Winter is coming...!

N*Able's closes Q1 FY17/18 with a GoT inspired employee forum

N*Able held its first employee forum for the financial year 2017/18 chaired by Samitha Udalgama from the Applications Innovations team. Samitha continued the tradition of setting an interesting theme for each forum, with of course; Game of Thrones and the House of N*Able commenced its session.   The forum kicked off with a session by our "Master of the Coin"-  N*Able CFO, Ifadha Anver announcing our performance over the last quarter. It was thrilling to know that we had overcome a number of performance challenges which we encountered in first quarters in previous years. Ifadha spoke showed how our renewed planning approach, and early engagement with customers have proven to help us in this regard.  

But Ifadha didn't leave the stage immediately. Samitha showed us the wall, a colossal fortification on the northern border of the seven kingdoms, and how the House of N*Able is building its own wall against perils of the unknown; the N*Able Risk Framework.  She drew an example between a motorbike and car. In Sri Lanka, many of those with motorbikes take only 3rd party insurance but for a car they take out a full insurance. Reason being, that the damage to a motorbike could generally be absorbed by the person, but since car repairs are more expensive we tend to have a full cover. In the same manner, Ifadha explained how as our business has grown, and with higher risk exposure we needed a formalized risk management framework.

What next? wondered the audience. Well, winter was not coming (yet), but Digital Banking certainly was! N*Able's BFSI team trio, Chamira, Jithendra and Devinda took to stage and shared their progress on development of the digital banking framework. When winter comes, we'll be ready.

Next up was Niruban, who explained how the sigil (a fancy word for the emblems printed on medieval flags!) of N*Able works; our visual branding guideline. Niruban shared his approach to designing some of N*Able's visual identity elements; which was heavily based on human visual behavior and traits.  

Then came the highlight of the evening; the keynote. Samitha puts up a picture of the Iron Throne. As much as we'd like to sit on it, he said there's only one who always sits on it; the customer.  Titled as 'Journeys in Customer Consultancy', the evening's keynote address was delivered by John NLC Fernando, a veteran IBM executive with nearly 40 years of experience.
  John is a man of many talents, and we can't do justice to the amazing insights he shared, within this blog post. He's had an interesting career; graduating from the University of Peradeniya with a degree in computer science he joined IBM as a trainee engineer. IBM, seeing his abilities quickly promoted him up the ranks. Soon after, he saw more potential to expand the reach of technology through the sales function, and in a move unheard of, he moved to sales and started all over as a trainee salesperson. It's this humility and radical frame of mind which has helped him rise to the highest ranks at IBM in the Asia Pacific region.  

Of his many stories shared with the audience, one story which resonated with everyone was his approach to building relationships with customers. He told the story of once how he heard of the demise of the mother of one of his customers, who lived quite far away. So he got into the bus, in the night to go pay his respects. And after paying his respects, he was able to have some casual conversation with his customer, who was quite surprised to see him. This paid off immensely, a year later when John was strung for time to close a sale. Because of John's actions, the customer had built a great sense of trust on John, and the sale closed at the nick of time.  

To close off the evening, there onstage was, Peter D' Almeida, our CEO, who casted the company's vision for the next three quarters. Interestingly, it was not merely about how we need to achieve targets, but rather asking us to evaluate our strengths and how to ?¢??make our bosses work for us. He shared from his personal experience about how when you deliver on what you promised, take responsibility for your work, and make your boss's life easier-in terms of delivering work that allows him/her to do their work better- he/she will be more willing to provide the enablers for you to succeed.    


Mobilizing public data

N*Able CEO calls for use cases on Open Data

 When we say digital map, we're often thinking of a google maps. But Road networks are just one layer in a digital map. There are many more "layers" for a comprehensive map. Layers like residential addresses (which is not always accurate on Google maps), terrain data, rainfall maps, drainage networks, cable networks and the list goes on. In Sri Lanka, our digital map is limited to road networks layer. It's not that the data on these other layers are not available, it's just that it's not available in a format for the public to access and use. (in case you didn???¢??t notice, you could book an Uber through Google maps. That's because Google maps has the Uber data layer on it)  

Enter Opendata.  

