Vice President, Sales & Marketing, CWG, a leading provider of ICT solutions services, Mr. Adewale Adeyipo, spoke with Raheem Akingbolu on the importance of ICT to SME growth in Nigeria and the need for government to be proactive in the area of regulation. Excerpts:
How will you assess the Nigerian business environment?
I would relate this question with two things as regards our own business and the environment in general. Business on its own can’t function without the environment. Nigerian business environment has been coloured with a lot of fear and uncertainty and that has led to many business collapse. One major challenge is infrastructure, which has remained a problem for decades, especially in the areas of power and good road networks. Another is government policies. As much as they are there to guide and protect, sometimes some policies could be too strict for small businesses to grow. In some cases, large companies are also suffering, when policies are not well articulated. We have other factors that may affect businesses, for instance, culture and social considerations can be major things to deal with. Above all, I think it would be a better environment if the social infrastructures are in place.
Can you please explain how a well – structured Information Technology sector will impact on businesses in the country?
I think that would take us back to the government regulations. To start with, let’s look at growth. When you can’t control something and it has to take its full shape. The ICT sector is contributing about 9 percent of the Nigerian GDP today and that’s regardless of the challenges we have. The question then is; what will happen if the ICT is given free will to establish its potentials? Don’t forget we have number on our part; 180 million Nigerians is not a joke. That’s why multinationals will always want to come into the country. If the industry is well regulated with appropriate check and balances in place, the business environment will be more opened and this will boost the economy.
How will you assess the Nigerian competitive brands and marketing landscape over the years?
The intelligence required now for major brands to operate in Nigeria is high. That’s because of the knowledge of an average consumer today. Data gathering has become key and before you go into any service now, a lot of analysis is required. Customer behaviours need to be assessed. Brands now compete from the bottom of the pyramid and the very innovative ones come out with innovative solutions. The rate of the social media intake in the country has ensured that an average consumer is knowledgeable about whatever he or she wants to do. While talking to him, he’s checking up the facts.
What are the challenges facing the sector where you operate and what are the measures in place to curb these challenges?
The sector has challenges the same way it cut across all sectors. There’s a decline in profit and you find traditional companies looking for new ways to do business. Of course, the new way is to leverage on ICT. Everybody is looking for how well to leverage on technology to increase profit. You find the technology companies getting busier, deploying non regular services to organisations in order for them to increase their operations. That’s why you have some banks doing billions on e-platform. I must admit we are not immune to the economic environment; the only advantage is creativity and providing services to other players.
Share with us your core value and operational philosophy that drives the operation of CWG.
One thing you can’t take away is the long term experience. Being around for over 25 years is not something that can be dismissed just like that. More importantly is the can-do spirit we’ve imbibed in the culture of the company. This is in line with the aspiration of the founding fathers of the organisation. Another thing is that customer service is also very important. That’s why you find a CEO of CWG at the customer site for support issues. We consider the customer to be king not in the literary way of saying it but in the actual sense of it. The culture and principles have become part of our fabric. One thing I think has kept us is that spirit of can do and getting it done.
In spite of the dwindling state of the Nigerian economy and the purchasing power dropped drastically, how do you intend to deploy creativity to further boast Return on Investment (ROI) for CWG?
We evolve in everything we do, that is the secret. If you look around, you will find many organisations we started together that are no longer in existence. Meanwhile, what we have found out in those still existing is that they are fixed to the same ideology. We have worked smoothly for over 25 years with over 120 customers and we are still counting. We are in the business of deploying technology for customer growth and things are working well for our clients. We have been able to prove that technology is a means to an end. What we have taken our time to understand is what exactly is the customer looking for? With that, we have been able to increase our creativity level and throw in something new to the market. That has helped us to sustain till now. We are going through transition right now, developing new product to cover some gaps that have been discovered in the ICT space.
How will you assess competition in this market and share with us your unique selling proposition?
