Ommo Clark is the brain behind Ibez Consulting, a Lagos-based software developing company. A graduate of London Guildhall University and Masters holder in Information Systems from Brunel
University, Middlesex and Clark's interest in software development was ignited while cutting her teeth in companies in United Kingdom (UK). However, during the global meltdown in 2009, she decided to return to Nigeria to set up her own company that intends to change Nigerian businesses perceptions about locally developed software. She spoke with OLALEKAN OKUSAN on the IT industry in Nigeria, coupled with reasons why Nigerians are still skeptical on the efficiency of local software.
CAN you assess the growth level of IT in Nigeria and do you think the country can compete with others?
The Level of IT in Nigeria has not been as significant as it could be. The innovative use of Information technology to drive business growth in Nigeria is a relatively new concept but is growing very quickly. The private sector - especially banks and multinationals are more advanced in their use of IT while the government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and MSMEs are lagging behind partially because of costs and old mindsets. There are over 700 MDAs in Nigeria and approximately 17.3 million MSMEs. Many of these MDAs and MSMEs still do not use any form of technology solution or understand the power of technology solutions to transform their businesses, generate increased revenue, save money and make them more efficient and competitive.
There are positives though, the under 35's or 40's use a lot of technology but mainly for leisure, entertainment, checking emails and online shopping. Where we do use IT, I think we do so quite well and are quite innovative in many ways about how we use it as we have no legacy systems so we are able to implement the most modern and latest technologies, which is a good thing. For example, we started using chip and pin for POS payments here in Nigeria long before many developed countries fully implemented it, they were constrained by their legacy systems but we didn't have that problem. I think for many reasons, online payment is actually quite safe and secure in this country. I use both UK and Nigerian online banking systems and the difference is clear. The Nigerian security system is a clear winner. E-Commerce has also taken off in a big way in this country and I think more and more retailers now understand the benefits of selling their goods online. The only way is up!
Compared with other countries in a similar stage of development, we are advancing quite rapidly but it may not be fair to compare us to countries like the UK and United States.
What benefit can accrue to businesses that embrace IT?
Businesses that embrace IT benefit from improved efficiency, cost savings, streamlined business processes, improved service quality and so on. Those that are on the Internet have increased visibility and a global market at their feet, which translates into more customers and increased revenue. Now you have businesses that do not have a physical presence but operate solely online. You don't have to travel to far away countries to meet with your partners but can have Skype videoconferences with them.
Small businesses can compete effectively with bigger global brands with increased efficiency gained from IT systems and with the power of the Internet. A lot of company's data are not in a centralised location or organised and they don't know how to harness the data that they have to drive their businesses forward. Then there are customer management solutions...
The benefits of IT to businesses are endless. I could go on all day so businesses need to come to me for one on one discussion on this so we can tailor our answers to their specific situations and businesses.
How do you intend to drive software development services in Nigeria?
We are very passionate about building good looking, functional and easy to use business applications and web solutions that work as expected and meets the exact needs of businesses. In today's environment, every business really needs to operate as a digital business to stay afloat and be competitive. By that I mean they need to use technology to enhance every aspect of their business process or operation. As software specialist, we help them achieve this using software solution. We are a team of highly experience and qualified software / web developers with the skills, experiences and passion to build exceptional business application /web solutions. We aim to make a difference to businesses by building solutions tailor made for them using the latest software development tools, standards and international best practice. We never compromise on quality and value excellence.
We intend to achieve our vision by consistently building business applications and web solutions of international quality that are better than those brought in from abroad. We take the unique Nigerian environment and culture into consideration when designing our solutions and apply sound software/web development and project management principles to ensure we deliver good quality work that exactly meets the needs of our clients. We want every business that uses our services to be blown away by the look, feel and effectiveness of the solution that we build for them and for it to make a real difference to their businesses. We love to see our clients' ideas come alive and produce results that our clients are proud of.
At the moment, locally developed software is not fully accepted in Nigeria and this is a big challenge and how do you intend to overcome this hurdle?
I think collectively as an industry, we need more publicity and we need more good stories. People need to see the good stuff that we are doing. We need our clients to tell our stories and we also need mediums to showcase our work. And we need to celebrate our people and Nigerians need to stop thinking that foreign is better.
As a business, we are uniquely placed and have the best of those worlds. We have a fair amount international exposure and we are Nigerian so businesses have the assurance than we can offer the same services as foreign firms but at more affordable rates. More important though is that we build software solutions tailored to the specific needs of the organisation and the way in which business is conducted in this environment.
