News Column

Be true to yourself –Okigbo, CEO, INFOSOFT Nigeria

May 23, 2014



Teaming up with his close friend, George Onyebuchi in the United States of America, Pius Okigbo Jnr today  stands tall as the CEO of Infosoft Nigeria, a company that is into software solutions and services, policies and advocacy. He has been around in the past 20 years, which makes him one to be reckoned with in IT business.Okigbo Jnr is president of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria. In this interview with PHILIPS OLAWUNMI OJO, he talks about the software business, running a partnership venture and how to excel doing business in Nigeria. Excerpts:

How did all this start, I mean, your entry into software computing?

First, I had interest in software from a very early age. I was lucky, because I was exposed to computer at a very early age in life. As a teenager in my travels, I encountered individuals who majored in software that sparked my interest.

Having gone to school in the United States, I teamed up with a very close and personal friend of mine, George Onyebuchi, with whom I set up Infosoft U.S.A. We started delivering software services and solutions while in the US. Hence coming to Nigeria was just an extension of what we have been doing back in the States. I had also worked in various organisations for different software projects, both military and non-military.

You've been on this road for quite a while now, so what does it take to go into IT entrepreneurship?

You must have the passion, because without it, you cannot sustain the project. You also need to have the belief that you can deliver some values through some software solutions. If you cannot deliver value, nobody is going to consume your products. Second, there must be some innovation that you can bring into that eco-system. One must deliver something that is worth paying for. You need to also develop yourself a little further always and be ready to pass on that knowledge and experience you have gathered overtime to the younger ones. So, passion, direction and innovation are keys in becoming an IT entrepreneur.


How's the competition like?

Competition is competition anywhere. If I have a good product and I can market it well and then maintain it and support it over a period of time, I will continue to enjoy my client and consumer base. If anybody is not constantly innovating with a product, you cannot remain competitive. So, to be competitive, you must constantly be innovative; look for new ideas and avenues and opportunities where you can add value. Competition basically is how best you can drive your solutions in the market and also making them cost-effective.


What business lessons have you learnt over the years?

Be true to yourself; know your shortcomings. Listen, you need to listen to the market, to your customers and also listen to the people around you such as the young ones – the mid-level ones, the older ones. You must listen to them all. You must maintain your passion and hold it strong. The day your passion wanes, get out of the business. Being true to yourself means you must know what your breaking point is, you must know what you can deal with and what you can accept.

You must also understand the environment. The Nigerian environment might not be the same environment in Denmark, Israel or Mali. There may be some similarities in a few places, but by and large, there are certain things that you need to distinguish one environment from another. In America today, they use postal code and when filling forms online. For a long time, when they told them that the rest of the world do not have postal codes do they care, no they never cared. All they are interested is that in the United States you need to put a postal code. In Nigeria, we do not put postal code, so you see that the environment differs now. In the U.S, they don't care whether you put Chief, Mrs. Dr. before your name, but here in Nigeria you can see a letter having Chief, Alhaji, Dr. Mrs. So, if you are writing a software programme for the typical environment in Nigeria, you may consider that.


How profitable is the IT business?

It can be profitable to some extent and to another extent it is not profitable. It can be profitable because I am a living example of software profitability as I have been in business for close to 21 years and I am still here. However, in Nigeria, several things are killing the profitability of the IT business. First is the perception. The perception of locally written software is badly rated. The tendency that when you approach a company and they know that your software is written by a Nigerian, there is an immediate negative perception that it is written by Nigerians and they begin to imply that the software lack necessary qualities and rigidity compared to foreign ones. If you are then able to overcome that perception, then you are dealing with this whole thing that they would say since you are not oyinbo, I can't pay you oyinbo price. When you deal with that kind of negative attitude, by implication, not only does it have a limited quality perception on your product and possible service, it also applies a limited remuneration benchmark against that product. So, what should cost N10m, one million naira would be insisted on. Unfortunately too, software companies in Nigeria are not making things any easier, we are always looking for shortcuts. If you are looking for shortcuts, those shortcuts will be exposed and the robustness of the business environment would be gone. It then affects other things too. For example, one might not be paid his annual maintenance and if you are not paid your annual maintenance, you cannot hire the resources to help maintain the source code that would help sustain the software. So, it's a vicious circle.


From 1991 till date, what are some of the ingredients that have sustained Infosoft as an IT company?

It is the constant requirement that I need to be on top of my game. It's just about re-inventing yourself always. Every five years, you ask yourself, where should we be going, you set new goals and put in place personal development and also your resources around you too to be able to meet up with market needs and challenges. It is more of knowing what the market requires and being able to skill yourself in that area and pursue it to a reasonable extent and look at the marketing options available to you. All of this doesn't come cheap, because retooling yourself is not cheap, too.


As a frontliner in this business, what would be your advice on starting up a software firm?

First things first, you need to have the bright idea. You need to also have the passion to follow it through. Sometimes, you might find somebody or a group of persons that you share the same idea and passion, you all can come together. But when you come together and write the bright idea down, there are several other things you must also do to help move the business. You can go to frontliners of the business to put you through or attend conferences, clinics, where you business skills can be horned. After that, you need to constantly package the products such that it would appeal to the intending customers.

You started your company as a partnership business, why do you think we do not have more partnership startups these days?

Like I have said before, you must be true to yourself and you must trust. If you don't trust, you cannot run a business in partnership and if you can't trust, there is no need for you to have a partner. When you are coming together to have and start a partnership, you must discuss everything. I mean discuss everything, including what happens if a partner dies, and get it documented. As close as you are as friends, one of the biggest evils that can tear friends apart is money. Discuss everything and agree on everything, no matter how difficult you think it might be. Document it, put it down and trust, if you cant trust then don't border going into partnership business.


How can Nigeria tap into the enormous wealth that the IT world has created globally?

There must be recognition from an IT point of view, that the world is one big global ecosystem that is interconnected – it knows no boundary. It doesn't know any language, because you can be doing something in Chinese and I can access it online and request for a translation. So, it is a boundary-less ecosystem. Government must recognise that. We have seen the impact of the social media on modern revolutions. We have seen the full effect in Egypt.

E-learning is also another innovation of IT that is around the corner and it is revolutionizing the world. Do you know you can take online all courses taught in Harvard; the only thing would be that they would not issue you a certificate. This in itself is extremely powerful. There is a need for us Nigerians to access high quality educated and we develop the necessary tools to achieve that for ourselves. We need the skills, the knowledge, the know-how, and the techniques in Nigeria.

Government must know the benefits that information technology can bring to Nigeria because without that we might not move anywhere. We must have structures and structure policies. There must also be different advocacy group helping to translate and interpret that importance of the innovations taking place here and there. We cannot be lagging far behind. In China today, 6G communications is been researched there presently. In the next five years, they would have moved from 4G communications. Nigeria should encourage innovations as this because it would help us greatly.

What is the best advice you've received?

The advice was from my father and he says always that "whatever you want to be or do in life, be the best at it". You want to be a shit-carrier, be the best at it.


For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel

Source: Sun, The (Nigeria)

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