20th August,  2006 Volume 13, Issue 6

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    


Garment industry prepares to meet Chinese threat

Two hundred US and EU companies supplying the apparel markets will be targeted in a campaign to be launched by the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) tomorrow.

This launch will coincide with JAAF unveiling the logo and brand name for Sri Lanka garments.

JAAF Assistant Secretary General Manel Pandittesekere Rodrigo told The Sunday Leader that the purpose of launching this campaign was to prepare the industry to meet the Chinese threat when various restrictions placed on Chinese garment imports to the USA and EU regions are lifted in 2009.

The industry, similar to how it readied itself to meet the post multi fibre arrangement (MFA) era, wants to be prepared by end 2008 to meet this threat, she said. Garments is Sri Lanka's single biggest foreign exchange earner, with over 90% of the country's garments exported to the US and EU markets.

 "Our focus in this image building exercise will be that Sri Lanka is an ethical supplier of garments employing no child labour and empowering women, issues that are sensitive to our major markets," said Rodrigo.

Child labour led to Nike, an international sportswear manufacturer, having to close down their operations in Indonesia, she said.

 The campaigns in the US and EU markets will be launched by Grey International, a public relations firm, that is also involved in a project to promote India in a campaign called "Incredible India."

The 200 companies targeted are divided into 100 each, operating in the US and EU markets respectively, she said. This campaign will be in two stages of six months duration each and will initially target these 200 companies, before expanding, said Rodrigo. The companies targeted comprise a mix of departmental stores, buyers and such like, she said.

The local garment industry is already supplying to some of these companies targeted under this campaign, said Rodrigo. JAAF is the umbrella body of garment industry associations that came into being to face the post multi-fibre arrangement (MFA) era threat. MFA provided quota protection to the local garment industry.

The local garment industry survived the post MFA era that came into existence last year due to certain steps, like focusing on niche markets,  recommended in a five year industry strategy report that was unveiled in 2000.

Apparel exports in the first six months of the year fetched $ 1.4 billion, a 4.1% increase when compared with the same period last year.  The industry provides direct and indirect employment to a million people.

Hayleys hit by travel insurance

Premium travel insurance rates charged by international insurers because of the country's war situation are preventing Hayleys' foriegn buyers from visiting the country.

"We had to meet them at Singapore because of that," Hayleys Chairman Rajan Yatawara told The Sunday Leader. New markets cannot be opened-up because representatives of prospective buyer companies are unable to visit Sri Lanka due to these high travel insurance rates, he said.

"Dealing with existing buyers is not a problem because they are aware of and are used to Sri Lanka's situation, but the problem is with regard to new buyers," said Yatawara. Hayleys' principal exports are industrial gloves, activated carbon and coir products, with its major markets being the USA, EU and Japan.

"As a result we have to revise downwards projected revenue and profit growth figures for the current financial year," he said. The company which is also into the leisure industry has further suffered due to bookings cancellations by prospective tourists, Yatawara said.

He also said that one of the biggest concerns of their major buyers is the security of the Colombo Port.

Hayleys is one of the country's biggest conglomerates, which areas of business other than those mentioned above, also includes transportation, the plantations and agriculture sectors and consumer sales.

JAAF-ITC explores India

Five garment exporting companies will fly to Mumbai on August 27 on a four day mission to explore the Indian market.

They are Hirdramani, Emerald, Time, Denshean and Zenith. JAAF with the assistance from the Geneva based International Trade Centre (ITC) has already employed an Indian consultant to assist in this project.

"India is opening-up and we want to be ready to enter this market," Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) Assistant Secretary General Manel Pandittesekere Rodrigo told The Sunday Leader.

Currently foreigners can operate retail clothing chains in India only under license or with an Indian partner, said Rodrigo. " But with the further liberalization of the Indian market expected in the next couple of years, some 200 retail chains are estimated to open-up and we want to be there," she added.

The Indian market at present is not as developed as Sri Lanka's main export markets, the EU and the USA. "There are not that very many retailers in India, in the magnitude of the US and EU markets, Rodrigo said.

 Sri Lanka's two major garment exporters, MAS Holdings and the Brandix Group are not included in this visit.  "They are not in because we want to help the smaller players," said Rodrigo.

