Olumide Samuel, CEO, Priority Communications Limited is a data communications expert. He has been in the business of providing Data/ Telecommunications services to companies especially, banks for online data communications for branch offices and ATM machines using microwave/wireless and digital leased line (DSL) within Lagos and 25 other states of the federation, for close to two decades now.
In this interview with peter ugwu, he shares the Company’s giant strides towards achieving throughput connectivity for the clientele: challenges and opportunities.
Priority Communications: In the Beginning
We started about eight years ago. About four of us commenced the operations, however, today; we are growing to over two hundred staff and partners. Currently, we operate in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia.
In Nigeria, we have operations in 26 States, offering services to the IT, telecoms, conglomerates, manufacturing, financial sector; like banks & insurance, courier companies. Essentially, our services cut across a large group in different sectors of the economy.
Company’s Experiences on Data Services since Inception
We have seen the need for telecom and data services has been on the rise over the years. Of course, it is a known fact that players in the financial sector cannot do without IT; for some of them, IT forms the core of their operations.
The concept is imperative in the era of heavy dependence on ATM machines, easy transfers; they are purely IT based. Other sectors are also catching-on, as people are beginning to realize that it is more efficient or cost-effective to adopt IT.
Even the government is now talking about e-payment: e-collection, e-taxation, among others. IT has become business enabler and the growth has been phenomenal.
For instance, a lot of courier companies are now coming out to integrate IT into their operations. We in Priority Communications are out to support them, so that they can provide optimal services to their clientele.
We are also moving to other sectors; currently, we are talking to people in the maritime, oils and gas sector; we are working with construction companies too.
Corporate Organizations Preference to Foreign Companies’ Services
You are right about that and this is a challenge to a lot of local organizations. What has helped us in Priority Communications is that we run a very structured environment.
The truth is: local companies should learn to play up to a certain international standard.
For us in Priority Communications, we do not play with ‘structures’. We put our things in proper perspectives.
Some indigenous companies have not learnt the language of corporate business; and they even lose resources along the line. For instance, when we are handling a project, we will not leave our projects in the hands of a neophyte; someone with ‘flight risks’, if I may use that phrase.
Also, the quality of our work speaks volumes for us; we always pride ourselves on that. We are delighted to have very premium customers too like the big banks in Nigeria- Zenith Bank, GTBank, Access Bank, Skye Bank, Diamond Bank, Keystone Bank, Wema Bank, Niger Insurance, Sterling Bank, Sovereign Trust Insurance, Mopol, UAC among others. We service the like of UAC, DHL and so many others; these are big players in the industries they represent. Local companies must learn to take execute contracts with utmost seriousness, because it tells about your capabilities and this has kept Priority Communications going for the past eight years.
Issues on Skills for Maximum Impact
Sincerely, it has been a challenge getting the right kind of team that shares your operational philosophy. Over the years, personnel skills development programmes take a chunk of our budget.
A lot of training and skills development institutes in Nigeria know Priority Communications very well; it is as though we run a retainer ship programme with some of them.
When you train your staff, they can help you tidy up the rough edges. For 2015, we are already coming out with our budget for trainings for all our staff. Our policy is that, on average, a staff will attend minimum of two training every year, depending on the skill requisition.
Since we started that, the qualities of our jobs are getting better; training builds confidence in the staff. Especially in data communications, we don’t joke with trainings.
Innovations in M2M, Air-Fiber, Consultancy Service, Etc
M2M Connectivity: Primarily, machine-to-machine technology helps users to have direct access to their equipment, machines or facilities, irrespective of the location.
Essentially, what we intend to offer our clients in the M2M option of connectivity is to enable them have very fast, robust and reliable access to their facilities and equipment.
This kind of measure buoys up the operations of large conglomerates, even small businesses benefit as well. We are talking about banks with many branches, down to individuals that would want to monitor what goes on in their homes, office, warehouse, etc.
It is a very reliable, consistent and cost saving measure that I encourage companies to buy into. We can almost guarantee 100% connectivity on that spectrum because we have built a lot of redundancies in terms of technology, power back-ups.
Other beauty of it is the zero-deployment time, because when you can use it instantaneously, and we can meet your locations connectivity needs, your productivity continues to grow. We also have the Air-Fiber Technology: we are trying to solve a problem that is notable in the industry.
