A Digital Drive – Priyantha Fernandez

An experienced personality with a demonstrated history of working in the Telecommunications industry, skilled in Network Rollouts, Network Transformations, Network Integrations across various technologies and Network O&M with special skills for Customer Services Management, Priyantha Fernandez joined the Sri Lanka Telecom PLC in 1991, following his roles in various multinational telecommunication organizations. He has held a string of senior positions within SLT, culminating in his current position as the Chief Operating Officer.

Priyantha holds a BSc (Eng.) in Electronics and Telecommunications from the University of Moratuwa, and an MBA from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, and is a Chartered Engineer and Fellow of the Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka. He is a permanent member of the Technical Subcommittee reporting to the board of SLT since 2011, while also functioning as a Non-Executive Director of SLT Services Limited for over twelve years from 2007 to 2019.

SLT is the national Information and Communications Technology solutions provider, and the leading broadband and backbone infrastructure services provider in Sri Lanka, evolving for over 162 years. SLT enables opportunities that empower Sri Lankans and elevates the country’s standing in the global arena. SLT’s transformation into a digital service provider has seen the organization move beyond telecommunications services to provide a variety of services and solutions that cater to a digital lifestyle. Above all, SLT is the only profit-making government owned company.

On the topic of Digital Transformation, Priyantha stated, “I would call Digital Transformation a Social Revolution, and it has already started. I call it a Social Revolution because of the unlimited demands of millennials and their behaviours, and to face this, the Telecommunication organizations need to change in order to cater to the unlimited requirements. Accordingly, SLT has been evolving for the past 160 plus years. Change is inevitable, and we have to face it, and we are ready to face it.”

According to the COO, it is not innovation that has led to a Digital Transformation, but the high demands of the millennials who shaped the market to bring in it. Explaining the same, he mentioned about three major transformations which involved three generations and how a Digital Transformation evolved.

THE FIRST GENERATION

This includes the senior citizens. They faced the Industrial Revolution and their main concern was survival, with the limited job opportunities available. This generation had to consume what was available in the market. For example; during this time, Ford cars were manufactured in mass and customer care was not of a major concern, and once a car was purchased, it was used for a lifetime. In brief, they used a product for a prolonged period.

THE SECOND GENERATION

They saw the rise of the ICT Era. During this time, IT companies were booming and there was high demand for jobs. This generation was employed to further improve the basic standards of life, which were already established by the First Generation (Parents). During this time, customer care was a main focus to attract customers as there was an array of products in the market segments to choose based on the Product, Price, Promotion and Place (4P’s). The Economic Recession was faced by this generation and 2009-10 saw the fall of IT driven organizations as data became freely available on the internet.

THE THIRD GENERATION

This generation includes the millennials who want to stay connected online real time in order to stay active throughout the day, and they strive to achieve the quality of life, as the standards were already built by the Second Generation. They possess the basic requirements plus high-end products; therefore, their demands are vast, and require instant product or service delivery and are not attached to a specific brand or product. To keep up with the demands, market conditions changed, the Telecommunication industry was forced to transform, and it saw the rise of requirements for Digital Transformation to cater the requirements in the Social Transformation.

As the COO, Priyantha is ready to face this transformation as he had already faced various chapters during his 32-year career, and hence, he can adapt to the evolving requirements of the society.

“Since I have been in the industry for long, I have gone through many transformations. It was the Analog Era when I accepted my duties as a young Engineer. During this era, we were striving to achieve the basic requirements of Voice Communication through the two wires. During the 1990s, the beginning of the Electronic Era, we transformed the Automatic Switching Networks with Electronically Programmed Exchanges. This was where international connectivities were done through satellite links. Satellite earth stations played a major role in bringing in the Global Village concept in the open economy, and our main focus was to cater to the Voice demand of the nation. Later, with time, emerged the ICT Era. I would call this era, the marriage between IT and Communication. During this period, we saw the rise of the IT and Software industry, and there was a massive demand for data. Then came the rise of the Internet, where people distanced themselves from Voice Communication and used the freely available data and OTT applications for their day-to-day activities. During this time, we had to transform our Voice related network architectures to Data related networks. Finally, we saw the rise of the Social Revolution, where people wanted more connectivity and real-time solutions.”

Speaking of the benefits and drawbacks of the Digital Transformation, Priyantha stated that the main benefit is upon the customer as they can use online services for the day-to-day activities in fulfilling their instant demands. Citing an example, he stated that people can now connect to any site of leisure or any market in the world at minimal costs. On the other hand, it affected SLT as its services were focused on Voice Communication.

“However, we anticipated this and transformed our network to provide broadband connections. Now our revenues are increasing as we are the number one fixed broadband provider with the highest BB speeds in Sri Lanka,” he proudly said.

Stating the organization’s recent achievements in terms of Digital Transformation, Priyantha remarked, “SLT has not only concentrated on connectivity, but connectivity with high speed bandwidth capability. This was resulted after the introduction of the ‘Fiber to the home’ technology, and we are leading in connecting people. In order to connect to the world, we used South East Asia- Middle East-Western Europe submarine (SEA-ME-WE) cables; we partnered with Submarine cables SEA-ME-WE 3, SEA-ME-WE 4, and SEA-ME-WE 5, which are presently in operation. SEA-ME-WE 6 is the new cable and it will be connected to Sri Lanka in the near future in order to seamlessly connect our nation to the world with all high tech requirements for 5G.

“We will convert SLT’s traditional network and IT architecture to a new generation architecture which will benefit in providing a faster service delivery. SLT will also be concentrating on Process Automation to provide services. In making processes automatic, technologies such as Robotic Process Automation, AI, and Data Analytics will be used. Through automation, employees will be empowered, and hence, we will be able to deliver services faster to provide a better experience to the customer.”

Revealing the future plans of SLT, the COO stated that it will invest in providing the broadband connection to the village, so that the quality of lives of Sri Lankans can be uplifted.

“We will also focus on digitalizing the other industry verticals. The Healthcare industry, Agriculture industry, Education industry, Transportation industry, Sports industry and other industries will benefit in delivering their services productively. For instance, we can provide online education to the people who find it hard to access cities.

“Our main aim is to create a digital savvy nation, and as Sri Lanka is geographically well-situated, Sri Lanka could be a hub of connectivity to Southeast Asia. And if our human resource can be trained to be more IT savvy, Sri Lanka can be a place for production of IT and software products and services, and a researching location for software products, and could be used as a test bed for other nations in testing digital products – foreign revenue can be earned through this.”

%d bloggers like this: