Digital Transformation: How Ready Is Nigeria?

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Emma Okonji examines Nigeria’s state of readiness in connecting with the rest of the world for digital transformation that will give Nigerians access to digital connectivity and smart economy

Discussants at the nineth edition of eWorld Forum, which held recently in Lagos, highlighted the need for Nigeria to be digitally prepared in order to take advantage of the many gains of digital transformation that the world is currently looking up to.

Digital transformation, which is evolving, has been described as the integration of digital technology into all areas of business, fundamentally changing how countries operate and deliver value to citizens and customers.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ajomedia Limited, Publishers of eWorld Magazine, and the organiser of the Digital Transformation Forum, Mr. Aaron Ukodie, stressed the need for Nigeria to be digitally ready through her policies formulation and implementation, while describing digital transformation as the building and refining of capabilities and culture to perform and transform.

“The more prepared or ready an organisation or nation is, the more likely it will achieve its desired outcome,” Ukodie said, while expressing fears about the state of readiness of Nigeria and the Nigerian businesses in the digital transformation realm, especially in the area of available technologies in the Nigerian ecosystem that will help to achieve the digital transformation quest.

Discussants at the forum looked at the infrastructural state of the country, the awareness drive and the will-power of government to make digital transformation a reality in Nigeria.

Evolving technologies

Advanced and evolving technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, Automation, Self-driving cars and Artificial Intelligence (AI), are projected to affect about 50 per cent of the world economy, and these are some of the outcomes of the application of digital technologies.

The answer to digital transformation, according to participants and discussants at the forum, may lie in dismantling obstacles militating against entrepreneurship and innovation in Nigeria, such as high taxes, lack of power supply, inconsistent policies by government, high interest rates, prohibitive prices for internet access among others. They were of the view that though the Muhammadu Buhari led government is trying to improve ease of doing business, having moved as a nation from the 170th position in 2017 to 145 in 2018 based on the recent World Bank report, but they insisted that the government needed to do more.

Nigeria’s journey to digital transformation

The Journey of Nigeria towards digital transformation could be said to have started since 2000, with the liberalisation of the telecoms sector which ushered in the first Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) operator and the award of the first Digital Mobile License (DML) in 2001. Prior to that, Nigeria had only 400,000 telephone lines, with a teledensity of 0.4 per cent, operated by Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), a monopoly company owned by Nigerian government. These lines were mainly available in urban areas, with huge unmet demands across the country. But 17 years after, Nigeria now has over 162 million active lines which open plethora of opportunities to individuals, businesses and government through the use of mobile phones.
In spite of the numerous challenges in the country, Nigeria could be said to have recorded huge success toward digital transformation.

Highlighting the recorded success in the process of digital transformation since 2001, the Chairman of the Digital Transformation Forum, Mr. Muhammed Rudman, said there had been unprecedented transformation in the banking industry brought about by digitalisation, while citing transactions involving the use and movement of physical cash that are gradually declining. “The use of Point of Sales (PoS) machines and other several simple avenues of transaction have made life very easy to the consumers, the bank and government. Individuals no longer had to embark on a trip to the bank to conduct banking business, the banks on the other hand have less ratio of customers to attend to, in essence reduction in the cost of banking services as well as reduction in high security and safety risks,” Rudman said.

According to him, “There are many relative success stories in other key areas as well, such education, commerce, health, housing, employment, security, transportation, fighting corruption, among others. We have achieved much in less than two decades, but the journey to digital transformation is perpetual, we can’t afford to slow down, especially with our ever-expanding population. We have to find innovative ways to educate our young population and equip them with the right skills to handle ever evolving job market.”
The CEO of eStream Network, Mr. Muyiwa Ogungboye, while speaking of Nigeria’s success to digital transformation, said at the federal government level, all payments now go through a treasury single account called TSA via Remita Software from Systemspecs Nig Ltd. This move has made our government to realise billions of naira that were hitherto not accessible to government.

According to him, at the state level, most state governments have installed various software that track the collection of various levies which has resulted to increased Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
“At the private sector level, Nigeria had an explosion of several telecommunications and software companies that are adding value to the economy at large,” Ogungboye said.
However, in the 2017 Digital Evolution Index developed by Mastercard and Tufts University, Nigeria was ranked among countries in the breakout zone, meaning that it faces significant challenges with the low state of digitalisation, especially in the area of infrastructure required to increase the momentum of adoption.

Nigeria’s state of readiness

Speaking on Nigeria’s readiness to digital transformation, the CEO of eStream Network, Ogungboye, said Nigeria’s readiness for digital transformation rest largely with all tiers of government, relevant government agencies, be it at federal, state and local government, the players in the Nigerian telecom industry, foreign investors, financial institutions and behavioral pattern of other industry that are expected to be digitally savvy and the generality of consumers.

