WS02 CEO templates transformation for CIOs and Sri Lanka

WS02 dances to demand for digital transformation despite local and international challenges.

Businessman walks on circle transform to triangle forward arrow, business transformation change

Economic strife, conflict, skills shortages, digital transformation and a tech stock listing - typical conversation points for the technology industry in 2022. This decade is, so far, defined by disruption - a once trendy term used by Silicon Valley techies. Our interview with the founder and CEO of WSO2 Sanjiva Weerawarana would, like this decade, be disrupted by economic strife but kept on track by the transformational abilities of technology to overcome everything that the 2020s throw at it.

Sanjiva Weerawarana was meant to be in London to discuss European ambitions and implementations of the WS02 platform-as-a-service (PaaS) technology, an IPO, digital transformation and skills shortages. But events in the company and CEO's native Sri Lanka led to Weerawarana returning home, but of course, technology meant we still had that conversation.

WS02 had always focused on open-source web application development tools for integration, application programming interface (API) and identity management and was a leading member of the Apache community when the business was founded. As a result, WS02 has a heritage in the languages and foundations of enterprise technology. This continued with the development of Ballerina, an open-source cloud programming language that WS02 began work on in 2015. Ballerina is a code-based alternative to enterprise serial bus (ESB) and enterprise application integration (EAI) tools. The first version of Ballerina was publicly released in September 2019, and in June 2021, WS02 launched Choreo, a Ballerina-based integration-platform-as-a-service (iPaaS).

Weerawarana believes Ballerina will improve the productivity of application developers and at a time when development teams are under pressure to deliver. Faced with a skills shortage and increased demand for digital transformation, CIOs are keen to embrace technologies that automate and increase the pace of application development. "Cloud makes some things easier, but running software and development at scale is difficult. The depth and skills required for a digital transformation have gone right up," Weerawarana says of the opportunity he believes is there for Ballerina and the iPaaS platform his business offers.

Templated technologies such as Low and No Code are gaining traction with CIOs, and Weerawarana says this latest iteration of iPaaS brings the same business benefits. "The Choreo platform does a lot of the development functions so that the CIO and their team can do the innovation. CIOs want more control over the digital experience, as it is fundamentally a competitive advantage and defines your organisation," he says of how simplifying integration in the development process is key to the Choreo offering. Adding that, as CIOs increasingly focus on developing platforms for their businesses, the need for technologies that accelerate and simplify integration will become increasingly important. 

Open Europe

"We have expanded our European offices, and we see a lot of opportunity and interest in this technology. The reason the region is the most challenged for digital skills. Europe also has a very friendly approach to open source," Weerawarana says. This has led to significant growth in the public sector across Europe, he claims.

It's not only the CEO that believes in the future opportunities; in May 2022, WS02 successfully completed a Series E funding round with backing from RedStart Labs. This latest round of funding brings the total growth capital raised by WS02 to $93 million, with US bank Goldman Sachs Asset Management Private Credit as the lead investor, whilst the Intel investment arm was an early backer. 

Weerawarana says WS02 is considering an initial public offering (IPO) in 2024 and is considering which stock market to opt for.

Division and hope

Two days before Weerawarana and I met, protesters torched the homes of politicians in Sri Lanka, which led to the resignation of the Prime Minister. This outpouring of anger was caused by the island's population suffering severe food and petrol shortages, as well as power cuts that in some cases, were reported to last 13 hours. The nation's currency has lost half its value in two months. With this taking place at home, understandably, Weerawarana decided to cut short a trip to London and dial into our interview.

"Technology is powering the people's revolution," Weerawarana says as the island state went into a state of emergency. "There will be a period of austerity, and we will have to do a lot of well-targeted economic interventions," he says of how Sri Lanka will service its debts of $12 billion. "Technology plays a real part of this. We need to find ways to pay people back and reset the budget and get on as a nation," he says pragmatically. Despite the challenges Sri Lanka faces, Weerawarana believes transitioning the nation to a technology-oriented economy will be crucial and that this is one of the largest opportunities for Sri Lanka.

"Technology is one of the industries that bring money into Sri Lanka, approximately $1 billion of revenue a year," he says. As a contender in the offshore development community, Sri Lanka is up against its nearest neighbour India, as well as fast rising offshore tech economies such as Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as offshore growth in Latin America. "Sri Lanka is not a volume business, so we attract niche customers. We have lots going for us as a technology provider. We are a small, well-educated and strategically located nation." Despite the economic chaos of food and fuel shortages, which Sri Lanka is not alone in having to come to terms with, the demand for offshore technology skills seems to be ambivalent to world issues. Considering that Vietnam is a communist state, China remains dominant in manufacturing and Russian gas and oil power the west's machines. Concerning as events in Sri Lanka are, compared to the regimes in place in other states, Weerawarana may be right to be confident that technology demand will help the nation overcome its present challenges. 

Weerawarana's confidence may come not only from his time as a technology CEO but also from evenings behind the wheel of a car as an Uber driver. You read that correctly; Weerawarana was an Uber driver not to supplement his CEO income but to challenge long-held beliefs and keep the business leader in touch with his fellow Sri Lankans. "I drove to make a point. In Sri Lanka, we have a long history of hierarchy in our society, so we tend to look down on a lower class of role." Weerawarana believes society needs to move on from outdated concepts of one role being of greater value than another. He stopped driving for Uber during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns as that work became necessary to "survival" for many Sri Lankans. Weerawarana says it has been a valuable lesson for him as a business leader and some of his passengers. "Sometimes I picked up people that knew me, and that was interesting!"