Use of ICT in Ghana – Interview I granted Graphic Business.

I had an interview with Graphic Business and some excepts of the interview was published in the 3rd March publication of the paper, page 16. Here is the full interview.

DreamOval, the company and how it was formed:

DreamOval is a company that specializes in development of mobile and internet software solutions.
The company was formed in 2007 by a group of Ashesi Graduates who had completed school in December 2006. The average age of the company team members is 25.1 years. They were barely 3 months after school when the idea of starting a business was conceived.

DreamOval was started with the prime objective of creating a superior Africa where technology was at the core of every business process in Africa. We wanted these technologies running these processes to be DreamOval-Built technologies. We chose to push our agenda through e-commerce and mobile technology because we believed at that time that the future of global software would be internet and mobile based. We knew that internet and mobile would rule the world and wanted to own a part of that revolution, that is if not be a global player, then we want to be the answer to Africa’s Digital Dream.

How is the company performing now?

DreamOval is doing great. We have been able to break into the market and acquired some major clients like Fidelity Bank, Ghana Home Loans, Grameen Foundation USA, etc. We have also been working on major projects in Mobile Health, Banking and Finance and Real Estate. We can now refer ourselves as a growing business and not necessarily a start up.

It has not been easy all the same. We have faced some major challenges along the way. Key challenges we faced in the beginning were really credibility issues. Nobody knew us and this made the cost of entry rather expensive in terms of energy and time. We required a lot of sacrifice, had to forfeit salaries and any profit objectives, plus make so many undesirable compromises just to get our products out there or even much so, gain a listening year. Not that we did not expect these things, but their harshness was quite over bearing. Our credibility deficit also meant that we could not gain access to opportunities even though we could prove beyond reasonable doubt that we could do much better than what was already there.

Funding has also been one of our major challenges. As a start up and now a growing business we have had to endure running our business on meagre financial resources. We do not have a venture capital system that provides credit facilities for start ups. Existing venture capital funds support already existing and profitable business.

Our economic policies and business landscape also lack any direction or policy framework for upstarts. DreamOval in the beginning stages has had to battle with taxes in the face of our limited infrastructure and financial resources. The taxman would knock at our door for his taxes without regard for our business’ sustenance. For example, I believe that start ups having to charge VAT, makes them less competitive on the pricing front. If we could have a means to price competitively we could access markets a little cheaper and thus get a lot more people to test or use our products and services. Some of these taxes paid to government by startups could be used to provide infrastructure for these businesses to run and grow.

Just to add one more thing, there is not much help for small and starting businesses. When I say help, I mean getting the needed information to start right is rather tough. Agencies and institutions set up to provide such services do not come in any handy. It is a sad situation dealing with front desk executives of such institutions much more gaining access to their top men.

What is your perception about the use of ICT in the country?

ICT is under utilised in Ghana. We have not developed a complete appreciation of ICT and how it can help improve the way things are done in Ghana. One can argue that computers are sitting at every nook and cranny in Ghana. But the question is not how many computers there are, installed in the different offices in Ghana, but what these computers are being used for.

If it is about typing word documents, then i can say ICT usage in Ghana is really big. But ICT usage in Ghana goes beyond that. If you consider how many of our national services and processes run on ICT systems, you can bear with me that they are rather minimal. Mind you it is also not the question of Biometric systems. It is about how ICT is used to make things more efficient, faster and easy for the people. When it comes to these, Ghana is lagging behind, though i must admit that some strides a being made in catching up with the rest of the world.

How can businesses leverage the benefit of ICT to enhance business operations?

  1. Businesses should yearn to be more efficient and be customer-centred. If they have such a focus, that is, one to make sure processes are faster, easier, and convenient for end-beneficiaries then we can start talking of what next to do.
  2. Which such yearning, desire and focus, they have to look for systems and solutions that would let them achieve their objectives. ICT would play a major role over here. Business should now see ICT as an integrated aspect of their everyday processes and not just a mere workshop tool.
  3. To do this effectively, businesses should set up their IT departments as full service units with a mandate of setting up an ICT Centre of Excellence to provide IT service to the business and its operations. This would include the department outsourcing certain part of the IT job that require time and special expertise.
  4. Finally businesses should demystify the whole COST thing when it comes to acquiring ICT solutions. They should know that ICT solutions are means to an end and not an end in themselves. That is when well invested in they provide profitable ends.

Are businesses Using ICT appreciably in Ghana?

Like I previously answered, ICT is underutilised. Businesses look at ICT from the point of view of cost than its ability to transform and make more efficient and profitable, business processes. Banks in Ghana are just but one of the few industry sectors that use ICT to a higher degree.

Why is software so important?

Without software not much can be achieve with ICT. Software runs almost everything ICT. Software is very important because its makes processes more efficient, convenient and easy. Business can let their clients access their services though Customer Self-Service solutions using software. For example Internet banking that allows bank customers to access their accounts online is being powered by an internet based software solution.
Software also makes is possible to render, analyse and make sense of huge amount of data. Without software designing the Graphic news pages would be less optimal. So you see software is key in every aspect of our business lives.

Why do you think companies rely on software from outside?

There is not one reason. There are couple of things that influence the purchase or acquisition of software. These include:

  1. Perceived quality
  2. Cost
  3. Support
  4. Business Leadership (people on top of affairs)

In Ghana a lot of the companies who appreciate ICT are subsidiaries or partners of foreign companies. Thus, the decisions for technology acquisition sometimes lie with their parent companies that normally choose solutions from their countries.

Also it is general belief that software from other parts of the world are of higher quality than the one made in Ghana. This is the case because the industry pacesetters did a rather poor job at providing solutions that could match the ones produced from other countries. Additionally, local software companies most often do not have business models that support the needs of the local industry. Support is one major concern of businesses who want to acquire software. Local software companies have not been able to hold high the forte when it comes to after deployment support services.

One other concern for businesses who want to acquire software is cost. Locally produced software turns out to be priced high. This is true but it is not the fault of the developer. The cost of producing software in Ghana is rather high. Internet and computers are rather expensive in Ghana.

Finally we have not been able to form a formidable software industry in Ghana. We do not have a local software development standard and there is also not much advocacy and education to sensitise people on the benefits of software.

What is the strategy of DreamOval to change that?

We want to make software available to everybody that is why we chose to provide software solutions that run on mobile and internet. This is because in Ghana and globally, everybody owns a mobile phone. Additionally internet applications let business cut cost when it comes to deployment and distribution of the software solutions.
DreamOval is also keen on after sales supports and we go to the extent of providing live internet updates for our solutions to fix any bugs.

Innovation is also going to be the hallmark of every product that comes out of our Dream Laboratory. We make sure that we understand our target customers before we go into development. This ensures that we build them software solutions that meet their specific needs and make the performance of every task breath-taking
Other strategies include working hard to embark on socially responsible public advocacy to sensitise the Ghanaian public on the benefits of software.