Michael Olajide is the Executive Director of Sidmach Technologies backed with over 40 years’ experience in the ICT industry. A recipient of numerous awards among which is the Best Software Entrepreneur for the Year 2017. In this interview with BUKOLA OLANREWAJU, he speaks on how Nigerian software industry has shown resilience during the heat of COVID-19 pandemic and ways governmental policies has shaped the industry.
Being in the IT market for 27 years, what can you say about Nigerian Software industry following COVID-19 disruption?
The software industry in Nigeria has been growing steadily, particularly the young people who are coming into the industry in form of startups. There are lots of things happening in the industry today, multinationals are coming to Nigeria to recruit Nigerians to develop software for them. These are good indications for the industry. We hope that this will continue with the establishment of more ICT hubs like the one I am currently building in Ekiti State.
The governor has been very supportive, three weeks ago, he approved the extension of 33 KV power to the center in order to provide stable electricity to the center. In my opinion, the industry is growing, and I believe it will continue to grow with governmental support on infrastructure.
Infrastructure is a major problem in terms of power and internet. Many ICT activities require constant power supply and stable internet connection. Cloud computing is the norm now and all countries in the world are getting involved in it.
The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy is just right for the industry at this time. He is doing a lot of things the right way and I think he’s facing the right direction. By the time his efforts begin to yield results, the industry will grow even faster.
Reports has it that, Nigeria spends over $400 million annually on foreign software licensed renewal. How can this be addressed?
That can be addressed through government support for local content. The local content policy and law should be enforced so as to drive more patronage for our indigenous solutions. This is what NITDA is doing by organizing lots of workshops and hangouts recently; to ensure that the local industry stakeholders are supported to come up with solutions that will really address our needs.
But when we examine the COVID -19 pandemic period, we can see that there was a lot of governmental and individual expenditure.
Zoom is not developed in Nigeria; Microsoft Teams is not a Nigerian software. All of those tools are not developed in Nigeria. They are foreign software and Nigerians must use them due to the prevalence of remote working.
We need to encourage more innovation in the software industry which will lead to creation of software that is coveted by foreign countries, and lead to export of indigenous software just like the Indians are doing.
Speaking of COVID 19 Software tools; what are the solutions Sidmach has created address this challenge?
What we are doing right now is to leverage on existing tools. Good enough, Microsoft has made Microsoft 365 Free for Education, which include Microsoft Teams.
We have developed our own solution to address learning, we incorporated Microsoft Teams into the solution to enable online live classroom. But our solution can perform more functions related to online learning than Microsoft Teams and Zoom. It is more than a combination of both videoconferencing software. It addresses a whole lot of learning needs and requirements for teachers, students, content creators, researchers even for parents to know how to manage your ward at home in order to ensure he/she is really learning.
We foresee that our ways of learning of old aren’t efficient anymore. With online learning, education will change and have a new face. Learning will also take a new face.
Sidmach is addressing this locally and some companies are also making moves to address the health issues for the Post COVID period.
We encourage more of this and we are very active in the Nigerian Computer Society (NCS), ISPON and other associations to ensure that the Nigerian industry is not left behind in all of this.
I believe that the organizations that will win, will not necessarily focus on things that are already existing. Focusing our efforts on developing an application that will rival Microsoft Teams or Zoom is not an intelligent move.
Microsoft Teams came to be after several initiatives and reforms. Microsoft has spent billions of dollars in terms of research and building Teams. It started from Microsoft Lync, and then they bought Skype, then later added Microsoft Lync and Skype together and they got the Skype for Business. Now there is Microsoft Teams, because they added a lot of functions. Any software company in Nigeria wanting to develop its own cannot be recreating what’s already done. The best way around it, is to leverage on what has been created to create a new solution that will address the country’s challenges.
My advice to any software solution company is to never desire to rival WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams and Zoom. These software are already existing and dominant. The only solution is innovation. Innovation does not necessarily mean it is brand new, innovation means improving on what is already existing.
And that is what Luminate is set to address; by making learning more accessible, anywhere and anytime.
Luminate cut across all levels of education – it is for primary, secondary, tertiary institutions (Universities, Polytechnics, Colleges of Education), researchers and for companies who wants to train their staffs. Recently we held a training for an HMO company with staff all over the continent, using Luminate. Although, Microsoft Teams app is also very interactive.
Luminate has been carefully designed with Artificial Intelligence (AI) to master processes, making continuous assessment (moderated test items), assignment, theory questions easier to mark. Teachers can predict how many students will pass external exams such as WAEC, JAMB etc.
This is to show that focusing on what has been done is unnecessary. To make impact, you can look at what has been, improve on the solutions by addressing issues not yet addressed. That’s how you can get things done.
How has Sidmach been helping to bridge the skill gaps in Nigeria, since our curriculum isn’t favourable to 21st Century industry?
That’s a very good question. Right now, I think NUC is aware that people are clamoring for a review of the university curriculum, not just in IT, Engineering or Sciences, it is across the board. I’m aware that a committee has been set up by NUC to review IT curriculums in school such as in the computer science departments and other science or technology faculties.
The review is imminent, because what comes out of school is not what the industry is looking for.
We spend a lot of money in Sidmach in retraining fresh graduates. We are working with Microsoft in this regard. We have what is known as the App Factory, an internship program where fresh graduates are being trained and equipped for six months with the necessary skills for the 21st Century. We recruit some while a good portion of them before they finish the program have gotten job placements elsewhere. The training is to empower fresh graduates with the industry needed skills.
