October 20, 2017

The “T” in Technology is for tool! Use it!

Blessing NnachiJan 6, 20178min

This piece is meant to discuss scenarios in which technology has been applied to solve problems. I thought long and hard before attempting to pen this down because there were too many and too few at the same time.

Let me explain.

Twenty or so odd years ago, computers in the workplace were fairly novel, we had the large cathode ray monitors and white collar workers griping about having to do computer appreciation classes regardless of the fact that they believed they could carry on with their duties just fine without computers. The great thing about it for them thenwas that when they were done with work, that was it! No taking work home, no “mobility” or “productivity on the go” and whenever there were issues with the technology tools, these issues were resolved by “the IT guy” and let’s not forget, the internet was a little known concept.

Two decades later, we have smartphones, smart TVs, smart fridges, smart watches, smart cities, smart buildings, smart cars, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and the promise of one day living on the moon. This was in fact the difficult part to writing about applications of technology, in this era it can be a bit challenging to find a scenario in which technology was not already integrated in some way unless we decide to look at things differently.

Let us look at application for the greater good and not just technology for the sake of it. What processes, sectors or industries can be improved with the application of technology? Also, in cases where technology is already in use, what can be done better?When discussing greater good, an easy place to begin is with citizen services.

The Nigerian government and regulators in the past five to ten years have been strong proponents of benefits of leveraging technology but we are not where near the promise land as a nation for a number of reasons, one of them being what I like to call technology literacy and a healthy, balanced view of risk versus benefits. A considerable amount of work still needs to be done in educating Nigerians about the availability and benefit of technology. On the part of the government, a lot more needs to be done in removing double standards for example, pushing for a cashless society while still requiring the same citizens to bring cash to the immigration office or local government office to get things done is a subtle form of hypocrisy in my opinion.

Obviously, I am not oblivious to the infrastructure challenges plaguing our nation and the fact that a number of these government facilities barely have consistent power but the idealist in me believes that rather than lower the bar to adapt to the problem, keep the bar raised and solve the problem instead. If we can have solar powered street lights, we definitely can have solar powers government offices with PCs optimized to consume less power. LG produced air conditioners which can run on way less power than traditional ACs so why can we not create an avenue for computers unique to the Nigerian market?

In addition, the segregation of the technology fabric running behind different government agencies has to go! It really does!! So much data has been collected over the last few years by different agencies and while a smart government needs good, clean data as its foundation we are instead letting bureaucracy have a field day. We need to aggregate, validate and then integrate the data collected so far from the various agencies into the various citizen services revalidating at each interaction. We need to agree on and implement a working identity system running on this data and feeding every other service and/or platform including the private sector.

Imagine the potential benefit to agencies like the EFCC, the Police Force, banks and insurance companies, imagine how much easier it would be to open an account or gain access healthcare; the applications are endless and the biggest benefit is a safer, more productive environment for Nigerians.

Still on citizen services, while I understand the necessity to create jobs, we need to move more citizen services online to curb corruption and create a truly smart government. Why can’t renewals of passports and driver’s licenses be done online with NiPost delivering the documents securely to your home or office? Regardless of the biometric capture, we still need to go to office, stand in long lines and spend days to do things which should ordinarily be simpler!

Same goes for things like filling tax returns, registering with the CAC and paying other duties and charges, for those that have some online services, they are little known and very often discounted by the very civil servants meant to be driving its adoption. The bedrock of a smart, technology driven government is ease of access to critical services and a sense that the government cares based on how it interacts with its citizens.

On to small businesses, the first thing should be less piracy and more professionalism. As long as you are a business offering services, having a publicly hosted email account just does not inspire a lot of confidence. There are so many low cost email services sometimes bundled with added services like anti-spam protection, bulk mailing services and even domain hosting services that there is no reason to do otherwise.

For individuals, with all that is going on in the country, the focus should be on working smart and not just working hard. The easiest technology to bring to bear in this regardto enable this is communication and collaboration technology, I would very definitely consider an alternate means of passing information if it can keep me from driving from the mainland to the island, a lot of the times the meetings we drive to for hours in traffic can be done from the comfort of our homes and offices using video conferencing tools which are freely and readily available.

In all of this, the consistent thread is this, technology is no longer some mystical thing that we need special nerds who stay in the basement to help setup and fix; technology is everywhere and much easier to use we just need to ensure we always ask, “is there a better, cheaper, more efficient way to get this done?”, “Is there a tool that can help with this?” or more popularly, “is there an app for that?”

Blessing Nnachi

I'm all about technology, strategy and most things in between. I've built my career in and around the Financial Services Industry with recent forays into oil and gas and public sector.

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