As a part of the Rotimi Akeredolu Governorship campaign, I was involved in proffering ideas on how to contribute to the Technology aspect of the campaign manifesto. In doing so, I focused on a part of the recent technology revolution I believed the State could tap into in a relatively short period of time and make rapid impact.
Harnessing The Growing ICT Industry Worldwide.
The World Bank recently implored the Nigerian Government to diversify its sources of revenue in order to reduce its dependence on oil revenue. This call was incited by the uncertainty of the price of crude oil. It is not news that crude oil accounts for over 90 percent of exports and well over 70 percent of the consolidated government revenues. Other areas of the economy that account for the remainder 30% include; agriculture, banking and telecommunications. Significant emphasis has been placed on developing agriculture but a particular industry that has been only but a bleep on Nigeria’s economic radar could turn out to be a major force if developed effectively; The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and software industry.
What do computers need? software. What do smartphones have? Apps (Mobile Software Applications). What do governments and industries need to function in this digital era? software solutions. Why can’t all these be done indigenously? Nigeria, unlike most developed countries is just entering the digital era and there aren’t enough ICT solutions to meet our unique political, economic and cultural landscape. Although there are a lot of opportunities in all parts of ICT, the most lucrative in the short term is mobile application development.
More than 1 billion people will use mobile devices as their primary internet access point in 2012. Mobile internet adoption has doubled or tripled since 2007. This trend is expected to increase year on year as people adopt mobile devices as their primary computing tool especially in developing countries where classic computers are expensive or impractical. Mobile phone sales are expected to outsell computers in a few years! Even in Nigeria, over 50% of MTN users use smartphones! The potential for this industry is unprecedented.
A case in point is the growth of the gaming industry in Argentina. This industry developed without the help of the government and has resulted in a major export industry. Specifically, as revealed by CNN, 3,000 techies are generating export of $55m worth of video game software. This feat has been accomplished without government assistance. A lot of emphasis should be placed on techies. Why? These individuals do not necessarily have 4yr degrees or advanced degrees. They are primarily equipped with basic computers, the internet and the desire to learn programming and develop what people want.
In addition to Argentina, Worldwide mobile gaming revenue could reach $7.5 billion by 2015 and the bulk of these monies are concentrated in Asia and the United States. The power of the industry cannot be underestimated. Another interesting case in point is the famed angry birds’ game franchise. This game started off as an app in late 2009 to become a worldwide sensation that generates $1 – 6 million per month purely from ads. The Power of the mobile application industry cannot be underestimated; neither can Nigeria be left out of making a name for itself, not just in mobile gaming, but application development as a whole.
In a broader sense, the US app industry is presented as the case study to show the potential of application development. The Mobile app industry accounts for nearly 500,000 Jobs in America in less than 5 years with over $20 Billion in revenue (TechNet). These numbers stem from an industry that was nonexistent in 2008, or in other words, it took less than 3yrs to create half a million jobs from nothing. The mobile analysis firm Gartner estimates that by 2013, number of app downloads will be over 49 billion as compared to mere 2.5 bn in 2009. This is almost 20 fold increase in app downloads. We must tap into this growth. How important is this to Nigeria as a country or Africa as a whole? Techcrunch journalist put it best;
If you want to become extremely wealthy over the next five years, and you have a basic grasp of technology, here’s a no-brainer: move to Africa. This is because Africa is a continent that is driven by a larger population of younger generation who embrace technology!
With Nigeria being the fastest growing mobile market in all of Africa with a population of over 160 million, most of whom are vibrant youths, it is clear where all the potential for growth resides. It will be a tremendous failure on the part of Nigeria’s government if it fails to nurture this nascent industry into the world class revenue generating machine it has the potential of becoming.
With the foundation laid for the importance of developing a silicon valley of sorts in Nigeria, one must consider the issue at hand. What has prevented the development of this industry in Nigeria? What are the strengths of developing such an industry? What solutions do we currently have on ground that can be harnessed?
Extensive research has revealed that the core infrastructures needed to promote ICT development are non-existent. They include;
- High cost of acquiring the basic knowledge and skills to begin developing applications.
