Managing Director/CEO, UrBizEdge Limited, Michael Olafusi, shares with IT Edge News, Oluwaseun Ajayi, insights on the data analysis sub-industry and why African countries and businesses must integrate data analysis into strategic planning for project and business sustainability.
What are some of the roles UrBizEdge has played in developing data analysis in Nigeria?
So far we are building apps which is useful to most people in our space. Understandably, it is difficult to make money from data apps currently in Nigeria. For us, we see it more as contributing, making sure that what we see people using in US, Europe, Australia without having to sweat should also exist in Nigeria. So we create apps around the same market data, financial market data, micro economic data, commerce market data; data you want to know about. We have some apps on Telegram. We have chat bots on Telegram that you can use, or simply ask questions. We have apps people can use to learn data analysis, lead business intelligence. We also have a chat bot that runs on Facebook, and so far, we are the only ones we know that have those apps. Most people when they are developing apps, they don’t think about developing for the data analysis phase. They’re usually thinking of developing an e-commerce or something where customers jump right from the workforce. We are creating those resources that we know other countries have, and we do not have here. In our space, we have a team guarding that information and making them available for the Nigerian populace. That’s how we are contributing in our own ways to developing the space in Nigeria.
“The HR people …. As far as they are concerned, they feel that a data analyst is just someone who is working with data so when they hire one, he should be able to do any service to data.”
What are some of the current challenges facing data analysis technology in Nigeria and how best can those challenges be quickly addressed?
They are in four areas. I’ll answer your question from four dimensions. Number one is the tool. These data analyses we are talking about, whether you are a company, an individual, a politician, a policymaker; once you are someone who needs to make informed decision whether on something as simple as even buying a car, right information is critical. Everybody needs information about what is the current market situation and the key thing is also where we have to keep our data. This is in the core of driving value for companies, for countries, and not just companies alone, as data analysis is meant to be used by government to achieve impacts, improve projects, and build impactful infrastructures. There’s a data analysis gap as it were. Then, another problem is that right now in Nigeria, we are missing in the platform space. What do I mean by missing in the platform space? All the data analysis tools and that are commonly used in Nigeria are all built by other countries outside the continent; they are all tools developed outside. We don’t have any indigenous products in our space. So when you’re building, if you’re a US company, and you need a data analysis tool, you will be thinking of your market and what the people in US needs; if possible what all Europeans need. When you deploy those products here, you know you are not the first people they had in mind. In a nut shell, those products cannot be as great as if we also have local players building those products with Nigerians or Africans in mind.
This problem itself derives from issues of funding as this space is already dominated by giant companies who are not looking forward to make profits yet so for any Nigerian company to build a platform that will match their capability and becomes something other people will want to use, it must have to be heavily funded; and maybe not to make profits in the next four or five years. Unfortunately, our market system does not encourage that. As it is, we are not yet in markets – that’s stock markets – where you could go and raise money and not worry about tax, or investors wanting to get their money back instantly. That’s the market where Tesla is able to do what it’s doing. That’s the market where companies are able to raise money in the stock market, and are able to focus on developing people and products in a 10 a span of five years, 10 years, or even more and wait; knowing that the money will come. But unfortunately, our financial markets, in these parts of the world, are not robust to allow that. So that’s why we just keep away and nobody is doing anything in that direction. We are just trying to do localized applications, because applications are products. But platforms are what we use to build product and nobody has built any platform yet.
