News Column

Olumide - Govt Policies Must Address Technology Standards

June 5, 2014

Olumide Samuel, the Chief Executive Officer, Priority Communications, spoke with Emma Okonji on the efficacy of technology tools in addressing big data challenges and the need for standardisation. Excerpts:

You operate in the enterprise data market space, where big data is advancing very fast. What are the major customer requirements and how is Priority Communications addressing these needs to the satisfaction of customers?

Priority Communications is an ICT servicing company with focus on data communication services. We do a lot in radio links, fibre, Visa, Local Area (LAN), networking, and telecoms masts installation.

We have customers in the manufacturing sector, financial sector, ICT sector, the courier sector and service virtually, everyone that uses computer. It is true that customers come up with specific requirements for business continuity and we at Priority Communications, try as much as possible to address customers' needs promptly, especially in the area of big data.

As the business is expanding, customers want prompt service delivery, and they want their service providers to offer them services that will sustain the business expansion.

Customers wants uninterrupted services, despite the challenges faced by the service providers in delivering services. So we have gone some steps ahead in developing solutions that will meet customers' needs.

How has government policy helped in driving the enterprise data business?

To a large extent, government policies have been favourable to our business growth, but we want government to do more, especially in the area of standardising technology operations in the country. For example the Lagos State government, last year, came up with a policy statement that all mast operators should reverse to galvanised steel masts and evacuate all hollow pipe masts in the state. That policy is good for the economy and for business. Priority Communications had long saw the danger of hollow pipe masts and raised its voice condemning it. So these are some of the favorable policies, which I think government should continue to come up with, in order to address standards and the challenges in doing business.

What challenges do you encounter in attempting to maintain customer needs, especially in the enterprises data market?

As a service provider, we encounter challenges in the process of serving customers. Some of them include price challenges, where customers want the best service but they are not willing to pay so much. So as service providers, we try to balance customer satisfaction with pricing. We try to offer cost effective services without compromising on quality.

Who are your partners and how have they been able to use their solutions in addressing customer needs?

We have affiliations with local and international companies. Cisco for instance is one of our partners that has over the years proved to be the best among Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) in the area of standards. We have technology partners in the US, Canada and in Nigeria. We also work with major equipment suppliers.

What motivated your passion for venturing into the enterprise data business?

It is difficult to succeed in any business that you are not passionate about. In other words, an entrepreneur must have passion for the business in order to be successful.

For us in Priority Communications, we take a lot of delight in serving customers and we are happier when customers are getting satisfaction based on the services we offer them. Most times we get commendation letters from customers on the services we offer them, and this helps to strengthen our passion for the business.

Your business largely depends on availability of bandwidth, but today there is no sufficient bandwidth to drive data businesses in the country, hence the cost of internet bandwidth has remained high. How has your company been coping with the situation?

We are dealing with customers that are cost sensitive, yet they need the best of service. Yes cost of bandwidth is on the high side but we try to balance it in such a way that it does not pose so much burden on our customers.

Most times we find ourself operating close to zero margin, but the business must continue because customers need the service. We sincerely wish to have sufficient bandwidth at reduced cost, which I think will help drive IT businesses in the country. We have a lot of bandwidth capacities on the shores of the country from Glo 1, MainOne , MTN WACS, but we need the capacities in the hinterlands where most of our clients live and do businesses.

Our consolation however is that government is doing a lot to ensure that we have sufficient bandwidth capacities both in the rural and urban communities. When this is achieved, the cost of providing services will also reduce.

The reason why customers experience slow speed in accessing the internet from the country, is largely because of low bandwidth, and this is contrary to customer experience in developed countries where broadband is available to them at the cheapest rate.

Once there is sufficient bandwidth, it will drive other ancillary businesses that depend on technology. Here in Nigeria, the demand for internet service is on the increase. People use their smartphones to access the internet and in accessing social media like Facebook, U-Tube, among others. So there is need for increased broadband capacity at affordable rates.

Cost of offering IT services varies from city to city. As a service provider in enterprise data services, how will you address the issue of differentials in the cost of service offerings across the country?

The differences in the cost of offering telecoms services across the country have become a source of worry for most technology entrepreneurs. The differences in cost rest on so many factors, and if our governments do not rise to the challenge, it will slowdown speedy development of IT in the country.

For example, the issue of Right of Way (RoW) is one of the causes of cost differentials. Most state governments charge operators so much for RoW and again there is delay in approval of RoW and when this happens, the operator transfers the cost to the consumers that need the service.

For states where the governments charge so high for RoW, there is the tendency for cost of service delivery to be higher in such state.

Another reason for differentials in cost of service is that most of the broadband capacities are clustered around the shores of the country, which means that cities closer to the shores will get lower cost of IT service offerings than those far away from the sea shores, because of the cost of transmitting broadband capacities from the shores to the hinterlands.

