‘Government must protect local software industry’
Let start by knowing what business ATB does and how it started?
We started as a system integration firm and what that simply means is that we are basically a group of engineers deploying and installing software of foreign firms into systems of Nigerian companies. We are Oracle Gold partner, so, we help Oracle to sell their products to businesses in Nigeria as a global software firm, to install their solutions for their customers in Nigeria. But while we were doing that, we were also mindful of the fact that we needed to have locally developed intellectual property. So we started, like seven years ago, developing our own solutions. Most of these solutions became market ready in the last quarter of last year, and that is what we are dealing with right now.
We are doing what the likes of Dangote did with backward integration with Cement production. Dangote was importing Cement and will re-bag to sell in Nigeria, while he was building his own local capacity for local production. Today Dangote is the biggest producer of Cement in Africa operating in more than eight countries and Nigeria, moved from a net importer of cement to a net exporter.
As an IT and Software development company we have moved from selling foreign software to local businesses in Nigeria to developing our own. ATB Techsoft Solutions Limited is an IT Solutions delivery company certified as a Microsoft Certified Gold Partner, which undertakes and provides various IT and consultancy services to companies across various industries.
ATB recently launched about four software solutions; what are their functions?
Like you rightly said we launched our flagship software into the market with a media launch in January, and the software are targeted at insurance industry, educational sector etc. Our motivation was the fact that we wanted a situation where in the next five years; our software would be used by almost every organisation in every sector of the Nigerian economy, and even in the global economy – from insurance to other financial services and education, manufacturing and to all other sectors. But for now, we have solutions that have been released recently, which focus on Real Estate, Insurance, Manufacturing, Retail and then Education. These are not only going to sell these solutions in Nigeria, we are going to sell them in Africa, Asia, Europe and globally. And what we are trying to do is that we want to remain an innovation company in that there would be no year that we would not launch a new product.
What have been the major impediments to software development in Nigeria?
The major problem software development companies like ours face in Nigeria like any other sector of the economy, is local content and patronage. We have local content law or policy, but in practice, these laws are observed in breaches and treated with impunity. We have a government agency NOTAP, which is the regulatory agency to protect software development and acquisition in Nigeria. The question is whether that organisation that is running on taxpayers’ money is carrying out its mandate. No company in Nigeria – big or small, should buy any software or import them into Nigeria without NOTAP certification. NOTAP will have to issue a certificate before any company can get forex from banks to buy software abroad. NOTAP is expected to have a data base of all software companies in Nigeria and their products, and at the same time, have a data base of all the software that companies use in Nigeria which they buy offshore.
When companies come to seek NOTAP approval to buy software from abroad, NOTAP should first look into its data base to look at Nigerian companies that have such software or can develop it and refer the buyer to the local software company. It is when there is no local company that can meet that need that NOTAP should allow any company to buy offshore. From official available record over $1billion is spent yearly to import foreign software into Nigeria. That is the forex that went through official NOTAP and CBN records, not to talk of those who bought their dollars from black market and sent abroad. NOTAP should in my view be organising quarterly local software companies fair, where we will come and display and demonstrate what we have. This will help government to know our local capacity; a lot of Nigeria IT professionals and software companies are doing great things. We are inventing and coming with innovation, but we don’t have good patronage for our efforts and the big businesses send billions abroad to India, U.S., and Europe, to buy software we can make in Nigeria.
How do we create the thousands of jobs this economy needs every year when we don’t buy what we make in Nigeria? And this is not just about IT/Software sector alone; it cuts across other sectors of the economy. This is one area of this present government’s economic diversification policy I fully support.
We must produce what we eat, wear and use in Nigeria, especially those one we can easily produce here. To now answer your question, you know we have new solutions that we have just launched and we have demonstrated it to a few companies, the response has been 50/50 and this is a due to the general problem of Nigerians’ apathy towards local products. That is where we are right now. Most times, Nigerians companies look down at local products, so there has been resistance, both from private and government sector but we are getting past it gradually, and we are moving on faster than expected.
One of our strategies is to deliver very good quality products. And if we are able to do this, the next major hurdle is to get the audience. It’s so bad that they don’t even give you audience at a lot of places. But we hope to get them, first, from the pricing perspective. It is no longer attractive to look for over N400 to get one dollar to buy foreign software. We have partnership with global brands, and this gives us and many of our customers’ confidence that we are producing world-class products.
The thing is, there is nothing any software engineer in the Silicon Valley can do that our Nigerian engineers at ATB Techsoft Solutions cannot do. It is the same knowledge and exposures we have. We attend same school with them abroad; we attend the same conferences and trade events where new trends and propositions are unveiled. There is nothing that comes out today anywhere in the world in my sector that my team and I do not get to know and follow. We are working on a lot of partnerships right now that would make us stay within and ahead of the market.
Are your software designed to serve the big end of the market alone?
We are ready for every sector but we would be focusing more on SMEs than even the big firms. Like I said, we are partnering with some global brands and it is going to be for the benefit of the SMEs. And we are providing these solutions at a very minimum price such that a shop that earns N500,000 a year will enjoy what a multimillion-naira business also enjoys. So our software is intended for both small and large-scale business, but we have a special package that we are launching for the small-scale businesses.
Can you talk about the functions of your software?
There are a lot of solutions to talk about but I will talk about our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Our ERP is enterprises software that automates general business processes of most organisations. We have the solutions to enhance the general business processes of companies, aside the core process. For example, in an office you must have finance, fixed asset management, and more, which are part of general services of every business. So we have the solutions to enhance optimum business wide performance or all these different segments of the business. We pride ourselves in the fact that our software is probably the only software in Nigeria market that understands the Nigerian market fully. For example, our software is really the one that will meet the peculiarity of the Nigerian insurance sector, and then match it with the peculiarity of the global insurance such that our software is not only relevant in Nigeria but also in the other countries as well. Our ERP works in any sector. Now ERP is usually not a core business application, for instance, if you go to a bank, ERP will manage their general services but for their core applications; they need a core banking application that they would then integrate into their services. And then have core solutions for various sectors of the economy.