IT ecosystem will thrive when established players participate in stock market – PFS boss, Yele Okeremi
In an interview with Wheel NG, Dr. Yele Okeremi speaks on the involvement of tech industry big players in the capital market may enhance the success of the information technology (IT) ecosystem as companies get listed on the floor of the exchange. Ebenezer Adaramodu brings the excerpts.
Okeremi is the President, Institute of Software Practitioners Nigeria (ISPON), and also the Chief Executive Officer of Precise Financial Systems Limited (PFS), a software company providing tech solutions to banking and other sectors in Nigeria. He started the company with just N8,250 in 1994.
In few words, kindly describe the Nigerian software industry?
The industry is so fragmented that it rarely exits. It is so fragmented because we don’t have many players with sound impact in the economy. These challenges are very well interwoven. For instance, the amount of money being generated by the industry is little. The reasons are well documented. The market doesn’t even patronize local software because the market perceives that the quality of software isn’t high enough; and because the market doesn’t patronize, the market remains weak and fickle. When we look at the capital for software, a lot more of the capital is not cash. A lot more of the capital is intellectual capital; knowledge. Let’s assume that the universities are creating students who graduate but the question is what are they teaching them? Are they industry-ready? It gets worse because even those graduating students are not industry-ready, some of them didn’t study Computer Science. It gets worse because the industry is not cohesive. Majority of these students find their way overseas. We have serious challenges in capital, serious challenges in labour, but we don’t have challenges of land.
Nigerian tertiary education scheme is a bit outdated, and you talked about the industry being intellectually-impaired, what is ISPON doing to help this situation?
ISPON has helped many of the universities in Nigeria. We encouraged all the universities to set up a software club, and also organize competitions. But we want to be able to do more. One of the things I am looking forward to is to have more harmony between academia and the software industry. Here, the university professors come and serve either on the board of the industry and the industry practitioners go to the universities as either adjunct or practice professors. But the gap is there. Take a look at what NUC said, you cannot even teach in the universities except you have a PhD (Doctorate degree). Why these objectives may sound good, these practice has no logic. Why? Because even in the United States, they have practice professors who do not have PhD and they are allowed to teach in top schools.
But, why can’t NUC give the industry practitioners the grace to teach since they already have huge experience?
I won’t blame anyone, but one of the challenges in this continent is that we have allowed people in government to have careers. You have career politicians everywhere and these people are disconnected. They have never tried their hands on any enterprise. They are not even going out to understand what’s going on in the market place. They day Nigeria begins to have people who have created value before going to serve in places where they can make policies that influence people, you will see a major turnaround.
What do you think about the idea of software companies raising capital in the stock market?
When you look at the IT ecosystem that are successful, they are very deliberately done, and they are woven intricately. If you want to create a successful ecosystem, the first thing to do is have established players. People talk about the Silicon Valley being successful. They are successful because they have well established players who are all in the capital market; the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and NASDAQ. When companies list in the stock market, they create another currency which is their shares. Because of that currency (shares) they can use it to acquire other companies. That’s why you hear about many acquisitions. Big figures, but not everything is in cash. The first thing to do, if you want a viable IT ecosystem, is to create mega companies, and this can only happen when companies are listed in the capital market.
Are there any efforts by ISPON to see these software companies listed?
It is a difficult one, because to be listed is to become a public company. It imposes a lot of burden on you and except your business is really solid, do not think about it.
Your company, PFS is about two and half decades as an incorporated company. Looking back and analyzing now and then, is there any huge difference?
The industry at that time was only budding and emerging, and if you look at it globally then, the software superpowers of IT world today were not superpowers then. The US was a superpower in technology. Microsoft was already existing, but in broader aspect, it was a mole. UK, Ireland were big tech markets too because English is the language of software. Remember at that time there was no internet, so the market was very finesse. You have to target your market one on one and to reach them mechanically on a Business to Business. Back then, to be a giant in software industry was a game of brick and mortar. Today, it is a lot more fluid.
Your tenure at ISPON is just two years, what do you want the Nigerian tech market to remember you for?
I had only one agenda when I assumed the office, and it is creating capacity. The industry is very fragmented before now. Many of the players have no interest in the association. What I am trying to do is to see software practitioners see that I am capable of creating value and protecting them. These are the biggest agenda that I have.
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