In this interview, Verraki’s Associate Partner, and Head, Application Services, Olatunde Olajide, speaks to BusinessDay’s Frank Eleanya on how African enterprises can improve their technology resilience to build resilient organizations.
What is the biggest technology gap you have seen in the response of businesses to the pandemic and how can it be addressed?
I will like to answer this question from the perspective of how some industries have reacted. I think it was clear that several industries were ahead of the curve than others in terms of digital readiness. For example, we know that the banking sector already put in play digital offerings, on digital channels ahead of the pandemic. And so it was easy for them to easily upgrade some of the services and just maintain that during the pandemic. We also know that the telecommunications industry was also digitally ahead, with digital channels and offerings. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the same experience for other industries, e.g education.
There was a World Bank survey last year that tried to understand the impact of the pandemic on education and the results revealed that only one-third of the sample survey of the primary and secondary school students were able to engage in any form of virtual education during the lockdown. The ability to participate in a virtual class was dependent on several factors. First is the hurdle of cost, which may be less of an issue for pupils in private schools, but a significant challenge for the bulk of students, who are in public schools. During the lockdown, the government eventually came up with several initiatives e.g for students to listen to the radio and television, but at the beginning, it was not too easy and it took quite some weeks of catching up for that sector to even make any headway regarding their readiness.
The health sector also experienced some delays. During the lockdown, it was almost impossible to have consultations done, till after they were able to use the channels that we typically use for communication to start consultations. So in this sense, there were industries that were farther ahead on the digital transformation journey than others, which made it easier for them to adapt, while it took others time to catch up. We are still seeing the gap, but I think that we can say to some extent it is slightly better than what it was at the beginning.
Another challenge is in the area of security. Working from home involved company employees signing in and working from different locations, with resultant challenges of unsecured Wi-Fi, etc, and likely security breaches. That said, some industries were better prepared than others and I believe their earlier adoption of technology played a significant role.
Why is the message of resilience pertinent at this point?
Over the last decade, the world has seen several disasters. We saw the tsunami that happened in Japan about 10 years ago and the level of destruction on live television. We also saw how Ebola ravaged Africa between 2014 and 2016 and disrupted education at the time, for about three months at a time. We also had Occupy Nigeria in 2012, the #EndSars protests in 2020, and the biggest pandemic we have experienced, COVID-19. Essentially we have had a decade of disruptions, disasters, and unplanned incidents happening and I think it is obvious that the world would continue to see these disruptions in several ways. No one thought of COVID-19 and that it would have such an impact and disrupted lives the way it did.
So, businesses that want to survive must think beyond growth to remain in business and the only way to that is to build a resilient business. Let me quickly illustrate with the analogy of a camel; a camel is an animal typically found in the desert, but it has evolved as an animal that survives in really hot and cold weather, interestingly. And that’s how businesses need to be built and modeled for the long run.
While it is good to grow very quickly, become a unicorn in a short time, it is increasingly more important – given the trends we are seeing – that it is much more important to build a resilient business. More organizations must think, “how am I going to survive whatever is going to come next? What is coming after COVID-19 and how do I survive it? How would I maintain my business? How do I diversify my focus and make sure that my products are accessible across different geographies? How do I build a diversified strong team where I can attract and get the best talents regardless of wherever they are, to do the work we need them to do? How do I embed the message of resilience into the business model?
These are questions every business and entrepreneur must begin to ask and answer. That’s why this message is very important, and organizations need to start thinking along these lines to embed resilience into every fabric of the organization to be able to survive existential threats. So, going further, resilience then means sustainability, safety, adaptation, flexibility, and long-term thinking. Several enterprises and governments are beginning to prepare resiliently e.g the Lagos State Government has a Resilience Office.
What is technology resilience, and how is this different from disaster recovery?
Disaster recovery is essentially what it is. There is a disaster, so how do I recover from it? Resilience is different in the sense that you think through the systems to withstand the disaster without shutting down and continuing your business and operations. Resilience is the ability of the systems you have put in place to withstand operational stress, cyber attacks, and any kind of change that may come in.
