‘How govt can boost GDP with technology’
Hatem Hariri is the Managing Director, AVAYA Africa, a global provider of next-generation business collaboration and communications solutions, providing unified communications, real-time video collaboration, contact center, networking and related services to companies of all sizes globally. Hariri, in this interview with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, spoke on industry issues and how government can still boost the country’s GDP with ICT. Excerpts
Can you shed light on Avaya and its solutions? Quite a number of competitors came into this market before Avaya. But what we discovered was that the market was looking for alternatives with good quality. Avaya has 130 years of history in telecommunications. We were the one who founded phone with Alexander Graham Bell. He was the one who founded Avaya. He is the founder of actually Bell Labs.
Alexander Bell started this Bell Labs to do research on phones. This company became Norte in Canada and in the US, it became AT & T and after that AT & T because of competition spin off the customer base. They kept their R & D and their labs and everything with a company called Lucent. And after that, history repeated itself, Lucent spin off the enterprise activities and called it Avaya. Avaya at about six years ago bought Norte. So we separated at some point and we came back together to form the biggest telephony company in the world.
We are number one in telephony across the world, we are number one in contact center solutions across the world, and we are number one in IT telephony and unified communication. Also, on the networking side, data networking, lately we came up with a very beautiful technology. You know there is a technology called SDN (software-defined networking) which our competition were putting this on the data center on the high level type of networking, we brought it to the mid-market, we brought it to the edge, we brought it to the SMB and now we are the only vendor who provides networking at the edge level using SDN technology, which is the latest and greatest of technologies in the market.
For video conferencing, we acquired a company about three years ago called Radvision, which was producing all the video conferencing equipment for different vendors. We have end-to-end solutions on video conferencing that we integrate into out IP telephony and unified communication to provide useful solution.
If, for example, I want to have a meeting with my team across Africa, I just send a link from my outlook. All they need to do is to click on this link on their different mobile devices or PC, and we come on the video conferencing altogether from different areas in the world having a meeting and presenting. Imagine how important and easy this kind of solution will be for a territory like Nigeria that is so verse, you don’t need to travel or go through traffic to have your meetings. So, what we are doing is bringing virtuality to reality.
Apart from telecommunications, what other sectors of the economy can benefit from your solutions? For the banking, we just launched in Dubai what we called the SmartEngage solution, which is an end to end virtual bank, where you can come anytime to open an account, get debit card, credit card, print cheque book, do all the transactions that you are looking for.
We are offering this solution as well for the government, for renewing driver’s license, for renewing visa, to print sim card, etc. So, this type of technology that we are bringing is engagement, it’s not like just selling phones or machine, it is more of solutions that business needs. We have deployed contact center solutions to different organisations; we are working with the government as well to have a centralized contact center solution for the whole country. For example, you can one number to call one ministry and you will be routed automatically.
If you are from the north for example, the system will recognize that you are calling from the north and you will be routed to an agent that speaks same language with you. How can operators benefit from your solution for cuts in bandwidth costs? Now, in technology, the one jacket fits all approach will not really work. This is not what we are.
We carefully looked at the Nigerian market and decided to open an office here and that is why our route to the market is through the people who know the market. Unlike other vendors who come here and try to take the technologies themselves, take the customers themselves, they do not transfer the knowledge to local people.
For us what we are trying to do is to transfer knowledge to Nigerians who know the dynamics of the environment. For instance, we have a training coming up for our partners on latest technologies, so they know our technology, even when we are not here they can do it, they can integrated it, they can service it, they can spot it.
We are not a fly-by-night company; we have a reputation in the market and cannot afford to burn our name by coming, selling few equipment and leaving. This is why we call it engage, because we want to engage with our customers. The different between the competition and us is that we are humble and willing to learn.