Our unique selling point is that we’ve stopped the ‘what’ question and gone to the ‘why’ question. When you get to the business of why do customers want it, it allows you to innovate. You become very strategic with the customer. Your transaction with them is no longer a buyer and seller transaction. There is a clear blueprint on where a customer is going and you are part of that blueprint. That means as they are growing, you are growing. It’s like paradigm shift from us as an organisation. That can only happen when you’ve seen the future and how do you see the future? Of course, that can only be achieved from the learning of the past.
In the area of growth projection, where do you position CWG in the next 5years?
In the next five years, our clients should expect very interesting things that you too can testify to, based on this interview. First, through the products we have taken to the market, we expect a lot to have happened positively between now and the next five years. I would take it again from the why question. I think today we have different IPs of our own, based on market survey and trends. Today, we deploy ATM to banks in what we call ATM as a service, where we are asking banks why they are involving in business of ATM. You focus on your core operation while we focus on the IT operation. We have deployed a platform for SMEs. What we have done is to build a solution that suits different sectors of the economy. We have deployed something for SMES for their book keeping, reporting, accounting stock taking, to understand their businesses. Available statistics have shown that we have over 50 million SMEs; that means 50 million people are employed. So, if you empower the SMEs to employ one more staff, automatically you’ve created more 50 million jobs. You can’t be playing in such dimension and not be relevant for a very long time. Going back to the question of how we have positioned ourselves for five years and beyond, is to know what we can take to the market that could make us relevant for a long time.
How do you maximize the position you fill to take the brand to the next level in 2018?
We started planning for the year before 2018. If you check our numbers as a public company in 2015, we made a major loss due to the fluctuation in the Dollar to Naira exchange rate. The effect of that is still evident in the organisation today. What we have done since that time is to restructure ourselves in such a way not to be immune from the economic reality in Nigeria, but to absorb it as much as possible and be able to have as much solutions as possible out there that will prevent us from such loss. Our current state and numbers are there to show that we have made the right decision.
Manpower is highly imperative to the growth of every organisation, how do you embrace training as one of the key factor to solidify your team?
Training has been one of the basic fundamentals on which we build this organisation. By virtue of what we do, we don’t have a choice. We have over 400 outsource enterprise resource and consultants that we have deployed in different multinationals in Nigeria. When you get outsource, you expect them to know more than you do. They can only sustain in that knowledge base by we training these individuals. The fact of the matter is that there is no way you can stay relevant as a software developer without you going for training to keep abreast of what is happening. If you take ATM as example, we cover 36 states in Nigeria, supporting over 10 banks on their core banking applications. There is no way you can sustain this momentum if you don’t have the training facilities. That tells you why we have a training academy. In 2011, we started CWG training academy where we bring in fresh graduates, put them through rigorous training for three months both theory and practical. After the three months programme, we deploy them to different customer sites. The best hands from this academy; we keep them to ourselves. These are some of the things we are doing to sustain the momentum.
Adulteration is one of the major setback in this market, are there measures in place to guide against counterfeiting?
It’s something that needs to be dealt with on a larger scale. I think the players in the FMCG sector are lucky because the adulteration in the sector might not be up to what we experience here, because we deal more with idea. So how do you own an idea? What patent right do you have on an idea. How can it be controlled? I think more government regulations can play huge roles in this regard. I know we have patent laws in Nigeria, but how are they enforcing these laws? Look at copy rights, trade marks; how well can government do necessary regulations to be sure an average man on the street is fully protected to his intellectual property. One cannot forget in hurry the case of NAFDAC in those days and how the leadership of the agency tackled adulteration. I think one of the greatest adulterations we suffered was then in drugs. When full enforcement and task force came to play, we saw the reduction. To me, similar thing needs to be done especially in IT which we consider as a basic growth area for this economy.
Looking back at your career trajectory, was it IT from beginning and how was the journey like?
I started my career in a finance house 14 years ago; a micro credit finance house working with government and private entities on schemes and mechanism on how to give loans to micro finance banks and small organisations. It was a very intensive engagement that launched my career into business development. From there I proceeded into IT. I am a BSc holder in Political Science from University of Ilorin but later went into development of IT where I worked for some years before joining Computer Warehouse. I’ve been with CWG for nine years and worked with different segment of the organisation; from sales to business development and to the group’s pan African initiative drive.