Tuesday, January 5, 2010

As the Decade Begins


It’s 2010 and a fresh new decade has begun. The “noughties” saw tremendous advances in technology. This was best represented in Nigeria by the explosion of cell phone usage. The new decade will be the age of the internet – the mobile internet in particular. We already see the beginnings of this in Nigeria with the increasing popularity of blackberries and the milestones recorded by opera mobile, with Nigeria being in their top ten growth lists last year. Once again, we will almost certainly see Nigerians leapfrogging existing technology by adopting the mobile internet, particularly on phones, far more than on PCs and laptops.

The big question is how are you going to use the technology currently at your fingertips and coming just round the corner? With a purely cursory look at the research done by Web Trends Nigeria, Nigerians read news and talk in forums as the vast majority of their activities online. If I am going to be harsh about it, this really means that more often than not, what we do online isn’t very useful in the great scheme of things. Look at it this way, if you stopped most of what you do on the internet today, how much poorer will your life be? If your answer is – “not much poorer” or even “richer” then in 2010 and beyond, you need to rethink how you use technology. I have a few suggestions to make in that regard. Many of them are things that I have blogged about in the past 11 months, so this sort of serves as a bit of a look-back at the past year on this blog. It also feeds off last week’s blog post in which I created my 2010 wish-list. Lastly my suggestions are for institutions as well as individuals. So if you use the internet at home, or your run a business or serve in some government agency, or work in an organisation, these suggestions are for you.

1. Use the internet to make services easier to access for the citizenry. Lagos state, UME, and a few others have been using the Internet as medium for people to register for things, pay rates and taxes and get useful information. I would suggest that the ministries of information and science and technology (does that ministry exist?) come up with a unified strategy to enable every single government agency at all tiers of government go digital and connected. I believe they can deliver this framework within the next 3 years.

2. Get educated. Formal and informal educational opportunities are all over the internet. If you just want the knowledge or you want a certificate to go with it, then there are vast resources for you. Youtube.com/edu, Itunes University, my alma mater, University of Liverpool Online, and very many more, you can get enough to elevate your mind. I would suggest you decide on a 6 month or one year target of some specific body of knowledge you want to educate yourself in and look up what’s available to get you there.

3. Use the internet for activism. Most of us care strongly about one thing or the other. AIDS. The plight of the homeless. Electricity (Light Up Nigeria). Education. The internet is a great way to get the word out and drum up support on a variety of issues. Facebook Causes is a tool on Facebook specially designed for activism.

4. Get into the great online marketplace. Ecommerce is one of the great opportunities of the internet that is really yet to take off in Nigeria. There has been the historical problem of payment systems that have largely been solved, but there is the much bigger concern over internet fraud and scams that will be harder to overcome. So this particular suggestion is a multipronged one. The payment processors, Interswitch, Valucard and others, show put in place systems and education to help Nigerians be more protected and feel more protected for online transactions. Secondly, there is great opportunity for new entrants into the space to address some of the issues from new and interesting angles, so you bright internet entrepreneurs out there come up with something. Thirdly, if you sell something, please introduce a full online shopping solution, to give the opportunity to get at your products without having to contemplate getting stuck in traffic. Lastly, those of us with buying power should get willing to explore the use of ecommerce and online payment systems. You can start with bill payment which many banks offer and move on to online purchases at sites like www.MegaPlazaMall.com. Having said that, I am not advocating going on a spending spree. Just explore more ways to get your shopping done.

5. Banks should provide more online services. I know, I know. With the recent issues caused by mismanagement and the CBN’s dealing with those issues and with the job losses in the industry, the banks are not exactly focusing on IT innovations right now. Still to get ahead and stay ahead the banks need to provide new and better ways to get at their services. It is telling that GTB’s website is in the top ten visited sites (at least in December) as reported by Web Trends Nigeria. I bank with GTB and they are miles ahead of my previous bank, Union Bank, in what they provide online. However, I would like to see more. One of the things I found interesting about personal financial management software like Microsoft Money and the new darling on the block – Mint.com, was the ability to integrate with your bank account for budgeting, automated bill payment and a host of other personal services. I would challenge GTB and other banks to look to providing similar services that make their online services richer.

6. Listen more. As I said earlier, we spend an inordinate amount of time consuming information on the internet. I would like to recommend the same for our service providers. The companies that sell to us and take our money need to listen to us more. More Nigerian businesses have become turned onto Facebook, Twitter and other solutions to engage with customers. More businesses ought to do that and for those who do, we would like to see the outcome of that engagement. The aforementioned GTB uses both Facebook and Twitter to communicate with users, but I don’t see as much response to issues actually been dealt with via these forums as there could be. MTN, my favourite whipping horse, had a twitter account for all of 5 minutes, then it disappeared.  If any business  merely uses Twitter as a marketing environment, then it will be wasting a great opportunity to cement relationships with customers.

7. Give a computer to someone who doesn’t have one. Now this isn’t strictly the internet, but giving someone a computer will certainly be a step to providing access to it and even without internet access, a computer is a great tool for a variety of uses.

8. Use it or give it up. Taking off from the last point, if you have a computing resource, whether a computer, a computer textbook, a piece of software taking up gigabytes of space on your PC, internet access or something else digitally related, I would encourage you in 2010 to either find some productive use for it, find someone who will find productive use for it, or else throw it out. If it is software uninstall it or delete it. Go through the year without unnecessary clutter or waste.

Almost every one of the suggestions I listed above are also great opportunities for smart Nigerians to bring businesses online to address these concerns or provide these services. As I congratulate Loy Okezie on the launch of www.StartUpsNigeria.org, I would like to again add my voice to the call for Nigerians to get creative with the internet and information technology.

What would you suggest to Nigerians on the technology front in 2010 and beyond?



1 comment:

Loy Okezie said...

Nice piece, Dej. I totally agree with your ideas on how Nigerians can make good use of technology.

You've touched virtually every aspect of how technology can help businesses and individuals to maximize their time on the Internet.

Need I say more?

By the way, thanks for the mention;-)

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