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An Echelon Media Company
Wednesday October 20th, 2021

What is next for hSenid, Sri Lanka’s pioneer tech company

Founded 25 years ago, the company built HR solutions and mobile applications used by big businesses here and overseas. The company will next take its HR solutions business public to fast track growth in the Asia Pacific and African regions.

Dinesh Saparamadu, Founder & Chairman, and Sampath Jayasundara, Chief Executive Officer, discuss hSenid’s remarkable journey as a pioneer Sri Lankan software developer winning global markets, taking hSenid Business Solutions public, and developing the local tech industry.

Most people recognise hSenid as one of the pioneer ICT companies in Sri Lanka that went global. Can you take us through the founding of hSenid and the journey thus far?

Dinesh: Having lived and worked in the US for more than ten years, I decided to return to Sri Lanka in 1996 for two reasons. First, my wife and I expected our first child, and I wanted her to be born in Sri Lanka. Second, I yearned to spend time with my parents. Once I returned, however, I quickly saw the growing potential of the IT industry in the country. I knew I had to do something, but I was unsure about what to do, so I joined an IT company to gain some exposure and gauge the industry. After a while, I discovered a market need for digital HR systems, so I left my job and started my own software development company in 1997 to build enterprise HR solutions. Thus, hSenid was born.

We started with just three people out of a small room at Ward Place. From day one, I was determined to build HR solutions for global markets. Our first clients included Shell Gas, Sri Lanka Telecom, SriLankan Airlines, and Sampath Bank. We quickly won over large corporate clients because we pioneered GUI (graphical user interface) that enhanced user experiences. Our uncompromising focus on user experiences and superior customer service are core objectives in everything we do, and that has been a constant factor driving growth.

Sampath: I joined hSenid in 2000 to fast track the development of our core HR solution and take it to the market. I was responsible for the rollout at SriLankan Airlines, Sri Lanka Telecom followed by Sampath Bank. Our future was riding on these projects because we needed to achieve success fast to build references for client acquisitions. From the start, our intention was to build world-class HR solutions that would revolutionise the HR profession and make life easy for HR professionals, employers, and employees, and help enterprises unleash their most valuable asset, people. Our focus on user experiences and building HR solutions for a global market quickly attracted attention, and with that came two significant opportunities that launched hSenid global. DST, A leading telecommunications company in Brunei, and the Capital Markets and Stock Exchange in Tanzania engaged us to automate their HR processes, thus giving us a foothold into the Asia Pacific and African markets.

We were fortunate to have worked with big local corporations initially because that gave us unique insights into HR practices and helped us develop innovative solutions that can be scaled globally. From the team point of view, we ensure we have the right people from consulting to engineering to build a global solution. We benchmarked our products with leading international brands and added new features based on unique customer requirements and considering different industries and geographical contexts. This way, we have built end-to-end HR solutions beyond the rudimentary but complex attendance and payroll functions, including recruitment, talent management and succession planning. We bring the best HR practices to the table, and we also perfected the art of giving clients what they need to drive productivity to the next level.

There is a reason hSenid successfully competes with other global tech companies. When a company engages hSenid Business Solutions, they will get the best HR practices unique to their location and the industry they represent. We currently have expertise in over 20 industry verticals. For instance, any manufacturing company that purchases a hSenid Business Solutions HR system can be rest assured of getting all the best practices we have instilled into our products, and the same goes for a smaller company looking to engage us.

Dinesh Saparamadu (seated), Founder & Chairman of hSenid, and Sampath Jayasundara, Chief Executive Officer 

Can you tell us how hSenid expanded from HRM into other related areas? Over the years, have you divested certain products so that you can focus on the core? How has the journey been?

Dinesh: In 2005, we spun off our HR solutions into a separate company called hSenid Business Solutions. At the time, we had ventured into other areas, launching several software companies and allied businesses. For example, we developed an SMS solution for telecoms, and we are the leading provider of that service in Sri Lanka. When that venture became successful, we spun it off as a separate business. We have set up a company called hSenid Ventures to invest in startups and other companies. Tech education is another area close to my heart, and we have established a joint venture with a Japanese IT company to open a Japanese IT institute in Sri Lanka. We have a restaurant and e-commerce solution called appiGo, and the growth potential is promising.

