• Monday, July 15, 2024
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DigiSign is helping businesses do business faster, with less risk and at a lower cost, by Olisa–Ashar

DigiSign is helping businesses do business faster, with less risk and at a lower cost, by Olisa–Asharis

Gerrad Olisa–Ashar, is the chief executive officer (CEO) of DigiSign Technologies Limited and co-founder of Diaspora Investment Partners Africa. He is a technology enthusiast with a keen interest in the role of technology in entrepreneurship and economic empowerment in Africa. Olisa–Ashar has over 20 years’ experience in delivering technology and cybersecurity strategies for businesses and he sits on the Board of multiple companies. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Management from the University of London and a MBA from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. In this interview with Bright Imoh, he spoke on a varied number of issues ranging from the use of technology to resolve challenges; managing cybersecurity risks.

What personal experiences or insights led you to embark on a career in Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity found me. I have always wanted to solve problems and take on new challenges. My career started in technology infrastructure. I began as a technology support analyst and progressed to managing technology services for medium and large enterprises. About a decade ago, I had the opportunity to take on a new challenge – it was to help my employer attain the global standard in information security, ISO27001. This was a critical strategic objective. Since no one in the business had the experience, I nominated myself to take on the challenge of managing the delivery of that project.

That’s how I got into Cybersecurity. I was thrown into the deep end and had to sink or swim – thankfully, I swam. Since then, I have advised enterprises of various sizes on effectively identifying and managing cybersecurity risks.

Read also: The cybersecurity pause

What are your thoughts on Cybersecurity and the importance of digital document integrity in today’s digital economy?

Although closely related, these are two separate issues for the digital economy so I will take them one at a time.

The importance of cyber security to the digital economy cannot be overemphasized. In fact, I will go as far as to say that without cyber security there is really no digital economy because if you do not put the necessary guard rails in any economy it will tank – same thing for the digital economy. My favourite analogy is likening to building a 20-storey building with a solid foundation. When the building is complete, you don’t see the foundation anymore, but it works underground every day. The tonnes of pressure in weight from the people, equipment, furniture, among others, in the building are only sustained by an effective foundation, protecting the building and all that is within. Imagine if you did not have the foundation in place – or had the foundation of a 3-storey building. It will only be a matter of time before the building collapses. So, Cybersecurity is a key foundational pillar for the digital economy – its job, even when you do not see it, is to ensure that the billions of daily transactions in the digital economy are adequately protected.

This will, in turn, prevent significant harm to individuals, businesses and governments who participate in the digital economy. For instance, a recent cyber-attack on a major financial institution in Nigeria resulted in the loss of millions of dollars and the compromise of sensitive customer data. The UN’s Economy Commission for Africa (ECA) reports that Africa’s low level of preparedness in Cybersecurity is costing member countries up to 10% of their GDP annually. That is over $100 billion just for the BIG 4 countries of South Africa ($37b), Egypt ($34b), Nigeria ($25b) and Kenya ($10b) respectively.

These numbers only emphasise why all stakeholders in African digital economies need to collaborate to ensure that their digital economies are resilient enough and adequately protected from the acts of cyber criminals.

On the other hand, digital document integrity is a subset of the broader topic of Cybersecurity. For the digital economy to be effective, interactions must remain digital to optimise the benefits of speed, ease, convenience, security and cost. This means that processes must become digital, including the process of documentation and record keeping. For example, in countries like the UK, it is commonplace to find people who have not visited their banks or doctors in the last 10 years. This is not because they haven’t consumed services from these service providers but because they have done so digitally (online) without the need for physical interaction. All agreements, documents or records have been stored digitally.

It is imperative that the integrity of these agreements is preserved, or they become worthless. To maintain such integrity, banks and hospitals need access to affordable technology services that can help preserve the integrity of these digital documents.

In an era where digital transactions are increasingly the norm when conducting business, ensuring the authenticity and integrity of contracts, deeds, and other documents is paramount.

What are your thoughts on the current state and future potential of Nigeria’s digital economy?

The potential is enormous, but the government and private sector must do a lot of work. As of 2020, Nigeria’s digital economy (or internet economy) was estimated to be worth $24 billion but only contributed 5.6% to its total GDP, when you compare it to South Africa (6.5%) and Kenya (7.7%), even though it performed better than Egypt (4.9%).

If you compare these numbers to an aspiration of the Digital Cooperation Organisation (DCO) – for the global digital economy to contribute 30% to the global GDP by 2030 – you can see Nigeria still has a lot of growth potential.

We have seen a lot of progress in the last decade, but Nigeria’s (indeed Africa) businesses and governments still need to catch up compared to other global economies. I know people talk about technological leapfrogging and the development of our digital economy, but that’s more challenging than it sounds. You need to have the right foundations as a business or a government to catch up.

For example, there is a lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI), which I believe will be the most significant contributor to the development of the global digital economy. However, AI is built on machine learning models, which are built on deep learning models, data analytics, and data sets built on raw data.

If you have poor data collection, you will struggle to leapfrog technologically into implementing AI constructively. Businesses and Governments in countries like the UK and US have been strategically gathering data for decades to help them take advantage of the benefits that AI presents today. So, we must continue to be strategic in building the right foundational infrastructure to help realise the great potential of digital economic benefits for Nigeria.

