Mr. Manju Haththotuwa was educated at Royal College, Colombo, Sri Lanka. He has a BSc (Hons) from the Imperial College, London and also an MBA from the University of London. He was COO / Executive Director at Millennium IT (MIT), an industry leader in Stock Exchange software. Mr. Haththotuwa states that his involvement in ICT at MIT indicated his enthusiasm to develop the ICT sector.
Manju was the founder Managing Director / CEO of the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) of Sri Lanka. ICTA commenced operations on 1st July 2003, at Kirimandala Mawatha, Colombo 05. A key milestone that Manju achieved was setting up ICTA and commencing its operations; setting up the Focus Groups and Working Groups, setting up the processes, commencing the projects and programs, designing the logo and the attractive organization which made it a great place to work. ICTA reached many milestones key during his tenure and the way was paved and the foundation and culture of the organization was established for reaching many more.
Video in Brief
Mr. Haththotuwa states at the outset that when ICTA first commenced operations it was always necessary to consider the backgrounds of the people who were brought together to this initiative. The people who were brought together initially, made an impact in forming the startup culture at ICTA at its inception. In 2002, the World Bank showed interest in supporting Sri Lanka in developing this sector. India’s software industry by that time had become a market leader in software services. But it was agreed that something more suitable for Sri Lanka, as a smaller nation, should be developed and software services was not necessarily the way forward; product software could be one of the ways in which Sri Lanka could shine globally. Thus, when the World Bank started showing interest, co-incidentally, in Sri Lanka, the Government, the public sector, the private sector and the eco-system were all aligned and that was the point at which e-Sri Lanka was born. This was very important when a national program such as this was to be launched; a vision with political buy-in was important for a national program which was to cut across all Sri Lanka geographically and institutionally. The setting up of ICTA was preceded by a modern, forward-thinking Act – viz., the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act No. 27 of 2003, through which ICTA was established. ICTA was specifically mandated by the Government to implement the e-Sri Lanka Development Program and also to recommend to the Cabinet of Ministers the appropriate regulatory and policy framework required for the development of ICT in Sri Lanka. The objective of the e-Sri Lanka Development Program was to use ICT in all its aspects for the benefit of the people of Sri Lanka and to further the socio-economic development of the nation.
It was envisaged that ICTA would be a model for the way in which Government should work – the initial team should be small, empowered and should be able to work in a highly responsive manner towards the objectives of the organization, the e-Sri Lanka Roadmap and the overall outcomes that were sought. A multi-faceted team from the public sector, the private sector, from NGO backgrounds, and from urban and rural schools was to be selected. The team was not expected to be at ICTA “forever”; not only because they were on contract employment but due to the fact that ICTA’s role would require new skills, over time. Therefore, employees could be retrained for these evolving new roles or new people would have to be hired. It was to be a team which could work with all the different stakeholders with whom ICTA was to interact. In view of the above, it was possible to get the program off the ground very quickly. The Board composition was also different from that of similar organizations; ICTA had a non-executive Chairman and the executive role was with the CEO/ Managing Director. This enabled a stable team to be formed under the CEO. Payment was to be based on results. And the organization initially had a sun-set clause; in five years it would cease to exist if it didn’t perform and get an extension. Similarly, the staff were aware of the fact that they would have to perform in order to remain, therefore they, including the CEO had limited-period contracts and increments received were to be performance-related.
Setting up operations:
Mr. Manju Haththotuwa explains that before the main funding was received, a smaller amount was made available initially by the World Bank. Therefore, it was decided to lease computers, vehicles etc., rather than purchasing outright and modern concepts of organizational structure and operations were adopted. The relevant work that had been carried out by ICTA’s predecessor, the Council for Information Technology (CINTEC), prior to ICTA’s establishment was scrutinized. Mr. Haththotuwa states that the decision was to build on the good work that had been carried out rather than duplicate what had been done earlier. Mr. Haththotuwa acknowledges the contribution made by many people including the late Professor VK Samaranayake.
