The General Manager, Dell EMC West Africa, Mr. Travers Nicholas, in this interview with Emma Okonji, spoke about how the adoption of emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning will transform businesses
How can technology companies operating in Nigeria take advantage of the global IT transformation?
The world is transforming and organisations, be it private or public or government owned, must leverage the best of technologies to improve on their businesses. Every organisation is looking at new ways they can use technology to enhance their businesses. Traditional banks have a long legacy to keep up with regulations and all the rules imposed on them by the financial regulation, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). But with the emergence of financial technology (FinTech) players, they are disrupting the traditional banks. And Nigerian banks is an interesting case in this regards because banks in Nigeria have this long standing legacy and they are beginning to get out of the curve to adopt to new technology solutions created by FinTech, to drive their financial businesses. So Dell Technology works with most of the banks in the county as well as other organisations to bring the global technology transformation to Nigeria. We are providing them with modern technology solutions to address the new and emerging trends. We help banks and other organisations to lay the foundation of IT that they need to grow and remain competitive in the industry.
At the Dell Technology Would 2018, over 14,000 people participated from different countries of the world including Nigeria. Many of the organisations we are working with including those from Nigeria, are already adopting new technology like private cloud that will help them have better IT capability. We have customers already doing this in Nigeria and many are in the middle of the transformation process and some are just starting the journey. Technology is evolving, and once an organisation reaches its milestone, there is always another milestone to achieve.
What is your view on building modern application on old legacy infrastructure, which some organisations currently indulge in?
The truth is that it is not advisable to build modern technology on old legacy infrastructure. Organisations need modern infrastructure to build modern application. They need a modern infrastructure that has all the attributes of a modern data centre. Things like converged infrastructure or flash technology, scale-up capability, cloud enabled with high level security, are needed for the modern infrastructure that we are talking about. Technology is good but it becomes unless if it does not enhance businesses. So once organisations get the modern technology and put it in place on a technical foundation, they must use the technology to do something we call automation. The technology solution will do the automation processes and speed up development. This will of course reduce the time it takes to deliver new values. Customers want technology solutions that will offer them better business opportunities. So organisations and technology service providers should be able to adopt new technologies that the customers are fast looking for.
New solutions help organistions to modernise the technology, automate it and transform the business and that is what Dell Technology is bringing to its customers globally and locally.
So much has said about Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Virtual Reality (VR) and Machine Learning. Do you see Nigerian businesses taking advantage of these new technologies considering the poor state of infrastructure in the country?
These new technologies you mentioned are some of the hot areas of technology innovation, of which broadband infrastructure is key to the adoption of these technologies. In discussing the infrastructure level and strength in Nigeria, we must be reminded that Nigeria has its own unique challenge when it comes to infrastructure development. For example, there are lots of fibre optic connectivity coming into the county with lots of bandwidth that are not fully utilised from the different sub-marine cables that have berthed at the sea shores of the country. I think the main challenge that Nigeria has in terms of broadband infrastructure, is about laying the fibre across the country to give access to broadband in the hinterlands where broadband capacities are needed the most. So, a lot of the capacities are lying low at the shores of the country unutilised, and something urgent needs to be done about it. I think the challenge is about state governments not giving telecoms operators the right of way to lay the fibre cables across the states and country. But the good news is that the telecoms operators are continually operating their own infrastructure and with the presence of Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology and the 5G technology, they should be able to address some of the concerns.
Are you saying that telecoms operators should invest in building their own infrastructure?
What I am saying in essence is that telecoms operators have their existing networks and as they continue to expand their networks, the county will definitely overcome the issue of infrastructure challenge. Nigeria has recorded tremendous progress in the telecoms sector, from 3G to 4G LTE and the bandwidth are getting more available and stronger. So we need more connectivity and machine to machine connectivity, and this will be possible if the broadband infrastructure is ubiquitously available. Aside telecoms sector, the oil and gas sector also needs some form of connectivity.
So what is your view about the adoption of machine learning in Nigeria?