Read also: Lagos State Governor appoints Dr Fene Osakwe as Chairman of Cybersecurity Advisory Board

What challenges and opportunities do you anticipate for Nigeria’s digital economy in the near future, and how do you envision innovative technologies like DigiSign addressing these challenges?

The key challenge I have posited above is an implementable strategic blueprint that compels individuals, businesses, and governments (on all levels) to invest in building the critical foundational pillars of the digital economy.

One of those foundational pillars is ensuring the accuracy and integrity of digital identities. Participants in the digital economy need to have confidence that they are engaging with a natural person and the right person at the other end of a digital device – just as if they were standing in front of them. This is where DigiSign plays a role.

The purpose of DigiSign is to allow people, businesses and governments to engage in the digital economy without fear. We will do this if we fulfil our mission to authenticate digital transactions, guaranteeing trust for people, businesses, and governments worldwide.

What was the driving force behind the creation of DigiSign, and what are your visions for its future impact on the industry?

As someone who has participated in and contributed to developing the UK’s digital economy from a cyber security perspective, I understand what it takes for a business to be appropriately protected from the negative sides of the digital economy. Also, as someone who engaged early in the digital lending space in Nigeria, I began to see gaps in the digital infrastructure on a small scale. From my interactions with industry players, it became apparent these gaps existed on a much broader national level; in some industries, we have ‘time bombs’ waiting to go off, and we were compelled to do something to stop the clock on the time bomb.

Furthermore, a recent report by Simile Identity shows increased identity-related fraud in Africa. Driven by urgency, we saw an opportunity to close the gap in the electronic signature space by coming up with a ground-breaking integrated biometric e-signature platform. This innovative (patented) technology ensures the authenticity of all parties that sign a document, reducing the risk of identity fraud or non-repudiation. Traditional e-signature platforms rely mainly on the signatories’ emails as the primary source of verification. However, this could be stronger at best, particularly in emerging digital economies where there is a need to build trust to encourage more participation in the digital economy.

DigiSign helps businesses do business faster, with less risk and at a lower cost – it is a ‘win-win’ solution for all stakeholders: the user, our customer (the business), the regulator, and the investors.

What sets DigiSign apart from other technologies in the market, and how does it address the challenges of fraudulent signatures and unauthorised document alterations?

DigiSign is an innovation that improves on existing technology to tailor the peculiarities in emerging digital economies where the trust level is significantly deficient when compared to more matured digital economies. Three things set us apart. First is our vision of becoming the most trusted company in the world. We sell trust, and we can improve the narrative that people, businesses, and governments in Nigeria (or Africa) may not have the same level of trust coefficient attached to them as you would find in other countries.

Secondly, we do not see ourselves as being in the business of signing documents electronically but in the business of creating authentic digital interactions. Electronic signatures are our immediate priority, but we are pursuing a world where every digital transaction is genuine.

The third thing is the uniqueness of our technology. It is amazing, but understandable, that no one has patented this technology. We’ve secured our patent in Nigeria, and our US application is advanced. We have also started applications in the UK, Europe, and several African countries. However, the most important thing for us is the assurance that we can give our customers (with undeniable evidence) that a real person and the right person sign any electronically signed document on our platform.

Read also: 56% of central banks lack national cybersecurity strategy — IMF

Can you share any interesting or challenging moments you faced while developing DigiSign and how you overcame them?

We are still a very young company but have faced many challenges. The biggest one up until now was getting the right core team to believe in the vision. DigiSign was conceived years ago but needed the right team to bring it to life. Thankfully, we are past that challenge, and we have built a competent team that shares our vision and is working flat-out every day to pursue that vision relentlessly.

How do you see the future of digital document authentication and Cybersecurity evolving, and what role do you think1DigiSign will play in this evolution?

We are the future. In our recent pitch deck – we greeted potential investors with this phrase ‘Welcome to the future’ – this, in all humility, is our reality. As biometric technologies become more accessible, we can do a lot more. We see a world where you will no longer need written signatures with all documents or agreements, and having a verified biometric signature is the most secure way to verify the authenticity of signatories to a document. DigiSign is positioning itself as a global leader in biometric digital signatures. A big part of our operational budget goes to research and development to explore ways of delivering increased value to our customers.

How do you see emerging technologies, such as DigiSign, contributing to the growth and development of Nigeria’s digital economy?

It depends on what you mean by emerging technologies. Existing technology will play more of a role in the digital economy. As I noted earlier, there are many foundational pillars of the digital economy that we need to build. Most of these already have mature technologies that can be adopted.

For DigiSign, we are blessed to have the opportunity to contribute to an emerging space. It does come with its challenges, though; market adoption and regulatory framing, for example, are our top concerns right now. We see DigSign playing a pivotal role in guaranteeing trust in many sectors of the digital economy: Finance, Healthcare, Real Estate, e-commerce, and Logistics, to name just a few.

When we succeed, more people, businesses and governments can offer or consume services digitally with increased confidence, and this can only be a good thing for Nigeria’s digital economy in the long term.

In what ways do you believe digital document authentication and cybersecurity solutions can positively impact businesses and individuals within Nigeria’s digital economy?

I’ll go back to my earlier point of foundational pillars. For any economy to enjoy the benefits of a sustainable digital economy, the private and public sectors must work together to deliver key strategic outcomes that form the foundation of the digital economy. This journey has already started but needs to be accelerated. We must work together with stakeholders: people, businesses, and governments