Lionel Jayasuriya, a businessman from Panadura, is one among tens of thousands of rail commuters who daily disembark at Colombo Fort Railway Station and fan out to offices and shops across the heart of Colombo. Most commuters, however, would be surprised to learn that Lionel, and others like him, actually conduct their core business activities from a pocket-sized ‘virtual office’ upon Platform 5-6.
Strategically situated in Colombo Fort Railway Station, the hub of Sri Lanka’s railway system, Colombo Fort Telecentre is a short stroll from government ministries and the country’s largest wholesale business district. The only one of Sri Lanka’s 587 Telecentres licensed and custom designed to operate within a railway station, it is a beehive of social and commercial activity, both by its patrons and by N. Vijayaratnam, a visionary entrepreneur who foresaw the potential of positioning an e-commerce hub within a bustling transportation hub.
“Before I started, I first studied the activities of other Telecentres,” says Vijay, as his friends known him. “I realized most of them had IT courses as their sole source of revenue. All were competing with commercial institutes and with each other.”
A Telecentre had already been established at Fort Railway Station, yet despite a unique location with daily exposure to ceaseless crowds of travelers, it was struggling. Vijay believed he could turn the Telecentre into a commercial success by combining its unique location with an intuitive sense of 21st Century business trends.
“Our Telecentre’s location on a railway platform meant space was at a premium, with no room for IT classes. Like this, I weighed our location against the endless reasons why such a multitude of people pour through this railway station daily.”
“With few exceptions, people come by rail to Colombo Fort with some business activity in mind. They are coming to make business connections, either to sell or to buy goods and services. So I decided to distinguish Colombo Fort Telecentre from other telecentres through a single-minded focus on business and commerce. Our Telecentre serves businesses and business people.”