How businesses can utilise technology to improve growth, profitability, by Johnson
Olugbanga Johnson is the managing director of Autusbridge Consulting Limited. The firm is an indigenous Nigerian company operating from Lagos and focuses on helping businesses to solve problems relating to the sales of their products and services. The firm also develops and deploys technologies that help to drive the productivity of the sales team of its clients. In this interview with INIOBONG IWOK, he spoke on the importance of technology in today’s business, challenges facing Nigerian startups and how the Federal Government can assist businesses, among others. Excerpts:
As a firm that deploys technology to assist your clients, how can Nigerian businesses leverage technological advancement for growth and profitability in this 21st century?
For me, I think what technology has come to do is bring speed, reduce error, improve quality delivery and reduce cost in business operation. And you can see this working across different sectors depending on your sector. For example, if you take the banking sector, you remember those days when you have to go to the bank and queue and take a tally number and everybody was screaming that those behind the counter are slow and all of that.
But you can imagine with technology and the introduction of e-banking, a lot of people have not visited banks in a long time because they can carry out their transactions from the comfort of their homes. It is still the same transaction of either depositing money or withdrawing money but now technology has come in to simplify the process and remove the physical barriers that might require you to be in the bank. You can do a lot virtually and some of these banks have introduced virtual banking.
Even in agriculture and food processing. In those days, there are companies that are manufacturing without machines but now you can see machines doubling their capacities. What technology is doing is making us more efficient and is also able to give us more data and information that we need to be able to take business decisions. There are lots of things we don’t need to struggle with now because technology is giving us the right set of data and with the right analysis, you can make inferences and make decisions that will benefit your business.
How important is manpower recruitment to the success of the sales department of an organisation?
I think every organisation that is providing either services or products to certain markets should consider the issue of the people that will sell their product very important because these are the people that are representing the company. And they are the ones interfacing with the customers either the end users or people that are going to sell the product. So, they represent the company in many capacities and the company needs to pay attention to these kinds of people because failure or success can happen at that point. If you have the right set of people that are very passionate about the business and have the right understanding and are well-trained, they can be able to do even beyond your expectation.
No product will sell itself. You need people to explain to people how products are used. You need people to take people through the process of starting a business if you have to sell your product to other people. I think the issue of recruiting the right set of personnel to handle your product as salespeople is very important because they will definitely and ultimately determine how successful the organisation can be in the long run.
Apart from the training you carry out for your clients, are you also involved in the recruitment process of sales representatives for them?
That is very important because after doing this business for a couple of years, we realized that some of these interventions that we are given to our actually happen at the point of recruitment. We have also extended our services to help people to recruit the right people and from our capability as a sales-focused organisation, we can be able to identify the right talents and sometimes we can actually prepare them to adapt to the business and hit the ground running.
So, sometimes the intervention can come too late because you have recruited the wrong kind of people and then you are trying to train them. For us, the job of the salesperson seems to be the most important because they are the ones that will go and bring in the money for the company. So, if they are not doing the right thing, the managing director is not going to be paid, the finance director that is sitting in the office is not going to be paid and every other person will not earn their salary if the man that is supposed to bring the money is not doing the job very well.
As a consulting firm that has been in existence for nine years, what are the challenges you face in operating in Nigeria?
I think the challenges that have been happening in the business space in Nigeria for some time are also metamorphosing and changing. Before the advent of the internet, our challenges were localized, it was the challenge of bad roads, electricity and the business environment that were very local. But when the internet became pervasive everywhere, now the same service someone could subscribe to with us, somebody could choose to subscribe overseas because the internet has enabled it.
Let’s take the educational sector for example, why is our university system struggling even though we have a massive population growth? A lot of people are taking courses online and you can see a lot of foreign universities bombarding us with adverts because the internet has enabled them to be able to come around. So, a lot of people are competing for the same market now and it is no longer only your neighbour that you are competing with. Somebody in India is competing for the service in Nigeria and you can see that the challenges are changing.
And one of the things that have also really hit business badly in Nigeria is the issue of foreign exchange. For us, in the dollar-denominated aspect of our business because we provide digital services, hosting the data of our clients who are using our technology has to be done offshore for certain reasons. And these things have to be paid for, so you need to source dollars to be able to pay for these services. You need to provide security for the data and you have to for all of these things in dollars. And a lot of other businesses that are into production, it has been a difficult time because you have to look at your replacement cost even when you want to sell your product. Even if you have bought at a particular lower price, when you are selling you look at the cost of replacing that product where you have to buy it and other raw materials. You have to look at the current cost before selling and that is what is driving the inflation in the country.
I think that another challenge that is also happening to entrepreneurs is human capability. We can look at it in so many ways, there are a lot of young people who are doing fantastic things, who are self-motivated but it is also important that the economy has a competent workforce that we can always poll from. I think that is a huge challenge. In a lot of organizations, when you recruit people, you have to do a lot of training or you have to wait for them to be able to catch up within a particular curve for them to become productive. But if our educational system has been designed in such a way that people that are coming from the universities or from technical schools have the right competence.
In some of these challenges you have pointed out, how do you think the government can help businesses actually reduce them?
I was trying to talk about foreign direct investments because I worked on a project some time ago and one of the requirements for foreign investors to be in the workforce, that if you want to set up a certain company in a particular area, are we going to be able to find the right human resources with the right training. Some of these foreign investors are not coming here to train people, they are actually here to do business. So, it will be great if they can from day one have the right set of people that can work in those organisations and perform different tasks that they are required to do.
So that takes me to one of the things the government can do, we need to redesign our educational curriculum to be more relevant. Honestly, for me, there are a lot of courses that are being run in the university that I think should be scrapped. We need to look at where we want to focus on and then we will be able to channel our training so that when these people are going to school, their minds are being trained to become effective from day one when they get out of school.
That is why a lot of people, after graduating without anything to do, will start to learn hairdressing, music production and other skilled jobs after you have gone to the university to do a lot. I think the government can do that and of course, in the area of infrastructure, a lot of businesses and organizations would have been able to survive if they were not spending so much in their early days to provide many things for themselves.
So, if the enabling environment is there, people would be able to concentrate their energy on doing the right thing. Another thing that I also consider important is our legal system. We need a legal system that will ensure that people don’t run businesses aground unnecessarily. Even though you are not there as an entrepreneur, the government should be able to watch your back because they are interested in the taxes you are going to pay and if governments create a legal system whereby businesses cannot be run anyhow. There are a lot of businesses that should exist today but because of indiscipline and mismanagement of the leadership of the organisation, they run these businesses aground.
In the United Kingdom, if you run anybody’s business aground you go to jail. So, if there are enabling laws that will ensure that people do the right thing even as the owner of the business. Government should protect businesses knowing that they will earn taxes if the business does well. Government should see themselves as stakeholders in every business in Nigeria, not just coming to collect taxes, they must also ensure that the business does not fail because at the end of the day everyone benefits. Of course, the government has to promote our business, look at businesses in South Korea, there are ways their government is supporting them to ensure that these businesses become global.
Of course, we all understand that the problem with our foreign exchange is because the trade balance is not in our favour. We are spending more dollars than we are earning, so it is economics, when the dollar is scarce, the price will always go up.