had been given the challenging task of designing the system for the Census of Population, Housing and Agriculture – 1971. He had completed the system as scheduled and the census was carried out. All the relevant work had been carried out using punch cards – the programs were punched into punch cards through manual machines and fed into a computer for compilation. Mr. Karunaratne recalls that there were about 20 million punched cards stacked throughout the office.
In 1972, Mr. Karunaratne joined the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation as the Systems Analyst where they had a similar IBM 360 computer and this organization too, had carried out Bureau work. One such task was billing for the Ceylon Electricity Board. Mr. Karunaratne recalls that electricity bills used to be printed throughout the night. The Petroleum Corporation had carried out work on billing for the Department of Telecommunications, too.
In 1979, Mr. Karunaratne was awarded a United Nations Fellowship for post graduate studies at the Colorado State University, USA where he obtained his Masters in Computer Science in 1980. While he was there, he worked as Information Specialist in a consultancy project for the US Department of Agriculture undertaken by the University.
Mr. Karunaratne returned to the Petroleum Corporation in 1981 and in 1983 joined the Employees Trust Fund (ETF) Board where he was Deputy General Manager (Computer Services) until 2001. His appointment at the ETF Board allowed him to carry out consultancies for other organizations.
The information systems at the ETF Board had to be improved. Therefore Mr. Karunaratne was sent on a study tour to Singapore. Singapore’s Central Provident Fund was accepted as one of the best provident fund systems in the world, which was efficiently handled and with many benefits for the employees. There, he was able to learn some of the features which could be adopted at the ETF Board, Sri Lanka. Consequently, a new system with modern facilities was introduced at the ETF Board.
Mr. Yasa Karunaratne was a Consultant to the first current accounting system at the Bank of Ceylon. Mr. Karunaratne worked on this project with Dr. RB Ekanayake and Mr. Janaka De Silva from the Bank of Ceylon. This project was also implemented as planned and in the branches of the bank in Colombo, the manual systems were changed to terminals (or microcomputers). From 1985 to 1987, Mr. Karunaratne was engaged by Beca Worley International as Systems Advisor with respect to the Secondary Towns Power Distribution Project for the Lanka Electricity Company (Private) Ltd. Through this project the utility billing systems in Sri Lanka were revolutionized and an instant billing system was introduced; the meter reader issues a handwritten bill to the customer on reading the meter. This system is now used in billing for both electricity and water consumption. The impact is that bills can be settled within the month and revenues can be collected quickly. This project too was completed on schedule. The supplier of the computer system had been requested to provide a system similar to the one that was to be delivered, prior to actual delivery. Thereafter staff had entered the data and prepared the master files so that when the actual system was delivered the system and data were ready for operation and there was no delay. Mr. Karunaratne had also been a Consultant to the Secondary Education Modernization Project of the Ministry of Education and Science & Technology Personnel Development Project of the Ministry of Science & Technology.
The Computer Society of Sri Lanka (CSSL)
It was ascertained in 1975 that several countries had formed their computer societies – bodies for IT professionals. Therefore, several computer professionals in Sri Lanka had agreed that it would be pertinent to set up a Computer Society in Sri Lanka too. There had been only about 30 to 40 persons engaged in the computer field at that time. They were invited for a meeting at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka where it was decided to set up the Computer Society of Sri Lanka. This meeting is considered the Founder Members’ meeting. Consequently, the Constitution had been drawn up and the Computer Society of Sri Lanka was inaugurated in 1976. Mr. Yasa Karunaratne was one of the Council Members and he has continued to be in the Council for three decades. From 1991 to 1999, Mr. Karunaratne was the President of CSSL. During his tenure as President, many milestones were reached. In 1990, he proposed to the Council that Sri Lanka should send school children to IT competitions overseas. The Council had initially rejected this idea, stating that funding was an issue. But this had not deterred Mr. Karunaratne who was determined to implement his idea and he had stated that he would fund the visit overseas if funding could not be found. Therefore, the proposal had to be accepted and a national competition was conducted through which a team was selected and there had been sufficient sponsorship for the travel overseas. From that day onwards, school children had been continually sent overseas for competitions. The performance of Sri Lanka’s team had initially not been satisfactory and Mr. Karunaratne was determined to improve this situation and requested Mr. Lal Chandranath of DMS Electronics to train the school children for software competitions. Mr. Chandranath had declined at first but later agreed due to Mr Karunaratne’s persuasion and commenced training the students. In 1995 the Sri Lankan team won the competition, at which 18 teams from the region competed. The students who participated in these competitions have fared well in their careers and hold many eminent posts. CSSL had also conducted examinations of the Australian Computer Society (ACS) which enabled the youth to secure better employment in the ICT field. There weren’t many exams in the ICT arena at that time and a large number of students sat this exam.
