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Insights Ghana - episode 4
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Episode 4 - Intelligent Software Solutions

Roberta:  A very warm welcome to our dear views to this latest edition of Insights of Malta-Ghana series where I together with my colleague Nadia bring to you inspiration and ideas from inspiring minds across the globe I can say. And today in fact we are delighted to welcome with us to Mr. Albert Barnafo from T3 Data Company, together with Stephen Abela from On Point Ltd, and also a very warm welcome to our special resident guest, Christopher Busuttil-Delbridge from Evolve limited. 

Welcome, everyone. And thank you so much for being here with us today. Perhaps as is customary, we could start off with our guests, perhaps telling us a little bit about your backgrounds and maybe the work that you're engaged with at the present time. Maybe we can start with you, Mr. Barnafo?

Albert:  Okay, thank you Roberta. Yes, my name is Albert Barnafo, Founder and Managing Partner of T3 Data Company that's located in Accra, Ghana. Now on a personal level, my background is in computer science, specifically software engineering, and retail banking. T3 Data was founded in 2015, with a principal objective to include data and the principles of data science, into the decision making process in both the public and private sector, institutions in Ghana. 

As a company, we are industrial in sector. So if you are in an industry, which produces data we are interested in it, we can help. So that's broadly what T3 Data is. Now, I would just want to say that while there is a broad recognition, certainly in this part of the world, that there is potential benefits in adopting the data approach. We seek to help clients roll out specific practical initiatives using data that affects their P&L. 

So it's really all about the money. So it's less about the theory of what it can do. It's more about how does it help me achieve my objectives, or other success indicators such as customer satisfaction, all the rest of it? So in a nutshell, that is that is what we do.

Roberta:  Very interesting, and also very topical at the moment, may I add? Stephen, welcome to you, maybe you'd like to share with us a little bit about your background and your work with On Point? 

Stephen:  Sure, so we founded a company, around 3 years ago, here in Malta and in Czech Republic. And we immediately started looking into Africa, starting from Nigeria, and then Ghana. From a personal point of view, my background is business and finance, and computing. So it's like the merging of two words, very different words into one. And so like similar, very similar to it. But in our job, we deal a lot with data. However, usually, it's from the financial point of view, within different aspects of the company, and the industry that we're working in. And so we're not limited to any industry, as long as the company is actually has got a real intention about collecting data, not just the basic accounting, but the true and fair picture of all its operations, then aiming for it.

Roberta:  And, Steven, what was the impact of COVID? On your work on your current operation? Did you were you impacted at all? 

Stephen:  So I like to see it in different phases. The initial phase was a complete shock. Like people weren't really sure what's going to happen, whether they would exist in a couple of months’ time or a couple of years’ time. No one was really sure what, what has really hit us, you know, we're obviously dependent on to our clients. And unfortunately, sort of, it was like a complete shock. 

After that once it's sort of settled in, then people start understanding that sort of, listen we need to look into the way our operation is done looking into our data, looking into our decisions, and sort of get back on track, or rather get back on a different set of tracks. Because obviously the COVID I believe, what even though it was a shock, and it was a hit, which has hit most industries, still it led to a number of changes and still leading to number changes, which ultimately will surely be positive.

Roberta:  It's good, it's good to hear a positive outlook. And Mr. Barnafo, would you say you relate to a Stephen is saying, did you go through a similar experience?

Albert:  Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think the one thing that we can all agree is that as a global pandemic, I guess the human reactions are unified, wherever you are. So over here, I guess it's really to do with the peace. I think, on the face of it, I think, after everybody recognized that there was a problem that we needed to address. For the tech, world I’d say. 

On the face of it, the outlook is generally quite bright, because everybody understood that companies are looking for solutions that address, I guess, the direct impact of let's say, social distancing, people that is really what, you know, what people can relate to, in every day. So things like, you know, customer service delivery, or sales delivery. So all of a sudden, people can go into customer service centers to what we do, or they're not prepared to go and queue or, you know, sit together in a small room while waiting to be served. Or indeed, go and sit somewhere for two hours to be said. And then sales is locked down, so you can’t open the shop, so what do you, what do you do? 

