AuxiCogent International (Pvt) Ltd, the BPO operation under the JKH umbrella has just concluded a contract with a client based in USA for 500 seats (the BPO industry pays by the seats).
In six weeks we hope to start the operation with 40-60 persons and ramp up to 500 within 6-8 months, said Group Finance Director John Keells Holdings PLC J. Ronnie F. Peiris.
He said, “we are confident that the manpower can be found within the next 6-8 months with the support and help of our Shared Services office Infomate and CSR initiative at Mahawilachchiya, a model BPO. They have to be trained and we are happy to do that.” He said that the success of the first step gives us the impetus that this model will succeed.
Some challenges are difficult to solve on our own. Therefore we will need the support of officials in the government sector to solve these issues. From the JKH point of view this is an element of an overall strategy, the first step towards establishing a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry.
One of the reasons we chose the BPO industry was because Sri Lanka has the critical success factors for a BPO industry to flourish such as the supply of quality manpower, particularly in the finance and accounting fields. We may not have the numbers as in India but we certainly have quality in the limited numbers we have.
JKH looked at the numbers and the quality and decided to engage in areas we can optimise the return on the limited supply that is available in Sri Lanka in accounting. In Colombo there is a fair number but out of Colombo it is very low.
We then realised that the whole success of the BPO industry was not only based on having these higher level analytical people but also having more people who are good but may not have the analytical knowledge but who are able to support the analysis – people who can be entrusted with a fairly regular process be trained in that process and ultimately be good in that process.
You have the analytical people who are supported by the processes to give out the information. These are the repetitive processes, which are important for the success of outsourcing. You can do outsourcing in many forms. The most common form is to do a repetitive process where they analyse them and up the process which results in efficiency levels increasing by the day, he said.
JKH has a shared service named Infomate Ltd that employs 70 energetic people who are either following accountancy examinations or are graduates. They provide accountancy support to all our 70 companies.
This venture was started two-and-a-half years ago. Our companies were used as a guinea pig to understand the pros and cons which helped them to develop their skills. This is a parallel step towards entering the BPO industry. In BPO we talk to International competitors.
He said that “we at JKH don’t market a product unless we are confident and can satisfy the customer. Therefore, it would have been foolhardy to do it two-and-a-half years ago without having the experience in that area. But now with all the experience, we are confident that we can match to international standards”.
He said the opportunity we came across in Mahawilachchiya was glorious and in this day and age where connectivity was not a problem. If people are skilled or they have the potential to be trained then they can be trained. There is nothing magical about these skills as anybody with O/L or JSC can be trained.
The youth of Horizon Lanka Foundation from Mahavilachchiya have the yearning to succeed but lacked the opportunity. Therefore we were happy to give the opportunity for them to go forward. When we get involved we do it well, that has been the JKH policy.
We got the COO of Infomate involved and gave an incentive to the students during the training period. Now we pay them on a per transaction basis and we have got a tracking mechanism.
It is working extremely well and we are confident that we can expand it quite rapidly. It is not only a part of our business plan but also it enmeasures with our CSR objective.
We at JKH firmly believe that for CSR to succeed there should be a sustainable development. For this to be a reality it should get linked to your business otherwise it becomes philanthropy. We try to make it a part of our business so that with the growth of our business they also grow, he said.
For example we have the ginger farmers producing ginger for the CCC ginger beer. Similarly at Walkers Tours we arrange financing and all the people own the vehicles and they work for the various people we bring in. it is a sustainable development. Similarly in the BPO industry this is also fitted with the sustainable development program.
This showed that a massive potential exists in the country and if we can extend it to the East where there are well-educated English-speaking youth it will help solve a lot of problems in that area. The BPO operation is based on labour arbitrage and the cost difference between a low level accounts clerk in USA and Sri Lanka are 11:1.
He said the working ethics and culture in Sri Lanka are very high and strong, though modernism has to some extent eroded it. Therefore if we are really keen we can expand the BPO operation, he said.
We are no grumblers and we see and look for opportunities at every point, he said.
MAHAWILACHCHIYA, Oct 25 2007 (IPS) – In a north-central village, deep inside Sri Lanka’s backwoods, a young man is glued to a computer screen, pushing a mouse and filling in figures.