Head of MAS Holdings Mahesh Amalean told The Sunday Leader in its July 30 issue, that MAS was planning to break into the Indian market on its own, with its own brand name.

Rodrigo said that Sri Lankan garment companies were looking at various options in operating in the Indian market. "Some want be a brand supplier while others want to set-up their own operations," she said.

"Already we are getting inquiries from prospective Indian buyers who have heard of this visit," Rodrigo said. Hirdramanis which  is a part of this team, at present operates garment factories in India, catering to the EU and the USA.

Meanwhile, under the Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ILFTA)), Sri Lanka is allowed to export eight million pieces of garments to India annually. However, there are a few takers to this project, because one of the conditions under the ILFTA is that the garments to be exported should be made out of fabric sourced from India, considered as being too expensive by the industry.

Rodrigo said that the ITC funded programme has no connections to garment exports under the ILFTA. "They are two separate projects," she said.

Rodrigo said that under a similar programme funded by the ITC, JAAF is looking at increasing their exports to France and Germany. "Though EU is our second biggest market, more than 50% of Sri Lanka's garment exports to that region go to the UK," Rodrigo said. "We want to rectify this anomaly."

She said that under this project, a team of exporters visited France recently, with one of them clinching an export order. "Designs were also discussed in that visit with samples being sent across," Rodrigo said. With regard to the German market, a consultant came down recently and conducted a workshop, where even the subject of colours cropped-up, she said.

Why MIT hates outsourcing

While the rave among a number of local software companies is to be a provider of outsourcing services to first world companies, Millenium Information Technologies (MIT) with offices in the USA and Singapore, is one of few local companies that have decided to swim against the tide and is instead concentrating on providing technological solutions to niche markets.

MIT CEO Tony Weerasinghe explaining the reason why he gave up seeking outsourcing contracts to local software exporters recently, said that Emirates Airlines a few years ago had wanted to outsource part of its IT operations.

A tender was called and MIT was one of several companies that had responded. Their offer was shortlisted. He had then been called for a "one to one" interview with the Emirates' managing director.

At this interview, the Emirates boss had told him that they had got three offers from Sri Lankan companies that had bid for this tender. MIT's bid was the highest at $ 250 an hour. The other two bids had been priced at $ 75 and $ 80 respectively.

The Emirates representative had wanted to know whether MIT could scale down on their bid to $ 100? "I said no and lost the contract," said Weerasinghe. "After that I decided that MIT should never be a source to lobby for outsourcing contracts," he said.

Weerasinghe in his speech also stressed on the importance of Sri Lanka developing a skilled pool of IT personnel. "My project manager is from India because I couldn't find one in Sri Lanka," he said.

On MIT's success, Weerasinghe said that they were lucky that the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) had picked on them. Explaining how it happened, he said that TIPCO, a US based technological provider had been contracted by the CSE to provide it with a trading platform.

But after the Central Bank bomb blast, TIPCO pulled out, leaving MIT, the local partner, to carry out this contract singlehandedly, which they did, successfully.   

Weerasinghe further said that the software industry is getting bigger, from being a back-office operation to being in the forefront of driving business.

He said that the trillion dollar financial market industry is driven by software.

Weerasinghe said that once the USA liberalized stock trading, NASDAQ, where technological stocks are listed in the US market, saw their share coming down by 100% in 1999 to 52% by 2004, forcing it to pay a billion dollars to buy-up the competitor exchanges that had sprung-up after liberalization.

By next year November, the EU, following in the steps of the USA, will be liberalizing the operation of stock exchanges. That means a bank like HSBC, with its vast clientele can operate an exchange, said Weerasinghe. It is IT that is driving these companies. Productivity tools are also being developed by IT.

He said that the telephone bill of a certain company which had contracted MIT, has seen these bills come down from $ 100,000 a month to between $ 1-2,000 because of technology. MIT has picked its niche, he said.

BoI mission to S. India

The BoI will lead a three day investment promotion visit to Chennai and Bangalore beginning tomorrow. The areas targeted are the IT and BPO industries in Bangalore and manufacturing industries in Chennai, said BoI Chairman Professor Lakshman R. Watawala.

The visit is being organized by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII). The local team will comprise a few BoI officials and a Trade Ministry official, said Watawala. There are however no members from the private sector making this tour.

