Olufemi Williams<br />Chams Plc, Nigeria’s leading Nigerian company has evolved over the last three decades from computer and hardware maintenance to the provision of enterprise technology solutions in identity management and identity transaction systems for the public and private sectors. Interestingly, MR. OLUFEMI WILLIAMS, the managing director of the firm, started his career at Chams as a youth corps member and rose through the ranks to the current position he occupies. The Fellow of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) and the Institute of Credit Administration (ICA) spoke on the Focus of a CEO in this interview with NNAMDI NWOKOLO.
We are not a young company as we are incorporated in 1985 as the first indigenous company to go into computer maintenance. Around year 2000, we stumbled on the National ID platform and it changed the company’s focus towards smart card technology and solutions. In the year 2008/09, we added payment systems to it and that led us to get the various licenses needed to operate. Afterwards, we added transactional systems to our operations. We are the first home-grown company to be listed in the Guinness Book of Records for setting up the mega ChamsCity Digital Mall and the first computer technology company listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. Our Specialties as a group span Identity Management, Biometric Solution Platforms; Business Process Outsourcing Services; Electronic and Card Payment Systems; Mobile Payments; ATM sales, deployment and support; POS deployment and support.
Last year was a very challenging year for entrepreneurs, what are your expectations in the New Year? As you rightly pointed out, the year 2016 was a very difficult and challenging year for Nigerian entrepreneurs because we had a new government which did not get to work on time. You could rightly say that business in the public sector was completely shutdown in 2016. I expect increased activity in the public sector area which forms part of our business. Apart from that, we experienced some challenges of depression, inflation and recession to which many of us (business managers) are trying to understand the real impact of what we could do and all our strategy are meant to take care of the seeming challenges. I’m much hopeful in the year 2017 as surviving the recession all depends on how well prepared you are as well as how well you understand the market.
What are the critical factors for business success?
In the Nigerian business environment, for you to succeed, you really need to look more into local sourcing by increasing your capacity to generate things that ordinarily would have been imported. For us in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry, we are lucky to have a lot of sleeping talents all around the country that we are now harnessing to make sure we develop significant or increasing volume/fractions of our solutions locally.
The second one is that we are refocusing the market in the area of mass market as the days of contracting are disappearing, whether in the public sector or in the private sector. We are focusing more on the mass market where we may not make a billion Naira but we will make one naira a billion times, as it will be much more sustainable, enduring and ch allenging as well. I believe that the ability to learn how to manage the things you cannot change is also very important. For example, the foreign exchange is unpredictable, so you need to fashion out strategies on how to deal with it. There’s also need to strategise on how to deal with the traditional challenges of power and communications as well to survive the recession.
What can government do differently to make doing business easier in the country?
Government will always be government and because we cannot control government, we have to strategically operate within the regulatory provisions of the government. The fluctuating foreign exchange rate is a very big challenge to anybody that deals with the business of importation. I know it has killed a lot of institutions as nobody can predict the direction. The element of predictability needs to be there. The interest rate is also just too high and it makes it difficult for organizations to have access to funding. Of course, the infrastructures that are needed to power businesses must be made better. It is always very disheartening when I have to sign cheques for diesel; the figures are always very high that you can only imagine the amount we are spending on that factor of production. Taxation is also an issue that the government needs to look at as it is the avenue businesses are being killed daily.
What are the prospects of enterprise development especially in your industry?
ICT especially have somehow crept into almost every profession. All enterprise and industry need to be careful and watch out for what is called disrupters as seen in the transportation industry. Uber has changed the face of the industry without owning a single vehicle. In the publishing industry, suddenly, ebay and amazon has also disrupted the industry for good. The number of Photographers is equally reducing as almost everyone has the tool for photography. We have to be very careful as the business environment is equally changing, so also is culture. Enterprises should be prepared for disrupters and business and cultural changes in the environment.
The way businesses are done is changing rapidly so, business managers should need to be on the strategy desk every minute to survive in the ever changing business environment. Public Private Partnership is something that would have salvaged government but we haven’t seen good examples. Government cannot do it all alone as their systems are not working but the private sector institutions can be co-opted to assist government to do it. The challenge lies in managing the profit expectations as well as managing the social aspect of government. We burnt our fingers in the National ID scheme which we so much believed in and spent good resources on it because identity management is the panacea to the challenges bedeviling our country including corruption etc.
Local content in card production:
The business of card production is a massive project, so you need to have sustainably, markets that can consume million of cards every year before you can go into card manufacturing. What we do at the moment is to personalize the cards. For example, apart from SIM cards, the number of cards that all the banks issue in a year is not big enough to have a sustainable plant in the country. If there’s a market that can consume the cards in a year, it will be profitable to site a plant in the country. If government bans the importation of cards, if it is effective, it will encourage local manufacturing of cards.
In five years:
In five years, we would have turned around the fortunes of the company by making impact in the three major industries that we dominate. We would have localized and even exported most of our technology as that is where we are going. That is my vision as I became the Managing Director last year when the founding father, Mr. Aladekomo retired. Our passion for impacting and improving the quality of life through our innovative solutions shines through, time and again, in key sectors of the Nigerian economy we serve.