Atobatele: I Was Driven by the Need for Locally Developed Intellectual Property

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The Chief Executive Officer, ATB Techsoft Solutions Limited, Mr. Abiodun Atobatele, in this interview with Mary Ekah, speaks on his business and the sacrifices he has made to be where he is today

Can you recall how you started out as a company?

We started as a system integration firm and what that simply means is that we were basically a group of engineers deploying and installing software of foreign firms into systems of Nigerian companies. We are Oracle Gold partner, so, we help Oracle Gold, as a global software firm, to install their solutions for their customers in Nigeria. But while we were doing that, we were also mindful of the fact that we needed to have locally developed intellectual property. So we started, like seven years ago, developing our own solutions. Most of these solutions became market ready in the last quarter of last year and that is what we are dealing with right now. ATB Techsoft Solutions Limited is an IT Solutions delivery company certified as a Microsoft Certified Gold Partner, which undertakes and provides various IT and consultancy services to companies across various industries. And our focus is to build world-class software that would make our customers do more and give them more control over their businesses. We focus on virtually every sector of the economy.

What are the solutions you are talking about?

We want a situation where in the next five years, our software would be used by almost every organisation in every sector of the Nigerian economy and even in the global economy- from insurance to other financial services and education, manufacturing and to all other sectors. But for now, we have solutions that have been released recently, which focuses on Real Estate, Insurance, Manufacturing, Retail and then Education. These are not only going to sell these solutions in Nigeria, we are going to sell them in Africa, Asia, Europe and globally. And what we are trying to do is that we want to remain an innovation company in that there would be no year that we would not launch a new product.

How do these solutions work?

There are a lot of solutions to talk about but I will talk about our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Our ERP is enterprises software that generally automates general business processes of most organisations. We have the solutions to enhance the general business processes of companies aside the core process. For example, in an office you must have finance, fixed asset management, and more, which are part of general services of every business. So we have the solutions to enhance the will or all these different segments of the business. We pride ourselves in the fact that our software is probably the only software in Nigeria market that understands the Nigerian market fully. For example, our software is really the one that will meet the peculiarity of the Nigerian insurance sector and then match it with the peculiarity of the global insurance such that our software is not only relevant in Nigeria but also in the other countries as well. Our ERP works in any sector. Now ERP is usually not a core business application, for instance, if you go to a bank, ERP will manage their general services but for their core applications, they need a core banking application that they would then integrate into their services. And then have core solutions for various sectors of the economy.

What do individuals and companies stand to gain from your numerous solutions?

There are several benefits. For example, when you have a business that grows big to a stage that you start employing more hands like up to 10 people or more, or to a portfolio size like N300m to N400m, there is need for you to acquire a software like ours because no human brain, no matter how sharp it is that can remember that that takes place in the organization, so you need a system that can help you remember and give you a good view of everything you have. Do you know that if you have a shop that is so big, you might think you are making money whereas you are not making any money but with our retail management solution, you can know exactly how much you are making or losing in course of running your business. Again we are in the digital age and no body wants to carry papers around any more. So you need a solution in your system that that can give you all the information you need about your business.

What have been the major challenges in marketing these solutions in Nigeria?

This is a new solution that we have just launched and we have demonstrated it to a few companies, the response has been 50/50 and this is a due to the general problem of Nigerians’ apathy towards local products. That is where we are right now. Most time Nigerians companies look down at local products, so there has been resistance, bot from private and government sector but we are getting pass it gradually and we are moving on faster than expected. One of our strategies is to deliver very good quality products. And if we are able to do this, the next major hurdle is to get their audience. It’s so bad that they don’t even give you audience at a lot of places. But we hope to get them, first, from the pricing perspective. It is no longer attractive to look for #500 in order to get one dollar and then partnership with global brands. We are working on a lot of partnerships right now that would really connect us to the market.

What sector are sector are you focusing on. Is it the SMEs or Multinationals?

We are ready for every sector but we would be focusing more on SMEs than even the big firms. Like I said, we are partnering with some global brands and it is going to be for the benefit of the SMEs. And we are providing these solutions at a very minimum price such that a shop that earns 50,000 a year will enjoy what a multi million-naira business also enjoys. So our software is intended for both small and large-scale business but we have a special package that we are launching for the small-scale businesses.

You seem to have special knowledge of the insurance sector. Why?

I have worked in the insurance sector for close to a decade. So when it comes to insurance, we know it in and out. But then I have not worked as an insurance underwriter. I worked in an insurance company as an IT person and was lucky to have worked with an insurance company that relied a lot on IT. And that was how I got to understand insurance. I started IT since when I finished university.

What did you study at school?
I read Physics and Electronics as a course in the University but I was part of the millennium graduates and I knew that IT was the in-thing then and that was when I started studying things on IT.

Your course of study Physics and Electronics, is not connected in any way to IT, so how come you became so successful in the IT sector?

You don’t need to go to school to know IT as long as you have Internet connection and a small computer, you can become good at it. It is a field that anybody can become very successful in as long as you can read English. I also realized that I was also very good in entrepreneurship an so I started ATB Techsoft Solutions Limited seven years ago and today we have grown from just two persons to over 50 people and we are still growing. We would have grown a bit more than this but Nigerian environment is not very good. But be as it may, we have had good growth. Year in, year out, we have always been growing. We started with just two of us and today we are 58 and by the end of February, we are going to cross over 60 and by the end of the year, we are going to cross into 70 because when we do the launch our SMEs package we are working on, we would be needing like 20 persons to drive that business concept. So the business has been growing even though the economic situation has been so challenging and in IT if the economic is challenging and you are smart, that is when you make more money because that is when businesses would want to leverage on IT to cut down on expenses.

So what happens to your certificate in Physics and Electronics?

I have to ask my wife because I don’t even know where the certificate is right now. The certificate just made me a graduate and that is just it.

What is your vision for ATB Techsoft in few years to come?

We intend to be the number one software development firm in Africa in another five years. That is why we keep increasing our innovation style and also exclusively working on certain solutions. We want to blaze the trail in the 21st century and we know we would do it as long as we keep on innovating there would be a day come up with something that would put us right in front of others.

Apart from ATB, what other thing do you do?

I am also into agriculture and I am also planning of having a law firm soon. I will be a law graduate by May this year. I am in my final year right now in Manchester Law School, Manchester Metropolitan University. I am also an investor; I invest in lots of things.

How do you combine all these numerous tasks with study?

I have a wife that takes care of the home very well, in fact, she us very good at that and she makes life very easy for me, And then 24 hours is quite much if you spend it well. I am still going to read today and I also have several meetings to attend and with the help of a very good Assistance, I am good to go.

Do you relax at all?

Yes, I party a lot. So as much as I have so much to do, when it is time for party, I party.

What is your advice to young people out there?

The young people these days are even lucky because they are in a generation where the phones that carry these days have more computing value than years back. I will tell them that smart phones are not just for music, iPhones are not just for iTunes, laptops are not only for music and movies; they are for knowledge. So as long as young people have a chosen area and in that chosen area, keep searching for knowledge and getting serious about what they do, this country would be a great country. We have a lots of talents here all we need to do is just to harness it. Young people should try as much as possible to avoid unnecessary distraction and focus more on information.