Asked whether the team would be led by Minister Rohitha Bogollagama under whose purview the BoI comes, Watawala said that the Minister was expected to lead the team, but requested this reporter to seek confirmation from Bogollagama. But the Minister told The Sunday Leader he won't be making this visit.

Ceylinco ventures into Takaful

You may be wondering why Ceylinco Group wanted to venture into Takaful insurance when our own Ceylinco Insurance Company is the undisputed leader in the local market, having achieved the number one slot in both life and non-life business.

A statement said that Ceylinco Consolidated Chairman Dr. Lalith Kotelawala saw that the Muslims in Sri Lanka were handicapped because of the prevailing financial service system not being in compliance with the Islamic Shariah law. Therefore, in order to help the Muslim community, he established Ceylinco Profit Sharing Investment Corporation to provide financial services based on Shariah and backed by eminent Islamic scholars in 2002.

"Today you witness the launch of Ceylinco Takaful  Ltd (CTL), an integral part of Islamic financial services."  CTL is a new entrant to insurance business in Sri Lanka. Takaful is a new form of insurance based on Islamic Shariah. Takaful Insurance emerged out of the necessity to have a system of insurance which is acceptable to Muslims and in compliance with Islamic Shariah.

Unless compelled by law or business requirements, Muslims avoid insuring their properties or liabilities simply because conventional insurance contravenes Islamic Law, primarily because of the involvement of the interest element.

To correct the un-Islamic aspects of conventional insurance, Islamic scholars came out with an excellent system of insurance called Takaful based on Islamic contractual law.

Takaful may be described as an insurance system built on the principles of mutuality and cooperation.  'Takaful' is an Arabic word meaning "Guaranteeing each other" or joint guarantee ie. a group of persons reciprocally guaranteeing one another. This means that the persons who participate in Takaful insurance operation jointly guarantee among themselves to compensate against loss or damage that any of them may suffer due to certain calamities or perils.

Under the conventional insurance system, the insurance  company collects a huge fund by way of premiums from a large number of persons and uses this fund to pay compensation to an unfortunate few.

Very often total premiums collected far exceeds the total compensations paid together with operating expenses. Generally, this surplus is retained by the insurance company as its profit. Whereas under Takaful insurance, this surplus belongs to policyholders.

Conventional insurance is favourable to insurance companies than to policyholders.  But Ceylinco being a people oriented organization that has the welfare of the people as its prime objective wants to give the people a choice between conventional insurance and Takaful insurance, hence the formation of CTL.

CTL is engaged in non-life insurance only ie. general insurance only.

CTL  has joined hands with world's leading reinsurance companies, adding strength to its reinsurance arrangements.

At present CTL has its branches in Akurana, Chilaw, Gampola, Kattankudy, Oddamavady, Puttalam, Sammanthurai and "very soon our network of branches will spread to Beruwela, Galle, Ratnapura, Kurunegala, Mawanella."

In order to ensure Ceylinco Takaful operation is done strictly on Islamic Shariah CTL has appointed a Shariah Supervisory Board in consultation with the Muslim apex body in Sri Lanka, the All Ceylon Jam-ee-athul-Ulama. The Shariah Supervisory Board comprises of eight Islamic scholars and theologians including three representatives from Jam-ee-athul-Ulama.

CTL has the support and guidance of Shiekan Insurance and Reinsurance Co. Ltd. Sudan, the pioneers in Takaful insurance.

The business of Ceylinco Takaful is not confined to Muslims alone, it is open for all. "It is our earnest desire that members of all communities should share and enjoy the extra benefits provided by Ceylinco Takaful."

Making the deaf to hear

Thanks to Cochlear Implant Surgery (CIS) which is now available in Sri Lanka, deaf people can now hear, enjoy music, converse freely and lead normal lives.

Unfortunately the cost is prohibitive to the over 35,000 deaf people in the island crying out for help and assistance. The most cost effective implant available in Sri Lanka, is Med-El, Austria which is imported and distributed by S.A.Medicals of the Abans Group.

A statement said that a dynamic and philanthropic young Audiologist and Speech Language Pathologist, Chameera Denuwan (BASLP India) has taken up the challenge to lend a helping hand to the hearing impaired by finding ways and means to raise money for the implants and surgery.