Now businesses hands, began sourcing I mean, once they recovered, began sourcing specific products, like, you know, virtual platforms to control meetings. So what do I do? Do I use Microsoft Teams? Do I use Zoom? What do I use? Document systems. So everything was really product based. So people are now trying to source for products that can solve the immediate problem. So in the short term, I think people in the IT space were quite, are quite happy and believe that there's an opportunity to make some sales. 

But where I see, you know, you move you fast forward, maybe nine to 12 months from where we are today. And what you're going to find, you know, what I believe you will find is that clients will now be faced with the prospect of integrating and administrating all these disparate tools they have acquired in the face of the reaction to the COVID situation, okay. Because initially, when they were procuring these things, people actually believe that, you know, it will go away in about six months. And this was just a stopgap measure. 

Now faced with the reality that either the pandemic stays, or the customers actually prefer to use these channels, which are convenient to them. Businesses are going to find that they are stuck with these solutions. And therefore they are going to have to integrate all these into a coherent business model. Okay. 

I think so fast forward, at that point, I will see, there's going to be a little bit of change, because the practitioners in this space will now have to move from solution based approach from a product based approach to a solution based approach, and then also move from sales to service. So you need to really understand your customers’ long term or medium to long term needs, and provide a solution on that basis. So in short, the outlook is good for the sector. But I think we will also have to change at some point to be able to meet the needs of our clients.

Nadia:  It's extremely interesting, Albert, what you were mentioning, especially the deep diving and the shift towards understanding the consumer, and understanding changes of consumer behaviour, which both Roberta and myself have found even in the previous months that different companies from different industries, since demand has shifted. Now having that data and analysing that data, and which tools could company perhaps use to better understand the reality and the changes of their consumer behaviour, I think it becomes even more critical. 

So perhaps Stephen and Albert, the two of you are working and you have different tools as well, which you provide your own customers. Which do you think, which are the tools that you that you think and you reckon that businesses need to use, even more importantly, in the coming months to be able to master and understand how they will retain and acquire potentially new customers?

Stephen:  And so maybe speaking in front of experience, because like, as a company, since we're located in four countries, four countries with very distinct way of doing things, we have reasoned things out, and so on. So it can be on paper, it's very nice, but in practice can be changed. And we actually do work together. Because, you know, we're used to working like opposite to each other. But we're actually working like across continents, and so from our point of view, like the reality which COVID and the social distancing brought upon us was not really that different from the, from the our usual day to day stuff. However, he actually pointed out that we actually needed to, to improve, because if you in the Malta team, we used to work actually in front of each other. So we started noticing that these gaps, that maybe we didn't realize it, that they existed in the first place, between countries. 

And so like differently, collaboration is key. But in order to get collaboration in place, we need to make sure that everyone has, has got the same visibility, so the same visibility to their tasks, but also to what's happening as a company. But what's happening in the, from a higher point of high level point of view. So information is key. In order to get to the right level of service with the right level of commitment, we always need to strive for correct balance of information to each and every person, both within the team as well as with our clients. 

So the days of sending an email are past us now, the day is ending like, okay, we have done it, or this has been sorted out. Okay, we are looking into it. Because I think people are no longer happy with just brief answers, people need to understand, I think there's so much work for people to go beyond what they know, and what they have been doing and to understand what's going on with their company with their data with their systems of collaboration, and, ultimately is, I believe, like having the right level of detailed information, life. So people want to participate, not to just be served.

Albert:  Yeah. You know, from my. Yeah, from my side, I think, you know, tools that really focus on the automation of workflows within an organization. I think sort of mainly, in the European economies, I think there is significant advances in that area relative to what we have here, primarily because of the cost of human resource for within the different jurisdictions. 

