Managing Director/CEO, Galaxy Backbone, Yusuf Kazaure, spoke with Emma Okonji on the need for all tiers of governments to actively participate in the country’s digital transformation process
So much was said about digital transformation for Africa at the 2018 ITU Telecoms World conference in Durban, South Africa. What is your take on the way forward to bridge digital divide in Nigeria through digital transformation?
The globe is becoming digital and government has to show leadership role in that regard because government has a direct relationship with every citizen. At Galaxy Backbone, we are creating the digital platform for government to realise its digitilisation initiatives. To achieve digital transformation in Nigeria, all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government, must be connected to a single platform and that is what Galaxy Backbone is trying to do with its Tier 111 Data Centre. Government should be seen as a single large entity to be able to deliver the dividend of democracy to the people. Galaxy Backbone is providing the infrastructure that will enable government to become digital and provide digital services to the citizens, which is key to digital transformation that will drive digital economy.
What is the role of Galaxy Backbone as an agency of government in helping government achieve 30 per cent broadband penetration by the end of the year?
Nigeria has a target of achieving 30 per cent broadband penetration across the country by the end of the year, having achieved 22 per cent penetration currently, but the responsibility of achieving the broadband target, lies on the collective efforts of all MDAs and not only on the industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). The private sector has a role to play, the telecoms sector also has a role to play, including the banks and state governments, in addition to government MDAs. Government will create the enabling environment and ensure that obstacles on the way to the attainment of digital transformation are removed completely. Galaxy Backbone is a service provider, aside being a government agency, and this makes us to have a responsibility of contributing directly to boosting digital transformation through infrastructure deployment. Currently, Galaxy Backbone has a backbone that connects government activities in Abuja and Lagos and the backbone also links areas where telecoms operators do not have services. We have the largest fibre network in Abuja that bridge digital gaps and we have connected more than 95 per cent of all government MDAs, and this is one of the ways through which Galaxy Backbone is contributing to the targeted 30 per cent broadband penetration by the end of the year.
Galaxy Backbone is one of the operators with a Tier 111 Data Centre, and the federal government is making efforts to redirect and host all data currently being hosted outside Nigeria. Are there enough capacities to host large volumes of data in Nigeria?
I think the issue of data sovereignty should be taking very seriously with some sense of patriotism as citizens of Nigeria. This is important because the most important asset any organisation has is the data and the success of organisation in today’s world, depends on the amount of data generated and properly analysed. Even a country’s competitiveness on a global scale, depends on how much data the country has. So it is very important to keep our eyes and focus on where our data is. In addressing your question about the available capacities to host data locally, there are lots of infrastructure in Nigeria and there are Tier 111 Data Centres that can comfortably host Nigeria data locally. Aside our Tier 111 Data Centre that is located in Abuja, we equally have a backup centre in Abuja and we are in partnership with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), to take over some of its data centres so that we can create more resilience in the system. Through the partnership, we have been in Minna and Lagos, with a plan to rollout another data centre in Kano, in order to have a network of data centres that will enable us create the required resilience that will enable people and organisations backup their data in different locations, designed to create the proximity for real critical realtime applications. In the future, proximity of data centre will play a major roll in data hosting end economic development. In addition to that, we have the government cloud that is primarily focused on MDAs of government to enable them have access to technology solutions from all kind of devices at all times, and this can be extended to the public as well. So I think the issue of capacity is no hindrance to hosting of data locally, it is just the willingness of organisations to host their data locally. So apart from the Tier 111 Data Centre of Galaxy Backbone, there are other Tier 111 Data Centres operating in Nigeria and all put together, can host data that is being redirected to Nigeria by the orders of government.
Aside the hosting capabilities, do we have good security measures in place in all the Tier 111 Data Centres operating in Nigeria?
Having a Tier 111 Data Centre that is certified by Uptime Institute, which is the global body for the certification of data centre operation, speaks volume of the high level of security around the operation of Tier 111 Data Centres in Nigeria. Having a certified Tier 111 Data Centre, means that the operator is benchmarked with international standards for best practice.
Two things are key in the operation of a Tier 111 Data Centre-Power and Security, and in all of these, there are rooms for scalability. In addition to Uptime Institute certification, Galaxy Backbone for instance, has other security and quality certifications like the necessary ISO certifications to ensure that we align with international best practice. Security is ongoing and organisations that are serious in business, must continue to invest in security around their data centre operations.
In specific terms, what are the services that GalaxyBackbone offers?
First and foremost, we can categorise our service offerings into four broad categories- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS); Local Area Network (LAN as-a-Service); Software as-a-Service (SaaS) and Platform as-a-Service (PaaS).
