By Adekunle Adekoya
OBAFEMI Giwa-Amu is a pioneer of sorts; he is one of the few Nigerians who started a service business whose operations reside strictly in the ICT domain. His firm, Trak-Tag Nigeria Ltd is at the forefront of the vehicle tracking business in Nigeria, having initially spent millions of dollars digitalizing Nigeria’s maps, which then became his business infrastructure.
As the nation gropes for solutions to problems of worsening insecurity, Giwa-Amu, in the interview below opines that cell phones can be used to track people who choose to operate outside the law as kidnappers or robbers, adding that the business of tracking has gone beyond merely securing or geo-fencing vehicles. Excerpts:
How has the vehicle tracking business been in Nigeria so far?
It has been very interesting but we’ve had a lot of challenges. We had to do a lot of campaigning typically to make people know that the technology was here. The telecom companies at the time couldn’t quite understand such services we were bringing on their platform.
But slowly all that has been accepted invariably appealing to the detectors. The NCC has tried to regulate all of us by saying that people will be given licenses. The screening was rigorous; we had to go through a lot of clearance.
Sadly, a lot of people in the industry, who claim that they are doing vehicle tracking have no licenses and they are parading the whole place with instruments from China with about 90% of them not working and so that’s a challenge on one hand and when people are bringing products into the industry the next thing you see is all kinds of price dropping.
Consumers are basically interested in cheap service and these companies offer it to them at cheap rates meanwhile the consumer is not getting any returns worth it.
In the case of loss, they tell you that too they have gone out of border. So they keep collecting money from consumers or car owners; that’s a major challenge all the time.
Again, the insurance companies that should be a partner to us are more of an adversary. Vehicle tracking was a partner to them; a cushion. In the old days, once a car is stolen, it is gone.
What you have to do is wait for seven months and if insurance can find a loop hole they escape with it. But since vehicle tracking came in that has changed, but they tell people that they are also tracking as well as doing insurance!
But I tell my friends that if you have a stomach ache you don’t consult a lawyer, you see a doctor. If you want insurance, go to insurance companies and if you want to do vehicle tracking, go to vehicle tracking firms who are specialized in that area.
So, insurance firms see you as competitors?
They see us as competitors, rather than partners, which is wrong.
Have you engaged the insurers on this? In the US for instance, the national Crime Insurance Bureau actually work hand in hand with the various tracking firms there…
We have. We tell them we are here. Several times we have partnered with them and in relation with the insurance companies it has not been so palatable. We made an offer; instead of paying what other people are paying they will pay over three years.
But they pay the first year and then in the second year they are not paying anymore and even when the consumer pays the insurance companies, remitting becomes problematic and so there was always this fear of very sticky situations. We are still partners no matter how we look at it; it’s all about finding a problem, coming back together and working out a final solution to these situations.
How do you see the future of the tracking business vis-a-vis security of vehicles because I am sure tracking can go beyond just securing vehicles?
Tracking for security
The interesting thing is that tracking has gone beyond that. For example, the BlackBerry phone has GPS device embedded. It could give information as to where you are right know and where you‘ve been.
I can speak to my daughter in China and she will be seeing my location and I too, hers.
These 4G phones are tracking devices; in other words if money or some other valuable is stolen one could actually trace the robber through the SIM and other devices.
We can track that phone to the exact spot it is. Therefore, advanced phones could be used to track individuals and will enhance security.
Let’s talk about the technical aspect of tracking. Tracking technology depends on GPS or GLONASS. Can you explain this technology to our readers?
GPS is one of the oldest technologies. When I was in school in England, they’ll take us out into the wild and ask us to locate and find our way back.
Almost every where in Europe you can always find a church with spires, hills and mountains and so if look in the map, you locate all that by triangulation and know exactly where you are. That is the basics of tracking.
Eventually man put satellites into space. These satellites give information to the earth and so a (tracking) unit trips in and all it needs do is locate where it is in that satellite. It can locate the exact spot to the nearest millimetre. So that’s how GPS works.
What software do you use to power your operation?
Our software was actually tailor made for us to suit us here. We are working with our partners— 2Track — they come in here and study with us, check whether there is delay sometime in the service, or some other thing.
They look at all these things and devise solutions that suit us and our customers.
Have you considered having software written by Nigerians here for your operations?
We work with Nigerians but again the world has become such a global village. If there’s somebody, say a Korean who has specialized in building tracking software I’ll gladly let him do that while we master our own.
So we welcome any person from Nigeria but we also know that if you use those who specialized in it reduces cost at the end of the day.
The devices that you use for tracking, you say its either active or passive devices. Do you still install them in vehicles?
People try and confuse issues especially when they talk about these passive and active devices.
Tracking is like your phone; if you don’t have a phone can you talk? You must have a device and that device is what we are going to track to the satellite and give information to whoever has access to it.
So the device must be active. A passive device is something that you just keep somewhere and it can only hear and that’s the end.
An active one is what you need for tracking; something that can talk, it listens to a language and can speak back and so whatever it says is now translated to the location.
Explain the concept of geo-fencing in tracking?
I’ll like to break it down to simple images. Imagine that you have a child and you take the child to a compound.
But you need to monitor the child; so you now put security guards around the fence of that compound and tell them the child must not go out of the compound. If the child get out of the compound a whistle must be blown. That basically is what geo-fencing is all about.
The interest is in the safety of the car; so a device is installed so that in the event the car reaches a boundary on the map, it will send a message immediately. You then have the choice to command stop or go on. That’s basically what the technology is all about.