So I look at it is akin to mechanize, industrialization or mass production, okay, so you've got a workflow. So particular example would be filing an insurance claim, if you have an accident, there is a workflow, you will get to the statement, you've got to email some photos or your claims document to the insurance plan. Now, at the moment, you probably have somewhere you go to the office, somebody picks up the phone looks at it signs, and then it's received, takes it to another desk. Now they're all this, there's so many computer systems that can allow all those things to be automated. And I think this is where so he moves from this stage to SP and SP could be on another continent, it doesn't really matter, then that is what companies really need to start looking at. Because what that will do is once the relatively simple tasks are automated as in receiving the documents, stamping it reviewing and approving it and passing it on to somewhere else, then the human resource can be focused on where we actually still have a natural advantage. And that is the lateral thinking. And the definition of solutions within the context of local and also sails activities as well. That is where computers haven’t quite got to grips with it. 

So that is what I would say anything that automates sort of in panel web flows, these are the back office functions that are not visible to the front end consumer is going to be, you know, where I would advise clients to go.

Stephen:  If I might add to Albert’s point, together with workflow, the enhancement of the processes of internal processes to workflow ultimately leads to better task management. 

So rather than chasing people, so for example, we mentioned the document on an insurance claim, so rather than chasing people to get replies, and so on, and like usually have usually rethinking the process, because ultimately, when we're free, sort of roam around and run out with the document from one desk to another, we end up sometimes going to that person sometimes missing the same person for the other task. With workflows, we can actually like automate the process, but also making sure that from a task management point of view, we have got full visibility of the task and also like a full track record of what has happened. We've seen in the past that there were a number of key processes, key stages in a process, which have been missed, like key signatures, which have never taken place. 

Like when having a workflow, you actually ultimately makes me making sure that the process is actually followed, and more important, and that you have a proper view of what's happening in which stage and what status we are, whether we're late or not. So likely things can be much more done better. I mean, there will be a tangible improvement.

Nadia:  Chris, I know that at Evolve you have invested quite a lot, both, internally, with both within your workflows, as well as with your own clients and with your customers. And even more. So now that you you've invested heavily as well in Ghana, yourself, and how that process has assisted you to go through the first place.

Chris:  Correct. Thank you Nadia. In fact, there's so much to say about what our colleagues here have been saying. And if you allow me just a couple of minutes, first of all correct at Evolve, we had already started the digital transformation process which helps us to internationalize our brand, and to invest in other countries, mainly Sub-Saharan Africa, which is Ghana. Why did we need to do this internationalization? Because you have to be agile.

The {unintelligible] anywhere and you have to be able to be reached in country. If I may, really apart from [unintelligible] which will not go or business here lists a catalyst [unintelligible]

Roberta:  Sorry to interrupt you. We've lost him. Let's just hope Chris manages to reconnect. 

Perhaps we can move on to the next step. In our conversation, when it comes to the digitization process, both in Europe and in Africa, what would you say are the differences and the similarities? 

Nadia:  First of all, thank you for joining us because I know that you were traveling and you are joining us from Dubai at the moment. And so we're connecting literally all over the world. Clearly, it's not the best connection but sorry if you can just perhaps one sentence, summarize what you wanted to pass on to our viewers. I think that was really helpful.

Chris:  Very simple. Yes, very simple. Digitalizing of your processes, reaching customers in different ways making sure you can be reached digitally. And workflow, yes, as was said, is extremely important. It is not an option. [unintelligible]

Nadia:  So I think what Chris wanted to say was because I know we had that conversation before is that Chris, as a whole, is taking this opportunity as saying, this is the new situation, this is how we have this is a new mind-set. It's not like we're going to go back to a pre pandemic state. 

This is how we have to learn to live and adapt to the situation, both with our customers, as well as our potential customers, how we're going to reach new markets, across borders across Malta. So definitely, Chris and his team are using the digital platform to be able to connect and grow and continue growing. So this is the mind-set that Chris and Evolve is definitely adopting together with his team. Yes, Roberta, perhaps you are asking a question to our guests.