The first category, which is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), we encourage customers not to spend money on infrastructure, since we have the infrastructure on ground that they can tap into as a service. We provide connectivity services to customers via fibre, or VSAT. The second category, which is Local Area Network (LAN as-a-Service), we provide messaging and collaborative services like video IP telephony, video conferencing. On the data side, we provide virtual hosting of data, collocation services, among others. The third category of service offering, Software as-a-Service (SaaS), is based on demand, where we offer software services to customers. The fourth category, Platform as-a-Service (PaaS), is about providing end-to-end technology solutions and services to customers. We also provide consulting and advisory services for customers and MDAs to help, them develop master blue print for their Information Technology (IT) and digitisation processes.
There is a general belief that government bureaucracy tends to slow down business transactions and as such technology-driven organisations that want quick results do not like doing business with government. How has this general notion affected the business relationship of Galaxy Backbone with the private sector?
That was the belief of the private sector organisations, but that general belief has changed to a large extent. Galaxy Backbone for instance, has a business model that is fully automated and this has made all our business transactions to become faster and in realtime. We have a Tier 111 Data Centre that has been operational since 2001, and it has never been down for a single hour since inception and this has given confidence to the private sector organisations that do business with Galaxy Backbone. Again Galaxy Backbone is structured not like a typical government agency, even though we are owned by government, and we are mandated to operate within the private sector culture, that is driven by technology.
Initially we had that experience of the private sector organisations not willing to do business with us because they perceived us as government agency characterised by government bureaucracy, but today we have several private sector organisations doing businesses with us because of our business structure that is technology inclined.
Galaxy Backbone participated in this year’s ITU Telecom World conference in Durban, South Africa. What was the new experience?
Technology is evolving and we have to grow our businesses in line with new technology trends. It is for this reason that we attend the world conference yearly. When the Secretary-General of ITU, Mr. Houlin Zhao visited the Nigerian Pavilion at ITU this year, he said he noticed the speed at which Nigerians are embracing evolving technologies, especially with our technology startups. He said we have grown over the years with new technology ideas that are becoming sophisticated. This is true and it is so because of our regular participation in international telecoms conferences and exhibitions. Again our participation at ITU conferences are avenues for open investment opportunities for Nigeria and Nigerians.
Having missed out in the previous industrial revolutions, what must Nigeria do to be part of the fourth industrial revolution that is knowledge-based, which is already playing up in different countries of the world?
I think the issue with the fourth industrial revolution revolves around the use of technology to automate processes, in order to generate greater turnaround times. Some people are afraid that the current revolution will cause a great deal of job loss, but unknown to them, it will actually bring about development, economic growth and create new jobs and new ways of doing such jobs. If we do an analysis of why Nigeria is less competitive across globe, you will find out that the issues have to do with managerial approach, and today technology digitization has taken away all of that. So technology evolution and the fourth industrial revolution will solve a lot of challenges for us. Today, 60 per cent of our population is below the age of 25 years and this is a huge advantage because innovation in technology is currently driven by young people who are digital natives and who understands technology better than digital migrants who are the older generation. The good aspect of our young population is that they are tech savvy and willing to learn. So government must invest in the digital natives to enable them do more.
Hosting of data locally in Nigeria appears to be an issue for organisations that operate with big data, because of the issue of power generation. What is your take on this?
Sufficient power generation and distribution have always been an issue in Nigeria but organisations are devising new methods to overcome that challenge. Galaxy Backbone for instance has a Tier 111 Data Centre that operates on electricity but we have never had downtime since its operation in 2001, because we have alternative source of power as backup. Nigeria is blessed with sunshine and wind which can generate electricity and we must maximise that opportunity.
Can you expatiate on the partnership between Galaxy Backbone and the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC)?
NIMC as an identity management company, has several data centres for their operations, and they have realised that they need to host some of their data outside their own data centres, for efficient management because they are not core technology data centre company. So because of their huge data which they generate almost everyday, they decided to host some with Galaxy Backbone and that is the partnership we have with NIMC.
In 2013, Galaxy Backbone won the United Nations award. What has changed in your organisation, five years after the award?
A lot has changed and improved five years down the line when we got that award. When we got the award, we were at a conceptual stage, and I am proud to say that within that time and now, we have been able to connect Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government, which other countries have come to study to see how they can implement such connectivity initiative in their countries.
As a technology company, what is Galaxy Backbone doing to drive e-Learning in Nigeria?
To drive e-Learning successfully, there must be a repository for the data that will provide online access to people 24/7 in any location, through any electronic device, and that is what we have been able to provide through synergies. Today we have the platform that can support e-Leaning in the country, even in remote locations.
What is Galaxy Backbone doing to support SME growth in Nigeria?
We are providing the sheared module system of our data centre to MDAs, and I think small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can also key into the model and have access to digital tools that will enable them function properly. They need applications that will make them grow faster in their business, and because they are small and may not have sufficient funds to buy such application, they can hook on to Galaxy Backbone infrastructure and have access to some of the applications at a very reduced cost, instead of investing in applications that are expensive. They can have access to our cloud computing systems for instance, and become more efficient, instead of investing in cloud computing.