Sri Lanka is an ageing country. By 2041, a quarter of the country’s population will be older than 60 years, rising from 12.4% in 2012. An older population’s productivity is lower, which leads to declining growth. Japan, which is at an even more advanced stage of the crisis, is partly addressing the problem with immigrants. In Sri Lanka, immigration is a political hot potato. Muthukumarana says that to spur growth over the long-term, Sri Lanka needs to make its young people as productive as possible. However, most of Sri Lanka’s top talents are performing repetitive, mundane work.
Many graduates from state universities are doing simple jobs in government offices. These are tasks that are easy to automate with bots. Such automation will release highly qualified Sri Lankans from the mundane, freeing them to think and be creative. “What differentiates humans is that we can be creative. Are our most qualified people creating things we could sell? If our young talent is allowed to do this, we can create a competitive service-based economy, and by services, I don’t mean call centres which are at the lowest level of value creation, but things like software engineering and consulting,” Muthukumarana says.
“What differentiates humans is that we can be creative. Are our most qualified people creating things we could sell? If our young talent is allowed to do this, we can create a competitive service-based economy, and by services, I don’t mean call centres which are at the lowest level of value creation, but things like software engineering and consulting,”
Most people fear that technology will take away their jobs, especially in an economy as protected as Sri Lanka. However, automating mundane processes allows these individuals to move up the value chain and find more fulfiling work. Muthukumarana says that Sri Lankans being unhappy with their current jobs is what leads to brain drain overseas. In addition to an ageing population, a portion of the most talented individuals leave the country, depriving Sri Lanka of critical resources it requires to grow.
Muthukumarana, an IT Engineer with an interest in economics, says that the time to act is now, to change curricula in the education system to take advantage of automation and plug into high value-added services. “Even Singapore, a developed economy, is growing faster than us. If we delay, countries like Cambodia and Myanmar will surpass Sri Lanka. But we can’t wait for someone to change the way things work for us. Some of us can do something about it, especially in the new generation, which is why we founded Potenza.” Potenza advises on digital technologies and creates smart solutions for software systems in companies to reach their full potential, allowing them to free their employees to think and be creative.
Some of these could be software that a firm already owns, but operates in a silo, which forces employees to download data from one system and input it into another. Potenza integrates these systems and provides support. Most of Potenza’s clients are overseas but Muthukumarana says there are some banks and larger companies that have embraced robotics in Sri Lanka. “This doesn’t mean that automation is limited to them. Robotics can be used in any industry in any process, at the very least, to automate basic tasks.” Nearly all digital solutions Potenza provides are in the market and the firm customises them for client needs. Muthukumarana estimates that Potenza has to create new products 5% of the time.
One such product created was for one of the largest retailers in South East Asia, which needed to settle over 8,000 invoices daily, but was doing so manually. The platform engages with suppliers on the cloud and communicates with SAP systems to process payments. Potenza will publish this platform for use by other retailers as well. Muthukumarana says if others too can create products such as these, it would bring greater foreign exchange to Sri Lanka and help the country transition faster from its recently bestowed upper-middle-income status, to a high-income economy.
Potenza drew $1 million in revenue in just its second year of business and is now establishing an office in Singapore to further expand into South East Asia faster. “One thing we always tell companies is to adopt robotics into your business sustainably. It makes your people happy, and they will contribute more to your growth. So far, we haven’t been wrong.”