 Nearly 40 deserving cases have already been identified for CIS.

Denuwan is in the process of setting up an Approved Trust Fund to which generous individuals and business establishments could make tax-exempt contributions. Those interested could please contact her on 0714 100262 or 4517864.

The  statement also said that Dr Devanand Jha, Consultant ENT, Head and Neck Surgeon who performs Cochlear Implant Surgery in Sri Lanka, explained how this unique device works. "The Cochlear Implant System is a complex electronic device which consists of two main parts; the internal part which is implanted and the external part which is known as the speech processor. Sounds are picked up by a microphone and turned into electrical signals. These signals go to the speech processor where they are "coded" or turned into a special pattern of electrical pulses. These pulses are sent to the coil and are then transmitted across the intact skin by radio waves to the implant.

 The implant sends the pattern of electrical pulses to the electrodes in the cochlear. The Auditory Nerve-picks up these electrical pulses and sends them to the brain. The brain recognizes the signals as sounds.

 Jha has already performed 19 CISs in Sri Lanka within the past year with a success rate of 100%. Some of the patients are now even able to talk on the phone. The youngest patient so far is a year old infant and there is a set of four month old twins awaiting surgery.

 Jha said that CIS is most effective in infants, before the age of understanding speech, because they are able to decode the signals transmitted by the cochlear and understand it as distinct sounds much easier.

IPC sessions in Kandy

Agriculture Minister Chamal Rajapakse will inauguarate the thirty fourth Session of the International Pepper Community (IPC) that will be held in Kandy from September 4-7.

This big event will be held at the Earl's Regency Hotel.

 By holding the IPC Sessions in Sri Lanka, there will be several advantages to the Sri Lankan pepper industry in particular and to the economy of the country in general, a statement said.

 Some of the advantages are: Creating interaction and negotiation for a large number of Sri Lanka exporters, traders, producers and processors of small, medium and large scale with international stakeholders of pepper industry; Opening avenues for collaborative investments in value addition and product diversification in pepper in particular and spice industry in general.

Exchanging globally generated new and useful technologies; Interactions among the scientists in producing countries and share knowledge; Exhibit new arenas of product development in Sri Lankan pepper and spice industry and new input to the tourist and hotel industry.

The hosts to the IPC session is the Export Agriculture Department (EAD) and it is jointly organized by EAD, the Spice Council of Sri Lanka, Spices and Allied Products Producers Association (SAPPTA) and Export Development Board (EDB).

This year's theme of the technical session is IPM (Integrated Pest management for quality Pepper). The Pepper exporters meeting is to discuss about the pepper economy situation of production, export, prices, prospects, problems and other matters related to the world pepper trade.

The Pepper-exim meeting is to discuss various aspects of the pepper trade such as supply and demand situation in each producing and consuming country, quality improvement and quality control, possible use of technology in improving quality. The meeting is mainly aimed as a forum to exchange information among exporters and importers and also to do business.

In addition to the above meetings, meeting of IPC committee on quality standardization, Meeting of IPC Committee on Marketing and Meeting of IPC Task Force will also be held.

"This is a rare opportunity for our Sri Lankan producers to promote their spices," the statement said. "We have given an opportunity to all producers including community based organizations (CBOs), traders and exporters to exhibit their quality products at this exhibition as we expect importers of consuming countries of pepper and other spices," it added.

The IPC is an intergovernmental organization established in 1972 under the auspicious of the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and Pacific (UN-ESCAP). The IPC consists of pepper producing countries namely Brazil, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam as full members and Papua New Guinea and China as associate members. Vietnam is the largest pepper producing country. IPC member countries on an average account for about 90% of the world's pepper production and export.

 IPC's functions are to promote, coordinate and harmonize all activities relating to the pepper economy with a view to achieving the following broad objectives: To co-ordinate and stimulate research on technical and economic aspects of production including research.

Sri Lanka was an observer nation and an associate member at the initial stage and became a full member in 1998. In 1999 Sri Lanka hosted the IPC session successfully in Colombo for the first time.

TIL ventures into Sandalwood

Touchwood Investments Ltd (TIL), the pioneer company marketing and managing private forestry plantations in Sri Lanka, has ventured into sandalwood plantations.

