Evolution of Nigeria’s IT industry in the last 15 years
Yen Choi is the group executive vice president and chief technology officer, Netcom Africa, a leading integrated ICT solutions and services provider. In this interview, he highlights the evolution of Nigeria’s IT industry in the last 15 years, the impact Netcom Africa has made in the IT ecosystem and regulatory challenges in the country. Jumoke Akiyode-Lawanson brings the excerpts.
How can you describe NETCOM Africa?
We are a technology-transformational company. We use technology to help business to be more productive, more profitable and more efficient. We don’t see ourselves as selling only a product or services, but we see ourselves as a critical business delivering solutions. Solutions that would aid companies to solve important business problems and help businesses take better decisions. For example, we help companies implement ERP software, and business process solutions. We plan, implement, operate the systems for our customers. We also provide the networks, systems, hardware and training around these solutions to glue them together in an efficient way. We try to make companies have efficient workplaces using systems such as time attendance system where business owners can monitor the staff anyplace in the world. We also make running businesses easier through our deployment of Netcom Virtual PBX , a system where you can pick up your office extension anywhere in the world. Also, companies now understand the importance of business continuity and disaster recovery; for this we provide online continuous cloud real time backup. This gives them business continuity; with this the company doesn’t need to worry about their data being hacked.
How has the journey for NETCOM Africa been in its 15 years of business operation in Nigeria?
A lot has changed from how we started in the Nigerian information technology (IT) space. Netcom Africa was established in 2004 and we started with VSAT services. Ours was one of the most innovative then because we came into the market with a different mind-set. We came with 1.2 meter antenna, whereas others have antennas that are as large as 2.4 meters. We came to the market with the 1.2 meter antenna which was smaller and also revolutionary in the Nigerian IT market, it was also cheaper and more efficient than what was available then in the market. We grew in this space rapidly and our subscriber base increased. One of our ways of working was innovating; we constantly tried to innovate and that is what IT firms must understand, innovation is the key in this industry. We were one of the first companies to connect to the SAT 3 cable system. This is an undersea cable that connects Europe to Nigeria. The benefits were that the capacity was large; this reduced the cost of internet and also latency. We were the first to offer SAT 3 services outside of Nigeria Telecommunications (NITEL) which was a national carrier. We tried to pre-empt the fact that the country wouldn’t only be dependent on satellite services. Very shortly, we launched one of the first mobile broadband platforms, it was a device that is the size of an average mobile phone; it is a PCMCIA card that can be inserted into the laptop. This device made customers to have access to SAT 3 bandwidth anywhere in Lagos. We called it “MyNetcom.” At that time, the competition was the fixed wireless and our solution was faster than the competitors who were offering to subscribers then about 100 kilobits per second. When we came into the market, we changed the conversation and we started offering services over 10,000 kilobits per second then.
The Nigerian IT market is very competitive, what are the things that make your firm stand the test of time?
It is simple; it is our commitment to quality service and honesty. These are deliberate processes we put in place; we have well defined structures and procedures. This is a policy in Netcom Africa. We ensure that what we deliver is the same thing every time. In addition, we are continually improving our systems and processes to be more efficient.
Please tell us about your smart building solutions?
We call it e-Space. In today’s world, buildings are going smart and tenants are becoming more sophisticated by demanding that buildings are connected with fiber optic cables, biometrics, VPN, access controls and security cameras, this is why we came up with the e-space. We call ourselves the preferred service provider; we give tenants the flexibility to choose. We have a lot of partnerships globally for different solutions. We work with a host of solutions providers and integrate solutions to suit the need of our clients. We try as much as possible to understand our clients and offer the best solutions. Netcom’s Smart Building Solutions connect, manage, and automate your building IT infrastructure. Downtime from IT infrastructure can lead to a huge loss in productivity and in turn affect the revenues.
Do you think that IT regulation in Nigeria is in line with the global best practices?
I was speaking at a Forum recently and it made me think about the regulatory processes and how cumbersome it can be. Take a look at the average driver in Lagos today; he has a lot to contend with, such as the FRSC, LATSMA, VIO and the Police. Why would a driver of a car be queried by many agencies for the same document? This is exactly what we get in the telecoms industry. Imagine if you want to lay fiber in a place like Lagos, you have a lot of agencies to contend with; such as Ministries of environment, Local Government, State Government, get clearance from FAAN etc….If we have a one stop shop, it would be nice. I think that there should be one stop agencies for telecom companies to go to not having to contend with a whole lot of agencies. The Nigeria Communication Commission is our regulator and one of the most progressive in the world. I know that they can intervene here. They should consolidate information on regulations from multiple regulators and let us know how to go about this because for many telecom firms, especially those that are into infrastructure, this would help ease of doing business, reduce confusion and multiple taxation.
What do you think about IT outsourcing in Nigerian business organizations today?
Outsourcing has been practiced for a long time for most companies, but the onset of the Internet has allowed it to bloom and become bigger as the years go by. If you want to have the advantage when it comes to your business, we recommend finding the right outsourcing company who can provide you with extra help tailored for you. When you work with an independent outsourcing firm that understands your business, you do not need to hire an individual expert as your staff, instead, you can outsource those functions and business objectives and an have access to a larger team with much more experience than a single person. Our clients are from many different non-IT industries and have realized that they want to leave the IT management to a competent firm such as Netcom and focus on their core competencies.
How would you rate Nigeria’s IT industry?
The IT industry in Nigeria has greatly developed. Previously IT firms were doing “Box Shipping”, back then companies were selling software to clients and then “off they go”. The issue of support was on the downside as of then, but as of today that has improved. The Nigerian market has evolved and companies today are demanding high quality after support. Today, we have IT outsourcing services where businesses outsource their IT needs to competent service provider. That is how matured the IT market is. In NETCOM we have excellent support and we don’t believe in selling only products, we ensure that it is coupled with robust support.