• Friday, March 01, 2024
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Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho, mastering the digital landscape across Africa and beyond

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Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho is a seasoned Information Technology professional with over 15 years of cross-sector industry experience in Nigeria, Africa’s emerging economy. She combines strategic, digital technology and operational experience with a deep understanding of business transformation, change leadership and risk oversight.

At home in technology from childhood, Nkemdilim is walking in her father’s footsteps as a second-generation Nigerian Information Technology expert.

She has designed and led the strategy and implementation of brand digital marketing and digital transformation projects across Africa, resulting in enhanced customer experiences, customer acquisition and bottom-line growth, optimised and more cost-effective operations and a more digitally skilled labour force within the organisations she has worked with.

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Currently CEO of Future Software Resources Ltd. (Futuresoft), one of Nigeria’s leading digital & technology solutions companies, providing a broad range of solutions for the scaling African enterprise, to consistently attract and retain its target audience, optimise its processes and increase its bottom line.

Futuresoft has served over 200 clients across 20 industries and has trained over 1,500 CEOs, executives and board members in digital.

How has your upbringing motivated you to become who you are today?
Reflecting on my formative years, three distinct facets have profoundly influenced my character and the person I’ve become.

Firstly, I was steeped in technology from an early age, owing to my father’s unwavering devotion to the world of tech. He ensured we had access to computers, not as mere entertainment devices, but as gateways to opportunities and as tools for creative expression. Learning to code at the age of 16 ignited a profound passion for innovation, broadening my horizons beyond conventional career paths.

I am the first of three girls and even though I didn’t know it then, looking back, my parents championed a pretty gender-neutral upbringing. Gender was never a constraint on our aspirations; instead, being girls instilled us with unwavering independence and unshakable confidence. Simultaneously, my parents nurtured a profound pride in our cultural heritage, fostering a deep-seated sense of identity and purpose. This fusion has given me the self-assuredness to navigate any environment with grace, always mindful to listen, learn, and remain humble and never being afraid of taking the road less travelled.

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Observing my parents’ unwavering commitment to community betterment through their social impact projects sparked a desire within me to partake in similar endeavours. It has been the compass guiding my professional journey, steering my unwavering dedication to the Nigerian and African technology ecosystem, igniting a fervour for mentoring and youth development, and kindling a passion for sustainable and impact driven initiatives that focus on unlocking opportunities for young people in Nigeria and on the continent.

Today, it’s pretty clear to me that these experiences constitute the bedrock of my identity, shaping my core values and instilling in me an unshakable dedication to Nigeria and the continent at large, while always focusing on equity, cultural preservation, community service, and of course my insatiable curiosity for the ever-evolving tech space.

How do you approach competitor analysis and market research to inform digital strategy?

At Futuresoft, we employ a multi-faceted approach to effective competitor analysis and market research for digital strategy development. This approach includes both quantitative and qualitative methods, such as analysing market trends, actively seeking and reviewing customer feedback, as well as monitoring our client’s competitors’ digital footprints. We closely track their product/service offerings, user experiences, and digital marketing strategies.

This data-driven approach allows us to identify gaps and opportunities that we use to develop tailored digital strategies that are aligned with market dynamics and customer needs, while ensuring that our clients stay ahead of their competition.

How important is it that a company ensures their brand’s digital strategy aligns with their overall business objectives?

To be honest, it is absolutely critical! Aligning digital strategy with business objectives ensures focused efforts, efficient resource allocation, and a clear path to achieving long-term goals. It also maximises the impact of digital initiatives and strengthens the company’s competitive position in the market.

What are some common challenges or roadblocks you’ve observed that organisations can encounter when implementing digital strategies, and how can they overcome them?

The challenges are endless, but some of the common ones cut across looking at digital transformation as a project instead of as a business strategy, the lack of leadership buy in, rushing into projects / initiatives without having a holistic view or plan, poorly thought through change management, poor stakeholder engagement and internal communication and not keeping up to date with the ever-evolving technology trends, regulations and risks.

To overcome these roadblocks, the right mindset, a solid strategy, change management plan and communications framework and of course the right implementation team, consultants, partners and technology vendors are key.

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What are the key drivers of digital transformation in today’s business landscape?

