The Country Manager for Microsoft Nigeria, Akin Banuso says in this interview that government’s role should be to create policies and strategies that govern the generation, acquisition, adaptation, diffusion, and use of technologies and technological knowledge in the country
What has been the effect of COVID-19 on businesses and how has Microsoft been coping in terms of business sustainability?
COVID-19 is impacting everyone around the world and every aspect of our daily lives: our social interactions, our family life, our communities. At Microsoft, we’re working to do our part by ensuring the safety of our employees, striving to protect the health and well-being of the communities in which we operate, and providing technology, tips and resources to our customers to help them do their best work while remote.
COVID-19 has brought about a new normal for businesses and governance. What are the best strategies for organisations and government to survive post-COVID-19 era?
Making use of the tools and resources available is key to helping address the challenges faced by businesses and governments alike. If the right technology is used effectively, they can do more than just survive, they can thrive. Both organisations and governments must take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution to create a digital Nigeria. The creation of a digital Nigeria will help the country achieve social and economic growth and development. The recommendations laid out in the Microsoft position paper – Enabling a Digital Nigeria – are steps that will enable the country to meet economic development goals by increasing financial inclusion, as well as the number of citizens that can meaningfully participate in the economy.
What should be the role of government in driving technology development in both the public and private sector?
Government’s role should be to create policies and strategies that govern the generation, acquisition, adaptation, diffusion, and use of technologies and technological knowledge in the country. Setting and implementing the right policy helps to remove red tape while at the same time ensuring that technology is safely and sustainably used, thus driving investment.
As a software company, how will you encourage software development at this critical period where organisations are struggling for survival and what value can software bring to the table at this time?
Digital technologies have always been touted as a critical element for the public and private sector in the same way, but the current environment has really shone a spotlight on how vital they are. We have seen how critical technology has been in ensuring your ability to adapt to the current challenges and how it has been leveraged to rise above them. Think of Microsoft as the producer of the building blocks of software development. By partnering with government and business, we are able to support their use of these building blocks to create the software and tools to meet their specific needs. We can look at the many ways digital can improve on governance alone. For example, imagine you are able to report potholes, electrical faults or other similar issues to your local government as it happens from your phone, response time to these issues would quicken.
Nigerian government is keen at digitizing the public and private sector in line with global digital transformation. How will Microsoft assist government in achieving digital Nigeria?
Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more, and since establishing a presence in Nigeria in 2000 this has been the ultimate goal. Technology solutions and human capacity building are two keyways we have been working to do this, but this alone is not enough. To ensure that the benefits of technology reach those who need it most it is important for government to take deliberate action and develop clear strategies that will allow them to use technology to support socio-economic development in the country. This is why Microsoft has created this positioning paper, to outline the concrete steps that government needs to take to drive Nigeria’s digital transformation forward. Within the position paper we’ve outlined a number of steps government should take, such as adopting technologies with long term benefits and ensuring that these technologies are delivered inclusively and deployed responsibly, to aid social and economic development in Nigeria. We are working with government to execute these recommendations to ensure that Nigeria is able to create a sustainable and inclusive digital ecosystem that all are able to benefit from.
Survival of SMEs is essential for national development. How will Microsoft leverage technology to drive small businesses in Nigeria?
Technology is a key driver of business growth for SMEs. In fact, emerging technologies such as AI and cloud computing are able to help SMEs level the playing field with larger organisations and remain competitive across all levels of business. Promoting digital services across Nigerian SMEs is a key pillar under the Nigerian government’s National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy, one we aim to support.
Having realised the need for economic diversification, government is exploring new avenues outside of oil and gas to keep the economy running. How do you see software technology as the game changer for economic diversification?
Nigeria must pursue every opportunity for economic growth. Technology presents several opportunities for growth in Nigeria without being tied down to finite resources. Creating a digital Nigeria will help the country achieve its social and economic development goals by ensuring financial inclusion and increasing the number of citizens who can meaningfully participate and hold a stake in the economy. The country will be able to claim its share in the $11.5 trillion global digital economy while also supporting the betterment of sectors such as healthcare, service delivery, and education. The digital economy is a viable source of economic diversification because it provides a skilled and talented workforce that is able to serve a global community through freelancing, micro-work, business processing outsourcing, and other opportunities. The digital economy will create an ecosystem whereby people will not only be able to participate in the country’s economy but at a global level as well. As technology is already a significant part of all most aspects of life and will increasingly become a part of our work, schooling and more, the skills developed within the digital economy will open up many new doors and opportunities.
What is your view about digital transformation, and what are some of the solutions from Microsoft that can quicken digital transformation in Nigeria?