During this period, CSSL had gained recognition – even international recognition – due to interactions with countries in the region. Members had taken part in conferences in the region and had studied the programs of these Computer Societies and the way in which the Conferences were organized. These aspects were applied to the CSSL Conferences which reached international standards. During Mr. Karunaratne’s tenure as President, financial success had also been achieved. Another milestone was securing a State of the Art building for CSSL, which Mr. Karunaratne almost single handedly planned and pioneered. In recognition of his contribution to CSSL, Mr. Karunaratne was conferred Honorary Fellow of CSSL in 2001. This had been the first time that this had been awarded and Mr. Karunaratne and Dr. R.B. Ekanayake were awarded this honor at this event.
Mr. Karunaratne had also been the representative member for Computer Science at the OPA from 1989 onwards.
Mr. Karunaratne further recalls that in 1992, Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe, Hon. Prime Minister, had invited Mr. Karunaratne to assist in organizing the Infotel 1992 Conference and Exhibition. Mr. Karunaratne was appointed as a member of the Main Organizing Committee and as Chairman of the Infotel Conference and it was a very successful Conference. Mr. Karunaratne was also appointed as the President of the South East Asia Regional Computer Confederation (SEARCC) which comprised 13 member countries. In 1993, Mr. Karunaratne was appointed Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the SEARCC’ 95 Conference. Mr. Karunaratne reminisces that in this position he had led a group of eminent professionals comprising Dr. Abhaya Induruwa, Dr. R.B. Ekanayake, Ms. Nayeni Fernando, Mr. Niranjan De Silva, Mr. HNB Gunaratne, Mr. Lal Chandranath, Mr. Sunil Alwis, Mr. Kanishka Sugathadasa, Mr. Jagath Ranawaka, Dr. Bandu Ranasinghe, Mr Lionel Perera and Mr. Kitsiri Manchanayake. Mr. Ajantha Cooray had been the Advisor and lawyer.
In 2002 Mr. Karunaratne was elected as the Secretary General of the South East Asia Regional Computer Confederation. In this position he was responsible for administering the Secretariat and coordinating activities carried out in various countries. He had played a key role in organizing IT Conferences in Malaysia, Australia, Thailand, and in India. Mr. Karunaratne had also represented SEARCC in the World body, International Federation of Information Processing, IFIP.
By participating in events in these countries it was possible to invite eminent ICT professionals to Sri Lanka’s conferences and also invite them to conduct workshops which benefited professionals in Sri Lanka. In recognition of Mr. Yasa Karunartne’s contribution to the region, he was conferred “Distinguished Fellow of the South East Asia Computer Confederation”. He is the only one who has received this prestigious award. Another award which he had received was the National Apex Award for Professional Excellence in Science and Technology, which was presented by Hon. Maithripala Sirisena, in 2013.
Mr. Karunaratne further recalls that he functioned as a Council member of CINTEC – Council for Information Technology, the previous apex Government body on Government ICT policy.
Mr. Karunaratne had also been the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Information and Communication Technology Association (SLICTA), which was established with representation from the IT industry, telecommunication providers and Internet Service providers.
In concluding the narration of a productive and eventful working life Mr. Karunaratne recalls one particular interesting event – he says that this is an “impossible” thing which he achieved. In 1999, there had been a Tender to urgently procure a computer system consisting of hardware and software, to the ETF Board. The amount had been over LKR 80 million, which at that time had been a particularly large sum. Tenders were closed on 14th December and the Evaluation Report and the decision of the Tender Board was given and conveyed to the World Bank the following day, 15th December. Usually it takes several weeks or even months for a Tender of this magnitude to be evaluated and the decision of the Tender Board to be given. The way in which he achieved this was by requesting the Chair of the Tender Board in the Ministry of Finance to send over the evaluation team to his office for the opening of Tenders. The Chairman had reluctantly agreed. Subsequently, Mr. Karunaratne had informed the evaluation team that they should complete the evaluation before leaving his office. This resulted in the evaluation team working until 2.00 a.m. to complete the evaluation and the Tender Board had approved the evaluation report the following day.
In conclusion, Mr. Yasa Karunaratne states that in addition to reaching milestones in IT, he had also excelled in bridge – his father had taught him to play bridge when he was 12 years old and later he had been captain of the Sri Lankan National team several times.
Considering the future, Mr. Karunaratne states that technology and robots have replaced human labor in many industries, such as the car manufacturing industry and there is concern that the work carried out by professionals also may be replaced by technology. Therefore the challenge for professionals is to explore ways and means of exploiting this new technology to make this world a better place.