Roberta:  Yes, I was very intrigued. And maybe hearing a little bit about the view as to the similarities and differences between Europe and Africa when it comes to the digitization process. Albert, would you like to start or Stephen? 

Albert:  Oh, okay, so for my, Okay, so, Europe is a lot further ahead than Africa, when it comes to obviously digitization, mainly because I mean, there's a infrastructural ambition, which is actually an enabler. First, the first question you ask yourself is how many, you know, active data centres that we have here. And that's really your starting point. 

However, I mean, because of the beauty of technology, Africa is catching up very quickly, can you can look at the adoption of mobile phone technology as a case in point. So we were far behind when it came to the actual infrastructure of, you know, sort of landlines and all the rest. But we can see the adoption of mobile phone technology, were able to leapfrog. And if you look at the mobile phone penetration numbers in this jurisdiction, it's not bad. And in building the value added services, so I don't really think that the need is insurmountable. 

High electricity rates and lack of internet penetration coming around Africa is basically the biggest drawback. However, I think where we are at the moment, is moving ahead and the Internet of Things, concepts and implementation of artificial intelligence, whereas Africa where we are focusing on, you know, AI enabled technologies, off the back of SMS and USSD technologies, which allows us to deploy services to lose those who don't have internet access. So effectively, we are not, we will not be deploying the most cutting edge technology and processes because they are based on infrastructure that we don't have. But we are using the advanced principles to deploy on the technologies that we do have albeit may no longer be used in, in, in Europe. So I guess, you know, in true African style, there is the saying, “necessity is the mother of invention”. And I guess that is that is very much along the lines that we were moving so you know the gap is not insurmountable and so we're progressing so rather nicely.

Stephen:  I agree with you that the infrastructure can be, well, the infrastructure Europe is better than that, in that in Africa. However, that doesn't mean that in Africa, there isn’t some very important innovations, something which comes to mind is in Kenya, there is M-PESA, which they were the pioneers in the mobile payment service, which we didn't even think of here in Europe. I was in Kenya, it was like widespread all around the country. And it did not even require to have a mobile bank account, which is a very crucial issue for Africa. 

So, you know, I mean, there are different needs, or maybe there are, there is the same need the same requirement, but different scenarios. To which ultimately give birth to different solutions, which some of them are actually like, some of them may be more technologically advanced on one side may be more technologically advanced than the other side. So like, it's, it's a very, very dynamic, very dynamic environment, both in Europe, as well as in Africa. And the mobile usage in Africa is huge. Like the percentage penetration of the market is enormous. So definitely, like, mobile solutions possibly may be more important than hear in Europe, actually.

Somehow, we're used to having a laptop, somehow, we're used to having very stable, very stable electric supply. Whereas in Africa, it may be different, like electric supply, we know that in certain areas of the countries there are issues so that people are actually more reliant on, for example, having mobile connection. And so the mobile technology, I believe, is it is important in Europe, but maybe in Africa, it's even more important.

Nadia:  A lot of opportunities for cross collaboration. And for both countries and businesses across borders.

Stephen:  Definitely. Maybe we're living, we're living in a world, which is now fairer, where opportunities are now very, truly equal. So we're no longer requiring the person to be living next to me, or living in the same city or same country, and ultimately boils down to the capabilities of the person and like the willingness of the person and the company to actually collaborate together, like, without actually seeing each other on the same desk.

Roberta:  Here, in fact, on this point, I'd like to ask both of you. How can we make sure that through this digitization process, we ensure sustainability? And also safeguarding what makes us human at the end of the day? Because there is this fear that the transition to digital ways of working and ways of doing things will somehow will leave some casualties? What would be what would be your, your view on this?

Albert:  Okay, I mean, this is an extremely important point, and I guess it sort of speaks to the essence of being human. So if you recognize computers, and digital technology are simply a tool, okay? Then it is, it is supposed to make our lives a lot easier, allowing us to do the things that we need to do. So, when I talk to clients, I guess this is this is where we go that it is about what the business needs as opposed to what the technology can provide. 