This BPO team deep in the backwoods of Sri Lanka competes with city firms for global customers.
Isuru Senevirathna is entering data at Sri Lanka’s first Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) company set up in a village, and probably among the first in the world that is surrounded by tall trees, bird calls, paddy fields and streams.
“It’s nice to be able to do a job like this,” the 20-year-old youth, operations director of OnTime Pvt. Ltd, told IPS..
BPO is a growing IT business which Sri Lanka has taken to quite capably. Dozens of companies are now springing up in Colombo as the world’s best corporations look for cost-effective ways of handling their back-office operations in countries where labour and communications are cheaper than in the West.
But OnTime’s setting, next to a wildlife park, and subject to the occasional threat by Tamil Tiger guerrillas, makes it unique. Mahawilachchiya lies 250 km north of Colombo and the fact that it is close to the ancient town of Anuradhapura is an added feature.
OnTime owes its existence to the vision of Nanda Wanninayaka (better known as ‘Wanni’), an English teacher-turned village entrepreneur. Except for its sylvan location it is no different from the rest of the BPO industry. It boasts of such clients as John Keells, Sri Lanka’ biggest conglomerate, and once the blinds are drawn and with air-conditioners running, it could well be an office in downtown Colombo.
OnTime operators log into an accounting system through a secured link and enter data like prices and inventories. Some 150 documents are handled by one operator per day. New client negotiating with OnTime include Dialog Telekom, Sri Lanka’s biggest mobile phone operator, and Singer, a multinational known for its sewing machines.
“The BPO entry came as we needed to create job opportunities for our youngsters to remain in the village after their initial training in English and IT,” said Wanni.
OnTime is a part of the ‘Horizon Lanka’ initiative launched by Wanni, while still a schoolteacher, in 1998. Starting off as an English teaching exercise for the children of rice farmers, its scope widened dramatically following the gift of a personal computer by the United States embassy.
From there the village quickly progressed into a centre of IT learning where one in every eight families now has a computer (a ratio of 100 computers for 800 families). Impoverished farmers are now reading online newspapers in their ramshackle homes with the help of seven wifi nodes set up using ‘MESH’ technology. The villages have wireless Internet access at all times.
Wanni and his Horizon Lanka exploits are legendary and have been profiled in newspapers and other media across the world. The IT village’s big moment came when Wanni and his best students shared the stage with Intel chairman Craig Barrett in December 2005, during the latter’s visit to Sri Lanka.
Wanni said the idea of setting up a BPO emerged as he pondered over the next stage of development. “Having taught English and then IT, the next issue was where do they get jobs? How can we retain them in the village?”
Enter the Foundation for Advancing Rural Opportunities in Sri Lanka (FAROLanka) to help Horizon set up its BPO and find its first client. FARO’s help however comes with conditions – Wanni’s support and guidance to help other villages develop on similar lines.
Sponsored by John Keells, OnTime staff received BPO training in Laos and India. For other Mahawilachchiya youngsters, the choice of careers is limited to joining the armed forces (in the case of girls it’s garment factories) or remain in the village as a farmer.
OnTime’s CEO Nirosh Manjula Ranathunga, a 30-year-old university graduate who studied IT while doing his commerce degree, lives in Anuradhapura and visits Horizon only twice a week as he says he can handle operations from his hometown easily over Internet.
Ranathunga is interested in transferring his skills and learning to other villages. “I joined Horizon Lanka two years ago as a project manager and am very happy with this BPO initiative,” he said. Some 50 youths are now being trained to take up BPO jobs in Mahawilachchiya.
In a reversal of sorts, boys and girls from the cities are now visiting Horizon Lanka. “They come here to learn from us,” said Wanni.
Because of their English speaking and writing skills, youngsters here are beginning to write software programmes for overseas companies and individuals earning foreign exchange. They have a far better future – compared to youths from other villages – as computer programmers, software programmers and in related jobs.
“This (OnTime) has helped us to take on the world from this small hamlet,” says 24-year-old Chamila Priyadharshini. Currently in a state-sponsored teachers training course for English, Tamil (language of the biggest minority group) and Japanese, Priyadharshini says she wants to be a trained teacher in three years and spends her spare time teaching IT and English at the Horizon centre.
