Austin Okere – NIGERIA’S ICT TOP10

Founder & Vice chairman, Computer Warehouse Group (CWG) Plc

Austin Okere is founder &vice chairman, Computer Warehouse Group[CWG] Plc, the foremost Nigerian company to set out on a mission of making computers available to Nigerians in what was then a seller’s market. He started the company in 1992 as an infrastructure provider, selling and supporting Dell brand of personal computers. His major driving force was to make a positive impact in satisfying customer demands for computer hardware with professionalism and integrity that were then lacking in the business.

That initial business model has changed continually over the 25 years of the company’s operation to now lean more on high value added services. This happened in his quest for customer satisfaction, which is the driving force for his decision to set up his own business. He instituted a regular dialogue with customers early in the business, which enabled him to identify customer needs and service gaps in the rapidly expanding ICT sector.

The exercise inspired the diversification of the initial Computer Warehouse Ltd into a group that incorporates two sister companies – Expert Edge Software and Systems and DCC Satelliteand Network Ltd. Computer Warehouse Ltd provides hardware and infrastructure solutions.

Expert Edge handles system applications and deployment.Its software first hit the market with its online banking application that made its mark in Nigeria and the rest of West Africa. It was one giant step forward for Okere in providing software for some the leading banks in the country.

The move into satellite and networking is another big step forward in the development of Nigeria’s ICT sector. Partnering reputable local and international companies, the company has made its mark in providing communications and networking solutions.

In continual pursuit of customer centred services, CWG has offered managed services to clients, providing the skill needed to manage and operate clients’ data centres. Exploiting the pervasiveness of mobile phones and the ubiquity of broadband, the company has moved from managed services to what it calls cloud software services. This is targeting the vast opportunities created with broadband on the mobile phone – e-commerce and inclusive banking.

Many people who were unable to do banking before have been included by the mobile phone revolution. This is estimated to have increased the banking population from about 30% to 60%. The cloud services provide the technology banks need to serve the increased banking public, beginning with microfinance banks.

Okere is keen to ensure that the service is designed to afford microfinance banks the opportunity to use the software to service their customers without using a big amount of money to buy software or run a big IT department.This ensures that the cost of the software is affordable to the banks and the cost of their own services is equally kept low.

The company has also developedsoftware for mobile money in the effort to avail banks the technology to serve inflowing customers.The result of the product was tremendous,according to Okere, raking in three times the targeted customer accounts to the targeted bank. With the great success recorded, other major banks that are coming on to the platform, Okere said. Mobile money is targeted at bringing the informal sector into the banking sector and that effort has been considerably empowered by the technology that CWG has provided.

Even a more fulfilling productfor Okereis accounting softwarehis company is providing for SMEs.It is designed to deal with the challengeof providing bookkeeping records that banks will need to assess their credit-worthiness when they want to expand. CWG has accounting software in the cloud that tracks SMEs’sales and inventory and balances their books at the end of every day.

Providing this software to the estimated 34 million SMEs in Nigeria, making it easy for them to build up accounting records and consequently positioning them for bank credit support is the big package in ICT development from Okere to the Nigerian economy.

CWG has grown into a large business organisation operating in four countries – Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroun and Uganda with six partners in Africa exporting its home made products to 28 countries.

The group also includes CWG Academy – an ICT skills development centre that feeds the company as well as outside interests. Its capacity has been expanded with training facilities built in Lagos, Port-Harcourt and Abuja and in other countries where the group operates.

Okere’s CWG Plc is reputed as the largest systems integration company in sub-Saharan Africa. He stands out in Nigeria’s ICT sector for increasing local contents in ICT products and services. He is credited for great impacts in hardware, software, internet, IT education, IT security and telecommunications.