Mr. Sylvester Uche Uzoama is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Abuja-based Second Group, a holding company with a number of subsidiaries. The company is active in information technology, communication media and also in textile manufacturing for security; in solar technology as well as engineering and property management. But they started with ICT which is still the company’s primary business.
According to Uzoama, a computer engineering graduate from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, he had wanted to read architecture because he loved sketching but later switched to computer engineering because he had a flair for computing and OAU was offering the course.
“Even though I went to study computer engineering but a lot of what is required for computer engineering studies in Nigeria today, lies outside of university curriculum. So there was a lot of self-help and self development.
“Back then, getting certified by Microsoft, Cisco, ADPlus, were all very important things that were not taught in school but you find a way to do them. I was already coupling computer systems before I got into the university so apart from pocket money from home, I literally saw myself through university by assembling and selling systems,” he said.
“There is a lot of potential in the IT world and when I saw it while still studying, it gave me the impetus to continue in that line. I actually started working before I graduated and by the time I was graduating, it was more like an interface that did not require any formalities. Because I was working, it was difficult for my employers to release me for the NYSC. Even if I was to do it with them, I was going to be away for three weeks at the orientation camp and there wasn’t any three weeks to spare so I kept that out for a while before I was finally able to get it done.”
Setting up my company:
“I worked for an organisation for a while before I decided it was time to set up my own. I started with Circum Technologies which is 10 years this year so it has been 10 years of doing what I enjoy doing.”
“In ICT, our primary area of focus is technology consulting and start-up developments for ICT-related businesses. So we carry out business incubation process where we take a client’s idea and come up with a workable business module. In some cases, we go as far as setting it up, getting it started and after a period of incubation, handing it over to the client to run. It has proven very effective because a lot of people have ideas in their heads but do not really have the ability to crystallise the idea into reality because it involves a lot of brainstorming. For you to be an effective business, you are not just going to look at the products, you are going to look at everything else necessary to make the products such as accountability, profitability, feasibility, technical requirements and the market. Is the market ready for the product?
“Are there environmental challenges that would inhibit the success of the product? Then in some cases, you may need to be involved in financing for the client.”
“I am not used to routine work. I cannot do the same type of work continuously as I easily get bored. So we have a knack for trying out new inventions so I can almost boast of a new challenge every day. I could do something in aviation today and tomorrow, it can be agriculture, the next day, it could be in security or hospitality management. I always have something new.
So that has led us into a very virile software development within the organisation.
“We are presently testing software for aviation sector in-flight entertainment; we are doing something as well for the education sector to help to improve the capacity and the abilities of the teachers because one of the major problems we have identified with falling standard of education is the falling standard of teachers themselves so if we can focus on how to address the needs of the teachers in terms of building up their capacity, it will definitely affect the children they are teaching so we have created a tab-based system that every teacher can have. It is called Teach-App. It is something that can help teachers with the process of teaching, makes them look like superstars and that is the impression you want a student to have of his teacher.
“We are also doing something with Nollywood, to make the industry better. We created a platform that allows for people to have ready access to roles and opportunities within the acting/entertainment space.
All we do are geared towards applying IT in improving processes or existing ways of doing things, and making them more efficient and increasing their potentials.”
“There are a million and one challenges and it comes with the terrain. I think the first challenge is knowing that there is a better way of doing things elsewhere and having to cope with doing it the way it is done in Nigeria. That, to me, is the most critical challenge but once you start accepting how it is done here, you then begin to make some progress and you try to change the way it is done here to the way it should be done.
Capacity is another challenge. In my area of IT, there is not yet a very structured approach to software development which means that if you have a skilled developer working with you, if he goes, he goes with so much that the next person may be trying out a totally different style. It hasn’t yet become structured to the extent where it could easily be interchanged between personnel without having some issues.
Again, Abuja is not very well known for software and IT. A lot of people prefer Lagos so we adopted the outsource model of implementing some projects that we know hands are not readily available here. “Access to finance is another challenge. A lot of businesses have serious issues with access to finance. Banks want to work with established businesses so you find yourself having to wait for your own cash turnover to be able to expand. Something just has to be done by government and finance industry to see how to fine-tune the assistance given to SMEs because I think the more successful SMEs out there have the ability to mop up the unemployed labour. Success is actually resident in a very vibrant SME population.
“Government policies have their own roles too.
Sometimes you are in this direction and government says no, you are in that direction. That is a challenge.
Another critical one is that a lot of businesses in Abuja are government-dependent because Abuja is mainly a government spending city so many a time, your clients are government organisations and owing to myriad of reasons, projects are implemented and payments are not made. So for small companies who have put all their efforts into implementing a project and handing over to government and not getting paid, has its attendant effect on how well a business can progress.
“Actually, it was a suitcase company for a few months and then I got a N2.5 million project, and rather than improve my lifestyle with the profit, I used it to get an office and furnish it. By the time I was done, I was broke again but at least, I now have a structure. Then the next one came because they could see the presence of a structure. Nigerian businesses still believe in seeing tables and chairs and space and signboard but the reality is that businesses can do without all those in this modern era. But since that was what was required 10 years ago, I put it in place for them and that gave us access to some more jobs.
The company with a staff strength of 22,has an edge over others in the area of support.
“We support clients vigorously even when they are not willing to be that well supported. We insist because for us, a functional implemented project gives you more access to the next project. Someone sees it, likes it and wants to have something like that and then they get back to you so we have that determination to make sure that whenever we implement a project, we always go back there to ensure that the project is still working properly.