Mr. Bonny Mekwunye, Vice Chairman of KECAM Ventures Limited Nigeria with Anthony Nwosu of Knowhow Media International.
Basically, as an ICT firm in Nigeria, what are the unique IT solutions you are offering to Nigeria?
We have four major areas of focus, and the areas are hardware, which is where we started from. IT security, specialized software applications, and appropriate support services. So, we have support services and consulting services and also some level of auditing from an IT perspective. So, that is just putting it in a very simple form the areas we cover in terms of expertise. To a very large extent 99% of the software we currently deployed, supplied, and maintained are already pre-packaged. We are not into software to be very specific. We would rather say we are a value-added reseller. These days, if you look at the trends, it is moving towards mobile data. Everyone is going from desktops to mobile computing. We are also playing in that space.
Nigerian ICT market is evolving especially towards mobility, how is your organization coping with this trend?
In the real sense, mobility is not what everyone can run away from. In the sense that there are such acronyms like ‘BYOD’ which means ‘bring your own device’ which means people can come into their own environment with their own devices. Obviously, what that means is that applications in the same way are moving away from the desktop to the laptop and of course to mobile devices. However, you must also understand that most times, you won’t have access to the back-end application or the front-end application depending on how it is designed. So, today most of the solutions that we are delivering whether it is websense or IBM, a lot of them have a mobile interface. What I am trying to say is that it is difficult to see a company trying to pick up or deploy a solution that does not create a mobile interface. It is absolutely difficult because even the customers ask ‘if I am in or out of the office, can I access my mobile apps? Whether it is an electronic data management system? Obviously you can. A mobile interface is a moving train so to say. Everybody just have to move into the train.
What are the challenges doing business in Nigeria and from your own perspective, do we lack human capacity in some specialized ICT areas?
We have the normal bad roads, no power, where you have to run the generator and so forth. This increases the cost of operation. Also the issues of bandwidth; even when you have the custom bandwidth you discover that the cost is still very high in Nigeria compared to other companies. Availability is there, the cost is there. Once it rains, you discover that all the networks are down! It is a problem that has to be looked into. Apart from that, the issue of human capital; there is no doubt about that. You have young graduates who are just getting out of school but the question is to what extent are these young graduates exposed to practical computing resources while they are in school. You discover a computer science graduate whom you are interviewing is saying that it is his or her first time of handling XYZ. In terms of practical, I think the universities and educational institutions that are bringing out these graduates should try to provide a practical environment for them. Let there be a very narrow margin between class experience, and on-the-field experience. Also, most of the graduates lack focus, a very strong commitment and drive. An example is that if there is a match between Arsenal and ManU, they would prefer to watch that match than go to a customer’s site. It is unfortunate. Even when a person is given an employment experience, the person would say he or she is sick simply because he or she wants to go for a reality show. The quest for reality shows, the problem of football, yea, it is good to watch football and have leisure times but we are not balancing it and this is affecting the resources that educational institutions are churning out! Most times, you discover that it starts from the background. The primary school is bad. Secondary school would most likely follow the same pattern and if you have a bad product from the secondary school into the university, your output is going to be bad. So, I think it is something everybody is going to be involved in. A large percentage of them do not know what they want to do. Only a few are smart and they set their priorities right. You put them in and in a very short time, they are getting it. If you look at how many IT companies and IT job opportunities are there, you discover that you don’t have the qualifying internal resource that can actually fill that gap, if you do that, what you see is failed projects, delayed projects and that is why a predominant number of IT deployment in Nigeria have gone for resource outside the company. It is a huge area of revenue generation for the government that we are losing because if we had a massive pool of qualified skills and we can export them, once a Nigerian goes to India, Ghana, or U.S to work, he brings his money back home.
Are government establishments doing enough and what areas can they focus on so that ICT can be readily accessible and cheap?
It is very difficult to say you are doing it without the right foundation. One, how many people are aware of it; two, what is the criteria for entering? You discover that it still comes down to who knows who. The criterion comes into federal catchment area and quota system. Whether the person is qualified or not, he still finds his way into the system. It is not a matter of law; it is a matter of reality because you might have a law of which your foundation may not support the law. If you say for every IT implementation, it must be done by a Nigerian. The question is do we have the resources that can do it? Obviously, NO, we don’t. IT projects are highly technical and demands a lot of years of experience. It means doing the same thing over and over in various environments. Moreover, I am not a certificate freak. I draw a line between certification and knowledge. They are two different things. Somebody might be certified but do not have the skill. It is not about doing the objective questions and you pass. Questions like if you find yourself in an environment to do this, can you do it? It is a function of how long you have gained the experience and the level of exposure you have gone through. Now, if you look at how many government establishments are really doing the real ICT projects, the concern is mainly on the supply of computers, printers, etc. for me, that is just what anybody can do.
Nigeria has moved into data consumption and storage. Most ICT firms are playing in this field ranging from cloud to data centre, are you looking there also?
