Sri Lanka’s tea industry dodges virus fallout with cloud auction

Health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted Sri Lanka’s multimillion-dollar tea industry relies to bring a 14-decade-old market platform — the Colombo Tea Auction — to the cloud, with help from Microsoft’s local partner CICRA Solutions.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit our country, it was impossible for our traditional tea auction to follow social distancing and other health guidelines,” said Jayantha Edirisinghe, Sri Lanka’s Tea Commissioner.

Within just six days, CICRA Solutions team was able to digitally transform the auction process by creating an e-auction platform to enable business continuity. 

With some guidance from Microsoft’s experts, CICRA Solutions moved ahead with a two-step approach. Eventually, it would develop an advanced e-auction platform for long-term use. But in a crucial first stage, it quickly developed a minimum viable product (MVP) solution that re-established business continuity.

Buying and selling are now conducted safely and securely via Microsoft Azure, with traders bidding virtually from their homes or offices.

“It was quite a challenging project for all of us,” said Buddhika Gayan, engineering manager at CICRA Solutions. Because of restrictions on movement around Colombo, “all team members worked and contributed from home, which was made easy by Microsoft Teams.”

Anil Cooke, who heads a task force at the Ceylon Tea Trade Association, says the e-auction solution “has transformed the lives of almost two million people in the Sri Lanka tea industry by sheltering them from the consequences of a COVID-19 shutdown.”

“The e-auction, with all its competitiveness and nuances, was launched in less than a week through herculean effort, dedication, strong collaboration between stakeholders, and very smart and tireless work by CICRA,” he said.

Eashan Perera, who is deputy general manager at Talawakelle Tea Estates, described the switch as “an absolute blessing” that “has injected much-needed cash flows into the plantation sector at a time when the pandemic has crippled many other industries.