By Prince Osuagwu
Nigeria’s economy over the years has been predicated upon crude oil production and sales. But going by current realities, oil is no longer a viable economic mainstay. Globally, the price has continued to nosedive and economies which made the mistake of putting their eggs in one basket are quickly looking for a way out. Diversification, has however, been identified as the viable solution and that is where Nigeria is headed. Eventually, knowing what to diversify into is as important as the diversification itself.
Meanwhile, several Information and Communications Technology, ICT professionals have argued that Technology is the alternative to what oil cannot give Nigeria at the moment. They back up these arguments with the turnaround several economies of the world are recording now, courtesy of technological developments.
That argument was also carried further, Monday, when one of Nigeria’s national dailies, BusinessDay Newspapers gathered the best of industry practitioners in Lagos to discuss the possibility of ICT presenting viable alternative to oil.
The event under the theme “Beyond oil: ICT as a viable alternative” xrayed the potentials that support ICT as a viable candidate for this replacement and also highlighted some of the bottlenecks that could militate against immediate impact.
Interestingly, with every speaker, from the Founder and CEO of Computer Warehouse Group, Mr Austin Okere, CEO Rack centre, Mr Ayotunde Coker, Director Lagos Angel Networks, Mr Collins Onuegbu, CEO MTN Nigeria, Mr Ferdi Moolman, the direction was clear-Nigeria should upgrade as a full digital economy. A digital economy is essentially a global network of new economic activities enabled by technology and data. This new economy has the potentials of opening a wide horizon of possibilities that were unknown or unthinkable before.
Incidentally, Nigeria has witnessed a bit of that transformation with the liberalisation and opening up of the telecommunications sector of the economy in 2001. That move threw open several other sub sectors like the financial institutions, e -commerce, data centers, computer games, voice over IP communication, among others that leveraged on the possibilities of technology to blossom.
The good news is that other current global ICT trends are still suggesting that the power of technology innovations are heavily leaned towards the emerging markets, where Nigeria obviously calls the shots. Coker, the Rack Centre CEO, said that his company has carried out researches to benchmark other reports and found out that there is an addressable market in the data centre business. For him, the data centre business was going to explode in the country. The reason according to him was that the operators are suddenly realising that if their networks fail and their customers churn, they were going to lose tremendous businesses.
Again, he disclosed that same way, they are beginning to understand that trusting their networks with local based data centres was far more profitable and reliable than hosting their networks abroad where it will surely take a few rigmaroles to recover if there is a sudden occurrence. Having discovered this trend, Coker said Rack centre was going to invest over $200 million on its data centre network, in addition to the hundred millions of dollars they have spent already.
Collins Onuegbu in his own observation of current ICT trends said that Nigeria was fast leaving behind the unfortunate experience where new businesses suffered for several years, to scale, due to lack of funding and support. For him the trend being experienced globally is the gradual rise in the number of Angel investors who put seed funds into start-up businesses in order to help the scale.
His Lagos Angel Network, boasts of a pool of companies and businessmen who have achieved business edge somewhere and decided to put money together to help growing businesses. So far, the network has provided funds and as well business mentorship to about three young starters expending over N100 million in the process. Meanwhile the networks target about eight start-ups before end of year which it will spend nothing less than N500 million.
From big data to smart data, the fast moving world!
The world is experiencing a restless technology market. No one dwells on the motion but the movement. All just suddenly the market is trying to fully understand the dynamics of Big Data and its potential but development has moved on beyond big data. At least that is what Kuzai Danha, Managing Director, West Africa for Sage observed. Data revolution, no doubt has been at the forefront of technology innovation and job creation. In other words, the new digital economy revolves around the data revolution.
so big data came to solve the complexity problem in data volume, data velocity, data veracity and data value. But today, Danha said that smart data and super computer are the current trends “we are now in the era of super computer, which means that things are done much more faster than the usual. So any business operator who is doing things the old way should prepare to lose business should his competitor launch into the new order. The interesting thing is that those new businesses are looking towards the emerging market.”
Myths and reality
However, Okere, Fidelis Isiekwene, Regional Director Sage enterprises, Olayinka David-West, Academic Director Lagos Business School and president of ATCON, Mr Olusola Teniola all agreed with the trends and the ability to open the market but also said that the country has an important role to make them achievable
For okere,”there are myths and realities. That we can leapfrog to middle income economy from our low income status with technology is the myth but the reality is that it depends on some factors. Government must be genuinely interested and not just pay lip service to it. Why are we doing electronic identity card for years and yet cannot have it? Those are the characteristics that must go for us to achieve reality.
Isiekwene, said that human capacity projects that would see the development of local software should be entrenched immediately if Nigeria intended to replace oil with technology. In his opinion, even getting practical computer and software programming into the school curriculum wouldn’t be a bad idea. Corroborating him, David West and Teniola reminded that technology on its own cannot replace oil until it is made an enabler and a tool of empowerment for people.
Although the MTN CEO, Moolman said that considering what Nigeria has achieved technologically in the last 15 years, the country should rather be counting her blessings, they however, admitted that there were still a lot to do and challenged the government to put favourable policies in place to get ICT potentials that can replace the oil which is not doing well at the moment.