The Chief Executive Officer, SB Telecoms & Devices, Mr. Afolabi Abiodun, spoke with select journalists on the challenges of insecurity and time theft in business and how organisations could tackle them through ICT solutions. Emma Okonji presents the excerpts:
How will you describe the Nigerian economy today? Do you think it affords people the same level of opportunity to grow from a micro to a medium-scale enterprise?
The Nigerian economy is fraught with challenges of various kinds, but I think what should be of utmost importance on the minds of people, especially technocrats and businessmen and women, is the entrepreneurial spirit. The challenges would always be there though they might vary from time to time. Power has always been a challenge, transportation has always been a challenge, political instability has always been a challenge but what is important for an entrepreneur is to be able to work within the environment and come up with solutions that stand out. Challenges should not serve as an excuse for ideas not to evolve. They should be seen as opportunity to evolve new products and services.
How will you assess the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector of the Nigerian economy?
The ICT industry is still evolving. We still have a long way to go. However, if you want to point to the leading start-ups today, majority of the celebrated ones are from the ICT industry. Some 10 years ago, nobody would talk about e-commerce, but today we have several successful e-commerce platforms. A revolution has happened in the last couple of years in the transport sector and traditional cab drivers, especially the ones at the airport, still can’t comprehend what is happening. They really don’t understand the cause of the dwindling patronage they are experiencing. The likes of Uber and e-Taxi which are products of e-commerce have gradually taken over the space. People are taking advantage of technology to reposition their lifestyles in the transport sector, by booking for their metro transportation online.
Same revolution has happened in the hospitality sector. Traditionally, issues like ticketing and hotel booking are very difficult to handle but these days, with hotel.com and Wakanow.com, among others, a lot can happen within the twinkle of an eye and the comfort is not negotiable.
In what ways can government enhance growth in the ICT sector?
The minister in charge of communications has really shown a high level of commitment to the growth of the ICT industry but there is still a lot that the government would need to do. I would expect the government to support local content on virtually everything that requires ICT solution even if they are not as perfect as what you would get elsewhere.
This is because government’s patronage can help us to get nearer to the perfection we desire. I will also like to see policies that can help to drive development. For instance, in the education sector, government should ensure that ICT becomes part of the curriculum for students from primary to tertiary level.
Also, I believe that the most challenging thing that government needs to tackle is insecurity at all levels of business. Government can leverage on technology to establish the identity of every citizen and if centrally managed, they can easily verify and crosscheck information. The minute a child is born, it should be captured in the system automatically. The era of registration every 10 years which we call census should be eradicated. We should have a system that you can actually tell that this is the number of immigrants we have like you have elsewhere. Almost all our systems are so porous which is what has got us to the level we are today on security, but these are challenges that technology can solve locally.
SB Telecoms & Devices, is a technology company that is planning to organise the Time Attendance Management Summit (TAMS). How will the summit address most of the challenges facing the country?
SB Telecoms & Devices is a home-grown ICT organisation, that develops local technology solutions that could address challenges confronting us as a country.
The TAMS solution, which is a product of SB Telecoms & Devices, came out of the necessity to address the problem of time theft, absenteeism, ghost workers, among others, which are pervasive in all places of work both at government and private establishments.
Government has a role to play from policy formulation to getting stakeholders together and ensuring that it is the first user of its proposition. We don’t want a situation whereby government is saying one thing and doing the opposite. We want local content but government is not patronising the local content apart from the media coverage that goes around it.
What has been the growth trend of SB Telecoms & Devices, since inception?
SB Telecoms & Devices started as a call business outlet, making phone calls and hawking recharge cards. We later transformed into a telecoms solutions brokerage firm and today, we are a full-fledged Information and Communications Technology support service company with competences in applications development, identity management and solutions as well as human resource application. We are the developer of the Time Attendance Management Summit (TAMS) application, which has become a household name in the human resource management industry.
Tell us more about the inaugural edition of TAMS Summit?
We came up with the TAMS solution because of the prevailing challenges that have bedeviled our nation Nigeria. Until we are ready to change our ways, it would be difficult for us to have that meaningful development that we crave for in Nigeria. All my life, Nigeria has been a developing country and I hope in my lifetime that the status can change to a developed country but that can only happen if we are ready to change the way we handle things.
According to an article I once read in a journal, time management is missing in African culture but I disagree because if you look at human beings and life itself, you can see how timing is critical to success. So, if as a country, we are not ready to bring time management to the forefront, then solving the problem would take some time.