A statement said that TIL's successful operations have delivered consistent growth year on year (YoY) and to continue these impressive results, the company has identified Sandalwood, botanically known as Santalum Album as a species suitable to grow in Sri Lanka and provide clients with a high income due to worldwide demand.

TIL estimates that an acre of Sandalwood plantation could generate an income of Rs. 58 million in 17 years and plans to be a major supplier of Sandalwood to the global market and generate foreign exchange earnings for Sri Lanka.

Today Sandalwood oil is one of the most valuable natural products in the essential oil trade with an increasing demand compounded by a diminishing global supply. Sandalwood's global demand is estimated at between 6,000 - 7,000 tonnes yearly. India, the largest producing country, accounts for about 75% of the supply, while Indonesia accounts for about 20%. The price of Sandalwood has increased significantly from $ 4,000 per tonne to $60,000 in the 15 year period to 2005.

Due to strict regulations by the Indian Government to curtail illicit Sandalwood felling, TIL plans to bridge the supply gap through the Free Trade Agreement. Sandalwood oil is widely used in the manufacture of perfumes and medicines and timber is used for carvings and fine furniture.

TIL, in considering Sandalwood's increasing demand and price, have begun Sandalwood plantations in Sri Lanka. TIL began operations in Sri Lanka seven years ago by introducing managed forestry plantations of Mahogany with a vision to "help stop the destruction of our rainforests."

 The company provided a new opportunity for clients to diversify their investment portfolios by adding private forestry lots as an additional measure to secure a dignified retirement or provide a financial future for children while protecting natural forests.

TIL's concept has been increasing in popularity among the public due to its excellent profit while focusing on the needs of people and the planet. "TIL's expertise, credibility, transparency and safeguards in place to manage our plantations secure the investments of over 14,000 clients worldwide."

 " TIL invites prospective clients to share our vision and earn an ethical and sizeable income for their future financial needs, such as retirement or children's future."

TIL is a quoted public company and is a member of the Touchwood Group operating globally in Thailand, Hong Kong, Dubai and Qatar with plans to begin operations in Malaysia, Bahrain, Shanghai, South Korea and Australia by end 2006.

New projects by eChannelling

Hemas being a key provider of healthcare products and services in Sri Lanka bought a 25% of stake in eChannelling Ltd.

Following this transaction, Hemas Holdings Ltd, CEO Husein Esufally was appointed to the eChannelling Board. Hemas is actively pursuing entry into new areas of business in healthcare and sees a growing opportunity for private sector healthcare providers in the country., said a statement.

eChannelling's is the pioneer in introducing a revolutionary online channel booking system that allows patients to book and pay for doctors appointments at any given time. At present it has networked some of Sri Lanka's leading hospitals.

Esufally said that "E-Channelling which is already in the healthcare technology industry as an electronic channelling facilitator, has the potential to grow in this segment while launching new products that will make eChannelling the one-stop-shop for healthcare technology solutions in Sri Lanka. Hemas therefore sees e-channelling as an opportunity to further its vision in the healthcare industry."

Commenting on the partnership, CEO eChannelling, Sidath Chandrasena said that due to Hemas' dominant role within the sector, it is in a position to support the expansion and diversification plans of eChannelling."   On eChannelling's progress to date,  Chandrasena said that  having introduced its revolutionary online centralised channel booking system in 2001 and following its IPO in April 2002, eChannelling is now poised for growth and diversification within the healthcare industry. In fact its plans to diversify within the sector were put in to motion as early as 2003 where it started to lay down the infrastructure to facilitate the issuance of electronic medical certificates to migrant workers. This inhouse developed state-of-the-art system today functions as Sri Lanka's first and one and only online medical certificates network, connecting laboratories to governing bodies and embassies, creating a secure real-time online network for the exchange of critical data."

