- Internet of Things Will Drive Transformation in Nigeria
Managing Director, Vodacom Business, Mr. Wale Odeyemi, in this interview speaks about how his company is using technology solution to boost connectivity and digital transformation in Nigeria. Emma Okonji presents the excerpts:
What is Vodacom’s mission in Nigeria?
Vodacom Business drives societal transformation and it is very clear in our vision statement- we want to be a digital company that empowers a connected society. A connected society is a society where no individual is excluded from opportunities. We believe that everyone has value within the society. Wherever you live, whatever formal/economic strata that you belong to, you should be empowered to contribute to the society. As an example, we have a solution where we help to turn a subsistence farmer into a commercial farmer. If you have a plot of land in your village for instance, we can map that plot of land using geospatial technology. We can identify the number of square metres. We can identify the kind of crops that will do well on the land and give you access to finance by providing an identity for the business. We can give you access to information and teach you precision farming techniques on the best range of farming approaches that you should use. We can give you access to market using the same solutions to sell your farm produce all over the world using our Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. When you talk about Vodacom, you need to consider that the brand is a digital company that is working towards connecting and transforming the Nigerian society.
What are the contributions and offerings of Vodacom Business Nigeria in the country’s ICT space?
We offer total communication solutions to enterprises – large, medium and small. The driving idea is to help build businesses that shape the growth of the Nigerian society.
Tech experts within and outside the country have raised concerns about the readiness of African tech start-ups to drive the adoption and implementation of IoT. Are you considering training start-ups in Nigeria to drive the initiative?
Supporting small and medium enterprises, who are mainly start-up, is dear to us. From a training point of view, we have been able to adopt digital transformation in the context of Internet of Things. We adopt a 360-degree approach; both vertical and lateral. From the vertical point of view, we start from the bottom to the top. We believe that we need to catch them young. When you take a look at secondary schools as an example, we offer some CSR initiatives where we facilitate robotics competition programmes. We assemble some of the schools in the society including elite and public schools because we believe that to spread these required skills to transform the society, you need to start picking them from the foundation.
We teach them tech skills and robotics design that they become comfortable with these things. You know when you talk about tech start-ups, you are no longer talking about mature people starting their own companies. Contrastingly, we have young people who are in their teens who are actually doing a lot with technology and winning awards globally at the moment. We believe that the bottom-up approach is effective. From a top-down approach, we also work with the regulators. When we identify new use cases for technology, specifically in the IoT space. We speak with the regulators and explain to them how new and existing technologies can be re-appropriated to solve society’s challenges using IoT.
Vodacom Business is doing well with sustainability as a strategy for business growth. What’s the brand doing to keep the momentum?
When you talk about sustainability, you can examine this from a triple bottom-line approach – the people, the profit and the planet. Vodacom Business ensures that the technology we bring to bear addresses these critical areas. For instance, there would be issues if you are operating in a society and you are degrading the society in the process. That’s not a sustainable environment for you and your business. We strongly believe in creating shared value in the society through social engagement and social innovation. We equally re-appropriate existing core capabilities, existing strengths and we use them to address society’s biggest challenges. We believe businesses that are sustainable financially but aren’t addressing society’s biggest challenges will find themselves in an atmosphere of chaos eventually.
You have different customers across different classifications. How do you intend to make SMEs appreciate the brand?
We have three segmented markets when you take a look at our history. We started out actually as a large enterprise focused organisation. At the point of commencing operations, what we were trying to do was to support the internalisation visions of global multinationals coming into emerging markets like Nigeria. We wanted to ensure that operations from Nigeria didn’t suffer isolation from the resources of these enterprises wherever they are from in Europe, the Americas or Asia. We also ensure that their customers had a consistent brand experience whenever they use their services in the Nigerian market. We perfected that and allowed it to expand as we continued to evolve. We have also realised that SMEs are the growth engines of the economy. In the process, we found that SMEs were incapacitated in terms of spending at the level of the large enterprises. It doesn’t mean they have fewer ideas. Based on these findings, we have repurposed ourselves in our DNA to address the needs of the SMEs. With our total communication solutions, we have assumed an interesting position as the Chief Information Officers (CIOs) of the SMEs. This means that the SMEs can enjoy the same capabilities as the large enterprises we have invested hugely in. Our portfolio comprising total communications solutions addresses all the journeys that are required for the SMEs to play effectively in their local markets as well as international markets. Vodacom is therefore well positioned to address the growth of SMEs.
Infrastructure deficit is a major challenge in the ICT industry, how do you intend to step in as an important player to address this situation?
We have picked interest in contributing our quota to the development of the industry. As we speak, we have presence in 29 states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). We have our eyes focused on ways to expand infrastructure. It’s informing the choices of technologies that we are investing in. We have done a lot of wireless technology because it helps us to leapfrog into greater reach in the country. Studies on the ecosystem suggest collaborative competition among players will help to attract investment on relevant technology for the future and growth of the industry. No player can go the mile on their own, thus complementing our networks and consuming capacity collectively, will propel the kind of growth that we need in the industry.
Broadband penetration in Nigeria recently moved to 33 per cent. What are you doing to scale up broadband penetration in the country?