Good question. I think the key drivers often depend on industry, stage of organisation and how sustainable the business already is.

However, generally speaking, the key drivers are found in being agile in order to adapt to changing market conditions, staying ahead and remaining competitive in a digital-first market, ever evolving customer expectations and demands for seamless digital experiences and personalised services, the rapid evolution of innovation across emerging technologies like AI, IoT, cloud computing, and data analytics, which are constantly enabling new possibilities, as well as the need to cut costs and streamline operations through automation and digital processes.

What role does leadership play in driving successful digital transformation?

Let me start by saying that I have never seen successful and most importantly sustainable digital transformation without leadership buy-in.

Effective leaders envision and champion digital initiatives, secure the required resources, communicate the importance of the initiatives for the business, and most of all lead by example while fostering a culture of innovation and agility.

They navigate organisational resistance to change, align the workforce with digital goals, and ensure that the transformation strategy is in sync with the company’s overall objectives.

What are the potential costs and return on investment (ROI) of digital transformation?

The most important thing about potential costs and ROI of digital transformation is to look at digital transformation as an investment and not as a cost centre.
Let’s look at the costs of digital transformation, they cut across various aspects, such as technology investments, employee training and culture building initiatives, process reengineering, and system upgrade and integration. These upfront expenses can be substantial, which is why it’s important to understand that they are an investment and part of the future proofing strategy of your organisation.

That being said, the ROI of digital transformation can be substantial as well, especially in the long term. It’s important to define your picture of success at the start and know how to track your ROI, which can take the form of increased operational efficiency, cost savings through automation, revenue growth from new digital channels, and improved customer experiences, which in turn enhance customer loyalty and retention.

If you ask me, the long-term benefits frequently outweigh the initial costs as organisations gain a competitive edge, access new markets, adapt to changing customer expectations, and establish a foundation for sustainable growth and innovation, leading to a robust ROI.

How can technology be leveraged as a strategic driver for Nigeria’s growth and development?

One of my favourite topics. I am very excited to see what the new administration does to strategically leverage technology for socio-economic development and growth.

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For me, there are 3 key areas that technology can play a role in paving the way for sustainable economic growth, job creation, and social development.

The Public Sector: Technology can enhance efficiency and transparency in public administration, reducing corruption and improving public service delivery, while increasing revenue generation for the country.

Economic Diversification: Enabling policies focused on technology integration across sectors like energy, financial services, manufacturing, health and agriculture, can help stimulate economic diversification, GDP growth and financial inclusion, while reducing unemployment and ensuring global competitiveness as a nation.

Education & Human Capacity Development: In order to be globally competitive, we must invest in our people and rethink and transform our educational system. Technology must be at the core of this transformation, enabled by out of the box thinking, supporting policies and political will.

How can emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and Internet of Things (IoT), contribute to sustainable development in Nigeria?

Emerging technologies like AI, blockchain, and IoT hold immense potential for sustainable development in Nigeria. It’s all about ensuring that we have a policy environment that is focused on enabling and supporting innovation and ensuring that we move from consuming technologies to creating technologies.

To speak to the technologies you asked about, AI can optimise agriculture, healthcare, and education, boosting productivity and service quality.

Blockchain can ensure transparency and trust in supply chains, insurance, land ownership, and financial transactions, reducing fraud and corruption.

IoT can enhance resource management and infrastructure monitoring, conserving energy and improving urban planning.

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These technologies can not only attract foreign direct investments, foster innovation, and create job opportunities, but also drive economic growth.

When harnessed effectively, they can address some of our critical development challenges, making our nation more resilient, competitive, and environmentally sustainable.

How can technology help in empowering local entrepreneurs and fostering innovation ecosystems in Nigeria?

By reducing barriers to entry and amplifying opportunities, technology plays a vital role in nurturing innovation ecosystems, enabling local entrepreneurs to thrive and contribute to Nigeria’s economic growth.

Beyond the obvious benefits of technology in terms of optimised operations, cost savings, access to global markets through online marketing and e-commerce, as well as the ease of doing business that digital payments bring, technology continues to be a strategic value driver for all businesses.