 On the back of this success, eChannelling initiated two new projects, "HospitalNet" and "DoctorPortal" that would expand its product offering within the sector. "HospitalNet" is eChannelling's hospital automation solution, a state-of-the-art web based centralized software, hardware and communications solution that will automate all the functions of a hospital. eChannelling has already been successful in securing a client for "HospitalNet". eChannelling recently won the contract to automate Nawaloka Hospitals, one of Sri Lanka's largest private hospitals, with "HospitalNet".

eChannelling has also begun work on developing specialised customised portals for specialist consultants to enhance doctor-patient relationship management. This system is also expected to start trials towards the end of 2005 and is expected to continue as an ongoing exercise. This year has also for the first time seen eChannelling taking its system to a hospital out of Colombo in an attempt to develop regional channelling hubs around the country. This project is currently being conducted as an experimental exercise. It is also likely that eChannelling will look to take advantage of Hemas wide geographical presence and expand its growing pharmacy network and further increase its coverage. Projects initiated and strategies adopted this year prove that eChannelling is moving towards its goal of becoming the one-stop-shop for technology in Sri Lanka's healthcare industry.

Hemas with its strong equity with the medical profession and excellent relationships with the country's pharmacy network is well placed to support the growth plans of E-Channelling, commented  Stuart Chapman, MD Hemas Pharmaceuticals (Pvt) Ltd.

New pre-pay product

Celltel the pioneer mobile phone operator which recently announced a major GSM expansion of reaching 750 towers this year  across the island, has introduced a new prepay tariff that will benefit both existing and new customers.

A statement said that the new tariff offers two minutes incoming free for all refreshes starting from Rs. 50, while the "biggest and best" change is that outgoing rates have been slashed to Rs. 7 per minute during peak hours, whilst "Cell to Cell" outgoing will now be Rs 5 per minute," said Celltel's Commercial Director Aniljit Singh. 

Over 19.6 million Sri Lankans will now have access to this package, while over a million Celltel customers islandwide will change to this tariff plan automatically.

"We are seeking customers who are value seekers, where they could spend the least and remain contactable at all times," said Singh. Now with an islandwide drive of coverage and benefits like slashed outgoing rates, friends and family will be able to remain connected with Cellcard, the "most popular" prepay brand in the market today.

"With the 2006 expansion, we will be second to none in terms of service and coverage," said Singh who added that Celltel will continue to make mobile services available and affordable to the masses.

Openings at Belarus

"Many of us dream of becoming doctors and specialists and being a part of this 'noble' field," said a statement.

Here's how Pathe Academy can make it a reality for those who have what it takes to play a role in the Health Sector.

Pathe Academy is involved in student placements across the globe, thereby constructing and developing international relationships in the field of education and scientific research.

"If being a Medical Consultant is your chosen destination, then let VSMU (Vitesbk State Medical University), take care of the journey. VSMU can become for you an ideal starting point in your career. We, at Pathe's Overseas Students Placement Department are proposing an opportunity to study Medicine at a world renowned university, where the system for higher education is well formulated and its standards are on par with international requirements."

VSMU ranks the best of its kind (Health Ministry, Belarus) in Belarus. For those who are not aware of this country's prominence, it is located in the Eastern part of Europe; bordering Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine and less than 10 hours by train to Germany.

VSMU, founded in November 1934, is headed by famous scientists, physicians and organizers of Public Health. To further add to its accredition, the University is a Corresponding Member of the Belarusian Academy of Medicine and an Honourable Member of the Polish Academy of Medicine.

 University degrees are recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG, Philadelphia, USA), Lithuanian Centre for Quality Assessment in Higher Education(Lithuania), Education and Higher Learning Ministry (Lebanon), Federation Credentials Verification Service(FCVS,Dallas,USA), and medical councils worldwide.

As for the Sri Lanka Medical Council, do refer under 'List of Medical Colleges recognized by SLMC.'

There are 13 scientific academic schools at the University both on medical-biological, clinical and pharmaceutical disciplines. It has made a substantial contribution to the development of modern medical science and the subsequent improvement of medical education in Belarus.

Of VSMU's priceless assets are its botanical garden, industrial training Chemist's, "its very own clinic," Polygraphic Editing and Publishing Centre, six computer classes, 30 video classes, a multimedia laboratory, a stadium and a sports complex.

 The University takes pride in editing practical scientific magazines,  "News of Surgery", "Bulletin of Pharmacy", "Immunology, 'Allerology,' 'Infectology'", "Bulletin of VSMU" and "Maternity and Childhood Protection."

The University understands that the education of a doctor and pharmacist requires steady persistence and an unfailing aspiration to master higher levels of knowledge and skills on the part of the individual.

