MORE SMES NEED TO GET ONLINE - JULIET EHIMUAN, GOOGLE COUNTRY MANAGER, NIGERIA
By Charles Mgbolu
JULIET Ehimuan is Country Manager for search engine giant, Google, in Nigeria. In this interview, she speaks on the future of Nigeria as a nation with potentials to develop IT and other complex software. She is also passionate about the prospects of small and medium sized businesses and is of the conviction that if they get online their businesses will prosper more, and named examples in this regard. She also speaks on the new domain recently launched by Google to help more Nigerian businesses get on line. Excerpts:
Through your experience with Google's activity in the country these last few years can you say we really have potential software developers or IT geeks in this country?
Nigeria has a pool of developers and one of the things we are focusing on through our initiative is building capacity and helping create awareness around what people are doing. We have technology groups in Nigeria. In fact we have nine technology user groups in Nigeria where developers can share experience, information and get informed on the latest tools on technology.
Recently, we ran android app developer challenge which was across Africa and I'm pleased to say that one of the winners was a Nigerian who built an application called Afri-Nolly which helps people view Nollywood movies on your mobile phone appliances.
Focus on capacity building
Our focus area in Nigeria is about sustainability which is building capacity. We have an annual event in Nigeria called G-Nigeria which was up in April this year and the first day is devoted to developers. This year over 500 developers attended and got training on tools technology etc so yes there are developers in Nigeria. What we want to do is creating more fora for them, where people can meet them and where they will be able to showcase their products and tools.
The latest initiative from Google is asking Nigerians to go online with their businesses. Do you see business owners in the country responding massively to this?
Nigerians really are very enterprising. We did a pilot of this online initiative at the end of last year, and we've had some amazing success stories. One of them in the haulage business has grown his business, moving from one truck to eight trucks. Another example is Bibian who moved from a monthly turnover of a hundred thousand naira to 15 million naira and that happened within months of going online.
SMEs must get online
So Nigerians are enterprising; they only just need that enabling platform. Why we are speaking to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is that for those who haven't gotten online yet believe that it's very expensive and it's complex, intimidating and daunting, they are not sure how to do it or how it will benefit them etc. With this campaign we are looking to create awareness around the benefit by showcasing success stories and providing e-tools that shows just how easy it is to be involved.
How else do you intend to get the message out there?
We are going to keep putting out the message around this campaign; we have partners in MTN and Ecobank that will also be leveraging their channels to reach out to SMBs. There is also the site which SMBs can go to create their website or their support.
We are hoping to get tens of thousands of businesses on line but really these tools are available and we encourage the entire Nigerian SMB community to take advantage. There is an online SMB interaction forum where SMBs can interact and ask questions with live chat support. We are also going to be running web clinics. Here you come and you'll be supported in going through the process.
Your new campaign will be relying heavily on the internet, how do you intend to handle the congestion and failures associated with internet service in the country?
Google's strategy in Nigeria is focused on three things and the first is access. How can we get more people online, how we can remove the barriers in internet and for this we are in conversation with our partners. Here we have also kicked off projects in universities in Nigeria and see how we can get these learning institutions on line.
In these universities you see large concentrations of people so those are communities we can really make large impact on. We have a program called Google app support universities where we can provide technical expertise for our universities.
The programme intends to help them build their campus internet and other software infrastructure. We also provide grants, pay for international bandwidth for a period of time and also we provide free software.
In today's digital world, it is imperative for SMBs to get online to be able to reach a wider range of their customers. We are inviting and encouraging SMBs to take advantage of this platform.