Another reason is as a result of willful destruction of broadband facilities in some parts of the country. Government should therefore endeavour to protect facilities that are of national importance. Government should also address the issue of RoW in the country, and ensure that state governments do not impose arbitrary levies on technology service providers.

Service quality largely depends on the quality of equipment deployed. Nigerians have been suffering from poor technology service offerings as a result of substandard equipment supplied by equipment vendors. What is your take on this?

In the past years the issue of substandard equipment caused a lot of challenges for operators in the process of delivering services to the customers. But government is addressing the issue to a large extent. In addressing this issue, Priority Communications partnered with international OEMs and the equipment they supply to us is of standard quality, hence our services to customers are rated very high by the customers themselves and we are proud of that.

The federal government is bent on developing local content in all sectors of the economy. How much of local content do you have in your solutions and service offerings?

Priority Communications is purely a Nigerian company, using local content in developing our solutions and in offering our services, and this makes us a local content complaint company. Most of our vendors are Nigerians, but even at that, we still try to operate using local content, and we also thrive to maintain international standards, using our local content solutions and services.

As technology evolves, companies are expanding and their data increasing. What strategy do you have in place to address big data growth in businesses?

We have solutions that address the expansion and growth of organisations, especially in the area of big data. What we have done is to build data centres that can accommodate the growing data of organisations. What we do with the data centres, is to manage the data of organisations, while they concentrate on their core business values. Again, we carry the burden of organisations in building their own data centres, and we are working with a number of organisations on that.

Do you have solutions for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)?

Yes we have solutions for big and small organisations, including startups. Just as we service big organisations, we also develop specialised packages for SMEs because we discovered that as small as they are, they do not need all the packages to grow their businesses. So as they grow, we carry out upgrades on the solution they wrere using. With this arrangement, we have successfully developed solutions for both the big and small organisations, that are cost effective. We design packages according to their needs.

How have you been able to address customers' fears over insecurity of data?

Data security is paramount in any IT business and we have built different layers of security on our solutions such that it becomes difficult for unauthorised persons to have easy access to people's data. We also advise our customers to build high security standards on their data which they manage themselves.

But the truth is that no data is completely saved from hacking, but as technology evolves, we develop new solutions that makes it pretty difficult for hackers to gain access to organisation's data.

What we do as service provider is to ensure that when there is an attempt to hack any of our clients data, we provide quick recovery solution that will address the situation without affecting business continuity. We also advise customers to regularly change their security details to avoid unauthorised access to their data.

What advice will you want yo give to your customers on how best to grow their business?

My candid advice is that customers should embrace technology and use available technology tools to enhance their businesses. With technology, people can offer long distance service by staying in one location and offering services to another location that is faraway.

You can be in Nigeria and service clients in Switzerland, Canada and beyond and in the same vein, one can be in Lagos and service customers in Ibadan, Kano, kaduna, Port Harcout and in other cities, and even beyond Nigeria. That is the power of technology which Nigerians must embrace. Organisations will develop fast and grow bigger if they embrace technology.

How do you handle issues of downtime time in organisations?

Organisations loose a lot of material and financial resources whenever there is downtime, but the volume of losses depends on the size of the operations of the organisation. The loss is always enormous when it happens.

Downtime could be as a result of failure on the network or issues with connectivity. If a bank for instance has downtime in the area of connectivity, it looses customers and money because no customer with heavy deposit will want to waste time in a banking hall of a particular branch because of network failure.

Such customer will prefer to take his or her money to another bank, whose connectivity is up and running, and that means loss of money to the initial bank with downtime issues. Business owners should therefore deploy the right technology solutions that will address operational downtime.

How would you describe the Nigerian business environment?

Business environment in Nigeria is high, and power is a major challenge in doing business in the country. If government addresses that issue very well, it will help drive businesses.

To survive doing business in Nigeria, one have to reinvest profit into the business, and once the profit margin is low, it means the business will grow at a very slow rate.

So a business that would have taken about 5 years to develop, will then take between 10 to 15 years to develop, and that is only if the business survives the harsh environment.

The rate of employment largely depends on the growth of companies that carryout the employment exercise. So if a country is doing well, there is every tendency for it to increase its workforce, but if the reverse becomes the case, companies will rather retrench staff, instead of employing more staff.

A business that is not doing well in terms of harsh environmental condition, is likely to crash out, because the philosophy in business is either the business grows or it crashes out.

Government needs to address the challenges by creating enabling environment, hence there is a popular saying that government do not have business doing business. The role of government therefore is to create the enabling environment to address the high failure rate in businesses.

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

Source: AllAfrica

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