Recession: Businesses Should Leverage On Technology For Operational Efficiency

In this interview with eBusiness Life Communication Limited, the Chief Executive Officer,

MainOne Company, Ms. Funke Opeke, speaks on how companies can leverage on

technology for survival in this economic recession and other major industry issues, as well

as the company’s products and plans for 2017

funke-opeke

Could you make an assessment of the ICT market in Nigeria in recent times?

Internet penetration in Nigeria has increased significantly in the last few years, largely due

to the landing of submarine cables and the deployment of 3G networks by the mobile

network operators. ICT development in the country has grown as a result, with more

applications and content moving online such as electronic banking. The National Broadband

policy and the regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has also placed

emphasis on increasing internet penetration across the country and those efforts are

helping.

Over time, the issue of last mile connectivity has been a problem. The impact of

programmes geared at growing access does not seem to be felt in rural areas. How do you

think this can be tackled effectively and urgently?

Last mile connectivity is still an issue in Africa predominantly because of economics and the

limitations in infrastructure sharing to serve more economically challenged areas. And the

reality is; although Nigeria has potential for growth, with its 10+ TBPS capacity on its sea

shores, costs of a robust national and local access infrastructure is very high. Because

operators are still building out infrastructure largely on a proprietary basis, the focus is on

building in urban areas where the potential for business is most high and so rural areas are

underserved. That has started changing in terms of tower consolidation away from

proprietary telco ownership, but even that sharing is limited. Changing this dynamic would

require strong regulatory intervention; perhaps incentives to facilitate the deployment of

shared infrastructure in the rural areas and a harmonization or possible reduction of taxes

and fees to roll out such infrastructure. It will also help if government could stimulate the

demand side by taking more services online and making broadband more locally relevant.

Demand would increase in rural areas, for example, if government activities were more

accessible online such as Local Government taxes, services for pensioners and so on.

A lot of issues have been generated over the cost of data in Nigeria. What is your take on

this, and what impact do you think this might have on access and penetration?

Indeed, data prices have proven quite controversial in recent times. The mobile operators

have a case to make about the impact of inflation and forex limitations on their businesses.

However, there should also be the realization that the consumers also face similar

challenges. Price increases are one approach to solve the problem for operators, but it does

not help expand the market at a time where we all agree the need to do so. Perhaps there is

some room for some out-of- the-box thinking here. Capital expenditures are one area where

cost increases are hurting the operators, but this is also the area where infrastructure

sharing yields the most benefit. If operators can share towers, can they also share ducts and

fiber and perhaps even spectrum through mobile roaming, in order to reduce network

deployment costs and limit incremental costs to consumers or perhaps even lower prices

further? Clearly, lowering prices and sharing infrastructure could potentially help increase

access and open up penetration by extending networks to more rural areas.

Some industry players have over time expressed their discomfort in issues regarding

declaration of dominant operator status in the industry. How do you think having this will

affect the market?

Dominance and the power of incumbents is best addressed by establishing policies that

lower barriers to entry for new players. Declaring an operator dominant is not necessarily a

bad thing, if it is a matter of fact. The question is whether that dominance stifles the ability

of smaller players to compete in a meaningful way and if it limits innovation that does not

benefit the dominant player? If so, the job of the regulator is to work to eliminate those

structural disadvantages. We are not there yet.

How would you say MainOne fared in 2016, what were some of your operational

challenges and how do you intend to surmount them in 2017?

As you know, 2016 was a tough year for most businesses, not just MainOne. Nonetheless,

the business expanded operationally across West Africa despite the recession, with new

partnerships, and considerable growth in our data center and Cloud businesses. Our

customers in Nigeria continued to show appetite for our services which help their bottom-

line and productivity, even though their capacity to pay and consume as much as we would

like was constrained. However, the solutions we provide also help businesses manage costs

e.g. data center power costs and connectivity for video-conferencing and other applications

that enable digital business.

Now, more than ever, the harsh business environment implies that companies must manage

their resources judiciously and we have increased our focus on delivering solutions that help

our customers optimize their budgets. In addition, we have expanded our customer

segment to include SMEs, and will provide this growing category with the excellent services

we already provide to large enterprises. We have our SME in a Box service, a bundled

solution which includes Connectivity, Voice and Cloud, currently available in Lagos.

MainOne and some other indigenous firms have set up Data Centers in the country. How

well have Nigerian companies received this and what are the challenges you have been

faced with on this, if any?

I would say the uptake of Colocation services in our Data Center is growing. We have on

board quite a good number of businesses into our 600 rack Data Center, and have plans to

build a few more in Sagamu; Accra, Ghana; and other West African countries in line with the

demand. Our customers include global brand names, as well as leading domestic companies,

and we are pleased to see good uptake from start-up companies in Nigeria as well.

Though Nigerian regulations mandate Nigerian companies to host certain categories of

critical data locally, these laws are not enforced and many Nigerian businesses and

government agencies still host critical data of national interest in foreign data centers.

Challenges still include the level of awareness of our services, and the many benefits we

offer, in terms of high availability, low latency, lower costs payable in Naira, local support

and other add-on services.

What’s your plan for the year, a new goal, a new vision?

We will continue to focus on value addition to our customers. We have invested and will

continue to invest in the right infrastructure, people and partners to ensure we continue to

support our customers and ensure they become even more efficient and successful in their

businesses.

What is the objective of the MainOne Nerds Unite forum and what should we expect from

this year’s event?

Nerds Unite is our annual flagship event for our user community which is the best and

brightest in Nigeria’s IT community. The aim of this event is to promote a community where

mid-level IT decision makers can connect, network, share ideas and gain more insight on

trends in the IT industry. We want them to remain at the cutting edge of their industry and

we bring new developments to them in the areas of Connectivity, IoT, Data Center, and

Cloud services among others. This year, we have more world-class leaders from our global,

blue chip partners including Microsoft, Radware, Infoware, Signal Alliance, Samsung, Cisco,

SAP, Huawei, participating alongside the MainOne team to share knowledge on new trends

and other disruptive technologies. Some of our partners will showcase virtual reality and

holograms demos, a first in Nigeria. We will also have representation from the Internet

Society talking to companies about the benefits of interconnecting locally. In light of the

economic realities within the country, it is important for businesses to take a closer look at

their capital expenditure and improve operational efficiency leveraging technology. We will

highlight a smarter, more innovative way for enterprises to not only survive, but thrive

during this period, leveraging connectivity, Data Center, Cloud and Managed Security

solutions.

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