N*Able partnered with Opendata; a not-for profit organization cofounded by Chandima Perera and Keshan Sodimana whose objective is to create a complete digital map of Sri Lanka. Opendata is going to work with a wide spectrum of groups, from the open-source community, volunteers who contribute to the open maps platform, the ICTA and various government bodies who will contribute data towards an "Opendata" platform; which can be accessed and used by anyone.   The use cases for a platform such as this is immense, but I'd like to point out to one area which Peter touched on, at his speech at the Opendata launch event.   The public healthcare system is one that we see could be the recipient of the biggest gains of the platform. As a system, we have a knee-jerk reaction approach to dealing with crisis. We're not predicting, We're not pinning problems down before they spread. It's not that our doctors are not capable, nor is it a problem of not having data- it's about not being able to access the right data on time. Imagine having a real-time map of dengue outbreaks, and being able to overlay it with historical maps of the same. You'd be able to see areas which are new to the disease as well as ones that have had the issue over the years. Now add another layer showing a vegetation map, waste disposal map, a map of canals and a rainfall map. Now you're having a lot better clarity on how the disease came to be and why it's spreading.   Imagine an outbreak of a disease that's highly contagious. Having a public transit map, with how the population moves within the country on a daily basis could be the key to stopping a nationwide outbreak.   We see the potential to develop highly potent tools with publicly available geospatial data.

What we're going to be working on is developing use cases for two specific areas - healthcare and education - with the data that Opendata is making available. They're also working parallel on a project to install rainfall gauges throughout the country using Arduino based devices.   Opendata has also partnered with Dialog Axiata's Ideamart as the platform partner, who will be making the Opendata APIs available along with the hundreds of other APIs they have.   What ideas do you have? what do you think we could do if we have all these different layers of geospatial data? what would you build? We'd love to hear them. reach out to us on if you'd want to know more about Opendata or have ideas on things to do with this platform.    


Choose to make an impact

Thoughts from Alyna's session at the season 10 premiere

A mother, wife, daughter, sister, recovering hypocrite, part optimist, part pessimist, ex-girlfriend, best friend, full time enthusiast, part time conspiracy theorist, writer, free thinker, incorrigible dreamer, CEO, qualified marketer, failed weight watcher and one time back packer who hopes never to experience the eternal sunshine of a spotless mind. From being a fisherman's baby to the CEO of JWT Sri Lanka, Alyna took us through her journey of being a family without a phone to driving the communications and advertising campaigns of one of the biggest telecommunications in Sri Lanka - Etisalat.

From the mad men advertising days at Grants , individuality and uniqueness was encouraged as an employee. She also encouraged getting out of your comfort zone. This is essential to open up your mind and let the ideas, create exciting campaigns that inspired a generation to come. We are all told not to rock the boat, not to go against the grain but it is essential to have the conviction and innovation to get the next point in life. But being someone who has not just rocked the boat, but built boats from scratch (in case you didn't know, Alyna was part of the team that built Response Marketing), here's what Alyna had for us.  

1. Be different: There is nothing gained by being a need to anybody. Alyna was not just different, she was able to put her difference (experiences, upbringing) to good use. Her difference was not some cosmetic fluff on her personality, but rather the driving force of her creative zen.

2. Be vigilant: There is always stuff happening around you and vigilance is not just within your own pond but in other ponds. Amen to that! This is what we keep hearing again and again, but fail to put into action. But being sometimes when stuck in our own worlds, it helps to pay heed to people who see what's happening outside. Humility pays. Always.

3. Be relevant: There is a myth that relevance is tied to youth. Some of the most relevant creative minds in the world are some of the most senior in their respective careers. Age has little to do with being relevant or being creative. Its a matter of the mind- if you're ready to change and embrace the new you're halfway there.