Yes, we deliver a lot of solutions on data centres. When you look at data centres, there are so many solutions you can deliver. It could be around fire solution; it could be solution around security, trying to secure your database, because your database actually sleeps in your data centre; it could be solution around your network, you need to have a fantastic network, an extra-large bandwidth. If you go further, when you are talking about cloud computing, you can build cloud for so many situations. You can go to cloud as a solution meaning I have my physical server in Nigeria, but I need to have a back-up of it incase there is an earthquake or Nigeria is at war. So, whether your data centre is at Abuja or Lagos, nobody goes to work. A very good example is Liberia, where there was a three-day lock-down and organizations were telling their workers to work from home. What happens? Cloud is the best option. So, in that case, yes you shut down your data centres, but everyone works on the cloud. Work is going on because you have subsidiary in Nigeria, U.S and the U.K. For SMEs, they don’t have the resources to actually put physical servers and so on. The question is if you are providing a cloud solution to SMEs, you must have a fantastic bandwidth because internet connection is the gateway to any cloud solution. If I am putting my data in the cloud it means I need to connect but the question is how cheap is my connection? How fast is my connection? So, you must address the foundations. Then most importantly too, do we have existing laws around cloud computing? I doubt if there is. In Germany, a German company for example, based in the U.S, if they want to go cloud, the cloud must be hosted in Germany. I think it is the same law applicable in the USA. But for Nigeria, what do we have? This means that a sensitive data about our country can be sitting in the USA or Germany. Do we have an existing law to protect our national data? I don’t know about that for now and I stand to be corrected but I don’t think there is. Cloud is good and we have to appreciate the security it brings. Apple iCloud was hacked were people’s nude pictures were seen on twitter. How did that happen? Incase of a breach, who takes responsibility? Cloud is good no doubt, but you must have the right foundation: appropriately priced internet access and the cost of the cloud which some telecoms organizations are already trying to provide for some SMEs but at what price?
What can government do to solve e-transaction challenges as everyone goes online?
Online transaction is something that nobody can run away from. The federal government and the Central Bank of Nigeria see it as a welcome development, and I believe human beings by nature when it comes to money, are careful. There have been cases of people who have done online transactions and it doesn’t land at the other end. I have had the experience where you swipe your payment card on the PoS, and you are debited but you get a decline from the PoS. so, it becomes very difficult to resolve. You go to some places; they tell you they have network issues. I continue to tell them that if network had been the name of the person, the person would have said ‘kill me and let me die now so you would stop calling me’. It could be our nature to business. Be it as it may, I think online security is an issue of compliance. There are two levels of laws; laws that are about disclosure of your personal information. For example, I cannot work into your hospital and tell your doctor to let me see your card. If you look at the financial side; for example, the banks have been under tremendous pressure from CBN, towards compliance on a security perspective. CBN is doing a lot and for us, we have a solution that we are working with IBM which is called IBM Guardium which provides a very strong protection around your database. IBM has solutions around your network. Also some security intelligence solutions like then ‘queradar’, which takes an aggregate of what it logs on your network whether from applications and it does some analytics around it. It gives you your security position. If there are breaches, it shows where and when it occurred. We must also understand one thing that no one security solution fits all. Security is like a will, there is no beginning and no end. It is a continuous process. That you have done XYZ today does not mean that you are hundred percent secure. The reason is because the hackers themselves are constantly working. As new security solutions are coming up, they are also researching and finding ways to breach the new security solution. So, you just keep improving. The only thing you can do is see how you can minimize security breaches. Finally, there are two ways to every security breach. You can have external, or internal. You can have a personal who has been given a top position in terms of access rights. He can create a breach. In-house software which has been developed, the guy that developed that software has possibly left the organization. Is there a back-hold to the application? Yes, there could be. So, while putting the security software in place based on compliance, you must also ensure that internally, you are also talking to people. There are people that share password with other people. It is wrong. Compliance should be the first thing and laws. Nigeria Insurance commission should start putting in place policies for security just like CBN is doing for the banks. All departments of NCC and NITDA can begin to put in place policies especially around security. If you go beyond the organisations, for you to put those laws in place, does the Federal government have a security center for example? The government needs to put in place the right infrastructure so that once they start to tell everyone to comply, they would say yes, that government is doing their job. Unlike in the banking sector, because it is private sector driven, CBN must live up to global standards,
Issues of eDevelopment
“Then most importantly too, do we have existing laws around cloud computing? I doubt if there is. In Germany, a German company for example, based in the U.S, if they want to go cloud, the cloud must be hosted in Germany. I think it is the same law applicable in the USA. But for Nigeria, what do we have? This means that a sensitive data about our country can be sitting in the USA or Germany. Do we have an existing law to protect our national data? I don’t know about that for now and I stand to be corrected but I don’t think there is. Cloud is good and we have to appreciate the security it brings.” Are Nigerian laws up to date to cope with unfolding reality? Not likely! While legislators dither over mundane issues, technoprenuers are moving the frontiers for business with solutions that confound regulators and mystify politicians. The country is the loser. Security is becoming increasingly a function of bytes and bandwidth. Just chip it. But too often, functionaries who should know are stuck in mortar and brick approach thus unfit to understand and manage the challenges of the new age. Even those in the new age must contend to fast breakers and what’s the hope that countries like Nigeria are not merely open spaces for ‘intelligence starters.’ Remember Sony? Hacked mercilessly! And then “Apple iCloud was hacked were people’s nude pictures were seen on twitter. How did that happen?” The world has gone full circle and things have changed. We must begin to invest in a code army and also upgrade our laws to function and measure up to the market dynamics. That is not negotiable!