Technology-driven initiatives like incubators and accelerators have also proven to improve the investment readiness of startups through brand and business optimisation, mentorship and access to networks and resources.

The above mentioned is only possible if there is an enabling environment which needs to be provided through adequate, agile and scale-focused policy making.

What are the potential economic benefits and job opportunities that can be generated through technology-driven development in Nigeria?

As mentioned earlier, technology-driven development in Nigeria can yield significant economic benefits, including increased productivity and economic diversification. This, in turn, can stimulate economic growth, attract foreign investment, and in the long term reduce poverty and improve the quality of living.

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As I had alluded to earlier, technology integration across key sectors can create a multitude of job opportunities. For example, in agriculture, tech solutions for precision farming and supply chain optimisation can lead to roles in data analysis and agri-tech startups. In healthcare, telemedicine and health tech require professionals in remote diagnostics and software development. Fintech opens avenues for financial analysts and app developers. The expanding e-commerce sector demands logistics and digital marketing experts. Overall, technology integration across sectors catalyses diverse job prospects, contributing to economic growth and innovation.

How can partnerships between governments, private sector entities, and civil society organisations be fostered to drive technology-enabled development in Nigeria?

Fostering partnerships between the government, the private sector, and civil society in Nigeria is critical to driving technology-enabled development.

My hope is that the new administration focuses on creating conducive policies and an enabling regulatory environment that has the power to unlock private sector investment across tech infrastructure and innovation. At the same time civil society organisations must continue to focus on bridging the gaps by advocating for inclusivity and providing grassroots insights.

These partnerships encourage shared goals, enhance resource efficiency, and promote sustainable development through technology in Nigeria. We must also use collaborative platforms and initiatives that can facilitate knowledge sharing and help prioritise resource allocation.

How can African countries collaborate and share best practices in leveraging technology for development, and what platforms or initiatives exist for such collaboration?

African countries collaborate in leveraging technology for development through regional forums, knowledge-sharing platforms, and cross-border initiatives. By collectively addressing challenges, pooling resources, and sharing insights, we can accelerate technological development, bridge digital divides, and collectively advance the continent’s socio-economic growth.

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These collaborative efforts already exist. Organisations like the African Union, African Development Bank, and NEPAD have facilitated cooperation on tech-driven projects. The Smart Africa Alliance encourages member states to harmonise ICT policies, while pan-African tech hubs, angel investment networks and innovation clusters focus on fostering collaboration among startups and entrepreneurs.

I’d say we are on the right track but must ensure that we are intentional about knowledge sharing and co-creation of pan-African approaches that are enabled by the AfCFTA.

What are some potential risks or challenges associated with relying heavily on technology for development in Africa, and how can they be mitigated?

Relying heavily on technology for development in Africa presents challenges such as infrastructure gaps, unequal access, cybersecurity risks and most importantly the threat of digital colonisation.

We must ensure that we take a holistic approach and invest in our own digital infrastructure and technologies, leverage public-private partnerships to expand Internet access, while democratising digital literacy and digital skills development.

Ensuring affordability and inclusivity through policies and strategic short-term subsidies can help address access disparities. Robust cybersecurity measures, regulatory frameworks, and public awareness campaigns are essential to combating cyber threats.

That being said, I believe that we shouldn’t simply copy and paste. We must find our own unique African solutions to our development challenges. They may be driven by technology but shouldn’t create dependencies especially when third party infrastructure is involved.

How do you address the challenges of connectivity and access to technology in remote or underserved areas of Africa?

There has been a lot of progress with regards to addressing connectivity and access challenges in remote areas across the continent.

We’ve seen multifaceted approaches that have worked, which include building digital infrastructure through public-private partnerships and utilising innovative technologies like satellite internet and TV white spaces. Mobile network expansion, community Wi-Fi projects, and affordable data plans further enhance accessibility and are often part of the scaling ambitions of telecom operators fighting for market share.

Additionally, promoting digital literacy and providing affordable devices, as well as public investment in e-learning and telemedicine can foster adoption and drive equitable access to education and healthcare.

It’s also becoming clearer that collaborative efforts with local communities, NGOs, and international organisations help ensure sustainability in the long term.

Can you provide insights into the key trends or emerging practices in ecosystem building that are shaping the business landscape?

