Thushera Kawdawatta on Sri Lanka’s Digital Future

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Thushera Kawdawatta, Chief Executive Officer at Axiata Digital Labs

The Chief Executive Officer of Axiata Digital Labs shares his vision for reshaping the company for a non-linear revenue model and mass collaboration to drive growth.

Thushera Kawdawatta, Chief Executive Officer at Axiata Digital Labs, shares his insights into the evolving economic model and its impact on the Sri Lankan tech industry and how Axiata Digital Labs is gearing for growth by focusing on a non-linear revenue model, mass collaboration, innovative R&D, developing talent on par with global standards and helping clients reimagine their businesses with superior technology solutions and experiences.

We are at a watershed in Sri Lanka’s economic history. What do you envision for the country, and how have you reshaped your vision for Axiata Digital Labs?

In terms of Axiata Digital Labs, we are an organization driven by talent. We are focused on people and their skills, and as we look at the economy we are trying to grow, it is clear that the industry is moving toward digital transformation. In terms of Axiata Digital Labs, we are an organization driven by talent. We are focused on people and their skills, and as we look at the economy we are trying to grow, it is clear that the industry is moving toward digital transformation. Every industry is seeking digital transformation, and this requires highly skilled individuals, including those who can adopt IR4 and IR5 technologies, and enable mass collaboration.

The economic model we have in mind is based on talent to revenue, but it is a linear model. We need to explore other options, such as consolidating talent onto a platform that can be consumed as a service. This creates a non-linear model where revenue can increase as consumption increases.

In Sri Lanka, we have a talented and creative pool of individuals with high IQs. However, we lack global exposure. To address this, at Axiata Digital Labs, we are adopting the best global practices, and upskilling and reskilling our talent on global talent platforms. We are also moving away from a linear revenue model to a non-linear model to create greater value, especially since Sri Lanka’s talent pool is relatively small compared to other industries.

In your view, what would the new economic model look like, and will it impact the strategy of your company?

Digital transformation is driving demand for highly agile, reconfigured organizations in the industry, necessitating the reconfiguration or even reimplementation of existing systems. However, a high talent pool is required, and this talent is scarce in the global context. One solution is mass collaboration, which can eliminate silos among digital solution providers and leverage hyper scalers, similar to the current trend in chip manufacturing.

To meet the world’s demand for high agility and adaptability, companies must create talent platforms that promote mass collaboration among vendors, suppliers, and talent. This new model is non-linear to the talent currently available and can create new revenue models through the adoption of transformative technologies such as AI. AI platforms can help to automate mundane tasks and improve efficiency, freeing up talent to focus on higher-value work.

As AI continues to mature rapidly, organizations must learn to leverage existing platforms, data and skill sets to transform their operations into a non-linear model. This shift will enable companies to keep up with the pace of change and stay competitive in an increasingly digital landscape, and these are areas in which Axiata Digital Labs excels.

We aim to improve customer experiences and boost their business revenue by providing over 150 digital transformation solutions. Our team of experienced engineers and professionals provides services to leading telcos, banks, and fintechs globally. We offer innovative products and platforms, including API management solutions and a digital telco transformation enabler platform to establish the underlying infrastructure. Our platform protects personal data by hiding identities and sensitive information, enabling meaningful engagement without compromising privacy.

How has Axiata Digital Labs reimagined itself to create growth opportunities under challenging conditions, and what are your plans for growth?

Axiata Digital Labs started with fewer than 200 employees in 2019 but now has over 1,300 globally. We have achieved phenomenal revenue growth and plan to sustain that trajectory over the next five years. Retaining the positive attributes of a startup and a mature company gives us the dynamic and agility to focus on stability and stay ahead of ever-changing client expectations.

Our plate of growth opportunities is full. Demand for technical skills in the industry remains high. The challenge now is to meet this demand by maintaining and growing a talented team and adopting global best practices to reshape, upskill and develop them.

What are the pressing challenges confronting the tech industry and your company right now?

The challenge at hand is ensuring that our talent pool is equipped to meet the demands of the ever-evolving world. To tackle this challenge, one solution is to reskill our teams. Some skills require a complete overhaul, while extreme automation should be implemented to reduce the burden of repetitive tasks. By re-skilling employees and automating tedious tasks, we can free up our talent pool to support new demands.

Another challenge is bridging the skills gap created by the rapid pace of new technologies and the industry’s demand for digital transformation. It is up to organizations to ensure they have the right talent to meet these demands. The third challenge is supporting new ways of working, such as remote working while addressing social and environmental issues.

At Axiata Digital Labs, we are sensitive to employees’ well-being since multiple factors, including high work demand, and social and environmental conditions, can impact their work. To foster creativity and innovation, we have created the right environment and atmosphere for our talent pool to thrive in their careers and personal lives: this is something to which we are deeply committed.

Considering the industry you represent, what should policymakers prioritise to unleash the tech industry’s full potential?

Ensuring we have the right talent pool to support the demands of the world is a pressing challenge. One way to address this is by re-skilling our teams, and completely re-skilling those who have the necessary skills. Additionally, extreme automation should be considered for all tasks that can be automated to reduce the demand for talent in monotonous, repetitive tasks. These individuals can then be re-skilled to support new demands.

Another challenge is the widening skills gap caused by new technologies and demands for digital transformation. Organizations must ensure they have the right talent to support these changes. A third challenge is adapting to new working models, such as remote work and social issues, especially in a world facing stagflation and joblessness. Sustainability is important, and we must be sensitive to employees facing pressure from multiple angles.

To tackle these challenges, we must ensure that the right capacity for tech skills is incorporated into fundamental education streams and that universities work with industries to shape their curriculums. Policymakers must consider data privacy and protection, given the amount of personal information managed. As the talent pool is global, pay structures and employee rights for remote workers must also be considered and protected. Ultimately, creating the right environment for talent to thrive is crucial for innovation and creativity.

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