Allure Cover: Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho – Eyes on COVID-19’s Aftermath
By Josephine Agbonkhese
She is digital technology personified. The CEO, Future Software Resources Limited, an IT solutions provider focused on online solutions, e-learning and IT security, Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho is one of the most influential CEOs in the Nigerian digital tech industry.
With a firm grit to help Africa harness the benefits of ‘digitalisation’, Uwaje Begho has garnered global recognition for her work over the past 15 years. This includes recognitions as an Obama African Leader, Forbes’s Top Ten Female Tech Founders in Africa, Global Digital Women Top 10 Most Inspiring Women in Africa, Lionesses of Africa Top 100 Women and Ventures Africa 42 Most Innovative Africans. She’s a recipient of several awards including the Jim Ovia Prize for Software Excellence.
An internationally-revered IT expert, she has delivered speeches at some of the world’s finest platforms, including Harvard Business School.
Uwaje Begho is Committee Chair, Funding Framework for the Nigerian Technology Sector, NESG IT group; member, Nigerian National IT Software Committee and; the Nigerian Electronic Voting Think Tank; all platforms via which she contributes to shaping national policies.
In this interview with Vanguard Allure, she speaks on Nigeria’s readiness for the 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution) in the light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, reels out factors she considers germane to the nation’s transformation into a digital economy, and bares it all on life as a business leader in the digital tech space among sundry issues.
There have been talks about the 4IR these past months. But is the COVID-19 pandemic not exposing Nigeria’s technology-related gaps as a nation?
You are spot on! COVID-19 and the global economic crisis has catapulted us into a great diagnostics tool, to test our readiness for the 4IR. So far, some key digital infrastructure deficits have been identified in various sectors.
As millions of workers aim to work from home, employers are suddenly in a situation where they are trying to figure out how to provide power and suitable internet connections to their staff in order to continue to deliver undisrupted services to their clients. These are considerations no foreign employer has to think about as most households in the developed world are connected to broadband, and have undisrupted power supply.
Also, as educational institutions close nationwide, our learners are running the risk of falling behind by months as only a handful of private educational institutions are equipped to deliver classes online, and deliver learning assignments via Learning Management Systems. In the area of healthcare, while other countries have deployed technology solutions, we are manually scrambling.
What have you noticed in the public sector?
In public sector service too, the digital assets that have been put in place are tested with web traffic like never seen before. For example, key web portals like the CAC’s were unavailable for days and when the CAC’s came back, it was impossible to file an application. This shows that business continuity planning in a crisis situation, as well as focusing on delivering services digitally hasn’t been a priority.
The private sector is not exempted. With the sudden restrictions that social distancing and the recommendations by government have brought, many businesses have realised that they do not have the adequate infrastructure in place to move their operations online; and even those who have e-commerce capabilities are struggling with delivery fulfilment services.
Other aspects include, the lack of Smart City infrastructure which will make it hard to do contact tracing in a technology-assisted manner. It also means that monitoring the outbreak of potential criminal activities during the lockdown period, will be harder than in other countries.
In the area of data and communication too, as data trickles in and fake news circles the drain, we have seen the lack of reliable data and communication thereof; which has led to panic and uncertainty. There is a gap in digitally and data-driven approach in communicating to citizens. However, I commend the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, as it has been very pro-active. It has tried to update citizens as frequently as possible. It went a step further by making digitally shareable resources available, to educate citizens on the pandemic.
But as the numbers grow, we need to use data to make decisions and model possible scenarios. Two questions remain however: are we collecting key data and do we have sufficient data analysts and data scientists to interpret this data?
I strongly believe that the forced gap analysis this pandemic has brought with it, will lead to us actively working towards closing the gap, which in turn will lead to acceleration of steps that need to be taken towards becoming a Digital Economy.
Which industries are winning despite the pandemic?
I will answer this question from a global point of view; as some industries that are winning globally are not winning locally.
Big winners are online supermarkets and grocery delivery services. UK online supermarket, Ocado had a virtual queue of over 400,000 people. Walmart hired over 150,000 casual staff to meet daily surges of demand that exceeded over 160%.
Other big winners are streaming services like Netflix, Youtube and Amazon. With the increasing demand for digital content, streaming has jumped by at least 12%, according to an analysis by Forbes. While the pandemic is at its all-time high, Disney services just launched in most European countries.
Collaboration Cloud Services are another clear winner. With millions of people around the world working from home, collaboration tools and file sharing has become more important. Video Conferencing and Chat usage has also skyrocketed as work teams, families, friends and colleagues use them to connect.
How do you think our individual lives will change with regards to how we use technology after the crisis?
There are many answers to this. However, the bottom line will be that we would build new habits and alter our consumption patterns—as well as the way we engage with digital as a whole.
This will include people connecting with friends and loved ones across the globe on the Houseparty app, having virtual dinner parties or company TGIF (thank God it’s Friday) sessions and engaging in fun games and banter; children attending class online and parents being more involved in class activities; people taking part in virtual exercise and dance classes, DJ sessions and live cooking activities using LIVE; thought leaders and subject matter experts using digital video streaming apps and webinars to engage; increased adoption of the work-from-home culture by employers; and a rise in the use of mobile devices (both phones and tablets) to replace computers as people get used to using hand-held devices to perform their duties.
We would have people becoming content creators on platforms like Tiktok. We would also see a significant reduction in pointless face-to-face meetings, and will use technology to be more efficient in client interactions.
These new habits and experiences will lead to changes in consumer behaviour and increase the demand for virtual services. Among other things, it will shoot up digital literacy rates.
How did you succeed in growing Future Software Resources into one of Nigeria’s leading IT firms?
Lots of blood, sweat and tears. Years of working hard, being consistent, paying attention to detail and being patient. At the centre of it all though, is my team’s constant drive to deliver excellence and to go over and beyond.
The boardroom is traditionally a boys’ club; how did you break in?
There are a few factors besides focus, consistency and determination that played a role in getting a seat at the table. These key contributors were expert knowledge, reputation and visibility.
That is, being a recognised thought leader and subject matter expert from my over 15+ years of providing technology services, being actively engaged in building the local ecosystem, driving policy at a national level and being recognised as a global subject matter expert.
Having the reputation of having integrity, being extremely hardworking and always putting in 150%, as well as always speaking out regardless of how unpopular my stand may be.
In terms of visibility, having invested in building my personal brand over the years definitely helped. I frequently speak at local and global conferences, write a blog and have active social media channels. These various activities gave me a lot of visibility—as they say, you cannot be called if you are not noticed.
What drives you?
A deep passion for transforming Africa using technology.
What is your biggest lesson learned in the business arena?
You must be willing to pivot and change your business model many, many times.
How do you cope with challenges?
A challenge is a problem that is in need of a solution. So when I am faced with a challenge, I try to figure out how to solve it, or who can help in solving it. Having a capable team, a strong network and a firm support system is really key—you cannot do it alone.
Some say mentoring is overrated; do you think otherwise?
I am part of a lot of mentoring networks where I volunteer my time to share my experiences with young business owners. I think it’s invaluable to be able to learn from others, and know that you are not the only one in a particular situation. So yes, I think mentoring is very important.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do?
I usually spend time with my family and friends or catch up on sleep. If I have an extended period off, I love exploring new places.
What’s your favourite travel destination?
It depends on what kind of trip it is. I would say that so far, my top destinations are Italy, Cyprus, Vietnam and South Korea.
What won’t you ever be caught wearing?
Hahaha…now that’s a funny question. Baggy jeans and a hoodie and ugly shoes.