4. Choose to have an impact: Do not play it safe but still run the rat race. Transformational success all boils down to not just the things you make but the attitude you carry. Why is this important? Because we are essentially living in an ideas economy, your energy and your attitude is its currency. This has made millionaires of young kids and driven the ethos of entrepreneurship. As you spend money and energy on brand building and marketing, is your attitude and personality relevant and attractive to the people you're targeting?


Mastery Leads to Differentiation

Dr Pasqual shares with us his approach to startups

Why do you want to differentiate yourself? And before we write this off as a marketing theory that's done to death, we want to share the perspective Dr. Pasqual bought to the term differentiate He .drove the idea that differentiation is essentially the mastery of one's chosen area to such an extent that it completely sets you apart from the competition. Dr. Pasqual's chosen medium of diving deep into his expertise was research, and he shared how research set him apart from the competition. 
To put in a startup perspective, there are three types of startups:

  • Disruptively Simple Solution i.e being able to book a cab through your phone (hmmm... does the idea ring a bell?) 
  • Just want to be another solution among many via performance i.e the macbook compared to a generic laptop 
  • Well Defined Solution ?¢?? Differentiate through specifications - As nVidea with its processors
When it comes to innovation and being disruptive, everyone has an opinion (and there are thousands of self-help books, blogs and youtube videos on the subject), but Dr. Pasqual's unique perspective stuck in our minds. This is what he had to share;
  1. Learn to listen: Everybody can talk, but not a lot of people can listen. Listening to your customer/users and their problems will be the make or break for your venture. 
  2. Dive Deep: Be an expert in your area. Its not about parroting literature in your sphere, and sharing or posting content that someone else has developed, but rather diving deep into your area till you know something that no one else does. This is what it means to be an expert, someone who not only knows what's happening around her, but also is able to bring new knowledge to the knowledge pool. 
  3. Simple ideas. Innovation is not rocket science (but rocket science is very innovative). If you have a simple idea no one has done, try to have some foothold in key markets. This could mean filing a patent, or as simple as buying a web domain.
  4. Remember cultural differences: What is second nature to somebody in the United States or Europe, might not be relevant to someone in Asia. The trick is to take an idea that works, and tweak it to work for the people you're trying to serve. 
  5. Work in cycles, not balance sheet dates. If the focus is on product development, don't expect quick returns. Product development cycles can take time. A business that has been around for a few years can measure itself with standard financial periods. But a product dev business has to understand what to expect in each cycle of development, and make sure it meets the goals for that cycle.
  6. No shortcuts, go deep instead. If certain technologies are key to your product, master those. there are no shortcuts. And if with this depth, you are able to differentiate yourself, your company and its products too will be inherently differentiated. 

Research is differentiation. Developing new products that people cannot copy overnight is what will set Sri Lanka apart from the rest of the world, and place us in a favourable economic position. So, the next time you're thinking of putting together a start-up, think, have you gone deep enough to set yourself apart from the competition? Food for thought. 


Wrapping it up - Season 10 Premiere

5 lessons from Peter's closing speech

It was an energizing two days of new ideas and collaboration. Now it's all come to an end, and everyone's waiting for the after party. But just before we call it a day, Peter goes on stage to close the event, and quickly condenses all the learning over the last 48 hours, into four points - stemming from quotes made by our speakers. And If you really think about it, and apply it to yourself (which I've been trying to do over the last week) you start to realize it has a profound impact on how you add value to yourself and to others.  

1. "Wake up, wanting to make an impact" - Achalanka Dalawella

What's the first thing on your mind when you wake up? Hold on to that thought. What many of us are not intentional about is the kind of impact we want to make, whether it be in our homes, workplace or our community. We tend to float through time, only to barely get by. Achalanka spoke about how to have meetings that actually have outcomes, but the core of his session is, impact. whether it be meetings or anything else, we need to be intentional about the outcome we want from it, and only then can we actually make impact.  