Having this distinct perception, VSMU has adapted resources to train students by means of advanced and new educational technologies. For over two decades VSMU has trained overseas student and takes credit for training physicians in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. VSMU houses more than 5,000 students, of  whom there are over 150 SriLankans currently studying.

 Between 1981 and 2005, over 1,000 overseas specialists have graduated and are successfully employed in various clinics and institutions in 110 countries. The University has 426 lecturers of whom 69 have a Doctor's Degree, 176-a Master's Degree, 40 are Professors and 141 Associate Professors.

 The staff is classified into four main Faculties and 58 Departments and they are expected to undertake refresher courses for Continuous Professional Development. Within these 58 departments, where necessary, each department is equipped with automatic apparatuses for training, sets of plastic models and complex medical-diagnostic paraphernalia.

The faculties are broadly categorized as: General Medicine - MD (equivalent to MBBS),  Pharmaceutical Faculty, Faculty of Dentistry and Faculty of Postgraduate Studies.  Spot admissions for the October 2006 intake will take place at Colombo (September 7), Kandy (Sept. 10) and Batticaloa (Sept. 13).

Ericsson unveils new generation products

Metropolitan Communications Ltd. (MCL), the sole distributor of Ericsson enterprise systems in Sri Lanka recently launched the new Ericsson MX-One IP-PBX server-based communications system in Sri Lanka.

A statement said that Ericsson also unveiled the latest range of data

communication products that include a comprehensive range of data switches and routing solutions at the launch ceremony.

The new solutions allow Metropolitan and Ericsson to provide enterprises a complete "end-to-end" data communication solution as

well as a cost-effective IP telephony solution. Metropolitan has been representing Ericsson in Sri Lanka for over 25 years now.

"The Ericsson MX-One IP-PBX solution has been hailed as the future of enterprise communications. The MX One is a server based communication system running on the open source Linux platform, with more than 500 advanced communication features and the power to connect people across separate geographic locations.

The Ericsson MX One IP-PBX solution offers "complete" mobility so that workers who are out of office can be contactable and have access to information and systems at head office while on the move," said General Manager Metropolitan Communications Anil Goonewardene.

Commenting on the significance of the launch of MX-One in Sri Lanka, Metropolitan Communications Director Roshan Tissera said, "with the introduction of the MX One, Metropolitan Communications is in a position to plan, design and implement the most advanced corporate communication solutions tailored to specific customer requirements using the most appropriate technology.

Metropolitan will blend technology with applications, using its extensive experience to provide solutions that will take business communications to another level in Sri Lanka."

Tissera said that the Ericsson MX One was vital for mission critical organizations such as hospitals, the defence services, banks and airlines.

Speaking of the development of communications, Tissera  said that first there was the change from analog to digital, next computers went on to being networked and soon after came the internet.

"Now the industry has taken the technology of internet and arrived at a converged solution which combines both voice and data to work as a single network which is what Ericsson MX One is all about".

According to Tissera, for enterprise users, the features of this new technology platform translate into the ability to provide better levels of customer-support, while increasing the organization's business efficiency.

"The Ericsson MX One shares the stability and reliability of the time-tested Ericsson MD110 PBX platform that has been successfully used for many years in mission-critical installations implemented for some of the most demanding customers in Sri Lanka, such as the defence communication networks, SriLankan Airlines and all national hospitals in Sri Lanka," said Goonewardene.

Explaining some of the applications that the Ericsson MX-One enables, Goonewardene said it included mobile extension - where a mobile GSM phone can be used as an extension of the corporate telephone system. "A mobile extension user can use the GSM phone as a extension within the PBX and have access to features such as Call Back, Call Back on Busy, Conference, Directory Search, Name and Number Display and Access to Communication Profiles."

The "One Phone" concept allows a user to be contactable on a single phone number irrespective of his or her location. Calls can be extended to the desk extension, cordless phone and mobile phone simultaneously. The user can use the most appropriate phone to answer the call. Further the user can create a profile and define which phones should be alerted when a call is presented.

"Research has shown that 80% of calls are less important than the work it disturbs. With this solution, you can simply change the profile and all calls will be extended to your secretary or voice mail".

"Solidus eCare Contact Centre solutions with computer telephony integration": According to Goonewardene, this application can push caller-related information to the call centre agents desktop before the call is answered. The Solidus e care application has a powerful interactive voice response system that can provide information to callers automatically by accessing a data base and using text to

speech technology.

