With many problems to solve, Nigeria needs more tech investments – Summitech CEO

ADEKUNLE KUNLE-HASSAN, founder/CEO, Summitech Computing Ltd, a software development agency and IT solutions provider, in this interview with CALEB OJEWALE, speaks on upgrades to its hospital management software, its potentials for curbing HMO-hospital disputes, the tech ecosystem in general, where talents abound and are keenly sought after, and opportunities for investments.

I recall there was a briefing about a year ago, where you announced plans to upgrade your company’s hospital management software. How far has that materialised?

Exactly one year ago, we announced plans to revamp our hospital management and electronic medical record software, called Indigo, and to make it a software as a service platform. Early this year that dream was realised as we soft launched the platform with our partners and began to onboard them onto the platform. To gain access to the platform, one can go to our website, which is where a list of all the features and pricing for the product is available.

Why did this upgrade matter, and what are the prospects for it in Nigeria?

When we implemented the first version of our software, we gained a lot of insights into the workings of hospitals; the challenges they were facing, and based on all the research and feedback, we decided to focus on key areas for updating the software. One thing we noticed was that a lot of people don’t have the infrastructure right in their hospitals to host their own platform.

So what we decided to do is make something that was Software as a Service, which means it can be accessed from anywhere as long as you have Internet. You can also do some small offline operations whilst the internet is down and we focus on optimising the software to improve user experience and solve hospital management issues which were (mostly) patient waiting time. Indigo lets you know who was handling the patient at different times, just so the hospital has more insight into what causes patients to wait.

One of the biggest complaints from patients in hospitals is waiting time, especially for the really popular and busy ones. So we wanted to help make that flow seamless. In addition to that, we also made it easier for patients to pay. So patients can now pay for example, using a mobile app, which allows patients to pay for any services, they also receive invoices there and can make payment there. That way you don’t have long lines waiting for cashiers to deal with issues.

In Nigeria, sometimes networks go down or POS go down and then you have a backlog because people are now doing transfers and then you have to wait for reconciliation, call the head office, see if the payments have come through. We have eliminated all those kinds of things with our software. We also made it possible to do reconciliations for payments by HMOs much easier.

When we first started working in this industry, we noticed there’s a lot of friction between hospitals and HMOs because hospitals feel the HMOs are not honouring their commitments and paying them. Whereas, the HMOs say that the hospitals are not filing their paperwork correctly. And once the paperwork is not filed correctly, they cannot make the payments. With our system that has now been eliminated.

Apart from Indigo what other offerings does the company have?

Summitech is a software development agency as well as an IT solutions company, so we offer services across IT support, product management, software development, software testing, digital marketing, and user experience and user interface design.

You may have seen some of our work in the past, such as the Ebony Life Place website and the Filmhouse cinemas website. We also design and implement IT solutions for businesses and work with construction companies to design network solutions for new building projects for offices or homes.

Some of our recent work includes the new Eye Foundation Hospital building on Providence street in Lekki and their new location coming up in Abuja. We’ve also worked with the likes of Nod Credit, Health Partners, Primera Credit Microfinace Bank, Enaro Energy, Lexworth Legal, Emotion Advertising, and Deseret International hospital.

I recall you once mentioned Git Explorer, a product of yours that is used by developers, which had more users from the US and I have been curious to know why that is. I would have thought you’d have more Nigerian users so do you have any insights into why that demography is?

Git Explorer remains one of our favourite projects because it’s something we made to help the dev community and I think that’s probably also the same reason it has seen a lot of use elsewhere. Whilst we have a burgeoning dev community here in Nigeria, I think in other countries it is just a bit bigger, especially in the US and India, so the platform continues to do well.

It continues to support thousands of users monthly, and this month, India has seen the most traffic on our site, followed by the USA, France and Spain.

I also recall a quality assurance training for the tech community that was mentioned last year, did that materialise?