- Under par infrastructure (Electricity, internet connection and computing support services)
- Extremely high costs of doing business in Nigeria and the relatively small online market
- Lack of effective tutelage & guidance by experienced individuals in the field
- The Lack of easy access and the high cost of procuring the core tools for ICT development; Internet connection, Software etc.
- Public apathy towards locally generated content
- Economic challenges felt by current software developers that result in abandoning of projects or hastened low quality applications
- Lack of access to key application resources that promote finished products to consumers/ end users.
- Limited access to the right atmosphere where likeminded individuals can brainstorm and get professional assistance throughout the app development process.
- Alienation of application developers from the rest of society.
- Lack of detailed matrix of where the industry is. Data acquisition, stats and analysis are not easily available to help steer the trajectory of software developers to meet the key needs of potential customers.
- Lack of an Open Government, Open Data and Mobile government initiatives
These issues, although prevalent are overwhelmed by the overall strength of developing an ICT culture in Ondo state. Some of the key strengths of software development include;
- The relatively cheap cost of empowering individuals; all one needs to get going is a computer, descent internet connection and software tools that are reasonably priced or free in many cases.
- The ubiquity of the internet ensures that any app developed is not just limited in scope to Nigeria. Every app has a potential reach of billions of individuals.
- The exponential growth of mobile devices means that the need for applications for different people, different cultures, and different needs will never die. Demand will continually increase.
- The African App/software industry is virtually untapped. Lack of local content ensures that locally exclusive content have the potential to grow exponentially.
- Ondo state is a highly intellectual state and as such the mind power is present. It only needs to be harnessed and put into use.
- Relatively cheap real estate and cost of living in Ondo state can easily lure software developers and investors from the current core; Lagos state.
- ICT has the potential to influence every aspect of society; health, transportation, education, industry. The overall benefit to government is tremendous.
- ICT has the potential of creating a spillover effect where developers employ marketers, other developers, managers, designers, support staff, thereby positively impacting the entire economy of the state.
- Creating the environment for software growth has the potential to lure other sources of revenue from companies and investors who intend to tap into it.
Establishments exist in Nigeria that actively promotes ICT adoption and development. CCHub, PIN, NIIT, APTECH etc. to name a few, most of which are private enterprises whose primary goal in the end is to make profit. PIN is the only exception and has been able to gain traction in promoting technology literacy in Nigeria. These establishments are integral to ensuring the growth of this industry devoid of government bureaucratic approach to tackling issues, and as such must be active partners in developing and running an ICT based initiative. Nonetheless, Government must play a role in kick starting and expediting this process. The suggestions for Government participation in making this happen are listed below;
- Develop multiple ICT parks in strategic areas of the state (preferably in close proximity to institutions of higher learning.
- These parks must consist of Knowledge development through classroom styled tutelage and mentor-ship.
- The park must include access to all computing resources needed to develop the prowess an individual needs; physical and E-libraries, computing centers, developer experts.
- The park must also have the right atmosphere to foster team building and collaboration outside of class structure. This includes; group software projects; large project rooms where random people can interact and assist each other; software showcases and forums. A library of core tools developed by indigenous developers.
- Develop an initiative where computers, software and other resources needed are provided to both secondary and tertiary institutions to promote software and application development.
- Provide scholarships and grant money for promising developer projects and see its adoption in state related affairs or assist with promoting these software.
- Commission state type software projects that meet specific state needs such as financial transparency software, tax applications and software.
- Partner with corporations using the cost share approach to commission software development projects that will benefit developers, the private and public section concurrently.
- Create initiatives to educate young individuals to embrace technology. These could be achieved through workshops, programming competitions and app show cases.
- Partner with foreign institutions in importing experts in areas such as programming and entrepreneurship which should give developers not just programming tools, but business tools they need to promote their software (merchandise) to consumers.
With these in mind, we anticipate that a lot can be achieved in building the technical knowhow of the people of Ondo state in addition to creating a lucrative industry that will be self-sustaining in the not to distance future. Although emphasis was placed on mobile software, this project can accommodate every form of software development as the tools used for mobile and those for conventional computing are exactly the same. Most importantly, such a project almost ensures a totally new revenue generating industry which if implemented right, can supersede oil, agriculture and federal allocations.