Logo & organizational design:
Mr. Haththotuwa also highlights the level of detail which was gone into, when designing the ICTA logo; the logo captured the very essence of what ICTA was trying to do. There were four squares to depict the four initial Program Areas. (later, there were six Program Areas). The dots across the logo, at an incline depicted the increase in Program Areas and work and the numerous dots which scatter depicted crowd sourcing and partnerships; it was all about the eco-system. ICTA, he explains was only an enabler. The internal design of the organization was meant to energize and stimulate creativity. Mr. Manju Haththotuwa had researched and gathered these ideas on designing when he was designing the Millennium IT campus at Malabe. ICTA had an open-plan office to alleviate staff getting into Program Area silos. All the Program Areas, he explains, were integrated, and people sitting in separate rooms would not have augured well for integration and implementation. There were people from other organizations who used to come over and view the organizational design during this initial phase, because at this time, an open-plan office was rather unusual in the State sector. There were also several meeting rooms. In order to keep the core-team small, several functions such as security and catering were out-sourced.
Mr. Manju Haththotuwa further explains that very soon after ICTA started operations, Focus Groups consisting of stakeholders were formed for the six Program Areas. These were, he explains, a way in which to crowd source ideas into the ICTA team which was small. Since the ICTA team was small, partnerships were needed and ideas from outside could be gleaned with the setting up of the Focus Groups. This was part of the design and the blueprint of ICTA. Mr. Haththotuwa also states that the initial Program Directors, such as Professor Gihan Dias and Mr. Reshan Dewapura were passionate about the program and had their own independent ideas. The team worked without a rigid hierarchy, and addressing others as “sir” etc., was dispensed with. Such perceptions of status are barriers to communication. Mr. Haththotuwa reminisces that regular meetings used to be convened in ICTA’s “Large Meeting Room” at which progress was monitored. Monitoring progress is critical for results-oriented work. This too, was part of the organizational culture. Suitable persons from the Public sector were employed as staff and also for the Board; Mr. Lalith Weeratunga joined as Program Director of the e-Government area. Mr. Wasantha Deshapriya had experience in the State sector, not only in Administration, but in ICT as well. Mr. Llyod Fernando was appointed as a Board member. ICTA was embarking on a program which did not only address automating Government, but transforming and re-engineering Government. Therefore, a comprehensive understanding of the culture of Government and Government processes was necessary.
Mr. Manju Haththotuwa further explains that people used to think that the “e” in e-Sri Lanka stood for “enabling” or “empowerment”. But he says that “e” stood for many things such as – encourage, energize, empower, enable, enhance, educate etc. Interestingly, some of the development outcomes also have “e”s. Examples are; export, employment and equity. Export; it was intended that ICT was to be an export-oriented industry. Employment; it was also known that ICT was a powerful way of creating jobs. Equity; ICT was also a great way in which polarization could be bridged.
Mr. Manju Haththotuwa reminisces that there were initially many critiques. These had to be addressed with an appropriate communication strategy. In a developmental program results and outcomes take time. Therefore, it was decided that several pilot projects would be implemented and these would give short-term results. ICTA, consequently, tendered and called for quick bids, from the public and private sectors and from NGO communities. ICTA received about 22 interesting proposals on areas which were ascertained to be immediate problems. The results of implementing these projects not only addressed and alleviated the criticisms that ICTA might not have results to show in the short-term but also pointed towards the final design of the e-Sri Lanka Development Program. There were really satisfactory pilot projects. These projects were as follows;
- Sinhala Fonts, which involved developing Unicode compatible Sinhala fonts;
- e-Money Order which illustrated how an old concept could be modernized with ICT; i.e., people were familiar in doing things in a certain way. So, it was necessary to add the ICT layer but still keep the money-order concept which has been in this country for many decades.
- Empowering the Workplace with ICT skills – During this period rural communities were not aware of the benefits of ICT. Therefore, it was necessary to implement programs on awareness, capacity building, skill development and training. Some of these early pilot projects, such as this pilot included these aspects. These helped in providing information to the e-Society program which was implemented later.
