Category Archives: Industries of Sri Lanka

#lka Social Innovation ideas for the Sri Lankan Government Service – Part 1

One of the new trends in Sri Lanka is for many politicians to talk about innovation economy. I always wondered whether they know what they are talking about. Anyway, I still am glad that even not knowing the full context, these two words are being discussed. Innovation economy is a concept where entrepreneurship and innovation are given prominence. In my opinion the Sinhala translation of the word innovation “නවෝත්පාදනය” may not capture the full concept of the word but since I am not an expert of languages, I will stay out of commenting on it any further.

I recently with my team looked at few concepts of innovation. Though they have been doing this for little over two years now, looking back at these concepts helped me to think about these concepts in a different point of view. One of the main concepts of innovation is to think from the customer’s point of view. In other words empathizing with customers. To state simply this is to understand a problem from the people who are facing it and devising solutions for those problems. The word customer has a broader meaning in this case. It is anyone, one is dealing with for example, your boss, your employee, you parents, teachers, friends, etc.

The first idea of this post occurred in my head on the 3rd of April when my Peradeniya University batch mates had a get together. Many of my batch mates specially females are now teaching in schools in Kandy area. When talking to them few of them mentioned a well known issue of closing the road next to the Dalada Maligawa and how it has affected their travelling and travelling time to their respective schools. That same day while driving back to Colombo, I was thinking about this problem. Road closing or opening is a decision of some government agency (regional/national). This agency (I assume attached to either the Ministry of Highways or the Ministry of Internal Transportation) decided to keep the road closed. Let’s leave out the reason for a moment. The customers of this government agency would be the people like my batch mates who has to use that road. Roads might also have safety and environmental issues related to it too. In such a situation those relevant agencies should look at from their customers point of views too. For a person who only read the related issues on news papers (very little is written anyway about this), it seems like this agency is only looking at this problem from the point of view of politicians and religious leaders.

I have been at the receiving end of few fines for minor rules violations while driving. I am not complaining about the tickets but as a customer  who would like to pay the fines on time, the hassle one has to go through for paying fines is something I could not agree to. First you have to go to the Police station to pick up one form, then have to go to the post office to pay for it, then bring the receipt back to the police station to pick up the driving licence. Sometimes to pay a LKR 500 ticket, one has to lose few hours of work and spend nearly LKR 300 of additional money of tuk tuks. Overall economics of paying the fine does not make any sense. As the postal mail is a dying business in the 21st century, coming up with an internet based payment system for all the government related payments happening through post office might help saving the postal service a little bit longer. Additionally, the necessary changes to the law should also accompany, so that the policemen do not have to keep the driving licences. The unpaid fines with interest could be linked to the revenue licence renewal at the end of the year. This will lead to higher collection of fines, less wasting of time of everyone involved, less bribing of Police officers and actually catching the culprits who break the law. In this case all the government agencies and law makers should focus more on their customers (we the general public) but less on balancing each other.

There are many other ideas, will keep on writing if time and life permit. For the moment this will be stopped here as this note is getting too long and boring to read.

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Filed under Colombo, Future, Government Service, Industries of Sri Lanka, Innovation, My experiences, Politics, Science, Science in Sri Lanka, Society, Sri Lanka

Why Sri Lanka needs an Emerging Technology Advisory Center?

It might be an island thing. Though in many ways the world has shrunk, most of our people still live in a 19th to 20th century world. In news media, many examples of such incompatibilities are apparent. In industry, in universities and in the country as a whole many invisible incompatibilities exist. One may say that it is a language issue, but I beg to differ. It is not just among the rural Sri Lankan, but also among the English speaking Colombo crowd too. In the last 30 years or so the development of technology and the engagement of people from all over the world have made the world shrink.

In my view the biggest development happened in the computer technology (in both hardware and software fronts). In the hardware front it has made the computers available for individual usage even on the go (40 years ago they were bulky, expensive and in 1977 the president, chairman and the founder of DEC corporation USA, Ken Olson famously said, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home”). In the software front they have become very user friendly, figured out their glitches and become fashionable, manageable and less intimidating.