Right now, the hSenid group comprises 12 companies. We are constantly ideating, incubating, and building innovative solutions which will become separate companies if they demonstrate a propensity to grow so that each of these gets the attention they deserve. hSenid Business Solutions remains the core, and under Sampath’s stewardship, the focus is to continue to grow our HR solutions business globally.

Sampath: Building a global product is half the battle, but sometimes you need the perseverance to win over markets. Several years ago, we ventured into India. We invested in development and delivery teams and focused on three regions. But it was tough. India turned out to be a complex market: it was like dealing with multiple countries. Each state, and different regions within those, had different market needs, a unique strategic focus, laws, regulations, and taxation regimes. It was overwhelming, but we focused on the market needs and re-calibrating our HR products to suit those needs. It took us a decade, but we have solutions designed to help businesses in India navigate the market complexities up there, and we are acquiring new clients at a healthy rate.

We are successful because we address all the complexities from the back-end, but the user interface is so easy to use. We even developed an HR solution called PeoplesHR Turbo for India’s vibrant SME sector. All a client has to do is get the product online, follow some simple steps to configure it any way they want and run it. We successfully simplified the product down to a DIY solution, and it still covers all the rules and regulations of India’s complex market. We could have easily given up on India. But we stayed the course, learning and understanding the market. Finding solutions, building domain expertise, and establishing partnerships. Few companies can do that and find the same success.

 

Can you tell us about the reach of the group? How many countries have you reached, and who are your clients?

Dinesh: We have touched more than 1,300 customers in 40+ countries across 20+ industry verticals. We have an active user base of over a million people, and the business continues to grow. From an industry point of view, we serve more than twenty industries, airlines like SriLankan Airlines and Royal Brunei Airlines, and catering companies like Royal Brunei catering and TAJ. We service several large-scale manufacturing clients like Brandix, Timex, Omega Line, Ansell, and others here and in the African region. We serve one of the largest manufacturing companies in Africa called Style Industries, which is part of India’s Godrej Group and operates in multiple countries. One benefit we give with our HR solutions is that companies do not have to maintain separate HR teams at every location they operate. We support Gill Capital, which operates the franchises of high-end fashion brand H&M in three countries in the Asia Pacific region – Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand.

If you look at the banking sector in Sri Lanka, most of the large banks, from HSBC to DFCC, Sampath Bank, Hatton National Bank, Nations Trust Bank, and National Savings Bank, are our customers. We have several diversified listed companies on our clientele like LOLC Holdings, Browns Group, Hemas Holdings, Aitken Spence PLC, Richard Pieris Group, CBL Group, and Softlogic Holdings.

We support India’s financial services heavyweight Edelweiss Group and banks in Africa including NIC Bank and Old Mutual Bank. In Uganda, we are currently implementing two large scale projects for two big banks, DFCU Bank and the Centenary Rural Development Bank, and Faulu Microfinance Bank in Kenya.

In Africa, we also have clients in the INGO sector. Their needs are different compared to manufacturing and other commercial enterprises. We understood how INGOs operate, and their focus on areas such as talent development, succession planning, and compliance that matter a lot to them.

The Government of Uganda is one of our largest clients. We are currently implementing a project for an integrated and automated HR solution covering over 450,000 public sector workers across over 230 government agencies in that country. We also successfully completed a project for the Kenyan Public Services Commission.

Would you like to talk to us about some of your core products and solutions?

Sampath: We have been improving our core HR solution since 1997, and today, we are in version 9 of the same platform. Within this product, we have an on-premises solution where we go and install it in the customer environment and configure it to suit their unique requirements. Then we looked at the way the world is going in terms of Cloud-based solutions. We got the first Cloud account in 2011, ten years ago, so we are pioneers in cloud technology. Today in the APAC region, around 80% of new sales come from the Cloud business.

We also have two other business offerings. Human Resource Outsourcing is one where a client can outsource their payroll or their entire operational activities to us, and we have dedicated teams looking after the HR needs of each of our clients. The second is a tracking solution for IoT-driven attendance solutions, biometric devices and visitor management solutions. It also incorporates entry controls for restricted areas in banks, insurance companies and large retail companies.

What are your plans for hSenid Business Solutions? What is the next exciting step for the company?

Dinesh: We have decided to take hSenid Business Solutions public to finance global expansion and growth. We are about Rs1 billion revenue company with 50% of that in foreign exchange, and we have a plan to triple revenue over the next five years.