“We cannot discuss the readiness of Nigeria for digital transformation without considering actions and inactions of governments and their agencies, as they all have key roles to play in determining our readiness to adopt digital transformation as a way of life.
“Nigeria as a country has shown a high level of readiness for digital transformation because government agencies such as the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) were created to concretise the decision,” Ogungboye said.

According to him, Nigeria had since been ready for digital transformation with the establishment of the mentioned agency, but there were challenges that have slowed down her speed of digital transformation.

The challenges

The Managing Director, Medallion Communication, Mr. Ikechukwu Nnamani, who spoke on the challenges of digital transformation, said the company’s research report of 2017 on cybersecurity, showed that about 90 per cent of Nigerian organisations were operating below the security poverty line significantly exposing themselves to cyber security risks, which he said, negated the digital transformation.

Citing the research report, Nnamani said the people affected by cyber bullying ranged from the common citizen to media personalities and even government officials and organisations. The threat, according to Nnamani, poses serious danger on all online transactions, especially now that the e-commerce business is beginning to gain traction across the country.

Highlighting some of the challenges impeding the growth of digital transformation in the country, Ogungboye said the will-power of the Nigeria government to implement digital transformation nationwide, has remain an issue affecting the growth of digital transformation in Nigeria. “If the lack of will-power is addressed, it would drastically reduce the biggest problem in Nigeria and the required transformation we all have been longing to have would start to manifest,” Ogungboye explained.

He listed other challenges to include delay in approval of Right of Way (RoW); Multiple taxation, Levies and fees on the same existing infrastructure; fragmented and limited distribution of fiber and telecom infrastructure to several areas of the country, creating large swathes of un-served or under-served communities within states and local government areas; long delays in the issuance of permits for new infrastructure; severe power challenges and multiple agencies doing the same function.

“Removing all the above bottlenecks will not be an easy task but the will-power of the government and having several forums like the eWorld Forum, will lead to an understanding of what to do, how to do it and the results that is expected for the generality and well being of the citizens, will accelerate Nigeria’s digital transformation,” Ogungboye said.

Government’s role

Speaking on the role of government in attaining the speed of digital transformation, Rudman said government needed to look beyond the digitisation of existing processes and services, and harness the power of digital technologies and data to transform existing business models in order to meet the increasing appetite and expectations of the rising digital consumer, by adopting new technologies in the way business is conducted.
Digital transformation, he said, should be central and strategic among public sectors across the world, with ever-increasing citizen’s expectation around delivering greater efficiency, offering better services to the public and exploiting a greater range of modern technologies.

The Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, who was represented by Mrs. Chioma Okee-Oguguo, said government has responsibility to drive digital transformation, hence NITDA had to identify digital job creation as one of its seven pillars and it is currently setting up Digital Job Creation Centres (DJCC) across the country.

“These centres empower users to set up businesses that incorporate cutting edge digital technologies. We want these centres to be triggers for the development of jobs that can thrive in this fourth industrial revolution, jobs that evolve with the needs of the citizens and take advantage of cutting edge technologies,” Pantami said.
According to him, the Local Content Development and Promotion pillar of NITDA would ensure that the information and communications technology (ICT) sector is powered by Nigerians and indigenous companies.

“We have an Office for Nigerian Content Development in ICT (ONC). The ONC focuses on five focal programs for the first phase of the local content in ICT programme. The Government Digital Services pillar focusses on how ICT is used to deploy government services to citizens in a way that is efficient, transparent and effective,” he said.

Way forward

Speaking on the way forward for Nigeria on digital transformation, the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, who was represented by the Chairman, Regulatory and Legal Committee at ALTON, Mrs. Eno Udoma-Eniang, said to aid digitisation and digital transformation, there would be need for deployment of infrastructure to enable speed of broadband delivery and quality of service.

“Whilst businesses in eCommence, eHealth; eAgriculture and the rest may be coming up with better digital innovation, the issue is whether the current legal framework enables these businesses to thrive,” Udoma-Eniang said.
According to her, there cannot be digital transformation when basic infrastructure to drive the revolution are not in place.

She therefore called on government at each level to support the massive deployment of telecom infrastructure in their domain for efficient digital transformation of their day to day activities by looking at the long-term benefits of all the infrastructure in place for better service delivery to the citizen.
ALTON, she said, would be committed to the smart cities initiative by which the states in Nigeria could all be transformed to digital operating states.

On his part, Rudman was of the view that Nigeria needed to improve on connectivity and rapidly promote new forms of online learning, so that people do not necessarily need to travel to an industrialised country to get a degree and equally make it possible for university graduates to work in the global labour market from Nigeria.
“Government must have a strategic roadmap towards digital transformation, which should be developed with input from all stakeholders. To ensure its comprehensive implementation, government must establish follow-up mechanisms for continuous assessment, monitoring and evaluation of progress,” Rudman said.