TBY talks to Uzo Nduka, CEO of Domino Information Company Limited (DICL), on supporting SMEs, the role of innovation in public sector enterprises, and how ICT contributes to the wider economy.

Uzo Nduka
Uzo Nduka has multicultural management experience spanning more than 16 years in the private and public sectors. He also has leadership experience in international development as well as conflict management. Key positions held have included Assistant General Manager for Consultancy at Prodec – Fugro Nigeria Limited, Program Co-ordinator for German Technical Corporation (GTZ), Director of Consultancy at Southsea Datcom Limited, Head of Strategy and Planning for Corporate/Community Affairs Directorate for Shell Petroleum Development Company Nigeria Limited, and over the past four and half years, CEO at Domino Information Company Limited (DICL). His international consulting experience includes projects with BG Group UK, Shell International (UK and The Netherlands), and Control Risks Group (UK and Dubai) among others.

How do your services help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) run their businesses?

The way IT has come to Nigeria and spread nationwide, especially for managers, has led us to significant automation of business processes. It is only the larger companies and multinational corporations that have all the basic, simple processes that bring efficiency, transparency, and cost-effectiveness to an organisation. Once you go beneath the largest bandwidth, by my estimation somewhere between 70% and 95% of all business processes, are still done manually. We view this as a huge gap in the market, and therefore decided to create less expensive versions of process automation solutions for the SME market. More importantly, rather than shoehorning existing solutions into these SMEs, our solutions had to be based on the realities of doing business in Nigeria. And that reality is that most Nigerian SMEs are competing domestically, which became our focus. By way of an example, if we consider any of the well-known international accounting or payroll solutions we hardly find one denominated in Nigerian currency, the naira. Very few of them allow the flexibility for Nigerian SMEs to exchange between the naira and other currencies with accuracy and convenience. Therefore, in building an accounting package for the local SME market our number one selling point is that it is denominated in naira. Our strategy is to seek out niche markets based on specific needs. This is where we find our greatest advantage, and where we add the most value.

Is there any other segment of the market or specific area of the economy that you foresee bringing your services to?

I would like to enter the risky and less crowded areas. We are not going to try the traditional areas where everybody has already launched themselves. I believe that Nigeria is going to change dramatically within the next two-five years, and that the change will be driven by technology.

As technology plays an increasingly important role in Nigeria's new economy, how receptive do you think Nigerians are toward innovation?

If we look at history, Nigerians are one of the largest subscribers to Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter. At some point, Nigeria was the largest market for BlackBerry devices—that was a worldwide statistic. I will say that the Nigerian market is highly receptive.

How receptive is the public sector in the same regard?

I think the case is the opposite. In the public sector, the fact is that the business cycle and culture do not encourage anybody to take bold decisions. The problem is institutionalized, actually, to help prevent corruption and fraud, but I also think the price we are paying for it as a nation is too heavy. The Nigerian public sector is slow to make decisions, except when that decision has the particular logic of emergency. The fact that in some spheres of the public service we keep appointing, re-appointing, removing, and re-installing the key leaders and decision-makers, also does not help because most new leaders want to pursue a different agenda. All these factors work against productivity. The other factor that works against us in making decisions and being receptive to new technologies is our national budget. Sometimes up until April or May of the New Year, the national budget has not even been signed or approved. The ministries and administrators are told they can spend only a certain small percentage of the total budget–but not more, causing overall anxiety. Put all of these things together and you see the problem; while we have good people keen to seize the moment, more importantly, the system, the boundary conditions within which they must act on behalf of the general public, do not allow them to do much.

As of June 2014, the ICT sector in Nigeria contributes 8% to GDP. Can the percentage rise in the future?

I think it will grow rapidly. I expect competition in ICT to be enhanced in some dramatic way. I also believe the private sector will play a key role here. My other thought is that the security sector will play a central role in this. The Nigerian security forces, the state security service, the immigration service, the customs service—all of these agencies are going to adopt different technological solutions shortly. Once our people embrace technology and, it will dramatically enhance the contribution of ICT to our economy and well-being. The rest of the Nigerian public service will also make an important contribution. Not necessarily in hardware terms, but from in terms of software, in areas such as process automation, for example. There is a strong element of ethics and transparency in most of our software solutions. We are not providing these as services; they are nonetheless delivered to our clients by default. The truth is that you cannot deliver good ERP solutions without infusing ethics and transparency into the system.