So the business businesses need to retain their identity, retain their values, and look for appropriate technology that helps them deliver that to the consumer, as opposed to being straitjacketed by the technology available. So company founder believes that I want customer service to be done in a personalized way. He needs to set that as an agenda and challenge the advisors on IT and technology to deliver a solution that can help him achieve that aim as opposed to compromising one way or another. And I think once we have that end focus on the consumer at all times, in what we are trying to achieve, we will be able to do that. Because, you know, there's an argument that human humans are predominantly more good than evil, more good than bad. Okay. So, you know, most companies who achieves greatness achieve it because they developed the proposition for the greater good. And the technology just supported that. And so I think that the onus is on the founders, the managers, administrators on the corporates to ensure that technology does their bidding for them, as opposed to them doing the bidding of the technology. 

Nadia:  So it's more having technology as an enabler rather than an end in itself, which is a shift, I must say, because even in my days, within the customer service outsourcing world, when I was working, it was almost a little bit the other way around. 

I found that a lot of technological applications might be a bit a tad rigid, and a bit inflexible, to be able to adopted the different customer requirements. So I must admit, to be to be fair, I want to make this clear, I'm coming from that school of thought, where I believe that companies and businesses shouldn't be completely digital. I think that's the personal human interaction, somehow some, it needs to be a hybrid model, in order for people to create organizational culture, for productivity, for efficiency, and for continuation. But of course, I stand to be corrected. I mean, that's, that's my view, as of today. Stephen, from your point of view, how do you think things will shift?

Stephen:  Things will shift, sort of, the frame of mind? So if the human being is, is to compete against technology, we're bound to lose. So it’s a race with a definitive answer, however, like, before Albert actually mentioned, for example, lateral thinking, I mean, AI is great, it can give us so many answers it can give us it can lead to so much thinking for us. However, it will never have the same capabilities are the same level of thinking. The same level of thinking outside the box that we have as humans. 

So like the change may possibly lead to casualties, yes. But ultimately, it will lead to so much more opportunities, which may require training, which may still be quite difficult to embrace. But still, ultimately, like the use of technology, if it is used to support us, rather than changing us, it will make a huge difference. And probably also, it will change our road in our pace of work, and which will ultimately be more beneficial to us. 

So why should I do constant repetitive tasks, when those can be actually like handled by, by my software, and instead focus on like rethinking the process or focusing on making sure that my clients are happy, or reaching out to clients? Why should I like, constantly do the manual tasks when I can actually do something which is way more beneficial, way more effective and efficient? Sort of, it's a matter of rethinking, and rethinking what we're doing, changing ourselves, changing what we believe is the best for us. And instead sort of look into ways and means how actually, you can sort of do things differently, better, and which activities are beneficial to us and for our clients. Definitely the door software, because it is just the tool.

Roberta:  Excellent. I think, Nadia, on this episode, we have had a lot of inspirational thoughts. I really hope that your ideas reach many people because we really need the touch open mind-set to be able to move forward and make sure that ultimately, we secure the secure success and human and sustainable way. So thank you, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and for taking the time to be here with us today.

Nadia:  Thank you very much. Thank you. I think what also we have realized is even though we have different realities and different contexts, modes are gone. We will are going through similar challenges and similar shifts from a business perspective. Let's rethink and relook and shift what consumers and other consumers in their respective industries are actually how they are changing how the behaviour is shifting to be able to adopt and apply those tools that really enable our business to be efficient and sustainable. 

So with this note, we really thank you very much for being with us today. Both Albert and Steven. And thank you, Chris, as well, for joining us. 

Chris:  I don't know if you can hear me?

Nadia:  Slightly. 

Roberta:  We can hear you but we cannot see you. Okay.

Chris:  No, I had to switch off the data. So I think my take on this is simply how important the internet connection has become even more. Because I think it's an extremely important commodity nowadays, with all this digitalization, so thank you so much from my end, as well. Apologize for the lack of better connectivity. 

Nadia:  Chris, thank you very much. Thank you, Steven. Thank you Albert. 

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