Afolabi Abiodun is the Chief Executive Officer of SB Telecoms & Devices Limited, an indigenous Telecommunications and ICT service support company based in Nigeria. In this interview, Abiodun talks about improving the productivity level of employees, present status of the ICT sector in Nigeria and how businesses and organisations are faring in a recession. He also used the opportunity to talk about the upcoming TAMS Summit, organised by his company. Excerpts:
As an ICT service support company developing solutions locally, how has the forex volatility of the past few months affected your business?
It’s been very tough. Just like every other organisation, access to forex is very critical to our business success. We are affected in two ways. The first, as a company, over 55 percent of our operations depend on imported products. About 45 percent of this need revolves around the solution that we have the patent for, our own in-house solution. If you look at that 55 percent requirement and the volatility of the USD in the past two years, you will appreciate our challenge. We started the year at over N400/$1, and within a space of three months it got to N420, N430 at some point, and now again it is below N400. So just imagine you have planned around the N520/$1 window because whether we like it or not, the parallel market is what I will refer to as the real price of the dollar to the Naira.
Secondly, we are offering a service in the B2B space, that is, corporate organisations. So, if all our customers are also forex dependent and if you ask me, I really don’t think there is any company in Nigeria that is not forex dependent, you obviously would need to source your manufacturing equipment from other countries, so directly or indirectly you are affected.
What are your thoughts on the efforts of the government to legislate local content to reduce preference for foreign ICT products and services which causes Nigeria a loss of over N1 trillion annually?
It is a step in the right direction but again, I think it goes beyond legislation. We also have to walk the talk. We really need a very deliberate attempt by all players; from the government to corporate organisations and the technology companies. We all need to collaborate in order to make this policy work because technology has become the fulcrum of development in today’s world. Developed and developing economies are what they are because of the emphasis they placed on ICT. There is really no field that is not leveraging ICT to improve efficiency.
If you look at the local ICT sector today, it is losing in excess of N1 trillion to patronage of foreign technology. What we’ve done essentially by not patronising made-in-Nigeria technology or Nigerian service providers where they have demonstrated competency and local knowledge, is simply developing other economies. If the N1 trillion is spent within our own economy, it will resize the economy and change a whole lot of things.
We need to take ownership of our own development by optimising every process around us. Just imagine the effect of BVN and what it has done to us as a country. By the time you put a value to the investment in BVN and the impact of domesticating it, you will understand what I am talking about.
We have to be deliberate about it and that’s why I said all stakeholders must work as a team. Government must be willing and supportive, not just passing legislation.
Globally, technology has been linked to marketplace transformation, improved living standards, productivity and business performance. Can we say the same about the Nigerian market?
Yes, we can. The world today is a global village, with ICT enabling interconnectivity in and of everything. In a matter of days, we have seen the stock price of a multinational corporation crash on major stock exchanges due to a Nigerian fine. Thanks to improved broadband penetration and access to smart devices, Nigeria and Nigerians are also a big part of the transformation journey real time.You can see game changing disruptions brought about by technology-enabled business model of taxi-hailing lifestyle apps like Uber. With regards to productivity, the TAMS productivity campaign has generated increasing uptake of our TAMS human resource management solution by organizations that are deliberate about improving workforce efficiency.
Your organisation has been advocating social change in the areas of time management. How has the campaign been?
We are still Nigeria’s de facto timekeeper. That title has not changed and we will continue to push the envelope for timeliness and punctuality until Nigerians start to take time seriously in all business and public affairs. So, our relevance can only expand beyond Nigeria and the entire continent.
From customer feedbacks and testimonials,I think we’ve made a tremendous impact in Nigeria. We have clients in different sectors, most with multiple offices in different regions of the country- financial services, manufacturing, retail chains, hospitality ad restaurant chains, educational institutions, agro-allied firms, logistics, transportation and facility management, to mention a few. They have regaled us with the impact that effective time management has had on their operations, citing significant returns on investment. We have banks using our solution for shift management; ensuring that their employees are turning up for work as expected. So, the footprint of TAMS is across all sectors. Yes, we know we still have a long way to go, but gradually, TAMS is becoming a household name in productivity management.
Beyond the African time syndrome, in your opinion, what are the other factors that are limiting employee productivity in Nigeria?
We think the concept of African time is a myth and it’s something that we need to get out of our culture. What are the other things I think we also need to address?The first one is lack of patriotism. It is really affecting Nigeria more than we can ever imagine.
So, last year, we started something that we now call TAMS Productivity Assessment. I’m trying to make you see the connection between being selfless, being patriotic and productive. You can have a productive individual when it’s not about you. You occupy a particular position or have a task before you; it will be done in a selfless and timely manner if you are patriotic.
As a company, our commitment has always been about how can we address a problem and use our solutions to contribute to the development of Nigeria.So, we initiated a productivity tracking system. When we started, it became obvious to employees that it was not a punitive measure at all, because, really, who does not want to be rewarded for their efforts? However, rewards and recognitions are preceded by being selfless, being patriotic, and tenacity on the job. Just imagine a Nigeria where everyone is so patriotic and committed to putting the country first.
Do you sincerely believe that it is possible to reverse the trend?
The turn around has started already and it is ongoing. I can tell you for a fact that the organisations we’ve been involved with, to a very large extent, have seen their level of efficiency go up.
Your company will be hosting the second edition of the TAMS Summit. Could you tell us a bit about the summit?
Last year’s TAMS Summit was focused on time management and dealing with the myth of African time, and it was well received. For the second edition, we are moving to something else, for which time management happens to be a prerequisite. Productivity is our emphasis now. We need to have a very productive society; we need to have productive institutions of government, in all sectors, productive employees, and productive management.Our emphasis is actually around productivity now, particularly because of the current situation of our country. The theme of this year’s summit is about what we need to do to motivate our employees beyond pecuniary benefits.
The summit represents a celebration of the productivity of individuals who were also subjected to but did not allow numerous environmental and personal challenges that others use as excuses to deter them from getting to work early or making productive contributions to their company’s performance.
What impact do you think this summit will have on Nigerian employees?
The summit will awaken our national consciousness to productivity. That regardless of the economic situation, loyalty, patriotism and selflessness are the real treasures and assets that build a nation, not the ostentatious greed and excesses flaunted by a so-called privileged few. To challenge us as individuals that to have a better country and a more developed Nigeria, we must be selfless.
Consider the example of the UBA security officer who found $10,000 for a customer. Being patriotic, being selfless is what would even make you sacrifice your personal needs for integrity because the security officer would obviously have had a thousand and one things he needed $10,000 for. He placed the needs of other people above his personal interest.
So, part of what this summit would achieve is we are putting together materials, documentaries for people to appreciate the importance of productivity and how that connects to organizational and national development.
What is TAMS application?
TAMS application is a human resource management(HRM) application used by organisations to do everything that has to do with staff welfare, management and productivity. With an understanding of the peculiarities of the Nigerian business environment, we developed functionalities and benefits that will help organizations of all types and sizes manage their employees from recruitment to retirement.