‘Producing ICT goods critical to cut business costs for Zim’

BY BRIAN CHITEMBA

THE information communication technology (ICT) sector has become one of the fastest growing industries across the globe, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many companies have adopted remote working and online meetings. Zimbabwe Independent’s Brian Chitemba had a conversation with Tano Digital Solutions director Wallen Mangere over a number of issues affecting the ICT sector and opportunities that can be harnessed to improve the economy in this digital age:

BC: When was Tano Digital Solutions (TDS) formed and what sort of work does the company do?

WM: TDS is an award-winning business solutions provision company that aspires to be the partner of choice for large public and private sector enterprises and small-to-medium enterprises in the area of technology-related services across the African continent. TDS has been the primary and most notable solution provider in the SAP space in South Africa since 2013 and entered the Zimbabwean Market in 2019. We are currently the only authorised SAP Value-Added Reseller (VAR) for Zimbabwe.

BC: Share with us what sort of clientele base TDS services?

WM: TDS has a big client base, including Delta Beverages, Great Dyke Investments, Tobacco Processors Zimbabwe, Zimasco and the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company.

BC: I understand that TDS is an SAP partner, what does it take for a company to attain this status? What is SAP?

WM: SAP (systems, applications and products) is one of the world’s leading producers of software for the management of business processes, developing solutions that facilitate effective data processing and information flow across organisations. To be an SAP Partner, the journey starts with creating a plan in advance, the plan may include a checklist of tasks to be completed for the partner application process. Once the application has been submitted to SAP, the SAP internal processes start with a thorough due diligence exercise that looks at the directors of the prospective partner, searching out criminal records, company financial records and dealings, searching to establish if any of the directors have been involved in financial malpractice like bribery or any form of corrupt business activity. This part of the application may take months to complete because they search for this information worldwide.

BC: Some companies have been accused of failing to properly install SAP systems in various government departments. What would be the impact of such anomalies?

WM: An SAP solution that is implemented should have had a comprehensive user-requirements gathering exercise and should be to SAP standards. SAP uses deployment methodologies for all implementations and any deviation from these would jeopardise the efficiencies that should be unlocked by the SAP business solution.

Not only does the taxpayer lose value on this investment as a reimplementation will be required, but the agency or department will not improve the processes for which the investment was made to improve. The SAP licence also requires an annual maintenance payment; the said payment would be wasted on an implementation that is not being fully utilised because of some modules not running properly. Remember that SAP is an international solution requiring the much sought-after foreign currency to purchase and implement.

BC: The ICT sector has become one of the fastest growing in Zimbabwe and globally, what do you attribute this to?

WM: The global ICT trends are the move to cloud-based artificial-intelligence assisted solutions that enable intuitive decision making. The ICT sector has been steadily growing over the past 10 years, but the growth burst experienced in the past 24-months can be attributed to the global realisation that businesses and industry can be managed from different locations and that most machine-learnt processes are applicable to everyday life.

BC: What are some of the challenges that the ICT sector is facing in Zimbabwe? What can be the remedy?

WM: Zimbabwe is a net-importer of most of the business solutions that are deployed in both government and in the private sector. The cost of a good business solution remains very steep for the ordinary business and this is compounded by the fact that these solutions generally require foreign currency to purchase. In my view the adoption and uptake on new age technology is slow, for example the adoption of cloud is slower if you compare to other countries in the region. I also think we need to reskill some of our workforce so that we have skills that speak to new technologies like block chain, robotics process automation and Artificial IntelligenceI (AI).

BC: The global Covid-19 pandemic has affected businesses across sectors. How has the virus and national lockdowns affected the ICT business?

WM: This global pandemic has demonstrated that going forward, it won’t be business as usual. The ICT industry suffered from loss of business opportunities for the products that require on-site intervention. However, TDS has managed to customise SAP for a number of its clients while working remotely during the Covid-19 induced restrictions on travel and congregating. From the time that national lockdown was announced in 2020, all major business sectors were majorly affected because of the limited working days. TDS was able to deliver on contractual obligations. In the area of project management, with any project there is an inherent risk of project disruption and impact of Covid-19 further heightened this risk.

However, during this time we were able to meet deadlines. The new opportunities are in remote-implementation and support services, tele-commuting is now an established way of rendering services to clients in diverse locations. Our solutions use HTML and VPN access authentication for ease of interaction with our client’s sites – wherever in the world they may be, all that is needed is an internet connection.

BC: Is the government doing enough to support growth of ICT companies in Zimbabwe? Is there anything that needs to be done to enhance growth on this front?

WM: We believe that the government of Zimbabwe understands the economic and social significance of ICT in the development of the nation, there have been a number of initiatives stemming from the ICT policy document that have started to be fully implemented.

My opinion on the way forward is that there should be greater enablement of ICT companies to develop local business solutions that have a wide user range, and the way that this initiative can be fully enabled is for the government to be the primary buyer of some of these bespoke business solutions. Our companies cannot be resellers of foreign products — we need to localise the development, implementation and support of our home-grown business solutions.