We have been offering quality assurance trainings since 2018/2019, and we’ve had several different cohorts. This year, our first cohort is going to be in July. We are also adding software engineering training and we will be partnering with some other training institutions so we can bring in user interface and user experience training.

It continues to be a focus for us and we hope to grow that into a full academy that we hope to call Summitech Academy. If anyone is interested in learning, training or getting either software engineering training or quality assurance training or UI/UX training, we will be making announcements on our social media platforms with details of the next training.

In Nigeria, we usually hear comments about how companies can’t find competent local talent and it’s not just about tech, but in your own experience how much of this has been the case in the tech industry?

As far as Nigeria is concerned, there is a lot of talent coming out of Nigeria. In fact, I would say we lose some of our best talent to foreign countries, as most companies here cannot necessarily compete with the benefits and pay offered abroad.

So it is less that there is no talent, but more that we now operate in a global talent pool and we cannot always keep the best talent that’s even available here. You can find people who are working here (in Nigeria), but they’re working remotely and being paid by companies in the United States, Canada, and Europe etc.

There is talent here, and it is up to us to decide how we approach this particular challenge. For Summitech, what we tend to do is build talent pipelines, where we can find people who are eager to learn and we can train them. However, we expect people to leave; that is just the way business is and that’s the way the tech industry is around the world. Nobody stays too long in one place for the most part, and so you need to have a system that allows for those who are passing through the system to train those who are coming up.

In learning tech skills, one recurring thing we hear is ‘learn how to code and the world of tech is literally at your feet’. But, is learning to code really enough?

It depends. A lot of people see tech and they think ‘software engineering’, but tech is actually much larger than that. Tech is software engineering, quality assurance, user interface design, user experience researchers, there are product managers and product marketing managers; there are a lot of roles in tech.

Coding will get you where you want, can help you learn some skills and probably get access to some very lucrative jobs. But at the end of the day, you probably need some soft skills, and learn more about these other roles in the industry as well. There are many other roles like I’ve stated and you can learn to do any one of those to get into the tech industry.

It is more about learning how the industry works, what the industry needs, and going with the flow of the industry. So coding can be enough if that’s what you want to do, but it’s not the only thing you need.

We’ve been seeing a lot of (startup) funding in Nigeria in recent years. What do you make of all the flurry of and especially FinTech at the top of investments?

FinTech is big and I think the key thing is understanding the needs of people. We need payment systems, and actually, you’ll find that, for example, when it comes to banking, Nigeria is actually quite ahead of the curve. You can go to for example, the United Kingdom and you’ll see that some of the apps there are just implementing things in the apps that we’ve had for years.

It makes sense that people are investing in FinTech in Nigeria, because we’re actually pushing some very new ideas. And I think we’ll continue to be a leader in that space. I think there’s also a need for many different financial solutions for various parts of the population.

You’ve reiterated the necessity of payments, but don’t you think there are other areas investors should be looking at apart from FinTech, especially in a place like Nigeria?

Yes, I think that Nigeria is ripe for investment in many places. We have many problems to solve. Nigeria is full of problems, and that means it is full of opportunities as well. Tech doesn’t just power finance. It can power so many other areas.

One of my favourite things was looking at a hydroponics farm Mitsubishi had set up in Japan, where they use technology to monitor and grow plants. Using greenhouse, they mass produce crops that wouldn’t have been possible due to space for farmland. The output end up being bigger, yet they’re not genetically modified, but have grown under artificial lights.

They are able to grow some of these crops that are usually seasonal all year round. And so, I think we can be using technology better in agriculture, and in so many different areas like legal aspects. There’s no end to what we can do and we as Nigerians are very, very creative people.

So yes, Fintech is important and I think it will continue to be a boom but I see (need for) investment in things like our entertainment industry, in agriculture, and even in technologies that can help make our roads safer. Speed cams, traffic cams; we have so much to do. I’m sure as time goes on, companies in the tech community will continue to address some of these issues.