Enormous Potential for Nigerian Software Industry

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Nigeria has an unfortunate global reputation as the home of 419 scams (http://en..wikipedia.org/wiki/Advance-fee_fraud). A typical 419 scam involves sending emails to people around the world in order to extort money from them. Online scams may show an unexpected technical sophistication for a country associated with poverty, but are a sign that some of Nigeria’s plentiful talents are being turned to illegal activities rather than building legitimate businesses.

Many argue that Nigeria is missing its potential to become an African legal software powerhouse. The Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria said the country’s annual consumption of software reached US $900 million in 2006, making it possibly Africa’s biggest market.

“Nigeria stands a good chance of dominating both the local and West African diaspora in a thriving global software market,” it argues.

Production of computer software is a major income earner for countries like the United States and India.

Many argue that Nigeria has enormous potential, if it can address some common problems: an absence of software quality assurance, poor investment in software development, poor product standards and a lack of proper documentation. In short: if Nigeria’s software industry takes on board global best practice, then it is sitting on a goldmine of legitimate business opportunities.

Chris Uwaje, president of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), told Business Day that the country’s software technology, if well retooled and strategically positioned for global competitiveness, could earn about US $10 billion annually from foreign software exchange.

He argued that developing the software industry would have many benefits for the population as a whole.

“Software has … become and will remain one of the fastest growing industries with power to enrich, and sustain national economies,” Uwaje said.

Some estimates put the world software industry and associated markets at US $1,300 billion, with 90 percent of the world’s software exports coming from the United States and Europe. Outside the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan, the new and emerging countries within the software industry are India and China, and to a lesser extent Singapore and Malaysia.

According to market researcher DataMonitor, the worldwide software industry grew by 6.5 percent between 2007 and 2008.

DataMonitor forecasts that in 2013, the global software market alone will have a value of US $ 457 billion, an increase of 50.5 percent since 2008 (Datamonitor’s Software: Global Industry Guide).

Africa has a high proportion of entrepreneurs because people have next to no social supports to fall back on and need to do business to survive. Nigeria’s large youth population – 43.2 percent of the total – could be the driver of this new economy if used right.

Nigeria mostly imports software solutions despite having an extensive capacity in software development. If developed well, software could surpass oil as a revenue generator for the country.

According to A Profile of Nigeria’s Software Industry by H. Abimbola Soriyan and Richard Heeks, “A typical software company (in Nigeria) had between 11 and 50 customers (the average was 36 though a few firms involved with package installation had several thousand). There was a strong concentration among these customers. Almost all were private sector … There was a surprising lack of government/public sector organizations as customers (reflected above in the limited number of firms found in Abuja).”

Jimson Olufuye, president of the Information Technology Association of Nigeria (ITAN), believes that more needs to be done to support the software developers. And while on paper there is strong support for this sector in information technology policy, “In addition, we need to establish more IT parks with appropriate policies on infrastructure, human resources, incentives and business plan.”

Wahab Sarumi, chief executive officer of Wadof Software Consulting, explains the problem: “Indigenous software developers are an endangered species, abandoned by the government, neglected by its own people and bullied by the poachers from India, to whom Nigerian businesses rush to buy software applications to solve local business problems.”

Already, Nigerian software firms are offering existing off-the-shelf software that they custom package with local services. This recognizes software made in advanced countries isn’t entirely right for developing countries: and this is where business opportunities await for software developers.

But the key to success, at the end of the day, is to be the best solution on offer for the right price. James Agada, managing director of ExpertEdge Limited, believes people buy the best software for the task and don’t care where it comes from.

“If you want to sell software, the buyer does not buy the software alone, he buys the software, buys capacity to support the software, buys your capacity to improve on the software, he buys what he assumes is your mastery of the domain the software … the software must be able to compete favourably with its competitors.”

Resources

1) West Africa Trade Hub: A great resource for doing business in West Africa . Website: http://www.watradehub.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1439

2) Rogue Economics: A website accompanying the book by Loretta Napoleoni on the illegal economic activities unleashed after the fall of communism. Website: http://www.lorettanapoleoni.com/

3) Towards an African E-Index: SMS e-Access and Usage Across 14 African Countries: A report from 2006 showing how small and medium African businesses increase income with ICTs. Website: http://mobileactive.org/research/towards-african-e-index-sms-e-access-and-usage-across-14-african-countries

4) Changing Dynamics of Global Computer Software and Services Industry: Implications for Developing Countries: A report from UNCTAD on how computer software can become the most internationally dispersed high-tech industry. Website: http://www.unctad.org/templates/webflyer.asp?docid=1913&intitemid=2529&lang=1

5) A Profile of Nigeria’s Software Industry by H. Abimbola Soriyan and Richard Heeks, Paper No 21, 2004, Development Informatics: Working Paper Series. Website: http://tinyurl.com/yh25dpa

6) Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria: A great contact point for finding legitimate software developers in Nigeria. Website: http://www.ispon.org/

7) Tech Soup: A great place to meet legitimate software developers and learn more. Website: http://home.techsoup.org/pages/default.aspx

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