The Group Managing Director of Chams Plc, Mr. Femi Williams, in this interview with KAYODE TOKEDE speaks on the aggressive steps taken by the Information Technology processing company to support federal government and state government’s drive to kick out ghost workers in ministries, departments and agencies, among other issues.
You have been managing the company for two years, can you tell us your achievements and challenges?
For the challenges, the ones peculiar to Chams, are that the macro economy has been unstable due to dwindling global oil prices. Not just that environment; the Information Technology industry has been very turbulent.
The company has been in existence for 32 years. We have transformed the business over the years. We commenced another level of transformation in order to reform our focus to make the company offer services to our modern customers.
Over the years, the attributes of users have changed; the environment has changed as well. So, processes cannot be done as it was done before. So, currently the company is into another level of transformation.
Around 2005 and 2006, when we got the opportunity of the National identity card, we translated the focus of the company to identity management and card solutions. So, we are busy going through another phase of transformation of the company now and that started around one year ago.
We are in a millennium era where Information Technology is advancing, what are the areas Chams has diversified to?
Chams has a history that we are very proud of. For six years, we took identity management as our core focus that led us to the Biometric Verification Number (BVN) projects, National Identification projects, a lot of project like that is going in states, and some in the private sectors.
In the last two years, we have taken the business to another level. Now, we do intelligent business solutions on top of identity data we have created. The solution we are carrying out include ‘CONFIRM ME’ that sit on top of many identity data that allow companies and people who wants to do business services access those databases to confirm people’s identity. There is a company called kaikai.com that grants loans to people within six hours without them meeting the customer.
All what they need is by accessing needed information on the credit bureau to check if a customer does not have any outstanding debt.
They go to our enginewww.confirmme.com for validation and the loan will be granted in a short period of them.
The Insurance companies, Bureau De Change (BDC) among other operators are using our engine to provide services to their customers. So, we move our business focus a bit higher than the identification route the company was doing before.
Chams is a company that handles payroll automation for staff audit and verification; yet, we have reports of ghost workers at federal, states and local governments’ level. Could it be because governments are not embracing digital age of identification?
You can link that into corruption but we had the opportunity working with some states. Chams was in those states to identify and eradicate ghost workers. We understand identity management very well and we know how to profile staff. We know how to duplicate and ensure that the right person is captured.
We deployed technologies into states to filter pay wage roll such that we eliminate the incidences of ghost workers and normalize a situation where somebody that is not graduate will get to level 16 in government.
We also normalize tax conditions and have generated much more reliable sorted database for government that allows government decision and actions.
It is our comprehensive solution to remove incident of duplicates and automate the process of payroll processes. We have recently added another level of intelligence to our application where people doself services.This applies to worker’s leave, raise a complain and other staff related matters. All the states we operates payroll system is trusted by both the government and workers, that is the key sector factor.
We also have a solution of ‘Confirm Me’, a platform we have created because we work with reference identity database.
We have also integrated the platform to school’s database for ease of degree verification and if I want to verify who you are, I can get to find out a lot about you right in front of me.With the credit bureau, your fingerprint with BVN is accessed in the database. Of course we have a signed contract with the data sources.
Chams is diverting into agriculture in collaboration with CBN and BOA. What will be the impact on the company and economy at large?
When the BVN project was conceived, it was meant to be operated in the banking hall. Now, the banking industry is saturated with BVN. We decided to bring those machines outside the financial institutions and the solutions were brought to villages.
We are in 20 states now, registering people, registering them on the BVN platform. The reason for doing this is that the CBN had said no BVN, no credit. And one of the major focus of current government is to allow farmers to have access to credit since they are doing huge intervention in the agriculture sector.
On top of that, we have started innovating solution that makes management and giving of the loan easy. In the past, Government used to buy solutions abroad, but we have now created better solutions and started deploying those ideas to assist government. And not only have we added identity but we are giving intelligent solutions to states that have allows us to do so.
In what ways is Chams collaborating with private companies aside government?
