Competitors almost frustrated my business idea
Tunde Badejo has run Soft Alliance and Resources Limited since 2001, automating the services of many state governments and private companies. He speaks on his business life and challenges of the project, among other issues, in this interview with journalists in Lagos. JAMES AZANIA was there. How did you find yourself in this line of business? Information Computer Technology has always been my profession. I am a technologist. I have been in IT for 29 years, from the era of mainframe to date. I have worked for organisations such as IBM, Oracle and Compuware all software development administration and system administration outfits in the United States of America. I am into networking and system automation. I came back to Nigeria in 2001 and have been working with state governments including Lagos, Ondo and Bayelsa. Other firms I’ve worked for are Intercontinental Bank, The Nation, Ocean Beach Resorts and National Life.
How have you been able to add value to these organisations?
What we do is to create an automated business structure. Any state we work we always move its structure to the next level. For example, in Lagos State, we not only automated their business process, we also created infrastructure networking. From the tax stations to the central station in Alausa secretariat and all other secretariats, we created interconnectivity. We also did their networking using VSAT. There is always knowledge transfer because we don‘t plan to be here forever. There are new buildings. There are some of those we trained who took time out to understand Oracle application, and left to start their own smaller organisations, building infrastructure and doing business development applications for other businesses using Oracle tool.
What advantages does it have over others? Oracle started off as a technology company, and then the chief executive officer discovered one day that everyone was using one technology, ‘why don‘t we build ours?‘
We began integrating applications, depending on client‘s needs. Oracle itself has a turn of applications; it is a one-stop shop. To us in the business, we prefer Oracle because our business experience came out of Oracle, although we use other business software applications in our work.
Where did you start from?
It all started from Lagos State, where my wish was for the state to have a very comprehensive processing unit and to create an environment for efficiency, transparency and good source of data. At that time, I had a conversation with the governor-to-be, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and I advised that it would be better for him to automate the business system of Lagos State. Fortunately, he adopted the idea and threw up the option to a competitive bidding. Oracle, with us as partners and SAP put in bids, and the former, with us as partner won the bid round. We mobilised for funds; we sell intellectual property, our brain and the money that comes by it is ours. We put heads together to get things running, and for such a project, you know, you have to mobilise.
How did you source your working capital?
You cannot really cost this. It is the people‘s intellectual property. The starting point for a lawyer as you know is a chamber. Hopefully, you are a technologist yourself when you are about to start, and when you are not, you surround yourself with technologists, which means you have to pay salary for sometime and that does not come cheap. So, you have to sustain salary expenditure for sometime. Oracle, for example, has what we call partner programme, and when you get a bid, you will need all the technological support to pull through. When you don‘t have this, you might fail to achieve what you set out for.
How do you feel about the Indians dominating the Nigerian software application market?
You should recognise that America was built on what is referred to as cheap labour. So, America has passed it to Indians. India was the first farm of knowledge transfer so they do a lot of development over there. Then, we as Nigerians did not take time to look inwards. Of course there is this idea about property, rights or copyrights and how we are going to protect it in Nigeria. This came up a few years back , between 1990 and 1991, I worked for a company called American Software, in Atlanta, and it was mainframe. But at that time, we realised that we did not have the manpower to convert what was needed so, we decided to outsource it, CEO and the vice president, at a point toyed with the idea of some places but we did not want to go to India. One of them called me to step outside and said to me, ‘you know, back in school, I had a lot of Nigerians that were my mates very intelligent, several of them, why don‘t we get across to these people.‘ I was going to suggest a few Nigerians, and some of them too, but these days it is very possible that we can get some of these people over to America, train them and return them to Nigeria; pay them well and get them to do conversion for us. If I develop some software and a Nigerian takes it outside and calls it by some other name, how am I protected? The perception is there that Nigeria has the best brains but we need to clean out our acts. Ordinarily, we can offer something better but we cannot guarantee protection of intellectual property rights.
What are the other areas of challenges?
There are at least two. They are in the infrastructure; you call it connectivity and then, the people. People will not easily adapt to new system. For example, when the project started in Lagos State, I had less than 10 per cent of the people supporting it for fears that we would displace them or block their own way and their means of survival, and for other sundry reasons. But today, they have realised that there is transparency, and we did not displace them. Today, they are better informed and have become crusaders of automated system. They have joined the bandwagon. Don’t you feel threatened when any of your trained and trusted workers quits to set up his own firm? Basically, wherever we go we have been successful. We will continue to grow. And as a CEO, I feel happy for my members of staff, even when they leave for higher grounds; it‘s a joy if they do well.
What are the prospects for people going into the business?
Fortunately for the IT world, Nigeria has woken up. The major stumbling block is the cost because it is expensive but it could be phased. You can register for what is called Oracle business partnership. You don‘t have to work with the ‘big bank‘ approach. What you have to do is to outsource some of the components to the big ones. You can get their service, for example, as long as you can get internet connectivity. We can get light for them, and we keep them connected. They just pay for services. If you cannot keep DVAs, administrators and the rest, you can outsource. You get application service providers and network the rest. They get the application service provider and set up a server, and they are on 24 hours a day.