Jehan Perinpanayagam, Chief Executive Officer at Infomate, a pioneering BPM company and leading BPM export earner that is part of the John Keells Group, together with his leadership team share their passion on making a difference through business and leading one of Sri Lanka’s pioneering ICT/BPM companies and top export earners.
What are the factors shaping the future of the ICT and BPM sector of Sri Lanka?
The ICT/BPM industry is one of the few industries showing double-digit growth despite the pandemic. I work closely with SLASSCOM, and all our member companies are continuing to hire. I have been at several country presentations to many leading international BPMs and companies looking to set up in Sri Lanka. It is an exciting time for the local ICT industry, and the challenge confronting us now is ensuring our capacity expands at the requisite rate. Our goal is to be a $5 billion industry and employ 200,000 by 2025. Our export revenues for 2021 is estimated at $1.7 billion and we employ close to 120,000 people.
We are positioning Sri Lanka as the Island of Ingenuity, and the world is taking notice. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, global companies with BPM operations and offshore tech services in countries like India and the Philippines are looking to set up operations here to diversify risk and have dual-delivery capabilities.
We will continue to see growth in the BPM sector. The second trend is that we will see new higher value services introduced. While our initial offering was in finance and accounting, we have now expanded our range of services to include shipping documentation, sales, admin support, HR and legal process outsourcing. We are offering a much broader, more diverse range of services. Automation will be a key enabler. Automating repetitive tasks through technologies such as Robotic Process Automation and more routine processes are growing in demand as companies look for ways to free valuable human resources for more analytical and strategic functions. Our services are moving up the value chain, using analytics to tell the story behind the numbers.
Could you briefly tell us about Infomate, how it has evolved as a company over the years?
Infomate started as a shared services centre with 60 people serving our parent company, John Keells Holdings, and its subsidiaries. We were the first shared services centre in Sri Lanka at the time, so we were very much the pioneers. In the early days we were serving our own family and it was challenging times. We did not have labour arbitrage, so making our service cost-effective was challenging, compelling us to explore opportunities to be efficient and innovative. For instance, we set up BPM centres outside the Western Province in rural areas. Today, three BPM centres in Mahavilachchiya, Seenigama and Jaffna handle 50% of our work for the John Keells Group. We not only support rural communities by creating jobs and exposing young people to the world, but as a company, we are gaining cost-efficiencies, better employee retention, and business continuity. In terms of cost effective innovation, we developed our own document management system in-house, and that was a world-class system called BPOMate, which was integrated with SAP and the first of its kind in Sri Lanka. I believe no other BPM has something like this that can give us access to a range of metrices on every aspect of our performance. We developed the country’s first supplier portal revolutionising supplier payments in the destination management industry, and we were the first accounting BPM to be awarded ISO 27001 certification for world class information security practices.
Over the years, we grew our client portfolio to include leading brand names outside the JKH Group. Today more than 70% of our revenue is from outside the JKH group. We celebrated our 15th-anniversary in 2020 and have grown more than fivefold since inception. We have a growing clientele across Australia, Europe, the Middle East and we have done projects in North America. We are proud that we are ranked among the top 6 BPM exporters in the country. Today, in Sri Lanka we serve some of the best known brand names in addition to JKH and over 50% of our revenue is from overseas.
While finance and accounting remain our core, we have expanded our range of services. We provide 24×7 services and handle documents in over 12 languages. We are a socially responsible business, an equal opportunity employer with over 50% of staff female, including our management committee. We pioneered rural BPM in Sri Lanka and recently commenced an exciting ESG initiative spanning climate, social and employee initiatives. Our ambition is not just to be the biggest BPM but to practice responsible and sustainable business. Infomate has come a long way over our 16 years in business.
What was the impact from Covid-19, and how is Infomate helping its clients up the game post-pandemic?
We adapted to the pandemic very well because we translated all our work very seamlessly into remote working. There were challenges, but we ensured we established the connectivity, the machines, and the support our people required. We also invested a lot of time and effort to ensure information security was robust for secure and protected client data. Our services helped clients overcome their Covid-19 challenges, and we received overwhelming feedback from appreciative clients from around the world. We are now seeking to empower clients to transform their businesses with automation and big data analytics, elevating their operations to world-best standards.
How do you define your purpose as CEO of Infomate?
In short, it is to make a difference. A difference to our customers, to our employees, to the community and to Sri Lanka. I am personally passionate and would like to instil in our team, the desire to make a difference through business. When I look back at the journey of the past 16 years, I am most proud of the positive impact we have had on people. We have built so many successful careers over the years, and our alumni include people in leadership positions in large corporations here and overseas. In terms of society, with our rural BPM work, we are providing exciting career prospects to rural kids and a chance to improve the standard of living for their families. We have made a difference when it comes to women in terms of equal opportunity, including in our leadership. Long before the pandemic struck and remote working became a thing, we pioneered remote working within the John Keells Group, where women who had given up work because of childbirth, all around Sri Lanka, were allowed to work remotely. We have also made a difference to our customers by transforming their processes, bringing in best practices and automation to make it a better experience for them. In a small but significant way we have made a difference to our industry and country.
Can you tell us about your plans for the future?
The Infomate journey is something I could never have achieved on my own. Every member of team Infomate is an integral part of our journey. I recall with great fondness our pioneers who devoted so much of their effort, tears, and toil to make Infomate what it is today. I am proud of my senior team today who lead our efforts. Ranga Wijewardana, AVP, Head of Operations, and Dishan Samarathunga, Head of Operations – HRO and Payroll Services. Ranga is an experienced outsourcing professional with a lot of international exposure, including in West Africa. Brilliant in process management, he has been responsible for migrating some of our significant businesses in Australia and the UK. Dishan heads the payroll operation that serves the JKH Group and some of the big brand names in Sri Lanka. He is transforming this area with new transformative HRO solutions.
If you look at the map, our global clients span the world, from Australia to Norway, the US, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand; in every John Keells company, we have an Infomate alumnus; we have BPM centres from up North in Jaffna, to down South in Seenigama and to the Northcentral in Mahawilachchiya, spanning the length and breadth of Sri Lanka. The only place left on the map is the Eastern Province, and I intend to set up a BPM centre there soon.
Our plans include aggressive expansion of our services globally through our partner network, together with the rolling out of a range of exciting new services including voice based operations. Process wise, we are looking at a very aggressive rollout roadmap for Intelligent Automation. Work on analytics is just starting, and we have 15 people in our team certified, and we are looking at a lot more work in analytics in that area, getting into fully-fledged data science as an offering. Those would be the two main areas of focus when it comes to digital transformation. We are also increasingly using digital marketing to get our message across to our customers and deepen relationships.
What was the one business lesson you had to learn the hard way?
One of the things I would say is the willingness to try new things and take measured risks. You have to think big and back yourself. Always have a plan, whether it is a tech project or a marketing campaign and then have the confidence to go for it. Another is achieving the right mix of getting into details and delegation. Sometimes you can delegate and then lose touch with what is happening on the ground, and on the other hand, you can get too much into the details and miss the bigger picture. You’ve got to do both. The other thing that I have also learned is the value of relationships, be it with staff, clients, or business partners. Business is all about relationships. You have to invest in it and maintain it. That is something that we would always cherish: a relationship for life, based on trust, goodwill and respect.