. Online education is key to building capacity and skill upgrade
Sawtel MD/CEO Mike Amanyi speaks to Anthony Nwosu of IT EDGE News on how Nigerian universities can leverage on online platform to enhance education and be more profitable. He says the regulatory body -NITDA – can enhance economic value of the IT industry by providing an effective regulatory framework for the local software industry.
Tell us about your strides in the education sector?
We have an online education platform. What we do is that we give end to end education solutions. This is basically an online platform where students can have their lectures, take exams and get their certificates. This platform was developed in United States of America. It is akin to University of Liverpool online platform. We started working withNUC (Nigerian University Commission) on partnershipand we have been approached by many universities in Nigeria. NUC have been helpful here and by the end of this year we would have spoken to some number of universities.
Nigerian educators and the university education system seem to have phobia for online certificates. Employers are reluctant to recruit online graduates. What can be done about this?
Yes, the universities do have this phobia, but we tell them that they don’t need to be scared of this because online is here to stay and they can generate good revenue for universities. Nigerian universities only offer about ten percent of admission to admission seekers. What happens to the remaining 90 percent? The reason is that they (public universities) do not have the infrastructure to cater for all those that applied. This is where we come in; we can help them fill this void with our online platform. Funny enough, the university do not need to run the platform. With this platform the university will not pay a dime, but make money. We spoke to a university last time, we made them understand that they can make about N250 million from our online platform alone. This is the money that the university will make without investing much. Our universities must look for creative ways to raise revenue without disturbing the government. What we do is that we train the university staff that can manage this platform and they can use their internal resource to run the platform. The universities have a lot to benefit here because they will spend less on infrastructure and generate much. There is no way that we can avoid or run away from online education today.
How can you achieve acceptance considering the high cost of broadband and internet in Nigeria?
One thing is that every form of learning comes with a cost. The school fees that one pays must come with a cost. Know that there are disparities, what you pay for physical classroom set up is different to what you pay for online. Online is known to be cheaper. There is a school in Nigeria that students payas much as N800, 000 per annum and if they go online these students pay as less as N35, 000. You can see the difference. As for our online platform, there is not much demand on the broadband; what the student get is much compared to cost. With our platform one can download and read all you want offline. All that a student needs is just to get a small internet modern and they are good to go.
Employers don’t believe in online certificate in Nigeria, isn’t this a major challenge?
There is a revolution now, The developing economy has come to realize that for us to catch up with the developed economy we have to invest massively in education. Nigerian universities don’t have the capacity to take all the admission seekers because of infrastructure, so online is the key. The employer is beginning to understand the demand of the job and they want to keep their workforce and this workforce must be upgraded and the best bet is online. So employers are beginning to appreciate the need for online education. For their staff to be working for them and upgrading their skills, there must be alternative means and the alternative is the online platform. That’s why we call it your learning options.
How have you been working with NUC and what’s the relationship like?
We are not educating service providers, but education platform providers. This is what we intend to clarify and let people understand the difference. We provide the platform that enables people to run their programs. We enable people to use our platform not that we offer the education solution. We have our certification from NUC and there must be NUC approval and standardization before you can go into any form of university or tertiary education.
Apart from education what other stakes do you have in the ICT space?
We also run enterprise communications systems. We are currently OpenScape Unify Communicationscountry distribution and integration partner which used to be Siemens. We are their partner in Nigeria. OpenScape Office is a Unified Communications solution (UC) that unifies all types of communication (direct calls, phone conferences, e-mail, instant messaging, fax, etc.) in a single location. This does away with the need to tediously change between different programs, contact lists and e-mail accounts. As a result, enterprises can dedicate more of their energies to customers, increase their productivity and further reduce communication costs.Key features of the UC platform are presence , conferencing , instant messaging with multi user chat , status- based call forwarding, Screen Pop- Ups,Favorite lists, callme, journal, dial from any desktop application and so many solutions used in contact centres. We do installation and manage all their existing assets for them in Nigeria. As of Cascade which is our sister company, what we do is a closed system for organization. We make organization use our contact centres and we do video conferencing. We noticed that a lot of businesses have challenges in terms of implementation. We try to get these organizations align their core strategies where by the workforce will align with the objective of senior management objectives. Cascade is a tool that can be used to get the organization achieve its objectives. Cascade is a strategy, execution and planning tool
Can Cascade be termed a human capacity application?
