Srivastav: Nigeria Needs IT Skills to Boost Technology Know-how

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The chief operating officer, iSON Technologies, Rahul Srivastav, spoke with Emma Okonji on how the firm is leveraging technology to support businesses in Nigeria and on the African continent. He also spoke on the need for Nigeria to invest more in information technology skills development. Excerpts:

In less than five years, iSON has used technology to support businesses in Nigeria and other African countries. What is the fundamental vision of iSON technology in Nigeria?

The iSON Group philosophy rests on two pillars of success – bringing y internet protocol (IP) to work and not taking work to IP, which means we bring experts to countries we have footprint, especially sub-Saharan Africa. We do not take work to foreign destinations. These experts have a time frame to perform their tasks and more importantly train local talents who must within a minimum period take over the functions. These twin benefits of local empowerment and upskilling have favorable ripple effects of economic development as other ancillary industries are established around our businesses and crucial local reserves such as financial and otherwise are retained within the individual countries of our operations.

Could you give a brief overview of how iSON Tech has been able to drive technology since its operation in Nigeria?

iSON has led partner enablement initiatives for the leading global product companies like Huawei, AVAYA, Oracle, IBM. These product companies have been enabled in 17 countries in sub Saharan Africa for Telecom, Customer Experience Management, Oracle Solutions and Managed Services respectively.

What is the greatest challenge in ensuring that Africa dominates the technology space?

Africa has a lot of vast wealth especially in sheer population of vibrant talented and educated youth above the average of their counterparts in most continents. The major limitation is however in lack of Technological know-how, which although is on the rise but still in its nascent stage.

How can we drive Africa’s technology system to make it comparable to those in more developed markets?

A lot of factors will be in play to enable this happen, most of which is leadership support at various stages of governance, to pay topmost premium to quality education in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

What are the biggest challenges in doing business in the African region?

This would differ from one business to the other. In our line of business, the key limitation is technology know-how and the obvious solution to that for us, is talent upskilling which we are passionate about and utilize a lot of our resources to ensure for the development of the African continent. In addition, physical and trade connectivity, availability of supply chain professionals and an individual financial infrastructure for every country, including adherence to tax compliances, and statutory compliances, sum up to the leading challenges of doing business in Africa.

A lot of companies are facing recession in Nigeria, and despite the downturn, iSON Technologies has maintained a healthy business in the country. How is iSON coping in all of these?

As an IT service company, our value proposition is our hub-based delivery model to cater to sub-Saharan Africa region. We cater to east African countries like Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda through our “Kenya” hub, but West Africa is catered for through “Nigeria” hub and similarly francophone countries are serviced through “DRC”hub. In addition to people, process and technology, being the platinum partners for Oracle, AVAYA, Huawei and IBM, we add value while offering IT services in the region. We also emphasise on strategic alliances as part of our future growth plans, which informed the business decision to acquire GTS, a subsidiary of ENOC in the UAE, about a year, to strengthen our Oracle capabilities and widen our geographical spread. In addition our investment arm i3 is focused towards supporting technology companies in the region and has invested in Mondo which competes with Uber in Kenya. In addition, investments have been made in Ocharge, a digital mobile recharge company in Kenya that offers value to the end- customer for every mobile recharge done through its platform.

No doubt, capacity is extremely important in driving growth and expansion, in your opinion how can we attract the best technology oriented staff to companies?

Recruiting top talents into a company workforce depend on the same parameters whether it’s an IT, Telecoms or Consulting firm. A company that remunerates well both financially and otherwise, provides an enabling environment for meritorious growth, is passionate and fair about the opinion of its staff regardless of level, appreciates and rewards innovation and viable ideas, among others, will always be a sought after by top prospects and head hunters alike.

What are the challenges iSON Technologies is faces in the Nigerian market?

Inadequate infrastructural development, unavailability of existing IT talents on a large scale, economic instability, government fiscal policies, among others, are some of our current imitations. There is need for economic stability and review of the country’s fiscal policies. Every investor is looking up to good policies that will protect their business.

How can the government ensure that it creates a conducive environment for businesses like yours to thrive and also strongly impact their host communities?

Government intervention in terms of provision of infrastructure, which is the backbone of quality IT delivery, premium on IT education at all levels including grassroots, to properly project the potentials of IT as the pathway to the future for people. Tax holidays in certain areas, are some of the helpful ways to grow the IT business and its communities. Some aspects of the business environment, such as the legal system, for example, or corporate tax rates, affect all industries. A conducive business environment will affect competition in three broad ways: first, by increasing the productivity of companies based in the area; second, by driving the direction and pace of innovation, which underpins future productivity growth; and third, by stimulating the formation of new businesses, which expands and strengthens the location itself.