The Group Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Netcom Africa, Yen Choi, spoke with journalists on the evolution of the Nigerian information technology space in the past 15 years and how outsourcing in telecoms sector promotes efficiency. Emma Okonji who was there presents the excerpts:
The Nigerian Information Technology (IT) industry has evolved over the years, with great impact from companies like Netcom Africa. What is your take about the evolution?
The IT industry in Nigeria has greatly developed in the past 15 years, with great impact from various technology companies doing businesses in Nigeria. Previously, IT firms were doing “Box Shipping” and back then companies were selling software to clients. The issue of support was on the downside as of then, but as of today that has improved. The Nigerian market has evolved and companies today are demanding high quality after-support services. Today, we have IT outsourcing services where businesses outsource their IT needs to competent service providers. That is how matured the IT market is. In Netcom Africa, we have excellent support and we don’t believe in selling only products, we ensure that our product sale is coupled with robust support.
In Nigeria today, outsourcing is becoming common and a lot of companies are becoming involved in it. As an IT outsourcing firm, do you think that it is the best way?
Outsourcing has been practiced for a long time by most companies, but the onset of the Internet has allowed it to bloom and become bigger as the years go by. If you want to have the advantage when it comes to your business, we recommend finding the right outsourcing company who can provide you with extra help tailored for you. When you work with an independent outsourcing firm that understands your business, you do not need to hire an individual expert as your staff, instead, you can outsource those functions and the business will have access to a larger team with much more experience than a single person. Our clients are from many different non-IT industries and have realised that they want to leave the IT management to a competent firm such as NETCOM and focus on their core competencies.
Sourcing competent skill-sets and staff has always been the challenge of most organisations. For this past 15 years, how have you been able to bridge this gap in your organisation?
We strongly believe in capacity building. The reason why Netcom Africa works efficiently is because of our staff. We have been in operation for over 15 years, but we have over 20 per cent of our staff retained for more than 10 years. We understand the importance of capacity and our staff is the key. We do not take training lightly, we train and retrain our staff. We try as much as possible to carry our staff along and we try to provide a fantastic work-environment and a lot of learning. We place the highest priority on staff because they are the ambassadors of Netcom Africa. This has made our staff to give us their best in terms of service and loyalty. Our team includes IT professionals from all areas of expertise. We have a dedicated and passionate team that does a fantastic job. Our work culture and environment is one of the best that are available, and we see this often with staff that have left us to join other organisations and within a year they return back to Netcom.
As a stakeholder in the industry, do you think the IT regulation is in line with global best practices?
At this year’s Nigerian Internet Governance Forum, I was speaking at one of the panel sessions and along the line I talked about the regulatory processes and how cumbersome it can be. Take a look at the average driver in Lagos today, he has a lot to contend with, such as the FRSC, LATSMA, VIO and the Police. Why would a driver of a car be queried by many agencies for the same document. This is exactly what we get in the telecoms industry. Imagine if you want to lay fiber in a place like Lagos, you have a lot of agencies to contend with such as Ministry of Environment, Local Government, State Government, airport regulatory authority like FAAN, among others. If we have a one-stop-shop, regulatory body, it would be better and nice for telecoms business. I think that there should be one-stop-agency for telecom companies that will address al, telecoms matters, instead of dealing with a whole lot of agencies. The Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) is our regulator and one of the most progressive in the world. I know that they can intervene in matters concerning telecoms regulation. They should consolidate information on regulations from multiple regulators and let us know how to go about this because for many telecoms firms, especially those that are into infrastructure, this would help the ease of doing telecoms business, reduce confusion and multiple taxation.
NETCOM Africa has been doing business in Nigeria this past 15 years, what has changed in Netcom?