As Niyi Yusuf mentioned recently, the level of technology resilience of an organization is more or less equivalent to the resilience of the business. And this more so in this period where businesses are pivoting to digital.
Succinctly: disaster recovery reflects the attempts you make to recover from a disaster while in resilience, your enterprise, infrastructure, and the entire system are steps ahead and able to see pitfalls ahead and prepare to absorb the shock of that stress or change and continue in a seamless or near seamless manner.
Why is technology resilience important now? What are the imperatives?
We appear to be in a season where we are seeing disaster after disasters, changes, disruptions that have far-reaching consequences to our daily lives. So this forms the basis for business leaders to think about how to navigate their organizations, whatever the challenge is. Typical questions they ask include “How do I ensure that my business and operations are running effectively? And how do I keep my people engaged, working and delivering on the services that are required by our stakeholders? How do we keep things moving?
The unrelenting nature of cyber-attacks is also important. Statistics show that everyday hackers are devising new ways to infiltrate security systems. Cyber attacks come in different shapes, forms, sizes, etc. As you are investing in technology to improve the security of your environment, hackers are also investing in developing different ways to penetrate the security of your enterprise.
Given the rate of change of requirements that business stakeholders want now, in terms of the customers and the need for business to be able to quickly respond to that change, business leaders must think of building technology infrastructure that is resilient, flexible, easily adaptable, and can enable the business to make changes as quickly as possible.
Another reason is because of digitalization. When the 2008 financial crisis came, there were significant regulatory changes and now we have seen regulatory changes as well with the likes of fintech and all that. With increasing digitalization, a lot of organizations are leveraging fintech, fintech products, building their digital products, and all that. There would be increased regulatory scrutiny, for example, the amended BOFIA Act 2020 of the Central Bank added specific sections addressed to fintech operators.
Customers’ expectations are also dynamic. Today, most people have smartphones and can do transactions with them. Organizations should be able to provide services regardless of the device their customers use.
What should organizations – corporates/MSMEs do to build technology resilience?
To build technology resilience, the first thing is to evolve your business model to become flexible and resilient. I think SMEs have that advantage of learning over businesses that may be struggling to adapt.
But they are several angles from which we can look at this. First thing is that resilience begins with the people, so you need to make sure you get the right people and build the right capability in the team to be able to manage the resilient infrastructure that you are going to put in place. When we talk about capability, we are talking about skills, know-how, incremental hiring, contracting, etc. Every organization also deals with vendors and these vendors contribute to your delivery of services whether both internally and externally.
So corporate and SMEs should focus on vendor management. Also, it is important to think about the culture of resilience and making resilience a part of the DNA by integrating it into the people in the organizations, the systems, the processes, the goals, objectives; essentially working resilience into everything about the business.
Organizations should also improve their processes. At the beginning of the pandemic, some organisations had digital solutions. Unfortunately, the solutions were designed in such a way that, you couldn’t use them outside the office. They had to re-architect the solutions to enable their workers to use the infrastructure outside the office, which took some time. Corporates and MSMEs need to have flexibility in mind when designing their processes to be able to ensure that these changes do not impact their businesses.
Also important is governance. Decisions around technology strategy, architecture, and design need to be thought through and must have resilience in mind.
How does Verraki support its clients on their digital resilience journey?
As advisors, we have to be ahead of the curve in terms of technology capabilities. At the beginning of the pandemic, two of our clients approached us to help them on their digital resilience journey. One was upgrading a digital product and needed help on quality assurance to ensure that the project was delivered. We also had another client that realized the need to digitize during the pandemic and started that process.
We supported the client with conducting quality assurance by conducting reviews of their DevOps application development and delivery processes on Azure Cloud, as well as Azure Stack infrastructure set up and provided recommendations on the whole end-to-end Azure application development process
We also provide thought leadership and practical experience/scenarios that resonate with our clients. Because of these, they see us as a trusted partner for solutions designed to improve business and digital resilience.