Secondly, making use of the above developments the World Wide Web (the internet) has made it a connected world, which now has nearly 3 billion users. As of the end of 2013, 39 percent of the world population is connected to the WWW and nearly half of them lives in Asia. The number of users in Asia is more that of both Europe and North America put together. Google X, a company associated with the internet giant Google Corporation, is planning on making internet available for the whole world within the next year. They have been testing high altitude balloon powered internet for more than a year now. They even bought a wind power generator company to provide power to these balloons.

With above advancements a myriad of internet-related services, social media networks, software developers, data analysts, and related industries have seen a massive growth. In addition, all these developments have affected areas such as genetics and biotechnology, chemistry, physics, marketing, production, medicine and pharmaceuticals, delivery services, banking and finance, transportation, lodging, logistics, economics, politics, etc. Parallel to all these some other technologies such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, green technology came into the field as organized technological fronts.

If one has studied the industrial revolution in 18th to 19th century, it wouldn’t be hard to understand that we may be going through another such historic event at present. Unfortunately, some of the industrial revolution related events such as agricultural revolution is not yet complete in Sri Lanka. Leaving the past aside we may be able to create a new opportunity this time around if we organize ourselves as one unit. One of the biggest reasons demanding this level of organization is the fact that current policy makers, officials and business leaders belong to the generation prior to the beginning of this strategic inflection point.

I did not intend any disrespect to them but we all have to admit that the current younger generation is far savvier with these new technologies and the decisions we all are making is going to affect their world. If we can collectively setup a platform for them to thrive, Sri Lanka will be a different place in the future.

What would be the makeup and the mandate of such an organization? I think it should be funded  and represent both the public and the private sector with people who are current in the technological knowledge in a variety of fields. This organization should look into the technologies which could bring strategic advantage of upcoming technologies to the country as a whole and advise the relevant industries and public officials. Additionally, they should create awareness among the general public and the potential users. The existing organizations such as NSF, MOTR, and CoSTI, all suffer from the above shortcomings.

This is not to devalue what they are doing currently. All these organizations are doing a fantastic job on advising and popularizing the existing technologies but I am talking about technologies such as Synthetic Biology, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing, etc. I am talking about suggesting upgrades of payment systems of simple things like a traffic fine at the point of offence if the person is accepting the violation, without affecting the revenue streams of both the postal services as well as the Police. I am talking about preventing the obsoleteness of horses felt after the first industrial revolution.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/free/item/33875-why-sri-lanka-needs-an-emerging-technology-advisory-center.html#sthash.TMMdExkd.dpuf

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Filed under Industries of Sri Lanka, Nanotechnology, Science, Science in Sri Lanka, Society, Sri Lanka

Nanotechnology in construction industry

As we have discussed, nanotechnology has its tentacles in many of applications. In the Sri Lankan context, construction is not considered as a field where advance technologies such as nanotechnology could be applied, even though both here in Sri Lanka and in the world many researchers are involved in bringing the advantages of nanotechnology to construction. Concrete, one of the most used construction materials (made with cement as a binder), is considered the most carbon dioxide contributing material (material with the highest carbon footprint). Concrete production contributes five percent of the annual anthropogenic global carbon dioxide production, mainly because of the vast quantities used. Carbon dioxide contribution is mainly from the reactions occurring during the production of cement. There is already progress in improving properties on concrete at the nano-scale to address much of this problem – See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/free/item/30889-nanotechnology-in-construction-industry.html#sthash.RIeq1IJq.dpuf

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Filed under Future, Industries of Sri Lanka, Nanotechnology, Science, Science in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka

Nanotechnology: Depleting the most precious minerals for a few dollars

Many have written for many years about the mineral sands of Pulmoddai. It is a national tragedy that for more than 50 years, we have been depleting the most precious minerals of our land for a few dollars. There are articles that appeared in various newspapers on how the mineral sands industry has boomed over the years. I hope the readers understand that it only means that we are depleting our resources faster than ever. According to the Lanka Mineral Sands Limited website, 90,000 tonnes of ilmenite, 9,000 tonnes of rutile, 5,500 tonnes of zircon, 100 tonnes of monazite and 4,000 tonnes of high titanium ilmenite are produced annually and shipped away to other countries. – See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/free/item/30419-nanotechnology-depleting-the-most-precious-minerals-for-a-few-dollars.html#sthash.CZCmITcc.dpuf

