Jan. 29, 2022

Yen Choi


Yen Choi

Group Executive Vice President & Chief Technical Officer, Netcom Africa

Netcom helped clients navigate the pandemic and implement a digital transformation that helped them become significantly more efficient and profitable.


Yen Choi has been based in Lagos for almost 20 years and is a technology entrepreneur. He is currently the Group Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Netcom Africa. Prior to coming to Nigeria, he was vice president of operations at SpeedCast, a satellite telecommunications company. He is chairman of the board for Sweden-based Ignitia and also sits on the board of several organizations including the Nigerian Internet Exchange, the largest internet exchange in Africa, and Fibersat and advises on several aerospace operations and start-ups.

How has 2020 reshaped your operations and areas of focus?

Unfortunately, some of our clients went out of business during the pandemic. The remainder of our clients started to shift toward 100% teleworking for their staff and needed to securely connect staff to their enterprise network and also seek additional technical support. Thankfully, our main product offerings are network connectivity and managed IT. During the pandemic, our clients needed more technical support because their employees were now at home requiring connectivity, and they needed more cloud based applications to enable remove working. With companies digitizing large amounts of data, they became more susceptible to cyberattacks such as data breaches and ransomware. We helped them ensure that security is an important requirement for all their digital transformation plans and not an afterthought. As a result, many of our clients have now realized that digital transformation really works and makes them more efficient and profitable.

Would you say IT companies expanded because of the pandemic?

The bulk of the growth happened among mobile network operators, because of the sheer number of customers. Although the bandwidth utilization in the offices fell, it increased at home, where we were providing connectivity for remote working staff that needed mission critical access to company systems. There was heavy dependency on video conferencing; most were unaware of the bandwidth requirements for robust video. The technology is not new; we have always had video calling applications, such as WhatsApp and Skype before as well as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. It is the adoption of technology that has changed. COVID-19 forced us to use them, and now video conversations have become the norm. That, in turn, has increased the demand and growth of internet bandwidth substantially. Our clients are now expecting double, triple, quadruple amount of bandwidth than what they need pre-COVID because of this increase in usage. Many clients have migrated from consumer-grade internet service from mobile operators and residential ISPs to secure, enterprise-grade dedicated internet access links from Netcom for more reliable and stable services.

What is the current business sentiment among your clients?

The businesses that did thrive are those that embraced digital change. We see ourselves as a major coach in that digital transformation. One of the key things we have looked at has been solving a company's problems in terms of how they can become more efficient and make better decisions. We implement ERP systems such as Microsoft Dynamics, which give company owners and executive management the ability to quickly see a snapshot of their company and swiftly react to the changes happening in their company. Many of our clients looked at their total operating expense and assumed that because of COVID, they had to reduce it significantly. That, however, does not mean that spending was cut in all areas of business. IT technology is one of those areas that upper management would prioritize and increase budget for, at the expense, for example, of a finance expenditure. That is because a greater IT budget would solve many problems, by automating financial, operational, and administrative functions.

Are you seeing a greater disposition by Nigerian companies to increase IT budgets?

There are different progressions levels in the digital transformation journey. My immediate answer to that would be no, because these companies see IT spending as an expenditure and not a benefit. There are companies that have made that change into utilizing IT expenditures to help their businesses increase efficiencies, decrease costs, and increase profits. For these companies, for every NGN1 they put into IT transformation, they save or make NGN1.5. The gains are huge in the early stages of digital transformation. Many of our clients realized that because of the changes that they implemented due to the pandemic; once business started to resume, they did not have to increase their IT expenditures. In fact, it generated a larger profit than before for many clients.