Replete with a modern gym, video and audio equipment and other electronic modern gadgetry the centre prepares youth for a life in the city, should they choose move out.
Wanni’s current target? ‘’I want to send at least one youngster from here to the prestigious MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the United States.’’
Fancy having city kids go into the village to learn? Usually it’s the other way around. But the Horizon Lanka IT village at Mahawilachchiya in Anuradhapura plays host to students from the cities and towns keen on learning IT and this small hamlet has taken Sri Lankan skills to a different plane on this planet.
Sri Lanka’s first IT village, Horizon Lanka, where a group of youth processes data for a fee has given city folk and policy planners many lessons. The first and most important lesson is that English is vital in a globalised world and for those education planners who think they should disturb the current English language education stream in government schools and provide a mix of English and Sinhalese subjects, the message from this small village is don’t!
If not for English and subsequently IT (without English you cannot learn IT), Mahawilachchiya would have been a backward village, unheard and unsung where youngsters grow up joining the military, garment factories or idle as Arts graduates without jobs.
Now because of their almost-perfect English speaking and writing skills, these youngsters are writing software programmes for overseas companies and individuals earning foreign exchange and laptops as gifts.
They have a far better future – than youth from other villages — as computer programmers, software programmers and in connected jobs.
Unlike the city where people grumble about food costs, unruly politicians, politics and the peace process, Mahavilachchiya residents spend their time in more productive ways. There is no huge debate about the plight of the country despite the fact that the village lies next to the Wilpattu National Park and on the Mannar border and even though some men have been abducted apparently by the Tigers.
Here farmers read online newspapers at home after a hard day’s work with the help of donated computers and Wifi-zones; children study English and IT after school and soon become computer geeks having their own blogs and get a training at the Horizon Lanka complex to prepare themselves for city life. There is a modern gym, video and audio CD players and other modern gadgetry so that village youth know how to deal with city life.
It’s like a village in motion heading towards a dream, parts of which have been fulfilled and a few more parts to be filled. Horizon founder Wanni’s dream is to send a youngster to the prestigious MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the US and given the commitment of these children and support from others, that’s most likely to happen in the not-too-distant-future.
The irony is that while Mahawilachchiya youngsters have access to modern technology via the Internet and sophisticated IT equipment like Wifi zones and massive transmission towers like city youth, they are un-spoilt by these trappings.
For example the BP operations director has no complaints about his less than Rs 10,000 salary and proudly says he saved enough to buy a motor cycle.
The youngsters are also competent in making power point presentations in English while their blogs have drawn comments and input from across the world. The success of this IT village in the jungle is expected to see a similar transformation of other villages with the help of Wanni and his dedicated band of IT experts.
English and IT are the only way forward as Mahawilachchiya has proved in its newest state of progression into BPO outfits to provide jobs. Without English, no country can progress in the globalised world while without IT we would be left behind as others in the region develop at a faster pace.
These are lessons from a small village for policymakers and the business community with the most important being — we need to be more productive than spending time on politics!
MAHAWILACHCHIYA, Anuradhapura – Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) is a growing business globally which Sri Lanka has now cottoned onto quite capably.
Dozens of BPO’s are springing up here as global companies look for cost effective ways of handling their back-office operations in countries where labour and communications are cheaper than the west.
Yet ever heard of a BPO company in a jungle setting, next to a wild life park and subject to the occasional threat by the LTTE? OnTime Pvt Ltd is part of rural Sri Lanka’s first IT village, Horizon Lanka in the backwoods of Mahavilachchiya (adjoining Wilpattu) off Anuradhapura, where a group of youth processes data for a fee.
There is nothing different in the BPO industry in processing information inside the office of the client or the service provider located elsewhere. For example, staff at Mahavilachchiya’s proud company, OnTime, processing marketing data for a John Keells Group subsidiary daily could – if we close the curtains in this nice office surrounded by shady trees and occasional bird calls – very well be inside a JKH office in Colombo. There’s nothing different.
OnTime operators log into a JKH SAP accounting system through a secured link and enter data like prices and quality of suppliers. Some 150 documents are handled by one operator per day. Dialog Telekom and Singer are expected to join OnTime as its next clients with negotiations going on with the two parties.