Some of our clients actually wanted hitch-free bandwidth; therefore, the issue of fiber-cut must be taken care of. We know that almost everywhere in Nigeria a construction goes on at regular interval. So, we needed facilities that will not be subject to cuts.
Therefore, air-fiber is the combination of wireless and fiber technologies. In other words, it is wireless based, but it gives you all the benefits inherent in fiber networks, based on the bandwidth and throughput. So, when we offer you a link on the air-fiber, we are talking of gigabyte range of capacity, which is highly demanded by organizations that rely on connectivity to achieve their targets. Cost-wise, it is not that high compared to the profit accruable to the subscribers.
Consultancy Services: we have been approached by a number of our clients, especially those who want us to develop their IT architecture.
There are companies in distress on how to handle issues such as network design, network expansion plans, among others. It means that anybody can walk into Priority Communications and get his choice designs, even when they are mid-platform range…
…How About SMES?
Actually, every category is covered. Just like every nation that wants to increase its economic developmental changes must not toy with the SMEs, companies like ours take SMEs very seriously.
So, we visit the client’s base, take audit of its operations and requirements and get to design or advice on how they can improve.
Challenges of Nurturing Businesses in Nigeria
Power is a major constraint. It is not just about us, rather a national call. The cost of providing alternate power supply has continued to rise. However, as a business person you just have to move on, because there are always ways to go around the challenges.
For us, it is something we strive to overcome, if not, we wouldn’t be in operation till today; though I must frankly say that the impacts on our margins are there too. Another challenge is the insecurity in the North. The other notable challenge is funding.
Nevertheless, we have been favoured; as a structured organization, banks can afford to trust us with some (loan) facilities on regular basis. Maybe apathy against local businesses by some organizations, however, we at Priority Communications have never seen it as a case.
We have tried to live above that level, meeting international standards with our service supports. Early last year, we went about upgrading our technologies, because of our passion to remain relevant with trends in the today’s business, which a lot of Nigerian companies would shy away from. At least, it is not at any additional cost to the clients; rather, it is for your optimal performance. A business ought to be at its best to retain the clients’ confidence.
It’s tough letting some people understand that this business does not grow over-night. Anything that is tied to the government, as a business person, would always have certain limits.
However, for us at Priority Communications, everything that is a challenge is an opportunity to innovate. I think that whenever we see challenges, the next thing should be: “what is the way out of?”
It is true that double taxation is there, but when you look at it, you just have to do business. People use to say, “if you can do business and succeed in Nigeria, there is no place you cannot succeed”.
These are the peculiarities of our environments and to a large extent, people are getting their jobs down. At a time, people said, because of the crisis in the Niger-Delta businesses will shut down indefinitely, but some people found a way around it; petroleum keeps coming from there.
If we talk about ‘area-boys’ (touts), is the government really interested in solving the problem? They only need to engage them in the system. After sometime, it will phase out.
Today, the telecoms Company have embraced co-hosting, minimizing costs and reducing risks. The challenges out there, no doubt jerk up the costs of rendering services.
That is why people are clamouring for interventions. As providers, maybe we are not doing enough businesses to accommodate those costs. So, the business models and processes should generate more money for a company to withstand the shocks that follow the costs.
For instance, if I have 200 customers in Oshodi axis and somebody says I should pay N500, 000 to allow me to work in Oshodi, I need to pay based on the expected to returns, but when just two customers are located there, it will be difficult to extend my network to that place.
Inherently, it will affect the government, because even the State Governments carry out tax audit and they leave your office disappointed, because they see that the operators are not making money as they perceived.
First, this year we plan to build a very large data centre in the Lekki axis. By end of first quarter we will have more details on that. It is coming based on the requests by our clients who want facility that is off-site.
We are also planning to expand our operations to other African countries and continents. Apart from consolidating on the places we are present, we want to move to areas where our clients are located.
Even in Nigeria, we have seen we have not gone close to what our capacities can afford. So, we hope to open more offices in some States. If I tell you that Priority Communications is working massively in Sokoto, it might not be easy to believe, but we serve almost 50% of banks in the State.
Even in Kano, Maiduguri; in fact, we hope to grow in those areas. It is our prayer that the security situations in those areas be solved. We have about five offices in Lagos and hope to increase it to 10 before the year runs out.
That will enable us provide more value added services to our clients. We have also started the process to engage additional 60 engineers before the middle of the year.