Having worked abroad what advise will you give the government to ensure that IT help to improve services in the civil service?
I believe there is a drive in government sectors towards e-governance for improved services. Agencies like Galaxy Backbone and NITDA were set up to champion this I believe. However, a lot more work still needs to be done and it's my opinion that a specific department needs to be set up to drive government software solutions and development projects. At a basic level, I've been into government offices that don't even have a computer! In this day and age it's a shame to still be working with dusty old paper files and crumbling filing cabinets. Agencies like the FRSC have totally embraced IT though and have transformed the way they currently operate. More agencies need to follow suit.
Change needs to be driven from top down. The advice would be to make IT part of the curriculum at an early age. Also MDA's need to implement IT change management programmes to change the way their staff feel and think about IT. For some people, IT is this complex giant that they do not want to touch and it gives them headaches. For other people, IT is coming to take over their jobs etc. IT needs to be seen as an enabler. It helps people do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. And it is not complex at all, it all depends on the design. Government agencies could start with buying computers, building simple databases to manage their records, automate their core processes, online registrations and payments, and so on. They also need to be interlinked with each other for information sharing. All of these would improve service delivery and efficiency.
For example, the other day I was stuck in gridlocked traffic on Ijora Bridge going into Apapa for nearly 12 hours. The departments in charge of transportation, road safety, traffic control etc were very ineffective and there wasn't any information going around on what was happening. They can take charge of such situations by building a system that highlights, warns road users and provides status updates of danger zones and incidents in real time so that road users can avoid those areas and not join in the mayhem as was happening when I was on Ijora Bridge. The system can also provide alternative routes and recommend facilities where people can wait until the build-up dies down. I am available for advice and consultancy if help is needed to make this happen.
What will your company offer Nigerian businesses? We build web and business applications of all shapes, types and sizes ranging from static websites to enterprise business applications tailored to the exact specification of a company. We've built e-commerce websites, CMS driven websites, customer management systems, finance applications, document management systems, tracking and inventory management solutions just to mention a few. Our specific services are IT/PM Consulting, Web Design & Development (including logo design, website hosting and domain name registration), Software Development, Database Development and Business Process Automation.
We are also an umbrella company to 4 online business services all due to be launched soon. These online businesses came about because as we went through our daily lives, we came across various issues that we saw could be solved using technology solutions. The first is - 'Handy-Jacks, The Repair and Maintenance People' which is a location-based portal of vetted and trained artisans (trades people and technicians). Here we vet, train and promote artisans on the portal so that homeowners and businesses in their local areas can find them easily and conveniently for their repair, maintenance, fix-up or renovation jobs.
The artisans are graded according to their education, training and competence using our in-built grading system. The second is 'Lets-Share', which advertises house and flat shares in Lagos; it also incorporates background checking for prospective landlords and tenants. The third is - 'Black Lace and Garters' which is an online lingerie store for everyday women, and the last is Naija Tradespace which is an information portal for foreigners that want information on how business is done in Nigeria; on the back of this we provide industry specific reports by local experts and company/director background checks.
What are the challenges in the software business in Nigeria and what is the way out?
For me, there are two key challenges. Firstly, The Software Development industry is not yet mature in Nigeria and there are lots of gaps in software development and implementation. Also, a lot of Nigerian businesses do not trust or underestimate the skills of local developers thus there is a heavy reliance on foreign developed software. This poses a problem because many foreign software developers do not understand the business culture or environment of Nigeria. The result is that most applications require extensive customisation, which works out to be an expensive & time consuming process.
Also, there are major communication issues during analysis, testing and implementation and the result is that the deployed solution does not meet the needs of the users are subsequently left unused. Secondly, There are limited skilled software development professionals and most companies haven't yet recognized that they need specialist resources in this area. Companies are mainly focused on computer infrastructure and networks (which are also facing huge challenges) and do not have in-house resources to perform critical software delivery functions or deal with software project / solution issues (both during analysis, implementation and post implementation) when they arise.
There isn't an easy way out. We need a lot of training and re-orientation in this area. Businesses and IT Managers need to step up and invest in training IT Business Analysts, Testers and Software Developers. We need to invest in growing people that are adept at translating business requirements in software design.
How will you describe the IT climate in Nigeria?
It's getting sunny. There is an increased appreciation for IT especially with the boom in e-commerce and social media.