Chukwuma Ochonogor is the CEO of 29-year-old Concept Nova, one of Africa’s foremost Information Technology and software development companies which deploy solutions for various Business to Business companies for the reduction of operational cost and for increased revenue. In this interview, he assessed opportunities and challenges in Nigeria’s IT sector and stated that the Nigerian education system should position to prepare students on how to be creative and how to be problem-solving rather than just the acquisition of certificates. He spoke on more issues around IT solutions for various socio-economic challenges. Excerpts
With your operation spanning over two decades, how would you assess Concept Nova’s contribution to Nigeria’s IT ecosystem?
The IT industry is the one that sees most change and the most competitive in terms of globalisation as we all are part of the globalised world. There has been a lot of evolution and we have evolved to where we are. We started off with hardware and we have moved to software solutions. Now we are in the data and business solution space centring and using IoT. We centre on the need to have value proposition solutions that demonstratively reduce cost and increase profitability. Our clients can attest to the impact of our solutions on their operations.
Can you give me one or two solutions that you have provided for clients?
One of our more interesting solutions that have had client acceptance and satisfaction is our fuel control system which we have for both stationary and mobile tanks. There are leakages that happen from both vendor side and from internal employees’ side. This is a solution that gives the vehicle owners remote visibility into what is going on that they will not ordinarily see. In some cases, some of our clients have experienced over 130% return on investment, the same day they installed the application. These solutions bring transparency and reduce cost. Another solution is our asset management solution. This works hand in hand with our telematics system. Prices of most equipment and cars have gone up and therefore it has become imperative for organisations to guard their assets. Our solution greatly assists clients to protect their assets and therefore extend the useful life of equipment to about 60%. They are therefore saving replacement and maintenance cost.
With your experience, would you say Nigeria is on the right path to sustainable IT innovations?
For example, in Concept Nova, the solutions are indigenous. Though we are dealing in a globalised marketplace, there will always be opportunities to solve problems. We have talented people in Nigeria but whether the talent is optimised through the educational system is another issue. Does the education system teach how to be creative and how to bor example, in Concept Nova, the solutions are indigenous. Though we are dealing in a globalised marketplace, there will always be opportunities to solve problems. We have talented people in Nigeria but whether the talent is optimised through the educational system is another issue. Does the education system teach how to be creative and how to be problem-solving rather than just the acquisition of certificates? It is now a case of what can the students do with knowledge acquired in schools. Even though there are some positives, but I always look at the gaps and try to close those gaps such as the education system and brain drain, which is our best talents moving to other climes; in terms of funding of entrepreneurs, there could be more to promote and in terms of standard to ensure we have solutions that will be competitive outside. Though we have started, we still have a long way to go but with proper funding and direction of the educational system, we will be there.
Could you, therefore, identify other growth hindrances of the IT sector and how can they be addressed?
The most obvious is the human capital. There is the Silicon Valley in the US, the Hubs in France and China where IT is encouraged. This is because it is where creative minds come together; those great creative ideas and solutions are born. There should be more interaction among creative IT minds and the education system needs to step up because it is for people to achieve their dreams but now it seems that the potential achievement is now left to individuals rather than the education and institutions really adding value.
We are living in more rapid changes driven by technology; how would you say this dynamism has affected businesses?
The primary reason for technology is to bring about efficiency and to be able to optimise and bring information for predictive power. This enhances better decisions, and solutions are made. When a firm adopts a technology, it becomes a competitive advantage for the firm. It is either company acquire technology, or they are left behind and lose business. Fundamentally, progress is all about better information and people that are more informed are always ahead.
What is, therefore, your message to firms that are yet to adapt and adopt technology for operational solutions?
Life and business are about competition. If you are lagging in competition, somebody with more technology and information will offer quality service and better price. Technology is not just nice to have; they are particularly a need to have for business to survive in this fast-paced world.
Some SMEs think cost when they want to acquire technology for operations, how can they navigate through the fear of cost?
Technology keeps on improving. About 10 years ago, there were client-server enterprise solutions. This means clients must have a server and the solutions will be installed in the server and maintained at the client’s site. This was expensive and cumbersome.
We are now in the cloud system. This means that the client can be managed from one site and what is needed is access to the internet. This has greatly reduced software cost. At Concept Nova, all our solutions are cloud-based subscriptions making it very affordable for SME-size organisations. For instance, earlier, our Fleet Management System was for very big organisations with over 500 vehicles and the cost was running into millions of Naira but now with N1,000 per vehicle, a client will be able to get the benefit of the solution that will be able to increase ROI and maintain efficiency.This will enable vehicle owners to monitor the speed of the vehicles, driver behaviour, elongate the life of the assets and reduce cost by making the maintenance crew more accountable for the maintenance work.
Let’s talk about the security of some solutions, especially when the solutions deal with accounting and funds, how secure are some of the solutions to abuse and hijack?
In Concept Nova, we deal with solutions of the highest standard. We appreciate the importance of data and the privacy of our clients. We take all the necessary steps in terms of safeguarding our clients’ data. We have IT security team that is always looking at improving the security of our system.
Public sector still appears unready about adopting technology for operation. To you, how critical is it for the sector to start leveraging IT solutions in its operations?
The public sector is the largest organisation in terms of clients it dispenses services to, which is the citizens and the general public. Given Nigeria’s growing population, it means that there are more people that need to be attended to. IT comes a long way in terms of data capture, record keeping, record retrieval compliance and business rules and transparency in the system. Though the private sector is driven by profit, the public sector really should be number one in terms of the use of IT solution. Therefore it is imperative for the public sector to adopt IT. The cost of public sector lethargy to IT is in many folds which include a delay in service delivery. This manifests itself in many ways such as our low Ease of doing business rating, societal ill as people take extra-judicial means to solve things as they think that the bureaucracy is cumbersome to get things solved.
In Lagos, commuters have a headache every day due to gridlock and residents face waste, how can IT be deployed to tackle these challenges?
Some of our solutions go some way to solving these challenges. For example, on the traffic management, there is a situation of poorly maintained vehicles. There is an unnecessary breakdown of vehicles due to poor maintenance.
There is information available of where there is breakdown so that other vehicles can avoid the route. We are moving to a situation when there will be fewer vehicles on the roads as the car-sharing model comes into play. When vehicles adopt the right solutions to monitor driver behaviour and ensure proper maintenance, this will lead to less traffic on the roads.
On waste management, this also depends on the efficiency of the driver doing his round and he is monitored to do that optimally. In terms of crime, it will involve placing remote Closed-circuit television, CCTV at strategic locations.
Source: Business Day