2. "Master the Technology" (or Master your key capabilities) - Dr. Ajith Pasqual

Dr. Pasqual's speech was one of the highest rated at the two-day event. That??s because what he spoke about resonated with many of us, technical staff and otherwise. He spoke about staying away from the hype, and to differentiate yourself through mastery of your chosen technology. This is very important, as the trend these days seems to be to ride the wave of whatever that is popular, without having in-depth grounding in a chosen area. This is not to say that specialization should be our prime goal, but rather digging deep and having mastery in our chosen area is what will help us to see what others couldn't. How many of us can comfortably say that we've mastered our key capability / technology?  

3. "Make partnerships work for you" - Kasturi Wilson

Kasturi's speech was the equivalent of watching a high-stakes-action film. But once we remove the adrenaline rush, we realize her story is about how to make partnerships, and to make them work for you. The term partnership refers to not just principals or vendors, but even colleagues. Two things stood out particularly in her story. The first is how they made themselves indispensable to their partners, by providing value that is more than just transactional. She set up MIS systems and dashboards, which was a key factor in retaining her principals and be financially competitive at the same time. The second is she knew who to draw on, and what role they should play to achieve a certain outcome. The takeaway? Partnerships are only as good as you knowing when and how to draw on those partners.    

4. "Be Unique, Be Engaged" - Steven Enderby

The final speech for the conference was from the group CEO, Steven Enderby, and although he rightly said that the worst time to give a talk is either before or after lunch, he turned things around by giving the highest rated speech at the event. And that's because his message, although simple, resonated strongly with everyone! Steven's point was that all of us are unique, and we should aim to position ourselves to create the most impact from our uniqueness, which also subconsciously fortified Dr. Pasqual's message about mastering your technology/key capability. Coupled with this, should we chose to be engaged with what we do, we have the power to make tremendous impact in everything we do, personal or professional.   

5. Activity gets you busy, productivity gets you free 

Peter's last point was about a story; a conversation between Ananda and Lord Buddha. Ananda shares his troubles saying "I can't find time, life has become hectic" to which the Lord Buddha responds "Activity gets you busy, productivity gets you free". Peter drove home the point that we are unable to achieve what we want because we simply are not productive. We fill our lives with 'Activities', and forget about value, or the time/resources needed to get that value. If we want ourselves and the company to grow, we need to be productive. And that's something that everyone needs to take to heart.

Although Peter closed with those points, There's a lot of knowledge that was dispersed at the event, and we're trying to bring more of that to you over the next couple of weeks. If there's anything specific you've learnt at the event, and you'd like to share it with everyone, please do send it over (  


Typoday 2017

From a career oriented to a collaborative creative

Being at N*able, I get the chance to listen Peter speak to a variety of audiences and events. From internal events, customer meetings to student conferences like typoday. I would have heard him say some of these things so many times, that I could probably give a word-to-word recitation of his speeches. Typoday was different in its own sense, as I was able to see Peter's empathy for design students and most importantly academics. He didn't play the role of a technology prophet, casting the developments in technology that will affect designers, but rather spoke on the intangible traits needed to be a creative. 

Typoday 2017 was a  typography conference organized by the University of Moratuwa Department of Integrated Design. It was the first of kind in Sri Lanka, as it was the first opportunity for design-nerds to get together and dive into the nerdiest of design elements; typography. 

Peter's keynote orbited around a single concept; what it takes to be creative, and how our current education system was the worst incubator for creativity. The current education system we inherited from the brits, a system intended to churn out employees to fuel the industrial machine. This was in fact what led to the creation of the self-centered "career oriented" employee we have now. This deters a creative culture, as creativity requires collaboration. He pointed out this is why during pre-colonial times we have been able to create marvelous works of art, architecture and technology, because community was at the centre of importance, not the individual. 

He took the example of his own life, and how the unstructured freedom he had when growing up had an impact in expanding his creative freedom. having heard this quite a number of times, I now start to see how it's true not just for Peter, but for other creative types. 

Creativity happens when you give yourself to experiences outside your immediate mental periphery. And listening to peter speak is exactly just that.