I am seeing some interesting trends and emerging practices in ecosystem building that are reshaping the business landscape globally. Here are my top 3:

The first trend is the rise of platform-based business models, emphasising collaboration over competition and bringing together two or multiple market sides, while being asset light and creating immense value for all stakeholders.

The second trend is around sustainability and impact focus. I am seeing more and more ecosystems prioritising sustainability and social impact, aligning business goals with environmental and societal objectives.

The third trend is around digital transformation. We are seeing accelerated digitalisation driving ecosystem growth, enabling seamless connections and data-driven innovation across industries, promoting agility and competitiveness.

In my opinion, these trends reflect a shift towards interconnected, dynamic ecosystems that drive innovation, growth, and positive societal outcomes.

What role does cybersecurity play in the context of corporate governance, and how can organisations effectively address cyber risks?

Over the years, cybersecurity has become a core component of corporate governance, as it safeguards sensitive data, protects shareholder value, and ensures compliance. Ultimately, a strong cybersecurity posture bolsters trust among stakeholders and upholds effective corporate governance, thus it is becoming more and more critical for boards to rethink how they oversee cyber risk.

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As an IT committee chair, ensuring an always on, always secure information architecture and business environment is one of the key things at the forefront of my mind when reviewing our IT committee reports and engaging with the CISO.

It is essential for organisations to adopt robust cybersecurity measures, including having a well structured cyber security team, conducting regular risk assessments and continuous employee training, performing random spot checks, keeping abreast with the ever-evolving threat landscape, reviewing and tweaking the organisation’s incident response plans and using global best practices at all times.

How can organisations incorporate emerging trends, such as ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance), into their technology-driven corporate governance practices?

The truth is that a lot of organisations are still smack bang in the middle of their digital transformation journey, and their corporate governance isn’t yet technology driven. However, it is important for boards to take a holistic approach to ESG integration and digital transformation that ensures a seamless alignment of technology-driven innovation and sustainable, responsible business practices, while boosting competitiveness, risk mitigation, and stakeholder trust.

Some areas boards can focus on when thinking about sustainable digital strategies are:

1) Data Integration: Integrating ESG data into existing technology platforms for comprehensive ESG reporting, executive and analysis of social impact.

2) AI and Analytics: Leveraging AI and analytics to identify ESG risks and opportunities, aiding informed decision-making and improved risk management and mitigation.

3) Stakeholder Engagement: Using digital platforms to actively engage with stakeholders, share key information and incorporate their feedback into governance strategies.

4) E-learning: Using e-learning platforms for ESG training and awareness programs across the workforce as well as other stakeholders such as suppliers, vendors and partners.

5) IoT and SaSS solution to drive Energy Efficiency: IoT devices, smart sensors and Software as a Service Solutions can monitor energy consumption, track carbon emissions and drive sustainability in operations.

What are the potential benefits for companies that prioritise ESG practices and how do they impact long-term value creation?

Prioritising ESG practices can yield several benefits for companies. They enhance reputation and brand value, attracting socially conscious consumers and investors. Improved risk management reduces potential legal and financial liabilities. ESG also fosters innovation, efficiency, and resilience. Moreover, it can be used to attract and retain top talent, bolstering workforce productivity. These factors collectively contribute to long-term value creation, ensuring sustainability, competitive advantage, and alignment with evolving market expectations.

What are some challenges or obstacles organisations commonly face when implementing ESG practices, and how can they be overcome?

The most common challenges on the journey to becoming a sustainable and ESG compliant organisation are often the ones that are easily overlooked when developing an ESG strategy. They include how to manage resistance to change and cultural changes, how to engage stakeholders amidst ever changing stakeholder expectations and behaviour, how to navigate evolving and more and more complex regulatory frameworks, how to manage huge amounts of data while maintaining data quality and security, how to ensure all reputational risks including greenwashing are carefully navigated and most of all how to integrate ESG into your brand strategy and go from saying, to doing, to showing.

To overcome these challenges, it is important to have a holistic, long-term approach, a fully integrated brand strategy and most of all the mindset that ESG integration isn’t simply a tick boxing exercise, but rather a strategic approach to doing business, while doing good.