Hiran Wickramasinghe is the group managing director of Informatics Holdings and is building on the 36-year old company’s strong background in education and IT.
Informatics Holdings has four independent entities: agriculture, education, software, and systems intergration. The beauty of the set-up, Wickramasinghe says, is that the latter three verticals are perfectly poised to support each other— and Sri Lanka—to drive success through education. Informatics Institute of Technology, “IIT”, was founded in 1990 and provides technology and business undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. The software arm of Informatics Holdings, Informatics International, offers technology-led solutions for customers in 15 countries. This drives the business and also gives international exposure to Sri Lankan talent.
As Wickramasinghe says, “Sri Lanka is a knowledge hub, people are smart and can learn. Those skills are in high demand globally, and we want to invest and ready people to take those skills globally.” Informatics Holdings was founded by his father, Gamini Wickramasinghe, in 1983.
He pioneered bringing British tertiary education to Sri Lanka and was an early embracer of computers, software and sustainable agriculture. He founded Informatics Agrotech in 1989 and pioneered bringing large-scale drip irrigation to Sri Lanka. Wickramasinghe’s father still plays a driving role in the sustainable agri-business, and their 1,000-acre plantation was the first to be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified in South East Asia for teak, mahogany, cashew and coconut.
“Sri Lanka is a knowledge hub, people are smart and can learn. Those skills are in high demand globally, and we want to invest and ready people to take those skills globally.”
Informatics’ software business, Informatics International, has built a reputation for adding real value to clients. “We invest in learning the domain, and we become like advisors to our clients,” Wickramasinghe says. A lot of the products they provide are critical software services, used by the likes of border control and immigration; as he puts it, “We are the backbone of their infrastructure, if our software were to go down, their operations would stop.”
Clients for their critical software services include governments, insurance, border control, banking and telecommunications, particularly in emerging markets. They have run the immigration software for Sri Lanka since 1999 and also supply to Fiji and Mauritius. Their insurance software operates in 15 countries across four continents.
After graduating with a degree from IIT, Wickramasinghe spent several years working in the UK. He returned to Sri Lanka in 2011 and took over as group managing director in 2012. Since then, Wickramasinghe has restructured the company and updated processes. He has re-prioritised its focus to software and packaging solutions in ways that can be easily re-sold to multiple customers and markets. Plans are to grow their software & systems presence within their existing markets and to consolidate the company’s reputation as an innovative solution—not merely software—provider.
Wickramasinghe believes the future workplace will not so much require ‘education’ as ‘skills’. Courses at IIT are changing to invest in the education and technology needed in the future; moving away from conventional IT, software engineering and business degrees to include more entrepreneurial and disruptive skills. IIT has introduced data analytics and cyber-security programs. Gaming, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are also under consideration. “We need to think what will the world, not just Sri Lanka, need in future,” says Wickramasinghe.
An MSc in fashion management aims to provide the resources to encourage Sri Lanka’s knowledge services industry along with encouraging higher value addition from fashion in the garment industry.
Sri Lanka’s knowledge services industry was the fifth largest export earner for Sri Lanka in 2018 and it’s estimated to have over 80,000 employees engaged within the industry. Knowledge services has been identified as a thrust industry by the government within the National Export Strategy (NES), which targets $5 billion of exports by 2022, along with creating 200,000 new jobs and 1,000 startups. Ensuring that there is a pipeline of highly-skilled, talent individuals is crucial to supporting these objectives. At present, IIT has over 4,000 alumni.
A state of the art campus, costing over $10 million with 100,000 sq. ft is due to open in 2021. This facility will take the company closer to its goal of having 10,000 students enrolled in ten years. The new purpose-built campus will include spaces for incubation and collaboration, to encourage and support entrepreneurship in their students. As well as increasing student capacity, Wickramasinghe wants to grow the proportion of international students at IIT to 10%.
The multiply effect hoped for is that these highly skilled world-class graduates go on to make significant contributions to the economic output of Sri Lanka and the wider technology ecosystem. As well as increasing student capacity, Wickramasinghe is looking at diversifying IIT’s student base. He sees their offerings as an attractive value proposition for overseas students who are after quality British tertiary education and wants to grow the overall proportion of foreign students to at least 10%. This would have the added benefit of developing Sri Lanka’s reputation as an international educational hub.
Informatics Holdings employs over 450 people in Sri Lanka and has a turnover of over Rs2.5 billion. With diversification across the four verticals, Wickramasinghe aims to make Informatics a provider of accessible education, enabling a new generation of leaders in Sri Lanka and beyond.