In this interview with CHIMA AKWAJA, The The director of operations for Infravision, a telecommunications service provider, Arinze Chukwudile, explains how his organization is handling the Coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) challenges in the telecommunications industry and what support they need to deal with the current situation.
As a Nigerian commercial company operating in the ICT sector, how did your organization manage to cope with this COVID-19 pandemic?
Our organization provides managed services to telecom operators (which supports telecom operators to manage their network infrastructure). Our team is widely distributed in many states in Nigeria, providing support for field operations that require movement across multiple sites to resolve network problems.
In addition, we have some dedicated employees at our headquarters to provide backend support to the field team. In view of the nature of our business, we began to make some preparations in advance, such as purchasing the stock of material needed for operations, purchasing PPE (personal protective equipment) for the regional field team. The back-end team that supported the field operations team was accommodated in hotels close to their work facilities.
In total, our planned forecast was just a few weeks, but as the COVID-19 pandemic has been going on for a long time, we still need government support as our stocks will run out soon, which means the quality of the telecommunications network will be affected soon. . To date, we have sent a letter to the Hon Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, duly signed by 16 executive directors of telecommunications service providers to officially make our appeal.
What are the main challenges faced by your organization when providing services to the telecommunications / ICT industry in Nigeria during this COVID-19 pandemic?
The main issue is that telecommunications operators plan investments in telecommunications. This is affecting service providers like us due to decreased distribution of the network. This affects our gross revenue and the decline in business opportunities. Despite this decline, operating costs continue to rise due to an increase in material costs, service purchase costs and other unforeseen costs. Under such circumstances, service providers like us are more likely to have high debts and also go bankrupt. Therefore, we are appealing to the appropriate government authorities to provide us with some kind of relief to sustain our business and keep jobs for our people, so that we can continue to provide quality service to the ICT sector.
Among employees of many private sector organizations, there are fears of possible job loss if COVID-19 persists. This can damage the morale of such employees. How does your organization continue to motivate its employees during this period?
Although there is news circulating around some organizations firing their employees, our organization has ensured that all of our employees still keep their jobs and paid salaries to date in time.
Considering that we have our team widely distributed in different states of the federation, we try to keep in touch with our employees through regular email / video / audio conferences, including myself and other members of the management team, to keep them in touch continuously with the situation and inquire about your well-being.
Honestly speaking, the situation is bleak at the moment, as we don't know how long we can sustain this. However, we hope that, with the government's early intervention in the telecommunications / IT sector, we will be able to jointly create an enabling environment for investment in the ICT sector, which will ultimately protect our team's employment.
What is the likely impact on the national economy due to the risks posed by these challenges?
The obvious impact is a reduction in staff overhead, which will lead to job losses for companies to stay afloat. This would result in slower response times, causing poor network quality and increased customer complaints. Other sectors that depend on telecommunications / ICT networks to provide Internet services for them, such as banks, insurance companies, hospitals, etc. will also be affected.
As you can see, this would have an overall negative impact on Nigeria's economy and poor user experience. The COVID-19 pandemic is widely believed to plunge the world economy into recession. Many countries, including South Africa, South Korea and the Middle East, have made investment in the telecommunications / ICT sector a priority and part of their strategy to ensure that they recover quickly from the recession. This is because telecommunications / ICTs have the potential to help the Nigerian economy to recover quickly from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our request to the government and the private sectors is that they consider more investments in the Telecommunications / ICT sector. In addition, the telecommunications / ICT sector should be considered by the government as part of a critical investment in national infrastructure, in order to guarantee rapid economic recovery / growth.
Since the institution of the blockade, there have been reports of increased crime rates in many parts of Lagos, Ogun and Abuja. What steps is your organization taking to protect your field staff?
A: This is a major challenge that we are facing as an organization that operates during this period, because we have many field operations teams who are at risk when going to the site to solve network problems. We had to make a special budget for the safety of our team during this period, which greatly increased our operating costs. Although we have a good collaboration with law enforcement agencies and the local community, we still encounter this problem.
For example, recently one of our engineers was attacked by bandits on the way to the scene. Fortunately, he suffered no serious injuries. However, his phone and wallet containing cash and ATM cards were stolen. The underlying reason for this is that many people who make a daily living cannot leave as a result of the pandemic. Many people are hungry. We are asking the federal and state governments to take adequate security measures to protect lives and property during this pandemic period.
How do you think the Nigerian government can help to solve these challenges?
The government can help by making loan / intervention packages available to support companies in distress or other support policies as an investment incentive. This will motivate telecommunications operators to make new investments that, in turn, would provide new revenue stream opportunities to other providers, such as our organization in this sector. As I said earlier, we have already written to the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy to officially make our call.
What are the challenges faced by your team during execution ffield maintenance work during this block?
The first challenge is that many of the engineers are afraid to hire COVID-19, despite using PPE on site. This fear made some of them slow to respond and solve network problems on their websites.
The second problem is the difficulty of moving. In view of the restriction of movement imposed by the federal and state governments, there are many checkpoints administered by security officers that always prevent them from asking questions and checking whether they have authorized the pass or not. This causes many delays at checkpoints, making it difficult for the engineer to arrive on site within the estimated time of arrival (ETA)
The third issue is the difficulty for engineers to access locations located in homes, offices and residential properties. Many homes, offices and properties impose strict access restrictions for non-residents or non-employees. As such, engineers find it difficult to access these locations to resolve network failures.
This causes a long time to resolve failures (MTTR) and results in poor network service and poor user experience in the affected areas. Therefore, we ask the government, organizations, residential properties, office organizations and individuals, to have network equipment installed on their premises, to give special consideration to ICT / telecommunication service engineers so that they can resolve problems in time. skillful.
What are the main challenges encountered when carrying out the work of implanting / expanding the telecommunications network during the Covid-19 period?
The first problem is the unavailability of new network deployment jobs. Even some of the contracts previously contracted were interrupted and withdrawn by the telecommunications operators. As a result, many installation engineers working on contracts are out of jobs. Many of them are calling me and regretting the situation. How difficult they find feeding themselves and their families.
The second challenge has to do with the difficulty of moving during this period. Some of the few engineers who still have jobs to do complained bitterly about how difficult it is to get public transport and how they were subjected to endless checks by law enforcement officials at checkpoints. This resulted in a delay in reaching the location within the estimated time of arrival (ETA).
The third issue is the difficulty for engineers to access locations located in homes, offices and residential properties. Many homes, offices and properties impose strict access restrictions for non-residents or non-employees. As such, engineers find it difficult to access these locations to perform new installations / updates that would help improve the quality of the telecommunications network.