A lot of people see Cascade and what comes to their mind is the skills management tool, but it is more than that. Cascade is an ERP tool. Enterprise resources management tool. With Cascade. you will have the capacity to plan and measure the strategy with military precision. Cascade helps you to manage human resources in terms of deliverables, goals and appraisals. It also enables collaborations. With this particular tool, you can do video conferencing, emails and so much more. We work with developers in United States, Korea and Australia. It is not a wholly Nigerian product; there is a lot of collaborations in creating this tool. Globally, this tool has been accepted. The entire United Nation organization sits on this tool, the French government, Australian government , part of USA government and Korea government is on Cascade application. We are working with Nigerian government and we hope very soon they will come in. We are working with planning departments of states to be on Cascade. This is a strategy, planning and execution tool and it’s a must have.
SME is another important factor in an economy, are you looking at that angle?
SME ideally should be the engine room of the economy, but in Nigeria the SME isn’t that organized. We initiated a discussion with SMEDAN and we should know that Nigerian SMEs are not organized and we are trying to work with SMEDAN being the umbrella body of SMEs in Nigeria using Cascade in planning and streamlining SMEs in Nigeria. The rating of Nigerian SMEs is different from that of the Americas. Cascade is software and it is all about paying for what you use, it is not a one off payment thing. With SMEDAN planning to be on Cascade soon, the organization can reposition Nigerian SMEs to be the engine room of the economy.
Do you work with Nigeria developers fully or insteadrely solely on international collaborations?
In terms of other solutions we have an OpenScape contact centres, this application is what many firms that use contact centres buy. Banks have bought this application from us. We do work with Nigerian developers but we have issues of structure and standardization. I think I will blame NITDA for this. NITDA should be the standardization body for software and NITDA isn’t living up to this responsibility and that is why most foreign firms don’t like buying Nigerian software due to lack of standardization. But with the new Acting Director General I believe that NITDA will live up to its responsibility as a standardization software house of Nigeria. We do use few Nigerian developers on some of our projects mind you. NITDA should ensure that software development cycle is run before the software comes out to the open market. NITDA has to put its stamp or certificate of authority on these software before they are released. NITDA should have a say on the originality of these software. It will be a source of revenue to NITDA and also a mark of authority in Nigeria and Africa. This is because many African countries look up to Nigeria. Anything that succeeds in Nigeria must also succeed in other African countries. This is what I think that NITDA is missing.
Are you saying that all foreign and local software must pass through NITDA?
Yes, but the issue is that NITDA isn’t seeing the potentials in this. There should be a regulatory framework that ensures that for you to deploy any software in Nigeria there must be some level of NITDA certification. Also NITDA should be able to have database of software writers and developers in Nigeria, give them support because most of these software developers do not know NITDA as an organization. NITDA is positioned to create a harmony in this space.
How secure is your online solution?
If I am a university and you give me a 100,000 USD to build a data centre, I will build classrooms because it is pointless building a data centre and what we offer to schools is software as a service. You don’t need to own any data centre. Our San Francisco data centre can handle this because we are sure of power and security know how. We have data integrity and there is high security level. The universities shouldn’t have any issue with security. Why did we put it in USA? It is due to the high OPEX in Nigeria and we have to minimize this OPEX.
What are the few expectation and challenges that you have encountered?
We have customer all over Africa from Kenya to Sudan to Rwanda and Ghana. We intend to establish our footprints more in those places. We have some few challenges, people complain about power solution but we have found a way to go around it and we took the hosted root. Double taxation and regulation is a major problem. Institutions that should be regulating bodies aren’t doing enough in this aspect and this is creating a lot of quackery. There is government apathy towards local ICT firms. Government should be creating an enabling environment. Just look at the Remitta case. This is really unfortunate and we can’t sit back and kill our own firm. When the Remitta struggled and innovated, nobody knew them then. They are providing for service and they should be paid for that service or any service they render. Everybody in ICT space should stand up with one voice and condemn this stifle attempt toRemitta. Today it is Remitta, tomorrow it might be you.
“Yes, the universities do have this phobia, but we tell them that they don’t need to be scared of this because online is here to stay and they can generate good revenue for universities.”
“NITDA should be the standardization body for software and NITDA isn’t living up to this responsibility and that is why most foreign firms don’t like buying Nigerian software due to lack of standardization.”
“Institutions that should be regulating bodies aren’t doing enough in this aspect and this is creating a lot of quackery.”