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SBM Intelligence is using big data to provide solutions to some of Nigeria’s problems

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Cheta Nwanze

When Cheta Nwanze left the Daily Times in 2013, to establish SB Morgen Digital, he had a clear vision of what his new gig would focus on.

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Being the head of IT for two newspapers in Nigeria – first 234Next, a forward-looking young newspaper that died too early, and Daily Times, Nigeria’s oldest newspaper – he had experienced firsthand the dearth of proper information gathering, integrity and archiving in the Nigerian media space. He was acutely aware of the impact well-researched data, reports and analyses could have on decision-making for different entities.

In its infancy, SBM was engaged by BusinessDay, YNaija and Daily Times to manage their digital newsroom, train their IT heads and build their websites.

“Every website we build is done by a top-notch team of SBM website designers who focus on Open Source tools to bring down the cost to the client,” Nwanze said. “The aim is to marry tech, data collection and the news, to help Nigerians understand the issues around them.”

SBM Digital has since grown into three divisions – SBM Media, which bears Nwanze’s experience in the Nigerian space SBM Relations, a PR arm and SBM Intelligence, one of Nigeria’s leading research firms on using big data to predict the future.

The research firm uses principles, tools and techniques to create industry reports which focus on addressing the critical need for market data and big data analytics. Where necessary, it conducts on-the-ground surveys and interviewers to enhance the credibility of its data and reports.

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Its most well-known product, the Jollof Index, has been continuously published since 2016. The Jollof Index is a composite index that tracks the prices of the main ingredients for a nationally accepted staple food, Jollof rice. The index, published every quarter, has become a database that shows how these prices have moved and how much a properly-made pot of Jollof rice with attendant proteins will cost an average Nigerian family across the country. The index is used to track and predict the rate of food inflation in Nigeria.
Moreover, consumer brands like British-American Tobacco and members of the France Nigeria Chamber of Commerce and Industry use the index and the other data analysed by SBM using machine learning to project inflationary trends and thus help them price their products.

“We don’t publish all the food prices we track, but BAT especially, uses our data to keep an eye on the discretionary income available to their customers,” Nwanze told us, “so they find the Jollof Index very useful.”

The index is not the only big data SBM Intelligence collects. Counting technology startups, individuals, FMCG companies, media, multilateral organisations, investors, insurers and governments across Africa among its clients, it publishes data on the state of the Nigerian economy, security, health, agribusiness and socio-political issues. Next year, they plan to launch Nigeria’s maiden Health Index which will compare the state of preparedness for health challenges in the country. Nwanze says that the process of acquiring the data has been challenging, and mentions that as an Open Source enthusiast, his firm makes use of open-source software in doing all of their data analysis.

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It is not just economic data that SBM parses. Its post-election report on Nigeria’s 2019 general elections was widely accepted. SBM analysed the security data trends on behalf of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa. The analysis, which included predictive modelling of where the next security threats in the country will be, was accepted by both INEC and the Army.

It has also published actionable reports on security threats such as terrorism, kidnapping, high profile robbery, community crisis, herdsmen and farmers and other gun-related violence in Nigeria and Africa.

The success SBM Intelligence has enjoyed in the last few years is mostly down to the quality and the trust in its reports, data and analyses. The firm relies on its team of dedicated data engineers, scientists, analysts and writers, with expertise covering a broad range of areas which include, but not limited to, risk and strategy from early warning, global risks, exposure modelling to market evaluation, trend, sustainability analysis and scenario planning.

However, like many Nigerian businesses, Nwanze said SBM has had to grapple with the economic realities in the country. Nigeria currently battles a fragile economy, weak currency and political decisions that cast dark clouds over businesses.

“Weak infrastructure has been a major challenge. Until we developed in-house software for offline data collection, we had to rely on manual data entry methods which posed a challenge for data integrity,” Nwanze said.

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