We averaged an annual growth rate of 20% in the last five years. Financially, we are very stable and aim to triple revenue over the next five years, and there is every reason to believe we can achieve that. First, few global tech companies understand markets and cater to varying needs and ecosystems the way we do. Most competitors have onesize-fits-all solutions. We designed our solutions with great care and positioned them to generate considerable revenue.

Second, we are in the process of building a global partner network like what Microsoft and Google did so many years back. If you look at international sales, more than 50% comes from our partners. In Africa, we are not directly selling. All the sales happen through partners who go out and sell the product for us, so that partner revenue is growing exponential. At the moment, as a company, we are investing heavily in this partner journey. We want to build partners who can give us steady revenue year on year.

We expect our partner journey globally to grow faster than expected. Then we are planning to acquire two to three smaller companies in the region to grow faster. Several HR solutions providers serve the Asia Pacific and African regions, and there is no clear leader. We have a tremendous opportunity to build a global HR solutions brand that can tweak world-class solutions for different contexts and needs. We believe we can take the lead in these two regions.

When you look back at 25 years since founding hSenid, what are your thoughts on the legacy you want to build for hSenid?

Dinesh: As a homegrown global software company, we are committed to developing the local tech industry. As a founding member and Chairman Emeritus of SLASSCOM, I have ensured that while the company grows, we also divert resources to upskill local tech professionals and help startups get off the ground. We have donated our HR system to universities in the country, including Colombo, Jayewardenepura, Kelaniya, Moratuwa and Peradeniya, with free unlimited access to undergraduate HR students. We lecture at universities and take an active role in developing curriculum. I am a firm believer in the Sri Lankan people. Like hSenid, others have built global IT companies with the talent available locally. With a collective effort and purposeful training and upskilling, I believe we can propel the IT industry to the next level of sophistication and growth.

I always envisioned hSenid as a product company rather than a services company. I wanted to build intellectual property and give people an opportunity to become part of something great. We had many offers to move our IPs to other countries, but we kept them in Sri Lanka because we wanted that recognition as a Sri Lankan company. When I think of legacy, I think of hSenid as a local company that put Sri Lanka on the world map and opened a world of opportunities for our young people.

Today, hSenid Business Solutions employs 250 people and over 600 people if you include the other companies in the group. However, over the last 25 years, we have built over 4,000 tech careers, and our alumni have gone on to do remarkable things and build successful careers here, in Australia and the UK. We are quietly proud of the impact hSenid has had on people’s lives, be they employees, customers or subscribers, and the considerable foreign exchange savings we have generated for the country with our HR solutions and mobile solutions for telcos.

 

At a Glance: hSenid Business Solutions’ Global Market Winning Products

  • PeoplesHR Cloud:

A cloud-based HR platform that covers day to day tasks with added features to help improve high-impact strategic decision making for companies of any size, from startups to medium-scale businesses or industry giants. hSenid has combined analytics, IoT, and AI to give enterprises the best of two worlds: HR and tech.

  • PeoplesHR On-Premise:

A people-centric, customisable, enterprise HR solution that aligns with technological and workplace requirements to provide a unique user experience. With more than 30 modules, hSenid gives clients better visibility, empowers decision making, and improves employee engagement. PeoplesHR On-premises is a hub of contact for all HR needs accessible via desktops, kiosks, attendance devices and mobile applications. The product has additional features, including an AI-powered chatbot and analytics.

  • PeoplesHR Turbo:

hSenid’s DIY HR solution allows clients to configure the product to suit their needs and provides employee information, organisational charts, employee life cycles, absence management and various reporting tools.

  • hSenid Tracking Solutions:

A suite of solutions to track, secure and manage assets of companies, including employees, places, or objects. hSenid provides consultancy services to give clients a perfect fit solution with superior aftersales services to make sure clients reap the best out of the solution.

  • HRO:

The HR outsourcing business of hSenid managing HR processes for clients aimed to help them streamline deliverables and accelerate workflows to drive growth. Outsourcing operational HR activities help companies to focus on people strategies, including training and performance management. hSenid’s years of experience and expertise in serving multinationals ensure consistent, efficient, and reliable services.

  • Juraa:

An enterprise social network with next-generation features to help companies boost employee engagement levels and drive productivity. Juraa is an interactive platform that lets employees connect, collaborate, and engage with their peers. Features include group discussions, private and public walls, polls, and surveys, rewarding and sharing achievements, knowledge sharing forums, work tasks tracker and reminders, online meetings, and idea hubs to encourage innovative ideas and blogging.