“The BPO entry came as we needed to create job opportunities for our youngsters to remain in the village after their initial learning in English and IT,” said Nanda Wanninayaka (better known as ‘Wanni”), the village boy-English teacher-turned village entrepreneur.
Horizon Lanka, Sri Lanka’s first IT village, is a revelation itself. Launched by Wanni, as a Mahawilachchiya school teacher, in 1998, the initiative began as an English teaching exercise for the children whose parents were mostly rice farmers. From there with one computer donated by the US embassy, impressed by an English journal that the students did, the village has progressed to a centre of IT learning where one in every eight families has a computer (a ratio of 100 computers for 800 families).
Unheard of before but in these backwoods poor farmers are reading online newspapers in the comfort of their makeshift homes with uptodate computers with the help – unbelievable again – of seven wifi zones under a new technology called MESH. Here a section of the village amidst paddy fields and streams has wireless Internet access at all times.
Wanni and his Horizon Lanka exploits are legendary and profiled in newspapers and TV stations across the world. The IT village’s biggest opportunity probably came when Wanni and his best students shared the stage with Intel Chairman Dr. Craig Barrett in December 2005, during the latter’s visit to Sri Lanka and presence at a major IT conference.
The idea of setting up a BPO emerged as Wanni pondered on the next level of development. “Having taught English and then IT, the next issue was where do they get jobs? How can we retain them in the village?” he asked.
Enter the Foundation for Advancing Rural Opportunities in Sri Lanka (FAROLanka) to help Horizon set up its BPO and find its first client. FARO’s help however comes with some conditions – Wanni’s support and guidance to help other villages to develop on similar lines which the latter and his team are more than willing to do.
Isuru Senevirathna is OnTime’s Operations Director. He has received BPO training – along with another OnTime employee – in Laos and India sponsored by John Keells.
The 20-year old youth like any other Mahavilachchiya youngster would have had to either join the armed forces (in the case of girls it’s garment factories) or remain in the village as a farmer, until Wanni and his vision came along. Now Isuru is the proud owner of a motor cycle, happy and contended.
OnTime CEO is Nirosh Manjula Ranathunga, a 30 year-old graduate from Kelaniya University who studied IT while doing his B.Com degree. Ranathunga, who lives in Anuradhapura and visits Horizon twice a week saying he can handle operations from his home town easily through email/Internet, is also interested in transferring his skills and learning to other villages. He has his own company, Real Business Solutions, and runs a formerly-owned Horizon Lanka cyber café in Anuradhapura.
“I joined Horizon Lanka two years ago as a project manager and I’am very happy with this BPO initiative,” he said. Some 50 youths are being trained to take up BPO jobs in Mahavilachchiya which has a modern computer lab with 512 KBPS Internet connection. The Horizon Lanka website is www.horizonlanka.org
Mahawilachchiya, a village 245 kms from Colombo is well known among locals and the international community as the first evillage and the village with the highest density of computers compared to any other village in Sri Lanka. Most parts of the village have broadband internet connectivity thanks to the hard work of the CEO of Horizon Lanka Foundation (HLF) T. B. Nanda Wanninayaka.
Today it is the first village to have a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) operation, which is totally handled by youngsters who are not only fluent in English and Computer knowledge but also play squash and rugger.
Wanni as he is popularly known has brought a smile to the youth of the village due to years of hard work and not accepting “No” for an answer. The concept of carrying out work for Colombo based and international companies from Mahawilachchiya was contemplated by Wanni even before the term BPO was widely known. Kapila Gunawardena based in the USA visited the HLF and seeing the potential of the youth wanted us to start a BPO operation, said Wanni.
John Keells was introduced to HLF by the Foundation for Advancing Rural Poverty (FARO). This saw the birth of the first BPO operation from rural Mahawilachchiya . The company On-Time Technologies (Pvt) Ltd., the BPO Company based in Mahawilachchiya rents the facility and the IT infrastructure of Horizon Lanka Academy.
Nirosh Ranatunga, a graduate from the University of Kelaniya functions as the CEO while Isuru Seneviratna is a director. John Keells selected one of its subsidiaries Infomate Ltd. to pioneer the outsourcing of transaction processing to On-Time Ltd. John Keells selected Infomate Ltd as they are in the business of providing outsourced accounting service owing to the availability of a high volume of data intensive transactions and the familiarity with the outsourcing model.