We hardly do contracts with public sector anymore but rather partnership, where we assist government to add value. And in some areas of government where the assistance is paid for by citizens, we have in place a sharing formula between us and the government.
We cannot just operate in the public sector like that. We have to grow private sector gradually while introducing new products that are saleable to them.
All we need from government is National Identification and it is not just that, we have connection with BVN, schools,credit bureau, among others. What we had is to put a gateway, an artificial intelligent system that can merge data from these data collection bases and give intelligent information about people. That is not related to public sector at all.
We are building many more solutions that are private sector focus. Currently, we have a solution that manages information for organisations. Our transition to the private sector has to be gradual. Not that the public sector is bad but we have to relate with public sector in a less risky area, unlike what we had before when we were leading the National ID project.
A lot of effort, strategy, marketing and solution went into it. Unfortunately, government has their own wisdom and the result is what we have today.
We are growing the private sector solution and influence to grow our market share while reducing influence in the public sector area. The percentage is 55 per cent and 45 per cent; we are more of private sector solution Provider Company. We even hope to leverage more in the private sector, like 70 per cent by the end of this year.
Even when we deal with government, many of them are partnership where we create value for government and share value. Where governments interface with the public, it is the public that pay our fees as commission from the services delivered.
If you look at our 2016 financial statement, it is not that the company made an operational loss. There were provision issuesof what we had done with the National ID.
Consequences of receivable from public sector related issues. The company is still suffering from those consequences.
But by the grace of God, we wrote off those things at the end of 2016. We will definitely make profit this year. We are working on restructuring the balance sheet because we have some value in our record that the company underused, but those are still undergoing consideration.
In the last two years, we have been making operational profit for the year but there are provision issues that must be corrected.
What areas of the real sectors is Chams planning to diversify into?
We are divesting into agriculture, education and providing solutions for associations. We are also doing something that we are going to launch in the medical industry.
The solution in the medical industry will transform the industry for good. It is one of those things we are planning in fourth quarter of 2017.
What factor is responsible that listed Information Technology driven companies are not performing to expectation compared to other jurisdiction?
I started by saying Nigerian economy situation was challenging. Our sector is much more challenging because things are changing. Nobody can say what is going to happen in three years. Changes are happening every moment. Everybody has to be on their toes for new solutions, and new intelligence every year.
We don’t do two year strategy any longer. We even have to reduce to six months because new opportunities and framework keeps evolving, that is a global trend.
The new innovation outside the shore of Nigeria might sweep off a company and it is expected you find a place to be competitive. Government cannot stop Uber and Facebook. The Information technology sector is changing the way things are done. So it is going to be like that for a while. Some are doing well because they planted services in some key essential sectors but some technology are upcoming that will disrupt all that.
It is by continuously staying in innovative mode that will make a difference between success and failure. We have been around for 30 years and we have gone through all these. Nigeria has been in recession, yet Chams survived and so we are so positive about making the company greater.
Is Chams in partnership with foreign companies?
We implemented BVN in partnership with Dermalog. Almost on every solutions, we enter partnership with one form of foreign companies while we have our core technologies. We have been dealing with data card solutions for 20 years. The Dermalog relationship is over 16 years. We act as a local partner for them in Nigeria. In our industry as well, we partner because things change rapidly.
Any benefit derived from listing your shares on the Nigerian Stock Exchange?
The first one is about corporate governance. That alone keeps companies disciplined at all times. Apart from that, companies do access funds from the capital market.
We hope that when the economy fully bounces back, we will go back to that Exchange to raise fresh capital in order to move the business to another level.
We also get free and easy publicity because people see the name all the time. Any announcement takes the company all round the world.
Company can perform badly and still be listed on the stock exchange but you must be disciplined to be there by filing your accounts and other disclosure.
What are Chams’ targets in five to ten years?
We have done well in Nigeria economy; we now have international focus. Don’t ask for anything 10 years in Information Communication technology industry because you will miss it big time. We have a three years target to be in three African countries. We have set out our plans on how to achieve those targets in three years.