Then the other part is also the companies themselves in Nigeria are under-staffed. In UK or rest of Europe, people are hired to handle specific tasks but here in Nigeria, a digital company wants to hire just one staff to do all or several tasks at the workplace. Then again, the companies don’t want to spend on tools as they considered the tools to be too expensive. The companies don’t understand the need for thorough staffing. Some ask one person to do five people’s job and operate data analysis with a one-fix-all approach. In engineering for example, there is civil engineering; there is mechanical safety to data analysis, electrical engineering data analysis. There are all kinds of people, business intelligence requiring multi approaches. No one is supposed to do everybody’s job. It’s just like a mechanic claiming he knows how to do panel beating, rewiring and other solutions. You should be worried with such a mechanic and simply run away from such a person. The challenge is less with the big companies like the big banks, big telcos, very big manufacturing companies – they understand the need to hire a team, a department. But you see most small companies want one person to do all the jobs. The HR people can ask someone as business analyst to handle jobs meant for five people and thinks it is okay to consider anybody as a data analyst. As far as they are concerned, they feel that a data analyst is just someone who is working with data so when they hire one, he should be able to do any service to data. They don’t understand that the finance data is different from information data, supply chain data, and all that. So that’s another challenge. The last path is the job seekers. So we have a possible misplaced intentions and profession; there’s no way you can be a lawyer, a medical doctor, and at the same time an engineer. There has to be focused even when people can do multiple jobs. Most times, people with diverse knowledge or skills are not able to deliver very well on what they are initially hired for because of being focused on too many things at the same time. The whole technology space is now is one of fragmentations. Companies must understand how different rules should be. HR people too may not understand that data analysis is a broad theme, and obviously, one person cannot have all the skills. Job seekers’ eagerness to learn the job must not necessarily lead into everything or else they don’t grow. What that means today is that we have plenty unskilled data analysts and we have companies complaining that they can’t find the kind of skill they are looking for. Our challenges could be summed up as having unskilled data analysts, absence of long term funding, absence of indigenous solutions; and using platforms that are built by foreigners.
“We are just trying to do localized applications, because applications are products. But platforms are what we use to build product and nobody has built any platform yet.”
Can you explain the need for data analysis in SMEs and corporate organization?
Cash and finance is the blood in any company. If the finance dries up, the company falls off. Now data is the word. The more your business grows, the more you need data analysis, most SMEs underestimate data analysis, they see it as unnecessary cost, some will tell you that they know what they are doing and they don’t need somebody to tell them how much they are making. Yes, they know it mostly because it’s a one man business, but the problem is they don’t grow that way. Startups understand this and they put it in the place right from day one. It is now a sacrifice of control against growth; if you want to grow, you definitely need to take data analysis serious, and if you just want to have control over everything then those ones remain as one man’s businesses, they never have a proper structure. In essence, I would say, companies lacking data analysis or those that underestimate role of data analysis or those that fail to provide the proper system around it, are the ones who are sacrificing productivity, growth and efficiency. These ones will always operate the way roadside artisans operate.
Considering the slow level of broadband penetration in Nigeria, do you think implementation of e-Government framework at all levels of government is feasible?
Not only will I say yes, but it’s even happening. So let me tell you how exactly. Although, it’s not happening across board yet but think about if you want to get your international passport, it has been digitalized; all the universities now have implemented the e-government; salaries also run through the platform. The Nigerian Custom is another area, anything that has to be cleared has to be registered on the e-platform. The e-platform is more on the civil service area, the ministries; for some agencies, they see it as something that will reduce or control blockages and make things less profitable for them. So, you know, corrupt officers don’t want all these e-government frameworks to happen in ministries or agencies. So I strongly believe that yes, it can work, even though the level of penetration is low.
What does UrBizEdge envisage Nigeria will achieve in the next five years in terms of its digital economy goals?
The truth is it is bigger than us. It’s something that we cannot really see. But what we won’t underestimate is the little contributions every person, every competency can do together will cause positive change. We know on your research side, what we are doing is we do free trainings for universities, we started with Nigeria but now it is across all universities in Africa where all students in the universities and other institutions like polytechnics and colleges of education benefits from our trainings. We give them opportunities for internships, and also access to competitions and things they might not be aware of. We create things, like apps and things that don’t exist in other countries, we think about monetizing. We are making data available to policy makers and researchers, people in the maintenance space for them to take credit for their decision. I know these are drops of water but these drops will make a mighty ocean, so we are expecting to see Nigeria play big in the global digital economy.