I believe that digital transformation is not only about bringing people, data and processes together into one space, but also effectively harnessing the transformative power of disruptive technologies to empower people to become, and do, more. It is about using the advanced resources available in the world to help address social challenges, such as ensuring access to education for all, creating a better healthcare system that all citizens have access to, creating new job opportunities for the significant youth population, and all in all creating a world where everyone can pursue a future of health and happiness. Digital transformation can not only diversify the country’s economy, but also increase its national competitiveness, productivity, and innovation. Nigeria’s digital potential doesn’t lie within technology itself but can be found within its abundant human capital. We need to take steps to leverage that resource to act as a catalyst for Nigeria’s transformation by ensuring that everyone is able to take part of the digital economy we are looking to create. This inclusivity can only be facilitated through the erection of the right infrastructure along with knowledge and skills development. Additionally, the right strategic mindset alongside the right technology can drive digital transformation forward. To enable digital transformation you need to look at how you can create a culture that can derive value from technology and requires government to prioritise the growth of the digital economy across all levels of governance. Microsoft offers a number of solutions to help with enterprise and public sector transformation including, but not limited to; Azure for all AI, machine learning, and IoT needs, 365 Dynamics which helps build intelligence into decision-making, and PowerBI, a powerful analytics tool which can be used to provide insights on connected data.
Microsoft has been promoting cloud adoption among organisations. How will cloud computing help in achieving e-governance?
Public cloud adoption provides government with critical savings on IT infrastructure, operational and maintenance costs, and even lower energy costs. This frees up budget funds for investment in other pressing areas for socio-economic development. Additionally, the economies-of-scale efficiencies that public cloud provisioning allows for other technology infrastructure deployments. Information and communication are two key aspects of governance. The cloud allows government to protect the data and information of its citizens, innovate on services and improve service delivery, increase their agility and productivity. For Nigeria, cloud computing migration will catalyse the digital transformation of public institutions leading to more efficient e-governance models that will maximise citizen welfare. Cloud allows organisations to “rent” the time they need only for the time they need it and therefore can enable the horsepower of technologies such as AI with significantly less costs than it would normally require while having access to the same level of capabilities.
What is the level of public cloud adoption in the country, and how has Microsoft been able to assuage business owners of the perceived fear about cyberattacks on organisations’ data?
Cloud adoption in Nigeria has been sub-optimal. Bridging these services closer to public sector is imperative for modernising governance and maximising the benefits of e-governance. Microsoft is working with government to help develop the right policy frameworks and legislation that ensures that technologies are not misused and remain trusted. Microsoft has extensive expertise in protecting data and championing privacy and our trusted cloud is built on the foundations of security, privacy, and compliance. Driving cloud adoption in the country requires increased focus on digitalising the public sector which can be achieved through increased partnership between government and the private sector. Additionally, the Nigerian government has already started to develop and release policies related to the use of cloud which will help to assuage concerns surrounding safety and security and help to drive up cloud adoption.
What is Microsoft’s position on data generation, storage and protection, in line with NITDA’s Data Protection Regulation?
The generation, storage and protection of data should be regulated so as to ensure the right to privacy for each and every citizen. Microsoft has robust security and compliance programs which allow our customers to assess Microsoft services against their own legal and regulatory requirements, including the NITDA’s Data Protection Regulation. Our team of compliance experts also works with Microsoft engineering and operations teams across all cloud services, as well as external regulatory bodies, to help customers meet their compliance needs. With its extensive expertise in complying with complex regulations, Microsoft is uniquely positioned to help you meet your compliance obligations.
What is your view about digital inclusion in Nigeria? To what extent has it helped the economy to grow?
An inclusive digital economy ensures that the most vulnerable of society, those in poverty, those with disabilities and those with inadequate skills are able to create better lives for themselves and their families. Ensuring inclusion is critical for the development of any economy. But, besides the moral and social obligations to inclusion there is also the simple math of the matter. If more people are able to meaningfully participate in the economy, more people are able to make money and therefore more are able to spend money, contributing to the economy and fostering its growth.
Microsoft has been operating in Nigeria for quite some years. To what extent has Microsoft supported local software development in the country?
As highlighted in the whitepaper, we have launched several initiatives and introduced programs that support with skilling, employment, funding to support novel projects that create and deploy AI tools to improve the way we monitor, model, understand, and ultimately manage Earth’s natural resources for a more sustainable future and most importantly transforming businesses in Nigeria to accelerate their digital transformation journey. Those include:
· Bridging gaps in infrastructure, connectivity and capability
o Africa Development Centers – Nigeria and Kenya sites
· Enabling Digital transformation
o SME acceleration
o Digitizing the legal system
o Winsiders4good fellowship
· Building coalistions for responsible innovation
o Ditigal economy series in (partnership witrh the Lagos Business School)
o Government AI summit
· Closing the Skills Gap and enhancing empployability
o Coding for Employment (In Partnership with the African Development Bank)
o Accelerate Labs
o Basic Digital Education Initiative
o Imagine Cup
o Tek Experts
o Nigerian Women Techsters
· Creating Sustained social impact
o Device Donation
o Employee Volunteering Program
o AI for Earth Grant
o Cloud & Software Donations to Nonprofit
o Cash & Technology Grants
o Grants: Cash, Technology and Airband