"The Engineers at Metropolitan have developed a Sinhala and Tamil

text to speech engines. This system has been implemented at a state of the art contact centre at Mobitel," said Goonewardene.

Yet another feature is that of Unified Messaging solutions which allow users to have a common mail box for voice mail, e-mail and fax. "Users can log on to their PCs or dial-in to the system from a mobile phone and read email (or have it read out to them using text-to-speech software), listen to voice-mail and view faxes from their

desktop, to name but a few."

According to Tissera, the good news for Ericsson customers is that the Ericsson MX One is fully backward compatible. This means that any Ericsson MD110 Telephone system can be upgraded to the MX One platform in keeping with the Ericsson "Future-Proof" promise that stands out as an exception, in a world where technology obsolescence is a common and expensive fact of life.

Citing an example of Ericsson's  "Future Proof" technology, Tissera quoted SriLankan Airlines who have for the past 15 years been using the Ericsson MD 110 platform. "We are now in the process of upgrading SriLankan to the new technology using their existing Ericsson

platform which makes it more cost effective as opposed to having to invest in brand new technology each time there is a development for the better, which is more or less an every day occurrence in today's technology era."

Metropolitan's customer base counts for more than 60% of Sri Lanka's leading corporates and establishments, all of which currently use the Ericsson MD 110 technology.

MCL has been providing turnkey communication solutions to key customers in Sri Lanka for the last 25 years and has grown to be recognized

as an  "Advanced Partner" for Ericsson's regional operations. The company has been appointed as an authorized service provider for Ericsson in the Asian region, which means that Metropolitan engineers have now become sought after in the region for their expertise in installing and developing Ericsson solutions.

SMS for insurance info.

Union Assurance Ltd (UAL) launched its first ever fully integrated and automated SMS supported service facility within the insurance industry in Sri Lanka this week, said a statement.

 Called Union-SMSLink (US), the service enables customers to use the SMS facility on mobile and CDMA phones for multiple functions with regard to their insurance policies free of charge.

 Fully functional for motor insurance at present, it is planned to extend US to life and other areas shortly.  "US revolutionizes customer service within the insurance industry today," said CEO UAL Marina Tharmaratnam.  "This is the first time an insurance company has used this mode of communication to enable customers to find out pertinent information about their policies at any time 365 days of the year with no human intervention at all."  Tharmaratnam said that UAL's sophisticated IT platform has integrated both front office and back office operations so that responses to the customer and follow up to the relevant officials at UAL are generated almost instantaneously.

General Manager Information Technology Chandana Jayasooriya said that customers now have multiple communication channels open to them.  "They can either walk into any of our branches, telephone our call centre, use our website or now, use US which elicits the quickest response and is also the most convenient, given the busy schedules most of our customers have."  Once registration is resulted either via the call centre, the web or SMS itself and verifications confirmed by UAL via an SMS, customers have three facilities on US at present: An automatically generated renewal reminder a week prior to the renewal date, reporting of an accident or claim intimation and for inquiry of the status of a claim.  "Our claim processing is speedy, in fact most of the claims are settled within 48 hours.  However, the claims status enquiry will instantly tell the customer whether the claim is being processed, advance payment details, settlement details or needs to be referred to the manager," said Jayasooriya.

He also said that as soon as an SMS response is generated to the customer on any inquiry, an intimation also goes to the relevant back office operation to ensure a seamless integration of service.

 "There is no point in infusing sophisticated technology into processes, if the back office doesn't corroborate," he said.  "Although the entirety of US is automated, we have ensured that wherever human intervention is required, it happens with minimum delay.

 For instance, if an inquiry is made about a claim status via US, an automated response will be elicited immediately giving the status of the claim, while the relevant back office operation will also be informed of the inquiry immediately and follow up steps taken." 

"UAL, as always takes pride in offering total solutions that would add value to customers rather than simply extending ad hoc services. We have ensured that US would live up to its name of being a fully integrated service and not just an automated response provider. The extent of services via US will naturally be extended depending on customer based needs.  We want our services to be seamless and totally customer oriented in order to ensure that our customers get the service excellence we strive to give them continuously," added Tharmaratnam. 

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