- National Operations Room was a one-stop dashboard for monitoring projects.
- Distance and e-Learning; this involved setting up of five centers across the country to deliver content and courses to various target groups.
- Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Registry: this was to maintain a registry of IDPs to track and monitor their movements.
- Vishwa Gnana Kendra; this initiative eventually evolved into the highly popular and well-known program – the Nenasala Centers.
- SME portal: SMEs are the backbone of the economy. This project was to develop the SMEs and make them aware of the role that ICT could play in productivity and to make them more competitive globally.
- Govi Gnana System: This captured and disseminated real time vegetable prices across the markets to ensure uniformity on prices. Both Dambulla and Meegoda zones were electronically linked to give farmers the option of choosing where they want to sell their produce.
- e-Parliament: to provide digital information to the Parliament and to upgrade the website in terms of design and content.
There were many creative submissions such as these, for pilot projects. Through these pilots, information was provided to the main programs.
Mr. Haththotuwa explains that in any national development program, especially in one which is new to the citizens of Sri Lanka, it was a critical necessity to explain it in a way which was understood by everybody. ICTA came up with many creative ways to do this. It was important that communication was carried out to all sectors. It was necessary to communicate to the media; there was a program, Strategic Communications, which focused on the media. Consequently, the critiques became “cheer-leaders”. Some critiques were hired to work within the organization. This was a creative strategy. They then understood the hard work that was being carried out and what ICTA was trying to achieve. Therefore, they were able to convey to others that this was a program that was trying to transform Sri Lanka. People began to understand the power of ICT.
ICT was very powerful and at the heart of it was economic development but there were many dimensions that people did not understand. The Strategic Communication program was therefore of utmost importance. It was important to target different stakeholders in the language and the tone which they understood. One example was the street dramas that were carried out in various villages, in places that people used to gather, such as bus-halts or railway stations. Actors were hired and they used to describe how ICT could make a difference to peoples’ lives.
The main program:
The e-Sri Lanka Development program was supported by a multitude of donors which included the Word Bank group, the Korea Exim Bank, Sweden, and even Japan. They supported what they saw as a dynamic program which had the power to change.
The six programs were designed to address the weak areas needed for ICT to come to its full potential. One such area was connectivity. In 2002/2003 connectivity in the country was not what it is in 2020. There were many parts of the country which did not have basic Internet. Therefore, it was necessary to find out ways in which ICT could be accessible and affordable to potential users in villages.
One idea which transpired was the telecommunications program through which subsidies were to be offered to telecom operators to give connectivity to places which market forces would not deem to be profitable. Mr. Haththotuwa recollects that interestingly, the subsidy never had to be given because the telecom operators immediately gave connectivity to these villages without Government support. This was a good outcome.
Thereafter, ICTA came up with the Nenasala program because people in villages did not have access to PCs or to Internet enabled phones. Nenasala centers were similar to e-kiosks. They were run by private operators, or in cases where it was difficult to find a private operator, the public sector supported these. These were given Internet connectivity at a subsidized rate, training was offered, and Government information and services were made accessible. This was a powerful program; it became widely known and it was part of the connectivity program through which ICT was taken to villages.
In parallel it was necessary to build peoples’ skills and the capacities; be it in rural villages, in Government, in political leadership, or in schools. To achieve this objective, ICTA’s Human Resource Capacity Building Program ran a comprehensive CIO (Chief Innovation Officer) program for Government officers. This was to enable Government departments to run their own ICT programs through CIOs. There were many dimensions to this program; there was the training dimension and also the leadership dimension.
e-Laws – enabling legislation; there were many things that the industry needed to be competitive, such as enabling legislation. ICTA met this need through its e-Laws program. Under this initiative ICTA carried forward the work originally undertaken by CINTEC and the Cabinet of Ministers gave a specific mandate to ICTA in this regard.
