We are using geospatial data to help organisations make better decisions – Sambus CEO
AKUA ABOABEA ABOAH, managing director, Sambus Geospatial in this interview with BusinessDay’s FRANK ELEANYA speaks on the geospatial market in Nigeria and Africa and the opportunities. The company opened its Lagos office recently and is looking to help the Nigerian authorities and businesses understand the need for geospatial technologies in aiding decision making and monitoring operations from electricity to military.
Sambus should be 35 this year, tell us about the journey so far
That’s an interesting question. It reminds me of my father, because he started the business, registered it 35 years ago, May 1987. And now we have offices in Accra and Kumasi in Ghana. We also have offices in Abuja, Kano and this year, we are starting an office in Lagos. I think of these five branches, and I’m proud of where we are after 35 years. In the next five years, we are thinking of setting up in Liberia, Gambia, and Gabon hopefully.
So what exactly does Sambus do?
Think of Sambus as a geospatial company, which has affiliations and franchises that support special knowledge and information dissemination.
I use the example generally of utility networks. So we all want electricity, we all want water, but how do we effectively get water or electricity to you, the customer, because you pay for value, the service, and you must get it at all times and get it well.
When I think of the value Sambus adds to such an institution, I think of the fact that the electricity company wants to know where all their network lines are, right?
They want to know the amount of power or water flowing through these systems. They want to know when there’s a leakage or shortage or anything on the systems.
There’s no industry that we do not play because people want to know what is happening in every context on a data site
They want to know it on a geographical platform that gives them real-time information. They want to know this, so they could quickly resolve it and make sure that your water or your electricity doesn’t go off.
This is what we deliver; spatial information, real-time knowledge. This allows you to effectively solve the problems or aid the decision-maker at the top. It could guide where to put more money in delivering better service to the customer.
How do you provide that service?
We have systems and structures, we have data collection devices, we have software that does the analytics at the backend, we have tracking systems, we have sensors, we have all these feeding into a whole system that allows you to sit at your desk and see all this. That is our work, and we do it very well.
At what point did you or did your father realize that this was a challenge that needed to be addressed?
If you look back at the founder’s background, you’d realize that he, at a very young age, was the best SAT candidate in Ghana, then he won a full scholarship to Princeton University.
While in Princeton, he made very valuable networks, and in those networks, one of the key determinants was technology for him.
He came back to Ghana with the mindset that he was going to make Ghana very technologically advanced. That was 35 years ago. And he started off by going into high core, what we call IT systems.
Along the way, he stumbled upon this and he thought, this is a great way. I mean, this is how you can see maybe a road in the US being constructed in this angle because somebody has done the analytics and realized that the traffic in this area requires that we construct a road to manage that traffic. And that can only be done on a map and it cannot be analog, it has to be digital.
He had some friends with whom he partnered and brought some on board as partners. This is where we stand now. It’s very beautiful because now it’s more needed than ever.
When he started, I remember there were comments when I joined the business, that the first 10 years, they didn’t do anything in this area, because of course, nobody understood what was happening. But now people have a sense of understanding.
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So you’ve been in the market for a long time, 35 years, what’s the size of this market?
Well, when you say the size of the market, I come to a point to say that every industry needs this. So it’s the whole world, I mean, it’s a whole West Africa needs this.
We play in oil and gas, we play in agriculture, we have a big customer coming up wondering how much fertilizer they should give to their farmers, how much that fertilizer should yield for them.
And they want to know, real-time, whether these fertilizers are being applied well, and how the fields are being managed so that they can get the results.
This is cocoa. So you know how valuable cocoa is, that’s a customer. We work with, like I said, utility, we work with gas, we work with intelligence, defence, because they want to know the security concerns in this country and other countries. We work with even with the Navy.
So there’s no industry that we do not play because people want to know what is happening in every context on a data site. I won’t give us the size, I will say, we don’t have any limits, we are everywhere.
One of the tools you use is drones, but looking at the drone market in Africa, especially Nigeria, regulation around drones is not very clear. How do you work around that?
As we speak, we’re still navigating that terrain. We’re still trying to find our feet on that level, and we’ve been trying to follow the due process and work through things as we should, that’s where we are right now.
I can’t give you the end because we’re not there yet, but we know that we will get there because of what we often bring to the table.
So I think they understand that it is time for them to embrace this. Of course, with the roots and the structures, because it’s a good thing, and it could also be a bad thing.
So we have to acknowledge both ends, and then make sure that we can convince the country that this is a good thing we are bringing.
How’s the discussion going, are the regulators looking positive?
Yes, they’re very positive. That’s why I think it’s what we bring at Sambus. They know us on the integrity of our business skills. We’ve been around for 35 years, and it’s not because we are better than anybody else, but it’s because of our values. And so sometimes the value speaks for itself.
How large do you think the geospatial industry is going to get in Africa?
The last time I checked, they said it was worth $18 billion in Western Africa, this was the last time I checked. I don’t know where it will be in the next five years.
What are the major things driving the growth?
It’s the value or the impact it creates. We all go to other countries and we see the development and you want to understand what the foundation for that development is, and it’s just visual, and that knowledge helps you.
It helps you plug in quite easily, helps you in your defence, helps you in revenue generation for your utility companies, helps you in oil and gas management. So why wouldn’t you want to embrace this technology?