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Filed under Industries of Sri Lanka, Nanotechnology, Science, Science in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka

One of mine

In the private sector the word “team” gets abused and over emphasized. At least that is my opinion. Seemingly when there is no team the managers keeps on throwing the word at you thinking that just by repeating the word “team” will automatically make the team to appear. In some sense I understand that. At a certain education level that might be the case. If you are dealing with people who are able to think for themselves, they will form their own opinion no matter what the managers do to make up a team. The moment that happens the managers effort becomes useless.

Talking to our HR managers I have realized office politics is a very common thing. I agree too. After all it is people from variety of backgrounds and educational levels working together in any given work place.

Recent happenings at work made me thinks of how to be in a team. To be precise what conditions one would have to fulfill if I am to be a member of their team. Please do not misunderstand this. I don’t have a separate team. I belong to the team of my company/team/department/etc., but I will call that my team. In my mind if the person  next to me to be included in my team (or the person next to me wants me to be a member of his/her team) him/her needs to fulfill certain criteria. So I list…

  1. I should be able to trust the person. If that person get caught in playing double games, get caught in lies, get caught spying on me, I will not be in a team with that person.
  2. I should be able to have faith in that person. When that person needs me, I will be there for him/her but reciprocity of that is expected. You could call it selfish but I think the TEAM is a collectively selfish concept
  3. That person should be able to speak his/her mind (may be at least in confidence). If that person speaks someone else’s mind or to put it in other words mouth piece of someone’s, no can do…I will not be part of that person’s team.
  4. Independence is the key. If you don’t have independent mind, if your thoughts/ideas are someone else’s or they are being controlled by someone else, I would be reluctant to be a part of your team.
At the moment that’s all which comes to my mind. I will expect readers to add more. That is if anyone reads my blog any more 🙂

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Filed under Industries of Sri Lanka, My experiences, Office politics, Society, Team work

By the numbers…

One year has past from my first post. I did not even noticed. This is the 50th post. Now, that one I noticed. Unlike Taboo, people have read me only 6000 times. Every one cannot be Taboo. In any case I like reading the other bloggers. Lately, I missed that too.

One of my bosses at the new job gave me some solid advice. He told me to keep up with my reading and writing. I whole heartedly agree with him. I am usually a lousy writer. Sometimes my brain works when I sit in front of the computer, sometimes it freezes.

Talking about the numbers, our education minister is trying to make Mathematics not compulsory. I have written about this previously too. This proposal has been rejected by the cabinet twice. He still keeps on talking about it. I wonder why he could not do this about religion. Religion should not be a compulsory subject.

Another one of my bosses writes a column on daily FT. In one of them he was writing about the number of astrology columns vs the number of astronomy columns. Sri Lanka lacks a culture of science. I find it very hard to get the word nanotechnology out to the public.

Here is one example. We ship 80,000 metric tons per year of Ilmenite to foreign countries. We only earn $ 8 million for that. Ilmenite is use to extract titanium dioxide, which is a vital ingredient used in the paint industries. The point is we import titanium dioxide. Only 5000 metric tons per year. We pay $ 12.5 million for it. I guess math should not be compulsory after all. It doesn’t seem to work.

I see people have given up on the country. They have waited for things to fall on their laps and have forgotten how to work hard to get what they want. It is easy to dig and sell rather than invest and work hard to  add value.

I must say, Not every industry is like this. Tea finally learned the lesson. The tea industries got together and finally passed the earnings of Kenya on a smaller volume. So hurray for Sri Lankan Tea!

There are some gloomy numbers too but everyone is talking about them. So I will let that “deer skin” go for this time. On the 63rd independence day, let’s try to be independent from our own selves!

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Filed under Industries of Sri Lanka, Mathematics, Nanotechnology, Science in Sri Lanka, Society, Sri Lankan Tea