From ordering a meal to opening a bank account, digitalisation has changed our lives. The ongoing pandemic has accelerated this trend. Here in Sri Lanka, once traditional industries are now embracing technology. Just In Time Group (JIT) has been instrumental in setting the foundation and driving the digital transformation of Sri Lanka. Celebrating 25 years of operation, CEO of JIT, Chrishan Mendis, sat down with Arteculate.
The origins of Just In Time Group
Everything began in 1996, selling Compaq computers out of a small basement office. From these humble beginnings, JIT has morphed into a leading systems integrator. The diversified group specialises in offering strategic ICT solutions targeting the Banking and Financial Services, Telecommunications, Government and Commercial sectors. Some of these solutions include systems integration services, geographical information systems, support and maintenance services, infrastructure solutions, data analytics, and more.
JIT has always been a company that is relentless about bringing innovative and relevant technologies for their customers, which has been their 25-year journey. The future drive of JIT is to maximise the emerging technologies of Cloud, Artificial intelligence (AI), etc., and the multiple benefits it has to offer, which are disrupting the traditional brick-and-mortar concepts into a digitally powered, collaborative and personalized customer experience.
“The world as we knew it has changed rapidly due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Now it’s all about optimizing ourselves for a more robust and agile way of doing business, as the old way of doing things has changed drastically. Whether it’s face to face, or remotely – we, as a technology provider are committed to staying ahead in the industry to benefit your business. Our focus is to provide end-to-end agile digital Solutions to suit our customer’s needs to work for them, addressing their pain points, to be smarter, effective and sustainable.” shared Chrishan.
Chrishan himself has played an active role in the journey of JIT. Having joined in 1996 as a Finance Manager, he rose through the ranks to become the CEO in 2018. Looking back, he describes it as, “A journey of continuous change. It’s a necessity given how the industry moves as technology evolves. As a growing organisation, our defining moments were when we realised such change was necessary and evolved accordingly.”
Likewise, JIT has helped many customers embrace change on their digitalisation journey. As an example, Chrishan points to the digital banking project, which enabled a public bank to go digital – winning several awards locally and globally. He goes onto say, “Looking at the numbers on the bank’s digital channels, from 2019 – the digital deposits came to Rs 90 billion. In 2020, the total value of digital transactions surpassed Rs 300 billion.”
The above is just one of the many digitalisation projects of Just In Time Group. “We have long been playing a silent role in supporting the country’s essential services, delivering some of the Nation’s critical systems. These invisible yet critical systems power many of the essential services that we rely on daily. We will continue to support our country on a journey of greater resilience and uninterrupted business continuity through technology, in delivering best-of-breed solutions and services to our customers to have the flexibility and opportunity to be world-class,” said Chrishan.
From Supporting the Real Time Gross settlement system of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka to the implementation and maintenance of the National Payment system at LankaClear (Pvt) Limited to the Digital Banking system at People’s bank, our list is endless. It has been a steady and resilient journey for JIT. It takes something special for a business to keep its doors open successfully for a quarter of a century, especially in a rapidly evolving and competitive industry like ICT.
Exploring Sri Lanka’s untapped potential
Chrishan views the current state of the local technology industry with optimism. He credits the e-Sri Lanka initiative with giving a clear digital roadmap for the nation. Coming under the President’s purview through the Ministry of Technology, the initiative has enabled collaboration between public agencies and the private sector. This partnership is built on the shared belief that technology is the foundation for a better society.
As part of this initiative, the government has begun developing digital infrastructure to bridge the digital divide in our society. One example of this is the Lanka Government Cloud 2.0, a common infrastructure platform for government organisations. Chrishan notes that such initiatives “Will strengthen our digital infrastructure to be a great contender – as one small island, which has remained resilient through many disasters. We are a resilient nation.”
Following the pandemic, many of these initiatives saw rapid progress. It’s a feat that’s a testament to the talent of Sri Lanka’s technology industry. Even as other sectors of the economy struggled during the initial days of the pandemic, the tech sector was able to adapt relatively quickly. Looking ahead, Chrishan notes that globalisation has opened several opportunities. By empowering the technology industry to seize these opportunities, Chrishan believes that Sri Lanka can transform itself into a robust digital economy.
How can Sri Lanka seize the opportunities of a digital future?
Sri Lanka is known for affordable and skilled technical talent that’s relied upon by global giants. According to the AT Kearny Global Services Location Index, Sri Lanka ranks 11 out of 50 countries. “Ranking among giants like India, China, Malaysia, and Vietnam is an achievement. It shows that our talent pool is comparatively superior.” Further, the Export Development Board of Sri Lanka has identified ICT services as the 4th largest export earnings for the country.