We are looking for the guidance partner in Nigeria to guide us on ways to do it, having understood the environment itself. We used to do products before, now we don’t do that, we do solutions customized for the market. How is this teleconferencing solution going to be embedded on the mobile phone? Our teleconferencing, which is the Avaya Scopia works on any device, you just download for free from application stores and you connect either over Wi-Fi or 3G network. It will work with any operator.
There is a configuration we do that with one number, I can have my conversations on any of my devices I want. Now, here is what separates us from competitions, some other vendors’ lock you to their protocol. When you take a video conferencing solution from them, it removes every sense of mobility, which we believe video conferencing should be about.
The good about our technology is that it is open protocol that you can operate with any service provider. It needs the Internet and low bandwidth. How secure is your solution from operations of hackers? If you think about it today, the enterprise communication is merging with the consumer application. The good thing about our technology is that you can integrate our instant messaging with Microsoft and other different platforms and it will work altogether. Now, security is very important.
If you are bringing engaging solution like this, the least you want is for people to hack into sensitive information you have to share. Lots of companies can go bankrupt because of these security issues. We produced our solution in such a way that they are reliable, scalable, secure, and can serve the customer needs. For our solution, there are firewalls that come with them even though you download them, so that the communications you are having via those channels are secured.
We also have what we call session border controller, which we install for big corporate organisations, which is to secure the multichannel. On the networking side, the core of our networking is layer 2. It is actually invisible, people cannot hack into it because we separate the network from the management, and so anytime you deploy our solutions, the core of your networking is hidden.
What do you see as challenges that may hinder your operations? One big challenge is the geo-political situations in the regions – terrorism. Security for us is very important, especially for our teams and employees.
To bring people who will transfer the knowledge is very challenging sometimes. And the problem really is when they talk about terrorism in Northern Nigeria, some people actually thing all of Nigeria is burning which is not the case. Another challenge lately is the oil and gas price that is dropping very quickly. This is impacting the investment of the government in many of the businesses and you know when government stops investing because of certain limitations like this, all the country will stop investing because they feel something is wrong and then the economy will move very slowly.
This doesn’t mean we will stop investing, because when things pick again you need to be there, otherwise you will miss opportunities. The third challenge that is facing us is the currency devaluation, which is big challenge for us and our partners. This can be very challenging; however, they are reacting very fine.
How can government harness the potential in the ICT sector to add to the GDP? The government plays a significant role to prepare the ground for anybody.
In the case of government of Nigeria in the area of technology, they have been helping. Also, we are working with some organisations to work with the government to provide them with latest technology and information and also we have many delegations from the government of Nigeria who visited our offices to enhance their know-how. What government can also do to improve the life of the citizen is by providing this type of technology that I talked about, for example this smart engage solution.
They should adopt trending and latest technologies, which will assist in building businesses and individuals. For the SMEs willing to partner with us, one thing to know about our solutions is they are simple, very easy to configure, easy to use especially for the basic applications.
So if you are talking about office in a box solution for unified solution and IT telephony, you can partner and in two days be certified to be able to do basic configurations and they can also train customers who will be able to manage its own equipment. We are working on cloud solutions with telecoms operators as well where they can provide our solution to end users.
How do you engage people by the use technologies? What we mean by engagement is to engage with the end users, with the customers. We are not here to sell product, we are here to engage with the customers and to provide them with solutions to their problems, as well as opportunities using technology to have mobility, to have unified communication, to have team engagement, to have customer engagement, and also to have better customer service because in Nigeria of today, you have many businesses and as such, what you need is a real customer experience.
You know before, when you have a complain about a bank, you go talk to your wife and few friends, and that’s only probably about seven, 10 people, but today, if you have a problem, the following day, you will go on Twitter, put it on Facebook, and other social media and hundreds of thousands of people will know about the problem.
This is why Avaya is coming with solutions that are the latest of technologies to do customer service, customer experience, where you can do proactive management of the social media, of your customer experience so as to make things easier for your customers and differentiate yourself from competition and also react to any problem and customer complaints very quickly and in the right way before it’s driven to the whole market.