The JK strategic group IT division facilitated the setting up of the remote connectivity to JKH systems from Mahavilachchiya and the high internet links of On-Time facilitate data access and transaction processing. Once the secure connectivity was set up a tripartite agreement was signed between John Keells, On-Time Ltd and FARO in May 2007 and there has been no turning back since then.
Infomate transfers digitised images electronically to On-Time and they carry out the processing of invoices and document indexing based on the images. The outsourcing work for Infomate (Pvt) Ltd. is done from Mahawilachchiya using advanced communication technology. At present the operation is handled by four youth of Horizon Lanka Foundation while two are undergoing training at Infomate Ltd.
The staffers of On-Time said that they could break even when the two students join them after the training. At present each operator processes 150 invoices per day.
Nirosh Ranatunga said that a separate data link provided free by LankaCom, is used to connect Mahawilachchiya and JKH avoiding internet for a secured connectivity. Security tokens are being used to make the connectivity more secure but it creates high overheads since we have to pay a monthly rental for each token.
We use two software systems for the BPO operation which is SAP and BPO Mate. SAP is a client server software of which the client is installed at our site and our operators give user names and passwords to connect to the server at JKH.
The BPO Mate a web based system that we access via a web browser giving its URL. Separate user names and passwords are given to our operators for BPO Mate. This is used to retrieve images. The Speed of the datalink is 128 kbps.
Wanni said that they have also signed a contract with Dialog Telekom to process customer data while FARO is in discussion with Singer as well.
He said that since JKH was their first client it was easy to get recognition and secure a client as JKH is well recognised.
Wanni said that creating jobs in the village has opened many opportunities for the youngsters, which were hitherto shut. Without the support and help of JKH and FARO we would not have achieved so much in such a short period of time, said a grateful Wanni.
He said that they would showcase this village as a model for teaching English and IT using modern technology. He said that technology should be accessible to all children be they in the village or city as all children are talented.
He said prior to this project being introduced girls joined garment factories while the boys joined the Armed Forces after completing their education. English and IT has opened a host of opportunities to these youngsters and expanded their horizon as the name implies.
Dr. Ashok Junjunwala of IIT India during his visit had suggested that Anuradhapura be made a BPO district with Mahawilachchiya as the base.
We as Sri Lankans should hope and pray that this becomes a reality sooner than later where every citizen can be proud of the youth of this country. During the training period Infomate takes the trainees through an induction program as well as a structured program in the processing of accounting transactions.
The Social Responsibility Foundation of John Keells also provides the trainees with accommodation during the training period.
The horizon Lanka Academy trains the students in Computers and English and now most of them are so tech savvy that they even have their own blogs, which has helped them, win laptops from donors.
The first lucky blogger to receive a laptop from Dr Ing. E. Leuthold of Switzerland was Tharanga Sampath. Among the other lucky winners are Ranuka Udayanga an 18-year-old Advanced Level student while the other was Hansi Sumedha (16), an O/L student.
The village of Mahavilachchiya got Internet connections before the village got telephone connections thanks to Mesh technology, a project, donated by UNDP. Mahavilachchiya was selected as the testing ground for Mesh technology as it was the village with the highest density of computers.
Hansi Sumedha said that her ambition is to become a doctor. She said, “Before I joined HLF I didn’t have any knowledge of English or computers. Thanks to the teachers of HLF now I have my own blog to which I write often. Most importantly I perform better than my classmates in school. She said that she could use her laptop to do presentations. Her parents are farmers and she has two sisters.
Isuru Seneviratna, now a director of On-Time studied up to the GCE (O/L) in Mahavilachchiya and has been groomed by Wanni from grade four. He sat for his A/L examination in the Science stream from Nivaththaka Chethiya Vidyalaya Anuradhapura. Speaking of Wanni’s teaching methods, he said that he used innovative methods, which made them like the subject.
He was a lucky recipient of a BPO training program, which he underwent in Laos and India for three months. We were fortunate to be trained by David Paulson in Laos. “I got a whole new experience and thanks to that I am very much changed. He also gave us a good training in management.