Sri Lanka has a strong tech industry. Yet, there’s room for improvement. Chrishan observes, “In other regional countries, we see that the technology secures 60% of foreign direct investment. In Sri Lanka, it accounts for 12% of our total FDI. So, we can make a substantial contribution to our economy by accelerating and optimising the growth of the sector.” But how can this be achieved?
Chrishan argues that Sri Lanka needs to adopt a short, medium, and long-term vision to seize the opportunities that lie ahead. Ultimately, the objective is to develop a skilled workforce that can meet the evolving needs of the future.
Planning for the digital future
In the short term, that means developing local IT parks, incubators, and digitalisation programmes – which as we can see are transpiring. Such efforts would address bridging the digital divide across the communities. Already, the government is looking at setting up regional IT hubs. Chrishan believes it’s possible to attract foreign tech companies to set up offices at these local IT parks. However, it’d require the collaboration of local agencies and foreign missions along with the passing of business-friendly labour regulations and foreign exchange rules.
In the medium term, efforts must be made towards empowering local academia to develop patented innovative technologies. This Chrishan believes it requires investment towards setting up research labs at universities and dedicated funds for R&D initiatives. Alongside such efforts, exchange programs should be in place for academics to learn from foreign universities and commercial entities. He says that it’s possible to get corporations to support commercially relevant research by offering tax incentives.
In the long term, plans should be drawn up to restructure the entire educational system. In a digital world, the most prized skills are creativity, innovation, critical thinking, and analytical skills. Thus, as Chrishan puts it, “Create a passion for IT early so that students will naturally opt to select IT as a preferred stream early in their lives.”
The future of digitalization in Sri Lanka
Looking towards to the future, Chrishan is optimistic. “I believe the short-, medium-, and long-term plans can be implemented strongly. Now more than ever, because of the newly established Ministry of Technology overseen by Mr. Jayantha De Silva, which oversees 13 institutions. It’s the 1st time in Sri Lanka where all technology-related public agencies are under a single umbrella. Thus, upholding the President’s vision of a digitally inclusive and prosperous Sri Lanka. Furthermore, we are also confident, that with Prof. Lalith Gamage spearheading ICTA, Sri Lanka’s Digital Strategy will be driven with vigour, with his depth of knowledge, experience.
Meanwhile, for JIT, the focus remains on enabling and embracing change. By maintaining a close connection with its customers and understanding their needs, the group is helping the digitalization of several industries. It’s the defining feature of the group, which has allowed it to grow over the past 25 years. Not just merely offering a technical solution but also maintaining the infrastructure for years to come and meeting customers’ changing needs.
Chrishan states, ““The attention span as online users can be measured in seconds and in the digital age, the immediate response is everything. Delivering digital transformation is no exception, as we know that a large-scale project won’t be delivered overnight. The challenge for us as Systems integrators or disruptive technology practitioners is responding to stakeholder needs for immediate action and solutions, in the context of a project which takes time.
He continues, “Today, 25 years down, we have transitioned into a Data-Driven Business that disrupts, transforms and innovates our customer’s digital transformation journey to stay agile – ahead of the competition. This is why adopting an agile approach, with a strong focus on planning, process and documentation are best for disruption – A necessity in the era of technology disruption, which we as an organisation has been challenged to make change happen at scale and at speed. The ability to be responsive to customer and stakeholder needs and adaptive to changing priorities is how we drive to sustain a competitive advantage. Therefore, being agile has a key role to play in enabling these outcomes. There is no silver bullet, but the lessons learnt have helped us manage the new era of change into an Agile business environment. Also, in the rapidly changing digital landscape, we understand the talent needs, these needs to be fed, to have a competitive edge. To play our part, as the leaders and mentors in the industry, this is why we have adopted an agile approach, to build the mindset and the toolkit for our next 25-year journey and beyond.”
In closing he states, “We firmly believe in value creation through Technology’ for our customers. This is our strength, stemming from the payments landscape and telco domain which spans over 2 decades which has allowed us to confidently say, that our contribution towards an essential ecosystem and has been instrumental in changing the ICT arena in Sri Lanka.” JIT is now gearing up for its next chapter, through organic growth and acquisitions. JIT has strengthened its business and are looking forward to growing their new expansion plans in order to provide their customers with the same best of breed solutions and support received to date.