So, the TAMS time management summit is to awaken our minds to knowledge that the foundation for change and development is time management. The maiden edition is focusing on the importance of moving from African time to being on time. In future, we intend to start looking at specific issues that relates to infrastructure and how we can be more efficient it terms of time management. We want everybody to be conscious of time management. Interestingly, government is still the major culprit when it comes to time management. Almost on a daily basis we hear in the news that the government wants to put an end to time-theft and eradicate ghost workers syndrome within the civil service. Words alone are not enough. It has to be words backed with action, deploying technology that will drive efficiency and making it impossible for time-theft and ghost workers to exist at all.
What are the factors that gave rise to the African time syndrome?
We can trace it back to colonisation and the fact that what we refer to as our history today was also written by our colonial masters. In the course of promoting time management and selling TAMS as a solution, I have engaged quite a lot of human resource management practitioners and I find it amazing to hear them say that punctuality has nothing to do with performance. But it is important for us, especially human resource practitioners, to keep emphasising the importance of time management which starts from punctuality.
If we are to draw up a list of successful individuals in the world today including the Chairman of Microsoft Corporation, Bill Gates; the Co-founder of Apple Incorporation, Steve Jobs and the Nigerian business mogul, Aliko Dangote, they have all emphasised that taking action at the right time is partly responsible for their successes. African time is derogatory. It has everything to do with nonchalant attitude to being on time. Our budget should be ready before the 31st of December. I think it is achievable. Managing time is what guarantees success.
Why do you think that Nigerians are so entrenched with this African time syndrome?
When you have a leaf attached to a soap for a very long time, that leaf eventually will end up to become a soap. The human brain is wired to copy in its learning process. If the consciousness of time could be ingrained in a child from birth, such a child would grow up to be time conscious. I got my time management culture from my mother who is a stickler for time. Growing up, my average wake up time was 5 o’clock and that 5 o’clock would not change because my mother would have gotten up from bed at 3 o’clock. By 5:30 am, we would have observed morning prayers and be off to school. When I was in primary school, I got to class before any other student. So, if a child is raised in a culture like this and the same process is continued in school, things would follow in the right sequence and turn out as expected.
The very first time we spoke about having a time management summit, some of the people we engaged said there should be other serious things we could do. They felt that summits on agriculture, education or other pressing national issues would make better sense. People were not just seeing the importance of having a time management summit. The reason why an individual would be corrupt has to do with mismanagement of time because if you manage your time and use it judiciously, you won’t have a reason to be corrupt and lack of time management is actually what brings about what I refer to as mental poverty. It is such people that love to take advantage of weaknesses in the system. The system is weak because we are not managing time and that is why people sometimes say we need to fix the system to guide against corruption. Yes, we can fix the system by doing the right thing at the right time.
So what are the highlights of the summit?
This is the maiden edition and the choice of chairperson of the summit, Mrs. Bukky George, is also to make a statement. The choice of a successful woman is designed to call people’s attention to how she still has enough time to run and manage the most successful pharmaceutical business in Nigeria in spite of the workload on a woman by default. So, what she would be sharing with people at the summit is how she has been managing her time effectively in spite of the fact that she is a wife and a mother.
We also have institutional partners. The value that Stanford SEED is bringing to the table is that they are in Africa for transformation. They believe that the transformation of Africa has to be through businesses scaling up because when businesses scale up, economies would prosper. It is also the same for the Enterprise Development Centre of the Pan-Atlantic University and the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPM). They are stakeholders in time management.
Our focus for the summit, is centred on the private sector. The event will be attended by chief executives of multinationals and senior human resource executives from different organisations. A good example is the CEO of Wakanow, Mr. Obinna Ekezie. Time management is the business he sells. You want to book your flight, getting a good price is a function of planning ahead and for him, making a mistake is equal to losing money. So we want him to also share his wealth of experience. The CEO of Clean Ace, Mr. Eniibukun Adedayo, who has close to about 56 laundry dry-cleaning centres around the country, will also be there to share his experience on time management. These are people who understand the importance of time management which is why they have been so successful.
Tell us more about the TAMS software
When we started, it was seen as a child’s play. There are so many other organisations that offer human resource applications but our own choice was time management as the first module and we started from time management because it was clear to us that the foundation for development and efficiency is time management. Initially, we focused on government. From 2012 to 2013, we approached the 36 state governments and none of them engaged us because some people are making money from inefficiency. In fact, one local government paid for the service and we delivered the product but they did not use it for one day and every time we raised the issue of implementation, they told us that we were wasting our time.
Now, TAMS is not just a time management solution software anymore. We have other modules which organisations are using – payroll, appraisal, vacation and leave management. We also introduced the TAMS ambassador, which employees are eagerly looking forward to. They want to be the TAMS ambassador and take pride in managing time efficiently.