Well a lot has changed from how we started in the Nigerian information technology (IT) space. It was 2004 that Netcom Africa was established and we started with VSAT services , ours was one of the most innovative then, we came to the market with a different mind-set. We came with 1.2 metre antenna whereas others had antennas that are as large as 2.4 metres, but when we came to the market with the 1.2 meter antenna, which was smaller and also revolutionary in the Nigerian IT market, it turned out to be the cheapest and more efficient than what was available then in the market. We grew in this space rapidly and our subscriber base increased. One of our ways of working was innovating, we constantly tried to innovate and that is what IT firms must understand. Innovation is the key in this industry. We were one of the first companies to connect to the SAT 3 cable system. This is an undersea cable that connects Europe to Nigeria. The benefits were that the capacity was large, and it reduced the cost of internet and also latency. We were the first to offer SAT 3 services outside of Nigeria Telecommunications (NITEL) of then, which was a national carrier. We tried to pre-empt the fact that the country wouldn’t only be dependent on satellite services. Very shortly, we launched one of the first mobile broadband platforms, it was a device that is the size of an average mobile phone it is a PCMCIA card that can be inserted into the laptop. This device made customers to have access to SAT 3 bandwidth anywhere in Lagos. We called it “ MyNetcom.”
At that time, the competition was the fixed wireless and our solution was faster than the competitors who were offering to subscribers then, about 100 kilobits per second. When we came into the market, we changed the conversation and we started offering services over 10,000 kilobits per second as of then.
What certification and recognition have you had these years?
We began to roll out fiber across the city, we focused on the customer and we started connecting them to the internet using fiber and microwave. These are high speed connections, and the customers not only wanted the internet connection but they also wanted us to manage their IT operations. We achieved ISO 9000 standardization and others. These are demonstration of our quality of service. We are the first and probably the only telecommunication company in Africa that has TL 9000 certification. This is a big milestone for us. We are regularly awarded industry recognition awards in our field, and we have all our clients and partners to thank for this.
How can you describe Netcom Africa?
We are a technology-transformational company. We use technology to help business to be more productive, more profitable and more efficient. We don’t see ourselves as selling only product or services, but we see ourselves as critical business delivering solutions. Solutions that would aid companies to solve important business problems and help businesses take better decisions. For example, we help companies implement Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software and business process solutions. We plan, implement, operate the systems for our customers. We also provide the networks, systems, hardware and training around these solutions to glue them together in an efficient way. We try to make companies have efficient workplaces using systems such as time attendance system where business owners can monitor the staff anyplace in the world. We also make running businesses easier through our deployment of Netcom Virtual PBX , a system where you can pick up your office extension anywhere in the world. Also, companies now understand the importance of business continuity and disaster recovery, for this we provide online continuous cloud realtime backup. This gives them business continuity, and with this the company doesn’t need to worry about their data being hacked, thus giving them business continuity.
Nigerian IT market has been very competitive in the last 15 years. What are the things that have made your firm successful?
It is simple. It is our commitment to quality service and honesty. These are deliberate processes we put in place, and we have a well defined structure and procedures. This is a policy in Netcom Africa. We ensure that what we deliver is the same thing every time. In addition, we are continually improving our systems and processes to be more efficient. We are very open, we try to communicate and inform our customers in a very honest way. We don’t give customers false expectations, we try to be honest to our customers. We have retained clients for over 15 years and hope to for many more.
The smart building is becoming popular with tenants demanding more. Tell us about your smart building?
We call it e-Space. In today’s world, buildings are going smart and tenants are becoming more sophisticated by demanding that buildings are connected with fiber optic cables, biometrics, VPN, access controls and security cameras, this is why we came up with the e-space. We call ourselves the preferred service provider, we give tenants the flexibility to choose. We have a lot of partnerships globally for different solutions. We position ourselves to our clients as the trusted adviser. We work with a host of solutions providers and integrate it to suit the need of our clients. We try as much as possible to understand our clients and offer the best solutions. Netcom’s Smart Building Solutions connect, manage, and automate your building IT infrastructure. Downtime from IT infrastructure can lead to a huge loss in productivity and in turn affect the revenue. Global companies can lose precious time and money due to inefficient management of the IT infrastructure.