The rate at which broadband penetration is increasing demands cooperation from regulators and players. In fact, the last time we spoke with industry players and regulators, the ambition over the next five years is to take broadband penetration to 70 per cent, which is the target of the new national broadband plan. However, we believe that we can exceed this target with the right technologies. At Vodacom, we are investing in the right technology. We actually envision Nigeria becoming a gigabyte society. This is a society where the speed of connection exceeds one gigabyte. What we call broadband today is actually around 2 megabyte speed; it might interest you to know that we have customers who are already consuming well over a gigabit of data. The question one would ask is what kind of traffic is generating so much bandwidth hunger. One of the things that our total communications solutions offering does is it gives Nigerians more reasons to consume data. The idea of growing data in Nigeria actually starts with having the right reasons to consume data. We believe that over time there would be a need to democratise data in Nigeria and then focus on the reasons why data is being consumed. As an example, our IoT offering gives Nigerians reasons to consume more data just as we challenge the country’s ecosystem. Significant figures of software developers, coders, application developers create more use cases for application and these are the reasons that will cause data to grow. Once data grows, we are offered a challenge as an operator to match the growth in data with the scale of our network.
Some government policies are unfavorable to businesses. What do you think government should do to support businesses in Nigeria?
One of the measures that government should adopt is to collaborate at the state and federal levels. There are issues around multiple taxation that are limiting businesses. There are certain policies that are more of barriers than enablers. As a major player in the ICT industry we are constantly in dialogue with regulators giving advises, offering collaborations and helping to provide knowledge around what should be done differently. As I have stated earlier, we are moving towards a gigabit society. We believe that it is important to have a listening regulator. It is also important to create an environment for constant collaboration and dialogue to enable business growth in the country.
What’s that key factor that attracts an average customer to the Vodacom brand?
When you think about Vodacom, one word that will come to your mind is customer experience excellence. Personally, I believe that perfection is a moving target to which you aspire through excellence. And excellence is not a chance thing; it’s a sequential set of choices that you make that becomes a lifestyle. At Vodacom what we have done is to strive always to exceed the expectations of the customer which is why we listen to the pulse of the customer. We aren’t perfect but we are always striving to learn from the customer. We have robust feedback mechanisms. We are always getting feedback from what the customers want and making necessary changes especially in this fast moving market. If there is one word that I need to leave you with, it is customer experience excellence when you deal with Vodacom across all our touch points.
The Beacon of ICT awards recently honoured Vodacom Business Nigeria with some special awards for sustained commitment and exploits. How would you describe the import of these awards to your brand?
To start with, Vodacom is on an upward drive to be a beacon and champion for societal transformation. These set of awards actually crystallises the efforts we have been making over the last couple of years. They are recognitions for our contributions to the ICT industry in the last financial year. Beyond that, we believe that Nigeria is a country with enormous growth potential. We believe that technology plays a significant role in fertilising economic growth both from an inclusion perspective as well as expansion in becoming a country that is globally competitive.These awards will spur us to continue to give more to the society and do even more to challenge ourselves. You know they say to whom much is given, much is expected; hence the message from us is ‘you haven’t seen the best of us yet.’ There is more to come from us.
Will you want to describe the specific awards that your company won?
First, the lead of the pack is the award for the hall of fame for being the Enterprise Solutions Provider of the Year for the 9th consecutive time, which really is an award that recognises our efforts over the last couple of years. This honour is very big because it gives us presence in the circle of elites in the industry. Also, we got the IoT Solutions Provider of the Year award, which we have also won four times in a row. This commendation is very key to us. IoT is one of the ways that we have adopted to drive digital transformation as well as impact society from top to bottom. That’s quite significant to us. The third is the Enterprise Broadband Service Provider of the Year. Broadband is key to fertilising economic growth. When you look at figures from the International Telecoms Union (ITU) for instance, you will find that 10 per cent growth in broadband penetration can directly lead to as much as a 1.35 per cent growth in GDP in developing countries like Nigeria.
You mentioned that the brand received an award for enterprise solutions. How do you address security while providing services to businesses?
That is a very interesting question. Security is deep and critical to how we do business. We understand that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. As we strive to do our best to protect ourselves, we also have a responsibility to educate our customers on avoiding being a weak point in a chain as well. From the network point of view just like I mentioned earlier, we provide broadband services and connectivity solutions using all sorts of media. We ensure that security is inherently built in each of the mediums that we deploy to serve our customers. We offer security in two forms; first we secure the customer as part of offering unified threat management solutions. As an example, we can help them with security consulting services, penetration testing, and vulnerability assessments. These services are some of the multiple professional services that we also render over and above just giving you connectivity.
But within our network, the core of our network is actually connected to Vodacom’s Cyber Intelligence Centre, which is the most mature in Africa at the moment. The security landscape changes on a daily basis. It might interest you to know that our Cyber Intelligence Centre actually mitigates well over 400,000 attacks on a daily basis. That shows you the kind of focus that security has and we are well aware of that. This offering differentiates us from some of our competitors. We obtain security intelligence feeds through collaborations from security agencies; therefore we are able to sense, we are able to anticipate changes in traffic patterns of our customers and advise them accordingly.
With these awards, customers will want to look at you from a different perspective whilst raising their expectations. How would Vodacom address customer expectations going forward?
We exist because of our customers. There is a saying in sports that you’re only as good as your last victory. We understand that customers’ preferences are changing on a daily basis. There are a lot of disruptions in the life of customers. Responding to these changes and disruptions is firmly positioned in our DNA to improve the fortunes of clients’ businesses and winning in their industries. From an expectation point of view, we have a net promoter score index where we measure the pulse of our customers. We examine their feedbacks carefully across all the touch points where they consume our services and deliver value to the society. Across those touch points, we recognise those changing preferences and we use that to recalibrate and make ourselves relevant for the future. Ultimately, we aren’t going to rest on our laurels. We will continue to listen to our customers and put in their voices so that they can help us become better.