But for COVID-19 disruptions, Sidmach was planning to train another 300 fresh graduates. This is also in conjunction with Microsoft because Dangote and other oil companies has approached them for the skilled people. We still have it in our plans.
That’s why I said the software industry is going to grow. Coupled with lot of data, indicators show that this will continue to improve.
COVID-19 has increased the pace of digital transformations globally. How has this impact software market in Nigeria?
I wouldn’t say software companies made a lot of money during COVID-19 and even now. Lots of people who had to work from home leveraged on Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack or something else made from China. They were utilizing foreign software.
COVID-19 caught everybody unaware. But on the bright side, the Nigerian software industry has shown resilience by participating in supporting and implementing those software foreign solutions.
We are fortunate in Sidmach because we’ve started implementing Agile approach for product development for all our team and processes. That gives us the opportunity to respond quickly while working remotely.
From our DevOps Agile Platform, we can see what our staffs are doing and how they are working within the given timelines. This greatly helps us adjust quickly. With the result have seen, working remotely has become more efficient.
How do we deal with the security challenge in the cyberspace, with the growing dependence on Internet?
Yes, there is the challenge of security in the cyber space, but there are also solutions and processes to address those challenges.
What I have found out over the years is that, issues are always coming from the inside. There is always an insider in most cases, very few cyber security problems come from outside.
It could be a negligence on the part of the organization. For example, an employee is sacked but the company fails to do what is expected. Just assume an IT staff in the bank with a privilege account was sacked and his profile on the system was left for two weeks. Within those two weeks, he can create another privilege account unknown to them.
Mostly, processes and procedures need to be followed, otherwise companies and individuals are exposing themselves to attacks. Also, it is necessary for organizations to train their staffs on how to recognize loopholes.
In addition, security support staff is very important. Their duty is to receive alert from the security software and take the necessary precaution, but when they ignored it, the organization is exposing itself to attacks. Sidmach supports lots of companies to keep them safe in the cyberspace.
What are the challenges facing Nigerian software industry and how can be addressed?
Apart from power, a challenge I have been talking about is mindset, both on the part of the decision makers and the masses.
With my over 40 years’ experience in the industry, if I walk into an organization or parastatal today with a white man who has just two years’ experience; the white man will get attention while I am ignored.
Mindset is a very serious problem. Once a white man is in the picture, no matter my experience or what I say, the first thing the people believe is that I am hungry and just looking for money. We must change our mindset and know that good things are coming out of Nigeria.
Indeed, Sidmach has been offering quality products and services in our 27 years of operations. WAEC, JAMB, NYSC are all using indigenous technology today, with Sidmach powering them all. This is a pointer to the fact that Nigerians can do great things.
When we started e-Registration in WAEC, the Chief Executive of WAEC at the time, Late Oloyede believed in us to deliver even though we were young and there was some resistance from people around. We need more of that mindset in Nigeria.
The other problem is broadband. Broadband penetration in Nigeria is still low. Just few states have good internet while majority of people are struggling. How then do we do e-learning? Foreign companies want Nigerians to stay here and work remotely for them in the US, how do we expect them to deliver without good Internet?
This is one of the ways we can attract good foreign investment and exchange, if we do this and develop our human capital, we don’t need to depend solely on oil. Human capital backed with good infrastructure.
Power is also a problem. The power generated is quite insufficient for over 200 million population.
Digital literacy is another problem. Teachers need to be trained to embrace digital learning. None of the required devices are made in Nigeria and it impacts on how online solutions adoption (e-Classroom, e-Meetings). Devices needed to execute these tasks must be available, accessible and affordable.
How are the governmental policies shaping this industry?
The Honorable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Pantami’s seven-point agenda for digital economy are great. He is doing a great job so far. In one year, he has turned around the industry. He is shaping the sector and we should all support him. Although it is his responsibility, he is also doing this for the future. Digital economy is the future of Nigeria and also the future of our young people.
We should encourage our National Assembly members to change their mode of disbursing their dividend of democracy. Instead of buying tricycles, bicycles, motorcycles, sewing machines and other items, investment in training young people in IT should be a priority.
This type of investment will go a long way in attracting foreign investors. A trial for two years should be carried out and let’s measure or evaluate the impact. They will realize they will be impacting more people than they are currently doing.
I sympathize with them, anyway. This is because they give the sewing machines to those who will queue and vote for them. A lot of educated people will not go out to vote. If they organize this type of training, they can even get more votes through them because they will surely mobilize other people to vote with their education and technology.
I call on and encourage our people in the National Assembly to change their dividend of democracy focus to giving training in IT. The whole idea of the seven pillars will be actualized.
The main pillar in the seven pillar is the people.
What are some of Sidmach Achievements so far?
We have touched over 100 million lives through our solutions in education and the solutions we offer to WAEC, JAMB, NYSC and NERDC. I’m very passionate about education. One of the reasons, my ICT Hub is in Ekiti is to enable and encourage other citizens that are not in Lagos benefit from ICT.
Our tagline is “Transforming Lives” and our processes have been all about impacting lives. Before WAEC e-Registration started, the processes were very time consuming, slow and tedious. Our solutions make NYSC registration process and other activities easier and faster.
We continue to improve on this by looking at the data, predicting and helping to look at solutions that will continue to transform lives for the better. Our e-Learning platform, Luminate will also impact more people.
What are the other plans, Sidmach have for COVID-19?
We are looking towards to the young people taking over the industry. I believe they will do more.
We’ve started making impact in the agricultural sector and we are considering carrying out some worthwhile projects in the health sector, too.