SOFTLY, SOFTLY

Nigeria 2015 | TELECOMS, IT & MEDIA | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Fatumata Soukouna, CEO of Soft Solutions Ltd (SSL), on strategic partnerships, expansion abroad, and how technology is transforming Nigerian society.

Fatumata Soukouna
BIOGRAPHY
Fatumata Soukouna has over 15 years of experience working with Fortune 100 companies in the high-tech industry. She has held management responsibilities with corporates such as IBM and Microsoft, and CEO at Soft Solutions Limited, building a leading West African technology company. Her experience spans the US, Africa, and the Middle East. She holds a BBA in Marketing and Management from Emory University, Georgia, and an MBA in Global Marketing and Information Management from American Intercontinental University. She is Founder and Chair at the Centre for Women & Children Empowerment, Inc., and also Founder and CEO of Ygroup Holdings Inc., a technology and business integration Company headquartered in Monrovia, Liberia, and has been an independent consultant at multiple privately held companies focus on payment systems for the West African consumers and distribution channel management strategy for expansion throughout Africa.

Can you provide a brief overview of the company and the type of services it provides?

SSL was established in 1994 as a software development company and the first to develop packaged software for small, and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The first product we developed was accounting software used by our parent company. We discovered that accounting packaged applications was a good market for us, and proceeded to package the product for many SMEs. Ten years later we diversified and launched tax and human resources software. As our market grew, we began to see new entrants and strong competitors in the likes of Microsoft and Sage, which drove us to continue diversifying. As our clients grew, so did their IT infrastructure and security services. This market need led to SSL reengineering our business, and we became McAfee's first business partner in our region over a decade ago. Four years ago, I was brought in to transform the SSL business from an integration company to an information technology service provider with a more consultancy-based approach. We continued to develop custom applications for our diverse clients, and most importantly investing in our people, utilizing the local talents, which is a major shift in Nigeria.

SSL has an impressive roster of clients that includes the Dangote Group, OANDO, and the Central Bank of Nigeria. What was the appeal to these companies?

These companies have been with us for over a decade, but I can say that we always have a first move advantage; sometimes we are even too early. We are able to catch customers at the right time and are well known for our service and highly committed to ensuring that our customers are satisfied with the services we provide. Our main focus in all our dealings with our customers is building and maintaining customer satisfaction. We are passionate in what we deliver and how we deliver it.

You have several strategic partnerships with Microsoft and McAfee, are you currently looking for others?

We are interested in companies that are looking to invest in Nigeria (West Africa), especially those that will be interested in establishing a hub in Nigeria. It's all about global expertise being localized. I see SSL as a company that can marry international firms wanting to enter our market and create value for our customers through real partnership. Our current partners are McAfee, Citrix, and IBM. These partnerships enable SSL to meet some of its goals, but ultimately SSL's goal is to be an African IT Service brand on the global stage. We think most companies in this sector should be looking for real value creating partnerships and global firms that see their hub in West Africa, not only for generating sales, but also for services and solution development, as well as expertise.

Have you already expanded beyond Nigeria's borders?

We are already doing business in Liberia and Cameroon, and hopefully soon in Sierra Leone as well, and are reaching out to local partners in these markets. SSL worked with the Ministry of Finance on virtualization, as well providing consultancy services to the Central Bank to create e-payments services. We are looking for local partners in other neighbouring countries and identify where we can build and grow the industry and sector. Our partnerships with local firms focus on transferring skills that allow our customers to undertake cost effective IT projects. We are devising ways to increase our customers' revenue, while also lowering their long-term costs with web services and solutions. We are collaborating with some of our customers and introducing solutions that are no longer seen as capital expenditure, but as operational expenditure, hence, freeing up funds for business growth.

What is your assessment of the Nigerian ICT sector today?

Today many people in Nigeria have an impressively fast connection at home; they even have 4G on their smartphones. When BlackBerry and smart phones entered the market, it really changed the way that even older generations perceived and used technology. Customer decisions on whether or not to consume new technology are what determine the local technology sector. Making a business manageable, sustainable and measurable is something that needs to be automated as you move from a start up to an enterprise. It is not only a matter of hardware, but also of the software and services that go along with it. And technology is an enabler for businesses; it is not the genesis of a business strategy.