Digital transformation is a central and increasingly strategic theme in the public sector across the world, with ever-increasing citizen expectations around delivering greater efficiency, offering better services to the public and exploiting a greater range of modern technologies.
With increasing advancements in technology, going digital is the optimal route to attain success and longevity as a business, organisation or nation.
Most organisations, businesses, and governments across the world have started to incorporate digital technologies in their business strategy. This has changed the face of many business operations, including the way customers interact with the business and public sectors in many developed countries.
Digital transformation in the broadest sense is the profound transformation of business and organisational activities, processes, competencies and models to fully leverage the changes and opportunities of a mix of digital technologies and their accelerating impact across society in a strategic and prioritised way, with present and future shifts in mind.
According to a report by Deloitte, new technologies are shaping the way consumers interact with their ecosystems and inadvertently changing consumers’ expectations of society, including government with the move towards a more digital world.
Nigeria’s journey towards digital transformation could be said to have started since 2000, with the liberalisation of the telecoms sector, which ushered in the first Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) operator and the award of the first digital mobile license (DML) in 2001. Prior to that, Nigeria had only 400,000 telephone lines, with a teledensity of 0.4 per cent, operated by Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), a monopoly owned by government. The lines were mainly available in urban areas, with huge unmet demands across the country. But 19 years after, Nigeria now has over 162 million active lines, which has opened a plethora of opportunities to individuals, businesses and government through the use of mobile phones.
In spite of the numerous challenges in the country, Nigeria could be said to have recorded some successes toward digital transformation.
Highlighting the recorded success in the process of digital transformation since 2001, the chairman of the Digital Transformation Forum, Mr. Muhammed Rudman, said there has been unprecedented transformation in the banking industry brought about by digitalisation, citing transactions involving the use and movement of physical cash that are gradually declining.
“The use of point of sale (PoS) machines and other several simple avenues of transaction have made life very easy to the consumers, the bank and government. Individuals no longer had to embark on a trip to the bank to conduct banking business, the banks on the other hand have less ratio of customers to attend to, in essence reduction in the cost of banking services as well as reduction in high security and safety risks,” Rudman said.
According to him, “There are many relative success stories in other key areas as well, such education, commerce, health, housing, employment, security, transportation and fighting corruption, among others. We have achieved much in less than two decades, but the journey to digital transformation is perpetual, we cannot afford to slow down, especially with our ever-expanding population. We have to find innovative ways to educate our young population and equip them with the right skills to handle ever-evolving job market.”
On his own part, CEO of eStream Network, Mr. Muyiwa Ogungboye, said, at the federal government level, all payments now go through the Treasury Single Account called TSA, via Remita Software from Systemspecs Nigeria Limited. This move has made our government to realise billions of naira hitherto not accessible to government.
According to him, at the state level, most state governments have installed various software that track the collection of various levies, which has resulted in increased internally generated revenue (IGR).
“At the private sector level, Nigeria had an explosion of several telecommunications and software companies that are adding value to the economy at large,” Ogungboye said.
However, in the 2017 Digital Evolution Index developed by Mastercard and Tufts University, Nigeria was ranked among countries in the breakout zone, meaning that it faces significant challenges with the low state of digitalisation, especially in the area of infrastructure required to increase the momentum of adoption.
Meanwhile, on Nigeria’s readiness for digital transformation, information and communications expert, Mrs. Mary Uduma, said Nigeria was prepared in terms of infrastructure. Uduma, who stated this in an interview in Lagos, observed that the broadband infrastructure currently being developed in the country would help in digital transformation.
According to her, with the available infrastructure and youth innovation, the digital transformation was becoming more real, gradually. She said that the country was getting there, even though there are still challenges.
“Very soon, we will have smart city, smart energy and the issue of power failure will be a thing of the past.
“ Experts are springing up day in, day out. The young ones are developing already. Our youths that are innovating need the platform to sell their innovation. This will hasten the process of digitalisation,” Uduma said. The ICT expert affirmed that her aspiration was to make sure that Nigeria was one of those countries participating in Internet governance.