“I gained a lot of experience at JKH, Laos and India and I don’t know what I would have done if this project was not initiated by Wanninayaka Sir,” said Seneviratne who will be celebrating his 20th birthday this week. His future plans are developing the company and moving to the management side, as that is his pet area.
Nirosh Ranatunga sharing his experience about Laos and India said that Laos is not as developed as our country.
The English knowledge is somewhat good but they have excellent systems while some team members are good in IT. Therefore they follow the systems and do big projects for clients even in the USA.
Ranatunga, a commerce graduate from the University of Kelaniya has done some software projects even while a student and now owns his own software development facility in Anuradhapura. Among his future plans are developing On-Time technologies as well as his private business.
U. B. Seetha, a 54-year-old grandmother of one of the students of Horizon Lanka Academy said that prior to this project nobody knew about computers. Thanks to this project our grandchildren are very knowledgeable and my grandson can even speak in English said the proud grandmother. We even got an opportunity of looking at a computer thanks to HLF and the HLA.
Horizon Lanka Foundation (HLF) is a non profit organisation registered under the Companies Act of Sri Lanka. It has been operating since 1998 in Mahawilachchiya. The Horizon Lanka Foundation was set up in 1998 due to the determination of a group of children from the rural village of Mahawilachchiya.
Their thirst for knowledge and educational advancement led them to the door of Nanda Wanninayaka (now CEO of HL Foundation), their former English teacher in the public school.
Thus began an after school club providing children further education in English and computers.
It has become a popular place for many children of the village. Since 1998, the Horizon Lanka Foundation has branched out. As well as providing an all-round education to the village children at Horizon Lanka Academy, they have expanded into the Information Age and now service the entire community with their computer lab, which has 24 Internet access.
In 2001, the website www.horizonlanka.org was launched by the children of Horizon Lanka Academy, opening a window to the world. Horizon Lanka Foundation is also responsible for beginning a project, which is bringing PCs to the homes of the villagers of Mahavilachchiya. So far more than 30 homes have been furnished with a computer and this is increasing monthly.
Micro Scholarships is a project of the Horizon Lanka Foundation that aims to help deserving students in their education. Many capable students in rural Sri Lanka are forced to interrupt their schooling because of financial difficulties.
Micro Scholarships ensure that every child covered under the scheme gets a quality education and a happy childhood. Under it, volunteers offer financial assistance that gives the child a small amount of money every month.
Horizon Lanka has fought against all odds to bring the Information Age to the small rural village of Mahavilachchiya.
Our efforts, funded purely by kind donations and sponsorship, are now providing over 100 students of the village with computing skills, access to the Internet, PCs in their homes, an Academy to improve their education specialising in ICT and English and most importantly we are giving the children and community fresh hope for their futures. Nandasiri Wanninayaka, a villager of Mahavilachchiya assumed duties as the English teacher in Saliyamala Public School in 1997.
This visionary thinker taught English to students using very innovative methods and also encouraged the little butterflies to maintain diaries and journals daily.
This made them improve their knowledge of English and win regional competitions as well.
“I am from this village and when I went to the city I had to face many barriers due to the limited knowledge of English. This is the reason I wanted to teach these children so that they not only master it but also become tech savvy and expand their horizons. I am happy about their progress since I groomed them from grade four. Now I want to implement the project in other villages as well, said Wanni.
Seventeen year old Tharanga Sampath is the proud owner of a brand new laptop for being the best blogger at Horizon Lanka Academy in Mahavilachchiya village in north-central Sri Lanka.
The laptop was donated by Dr. Ing. E. Leuthold from Switzerland in coordination with the Lak Saviya Foundation after contacting the Horizon Lanka Foundation in April, Horizon said. Leuthod has already promised to send two more laptops for the next two best students.
What began as an after school club providing children further education in English and computers, Horizon Lanka has branched out, providing an all round education to the village children.
It has expanded into the information age and now services the entire community with computer labs with 24 hour Internet access. Staff at the Foundation describes Tharanga as ‘showing a keen interest in Horizon affairs for the past few months since he joined the Foundation.’
He has recently been given the responsibility of handling lessons for juniors and ‘has the good quality of fulfilling whatever duty is assigned to him with a great deal of preparation and devotion.’ (NG)