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Virtual tech, transforming to reality in Africa

AFrica’s technology market has clearly emerged the beautiful bride toasted by well established global business organisations. Reasons for the romance are not far- fetched. With American and European markets attaining saturation, coupled with economic and recession issues, it makes the most business sense to approach a great continent with young, aggressive, educated people, who want to make a difference and are hungry for technology.

Today most of the companies that usually service the continent from the outside are establishing multiple- presence, signifying that it is the continent of next destination in technology business.

One of such companies, Avaya technologies which over the years, has been servicing the continent from afar, four years ago, established a footprint in the continent. Today, it counts about four offices in the continent with Nigeria as servicing hub for the entire West African market.

The company’s Managing Director, Hatem Hariri, at a technology event, Technologies to engage, recently, engaged with Hi-Tech to provide insights on the big decision to pitch tent in Africa. Excerpts:

Social media driving engagement

You know before, when you have a problem, you go and talk to your wife and few friends, and that’s only probably about 7, 10 people, but today, if you have a problem, the following day, you will go on Twitter, put it on Facebook, and other social media and hundreds of thousands of people will know about the problem.

This is why Avaya is coming with solutions that are the latest of technologies to do customer service, customer experience, where you can do proactive management of the social media, of your customer experience so as to make things easier for your customers and differentiate yourself from competition and also react to any problem and customer complaints very quickly and in the right way before it’s driven to the whole market.

Quite a number of competitors came into this market before Avaya. But what we discovered was that the market was looking for alternatives with good quality. We are number one in telephony across the world, we are number one in contact center solutions across the world, and we are number one in IT telephony and unified communication. Also, on the networking side, data networking, lately we came up with a very beautiful technology.

You know there is a technology called SDN (software-defined networking) which our competition were putting on the data center on the high level type of networking, we brought it to the mid-market, we brought it to the edge, we brought it to the SMB and now we are the only vendor who provides networking at the edge level using SDN technology, which is the latest and greatest of technologies in the market.

Video for fun

For video conferencing, we acquired a company about three years ago called Radvision, which was producing all the video conferencing equipment for different vendors. We have end to end solutions on video conferencing that we integrate into out IP telephony and unified communication to provide useful solution. If, for example, I want to have a meeting with my team across Africa, I just send a link from my outlook.

All they need to do is to click on this link on their different mobile devices or PC, and we come on the video conferencing altogether from different areas in the world having a meeting and presenting. Imagine how important and easy this kind of solution will be for a territory like Nigeria that is so vast, you don’t need to travel or go through traffic to have your meetings; so, what we are doing is bringing virtuality to reality.

So whatever you need, contact center, video conferencing you can do on a small box and it starts from 2 users to 2,500 users. Also, on our video conferencing, you need low bandwidth to have a very good video conferencing conversation.

Nigeria, not for one jacket fits all

Now, in technology, the one jacket fits all approach will not really work. This is not what we are. We carefully looked at the Nigerian market and decided to open an office here and that is why our route to the market is through the people who know the market. Unlike other vendors who come here and try to take the technologies themselves, take the customers themselves, they do not transfer the knowledge to local people.

For us what we are trying to do is to transfer knowledge to Nigerians who know the dynamics of the environment. For instance, we have a training coming up for our partners on latest technologies, so they know our technology, even when we are not here they can do it, they can integrated it, they can service it, they can spot it. Many companies failed because they were doing products that don’t fit the market, or too early for the market.

Teleconferencing on the mobile phone

Our teleconferencing which is the Avaya Scopia works on any device, you just download for free from application stores and you connect either over Wi-Fi or 3G network. It will work with any operator. There is a configuration we do that with one number, I can have my conversations on any of my devices I want.

Now, here is what separates us from competitions, some other vendors lock you to their protocol. When you take a video conferencing solution from them, it removes every sense of mobility which we believe video conferencing should be about. The good about our technology is that it is open protocol that you can operate with any service provider. It needs the internet and low bandwidth.

Challenges

One big challenge is the geo-political situations in the regions. Another is terrorism. Security for us is very important, especially for our teams and employees. To bring people who will transfer the knowledge is very challenging sometimes. And the problem really is when they talk about terrorism in Northern Nigeria, some people actually think all of Nigeria is burning which is not the case.

Another challenge lately is the oil and gas price that is dropping very quickly. This is impacting the investment of the government in many of the businesses and you know when government stops investing because of certain limitations like this, all the country will stop investing because they feel something is wrong and then the economy will move very slowly.

This doesn’t mean we will stop investing, because when things pick again you need to be there, otherwise you will miss opportunities. The third challenge that is facing us is the currency devaluation which is big challenge for us and our partners. This can be very challenging; however, they are reacting very fine.

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