Charles Harrington is the vice president of Corporate Development and Marketing (NETCOM) Africa. In this interview with journalists, Harrington speaks about the evolution of IT in Nigeria, the need for businesses to go cloud and how colocation and shared telecommunication infrastructure can be used to bring down the cost of internet in the country. NKECHI ISAAC was there.
As an IT consulting firm, Network has evolved from IT infrastructure to consultancy, why?
When Netcom entered the market 15 years ago, we were primarily an internet service provider with a focus on corporate clients. As time went on our customers’ demands for more solutions led us to expand our service offerings. Our focus has not shifted from the corporate market, but our area of expertise now lies in connectivity, managed services such as Office 365, Virtual servers using Azure and Amazon, infrastructure as a service, and IT Outsourcing. Our IT outsourcing in particular is one area that is gaining a lot of momentum. We decided to look at the IT needs of firms and we offer to handle the day to day duties of a company’s IT staff allowing them to focus on their core competencies while we handle their technology. In addition to taking over the responsibilities, we also set a technology roadmap showing them where they are and where we want to bring them to.
Cloud Server and Colocation is the new way to go. Do you think Nigerian firms are ready for this and what solutions do you have in place for the Nigerian marketplace?
Nigerian companies are becoming more ready every day. One trend that I have noticed is that Nigeria is typically a bit behind in technology trends and then we leap to close that gap. This is what I am seeing with cloud servers and data center colocation as well. A couple of years ago companies would shudder to think that could put their servers in someone else’s server room or data center, and even worse to put it in the cloud! Today companies here in Nigeria are embracing the idea. At Netcom we offer data center colocation as well as VMs. In addition we now offer Amazon and Microsoft VMs and we have in-house experts to set up and manage these solutions for your company.
With tons of data used today, what solutions do you have in the area of backup and recovery?
One of our solutions for data backup and recovery is eVault. All companies should take data security seriously and it’s only after a disaster that some people think of it. Power outages, hardware failures, ransomware and even human error are threats that could compromise your servers. We can custom tailor a data backup solution for whatever environment you have so that you can feel confident knowing your critical data and systems can be recovered in such an event. Network security, event monitoring and access are few of the solutions that we have in place.
Do you think it’s proper for businesses to move from Data Center to Cloud, is it cheaper for them?
Well, cloud isn’t necessarily cheaper in the long run but there are lots of advantages. There are recurrent charges, but one advantage is that you don’t need to worry about power and infrastructure. It is more secured, it is easier to access and you don’t have to worry over many things like downtime and all what not. It is much easier to deploy and more convenient.
What is your approach in Nigeria especially in the deployment of ERP solution?
I think our approach is unique. What a lot of companies will do is provide you with whatever ERP you want and then spend countless hours, months, years even to customize it for you. When this method is done you may as well hire your own team and build your own ERP from scratch. What we try and do is pair you with the ERP that fits best with your requirements. The more you can use the ERP out of the box, how it was designed the better.
As an infraco and data center provider and you are now into IT consultancy, how do you bridge the gap of data center usage in an era of big data?
Example is Microsoft. Microsoft is in Nigeria, but doesn’t sell directly to end users. Microsoft uses their authorized experts to sell to the end users. These multinationals took these critical business decisions that they don’t have to worry about implementation; they know firms like us are capable of implementation and deployment. So, this is where we either come in or bridge the gap. We have a lot of organizations that we are their intermediary like Microsoft and Avaya. We have the competent support system and skill to ensure that we get the implementation done. This is one way we try to bridge this gap in a big data economy that Nigeria is trying to come to terms with. These organizations believe in our capacity to handle the deployment and implementations for these globally acclaimed ICT firms in Nigeria. Companies feel secure dealing with us, most companies are moving away from hosting their servers on premises and they outsource these things to us because we have the competency. So we are bridging this gap nicely.
As an IT firm, what advice for firms that want to secure their data from physical to virtual and how do you render support?
The move to the cloud is never easy, and it’s even scary for some. Change is something that we as humans fear the most, but we can all agree that with constant improvement change is best. Part of the big change for data is moving it to the cloud and then try to make it easy as possible for our clients. We go in and look at all of the data need that they have and help develop a plan for what they need to move. You would be surprised at how much data they don’t actually need to move, or that’s been duplicated or simply unnecessary.
Your smart building solution is awesome, how many projects have you done in Nigeria and why should Nigerian corporates go for NETCOM?
We’ve a handful now and see many more coming up in the near future. Our smart building solution in another product that was borne out of a need from our clients. There are many companies providing facility management service, but how many of those companies specialize in IT? That’s how we filled another gap in the market. We build out and maintain the entire building of IT infrastructure ensuring that the tenants have access to the latest technology and that the infrastructure is safely and professionally managed by a single company.
The right of way is one thing that you have to contend with as an infraco, how have you been able to surmount this?
Right of way is and will continue to be a huge barrier as long as all parties both public and private fail to come together and start to share infrastructure. As it is there are so many levels of government who have a stake in the RoW charges from federal to state to local. For national penetration to happen there needs to be one entity to deal with and then cooperation with all of the telcos.
If you are to advise, what are the best way to ensure that Nigerian regulators create an enabling environment in IT and communication ecosystem?
Well I’m certainly not in any position to advise the regulators but if you asked my opinion, “penetration though cooperation” is what comes to mind.
Can you tell me about your new IP telephony solutions?
With our new Cloud PBX systems, inter-company communications is simple. There is no need to have physical box or server in your office anymore, everything runs on cloud. People might choose not to have their desk phone anymore but might decide to have their phones on their computers or their smartphones. This reduces the capital expenditures for the organization and moves it to an OPEX model. We have partnered with Avaya, a global leader for this solution. All the client needs is an app on the computer or the phone and the licence. We have similar solutions for call centers as well.
Can the offsite workers use this or the busy executive that is on the go have this?
Yes, you know that people usually give out their mobile numbers to people to contact them, but with this cloud PBX you don’t need to do that, you can just give your extension for people to reach or communicate to you .The clients can also call you with this extension and you can communicate or have seamless access to your office. The need to give out your personal number would be reduced especially for those that do not want to give their cell phone numbers out. Once you have a data plan on your phone, this cloud PBX is meant for you.
Nigeria is a data consuming country with lots of data breaches. As a data specialist, how can you advise firms?
Data breaches are lot more frequent lately, and this trend is going to continue, the best thing for companies to do is to ensure they get the protection that they need before the breach. We encourage companies to have their mails on the clouds, their emails and file storage should be in the cloud. With bring your own device (BYOD) policies in place in some organizations today, companies must have their firewalls and put inside systems in place to protect themselves from security breach both internal and external.
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