On the contrary, another ICT expert, Jide Awe, opined that the country was not yet fully prepared for total digital transformation.
He said, “There is a need for an environment that will enable digital transformation in Nigeria. First is the policy framework. Without policies, we could end up as digital slaves, colonies.”
Awe explained that critical to a road map of digital transformation is human capital, which makes sustainable digital transformation possible. “Youth potential is huge but the nation is not doing enough to attract and encourage the development of more talented youth. In terms of human capital the educational system needs to be overhauled to address the modern realities of this era.”
The ICT expert pointed out that massive investments are required but the environment is not attractive to investors adding that multiple taxation and arbitrary charges are unfiendly.
Continuing, he said infrastructure was a challenge. “Quality and spread of infrastructure must improve. Broadband penetration must go deeper and include the digital ‘have-nots,’ the poor, the rural, women and youth.
“There must be practical policies and interventions to address these because they won’t just resolve themselves. Infrastructure has challenges of cost, availability and quality which definitely impacts on digital transformation. So, while it is important to acquire the modern digital tools and technologies, we must focus on digital transformation that is inclusive and sustainable.”
Corroborating Awe, another stakeholder, Gbolahan Awonuga, said, “Without infrastructure, there cannot be digital transformation. Infrastructure is the enabler for digital revolution and thats why Association of Licensed Telecommunications Company of Nigeria (ALTON) is in the forefront of campaign to declare telecom infrastructure as Critical National security and economic infrastructure.
“Multiple taxation must be tamed. Sealing of telecom infrastructure must stop. State governments should make right of way affordable and accessible. ALTON and its members will continue to provide world class services to their consumers. For now, Nigeria is struggling.”
What government must do
According to Delloit’s report on digital transformation, “The first step is to re-orient the thinking and focus on incorporating digital in their core business model. Develop a clear digital strategy that focuses on people and processes while maintaining a citizen-centric view. The Nigerian government can then tap into utilising the various digital technologies to achieve its digital strategy. Some real-life examples where this can be adopted is developing a strategy to integrate the Motor Vehicle Administration Agency (MVAA) with law enforcement technologies such as mobile speed detectors that can be utilised by traffic enforcement to track, monitor, fine and reprimand traffic violators.”
To be successful, the Nigerian government needs to adopt a more flexible approach and be ready to embrace the new digital age. They need to re-imagine their services to the citizens and continually innovate the way they engage. Nigeria should take advantage of all that digital transformation can offer, thrive and become the giant of Africa in leading innovative digital transformative initiatives.
Rudman said government needed to look beyond the digitisation of existing processes and services, and harness the power of digital technologies and data to transform existing business models in order to meet the increasing appetite and expectations of the rising digital consumer, by adopting new technologies in the way business is conducted.
Digital transformation, he said, should be central and strategic among public sectors across the world, with ever-increasing citizen’s expectation around delivering greater efficiency, offering better services to the public and exploiting a greater range of modern technologies.
Speaking on the way forward for Nigeria in digital transformation, the chairman of ALTON, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, said there would be need for deployment of infrastructure to enable speed of broadband delivery and quality of service.
“While businesses in eCommence, eHealth; eAgriculture and the rest may be coming up with better digital innovation, the issue is whether the current legal framework enables these businesses to thrive,” he said.
According to him, there cannot be digital transformation when basic infrastructures to drive the revolution are not in place.
He called on government at each level to support the massive deployment of telecom infrastructure in their domain for efficient digital transformation of their day to day activities by looking at the long-term benefits of all the infrastructure in place for better service delivery to the citizen.
ALTON, he said, would be committed to the smart cities initiative by which the states in Nigeria could all be transformed to digital operating states.
On his part, Rudman was of the view that Nigeria needed to improve on connectivity and rapidly promote new forms of online learning, so that people do not necessarily need to travel to an industrialised country to get a degree and equally make it possible for university graduates to work in the global labour market from Nigeria.
“Government must have a strategic road map towards digital transformation, which should be developed with input from all stakeholders. To ensure its comprehensive implementation, government must establish follow-up mechanisms for continuous assessment, monitoring and evaluation of progress,” Rudman said.