- The e-Transactions Act No. 19 of 2006 is based on the standards established by United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on e-Commerce (1996) and Model Law on e-Signature (2001).
- The Computer Crimes Act no. 24 of 2007 provides for the identification of computer crimes and to provide the procedure for the investigation and enforcement of such crimes. The Bill was presented in Parliament and debated in August 2005 and was thereafter enacted as legislation in May 2007.
The objective of the e-Government program was not only to automate Government. The objective was to re-engineer and simplify Government processes. Many tri-lingual websites created a web presence for Government so that people could access Government information 24/7. A Government Information Center (GIC) was developed through which people could find accurate up to date information through several means, especially by calling 1919. There was a mechanism set up to obtain each Department’s information and keep it updated.
Mr. Haththotuwa says that ICTA was greatly appreciative of the e-Society program. This program was implemented to take the dividends of ICT to villages to mitigate the digital divide. It was designed to spur innovation at a rural level and give opportunities to the underserved and the underprivileged. The e-Society program worked with INGOs, NGOs and CBOs and there were many successful innovations.
Another important program was the Private Sector Development program. It addressed job creation, exports, entrepreneurs and SMEs, particularly within the ICT industry. This program supported various opportunities for leadership development in the private sector, so that they could ascertain what technology they should address next, how talent should be developed, how to develop Maturity Models such as the CMM (Capability Maturity Model) which are recognized overseas, how to develop staff whom BPOs could employ or get business from multinational companies which could give business to local ICT companies. ICTA’s enabling work contributed to all of these. And interestingly, the e-services which were developed through ICTA’s Re-engineering Government program were also opportunities to develop the local private sector. In other words, ICT projects in the Government program were opportunities for SMEs in the country to bid for those and make that their first reference site. The e-Government program of ICTA and the e-Sri Lanka Development program were catalysts for the private sector to grow capability confidence and reference sites.
Mr. Haththotuwa states that a key program that has to be mentioned is ICTA’s Local Languages Initiative, which worked on enabling ICT in Sinhala and Tamil. This was necessary for ICT to become relevant, especially to rural communities in Sri Lanka, because most people in Sri Lanka were not conversant in English. This work had been pioneered earlier through CINTEC but ICTA went on to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion, thus resulting in people being able to use ICT in Sinhala and Tamil and ICT with local language content being pervasive and accessible to Sri Lankans.
Mr. Haththotuwa states that the six initial programs addressed the weak linkages in the ICT eco-system. He says that “a chain is as weak as its weakest link” and if any one of these programs had fallen behind, then that would have been a weak link in the entire program. Therefore, all these were given equal attention by the ICTA leadership and “pushed along.” Like any pioneering program, there were many impediments and difficulties encountered along the way, but he reminisces that there was always a “can do” attitude within ICTA. That culture, he further explains, was one of the reasons for the remarkable achievements during the short span three years from commencement.
Finally, Mr. Manju Haththotuwa makes a few closing remarks on how ICTA will evolve to the next stage. ICTA, in the way it was designed at its inception, recognized the fact that it was necessary to keep evolving; the mandate has to evolve, staffing has to evolve and activities, therefore, have to evolve. ICTA has to be relevant to the beneficiaries that it has chosen to serve and whose problems it has chosen to solve. And to that extent, Manju thinks, that over the years, it’s been a challenge to do this in a public sector organization, in a manner similar to how it is carried out in a private sector organization.
Manju explains that all should come together to understand what the private sector is seeking now, what the Government sector is looking for, what the citizens need from ICTA and this will define its mandate. Manju concludes by stating that, whatever emerges as the mandate, it will be necessary to have the same degree of passion with which we commenced ICTA and the e-Sri Lanka Development program, because;
“speaking for myself, I can say 17 years on, I’m equally passionate, equally excited, equally optimistic and I used to say to my team with eternally incurable optimism that we will succeed to do amazing things which will be a story to tell our grandchildren. Good luck!”