In the area of machine learning, there are already many steps that have been taken to boost the process in the country. The first step on the journey of machine learning is about understanding and analysing data, but some organisations in Nigeria are already doing it the way it would extract data from various sources, transform it into a single location and loaded into that location to be analysed for some kind of business intelligence. So, what data analytics does is to create some correlation between some form of data. Such correlation is used to make informed decision about certain variables. We already have machine learning in banks and in the telecoms sector in Nigeria. So machine leaning will help to carry out some form of intelligent investigations within an organisation.
Dell Technology recently came up with a research result where it is investing in recycling of marine plastic waste for the production of computer casings. What value will this bring to the company and its customers?
It is true that Dell Technology is investing in the recycling of marine plastic waste for various reasons. The amount of plastic waste that goes into the ocean every year is incredible, and the waste is toxic to marine creatures, killing them in their large numbers. So, when the idea of recycling marine plastic waste came to Dell Technology, we developed the idea, and today we are investing heavily to save marine creatures from plastic waste and in turn, convert the plastics into computer casings for human use. So what we are doing is to ensure we track the plastics before they get into the ocean and we recycle it and use it as part of our packaging. The initial action we took was to be part of the process to prevent plastics from getting into the ocean, remove the ones we could that have already find their way into the ocean and recycle them for computer packaging. Our dream is that in the near future, there will be no plastics in the ocean and marine creatures can live healthy lives free from toxic generated from marine plastics.
Start-ups and SMEs are engines of growth of any nation. What kind of solution does Dell Technology has for small businesses in Nigeria?
Dell Technology has shown commitment in growing small business in Nigeria and in other regions were we operate. We ensure that we support our channel partners and encourage their growth. In Nigeria, over 100 per cent of our business is transacted through our channel partners. So we have a network of business partners in Nigeria that we provide various solutions to and to our end user customers and some of these solutions are targeted at small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Some are also tailored for large enterprises, while some of the solutions are targeted at certain verticals like the financial sector, oil and gas sector among others. We understand that the Nigerian business environment has huge chunk of small businesses playing in various sectors and these businesses need technology solutions to drive them and make them competitive. We support our partners, help them to develop the knowledge that they need to grow their business, and the skills they need. We organise free training for our channel partners and most of them are SMEs.
In all of these, what are the security measures that Dell Technology has put in place to protect customers’ data and businesses?
At Dell Technology, we have a world leading supply chain, which helps our customers in many ways to build to product, meaning that our customers can customise the products that they like and we will build the products to meet their specifications. As part of our supply chain process, we have implemented security at all levels, and we have the most secured supply chain. Once we supply solutions to our customers, we ensure that the solutions are fully protected. We also have a strong set of recommendations for our customers on security transformation. The threats that hit organisations are targeted threats and they find a way to gain unathorised access to computer systems and networks. The virus will be hidden in some parts of the network or system until a time that it is ripe to launch attacks, which could be stealing information or distorting information or even corrupt the entire information in the organisations’ system. So we help our customers to prevent malicious attacks, monitor them and stop them before they gain access to any system. Our solution helps in monitoring, prevention and response processes. We have solutions that combines the three together, unlike previous years when organisations invest in only one aspect of the solution like prevention only. We do security analytics and monitor networks and look for anomalies, using machine learning and big data analytics.
How will you advise customers, especially up and coming organisations on the adoption of digital transformation?
My candid advice to any CEOs, business owners, small or large on digital transformation, is to let them know that technology is no longer focused on IT department as cost centre, because technology is now the cost centre and data is no longer something that organisations need to worry about because data is the new currency. Today, technology is driving businesses to new heights to open up new channels and can engage people and that is why technology is the new business.
Uber for example, has used technology app to transform the transportation business. So, CEOs must understand that technology is now the business and they need to look inward into their own business to see how they can use technology to cause positive disruption. Secondly, CEOs need to disrupt themselves. Every company needs to disrupt themselves with technology before they are disrupted by others. Dell has a long history of disrupting self in many years.
What in specific terms are the roles of FinTech in the whole process of digital transformation?
FinTech is key to digital transformation, because they come up with solutions that drives automation processes to speed up business. FinTech has done a lot in the financial industry and they have caused a lot of distortion in that sector. Today we talk of successful online transactions because the FinTechs were able to develop solutions that drives it. Today many banks have become online banks and we have mobile banking using the mobile phones. So the evolution of banking has been on and the FinTechs are instrumental to the new development.