The 5th Edition of the Nigerian Communications Commission Emerging Technologies and Research Innovation Forum for the South-South region which featured a wide range of industry players, stakeholders and key individuals across value chains including startup founders and hubs within the Niger Delta region, began with an eye-opening paper presentation by Dr. Chris Uwaje (FNCS, FSP) the Africa Chair, IEEE Global Internet of Things (GIoT) Summit 2019.
This lead paper titled: “developing Nigeria’s tech-ecosystem – imperative for improving local content” had four focal areas: innovation hubs as the fulcrum of local content development; digital inclusion and wealth creation; employment generation and national economic development; legislative and government support for enhancing the tech ecosystem in Nigeria and making our youths globally competitive.
In the era of massive digitization and disruptive innovations driven by technology in the fourth industrial revolution, it is imperative to engage and drive what would spur action by stakeholders. Among the overlapping areas of technology demanding quick attention highlighted in this paper were: Inter-Generational-Knowledge-research; Weaponization of Data and Ideas; National Security; Engineering & Harvesting IP; Methods and tools that foster Mathematical Optimization; Neutral Networks, Search Engine, Machine Society & Probability of more Economic and Social Disruption; The Power of Computational Machinery and Emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI); Robotics; M2M; Big Data, Deep Web; Algorithm, Data Analytics and related fields of Science; Mathematical Psychology, Mind-Sociology control; Philosophy; Linguistics; New Wealth; Broadband; IoT; Blockchain; 3D Printing; Digital Games; Virtual Reality and many more.
A key area of this paper highlighted the scope of local content development and promotion. An insight into what and why of the local content narrative:
“Nigerian Content is the quantum of composite value added or created in the Nigerian economy through the utilization of Nigerian human and material resources for the provision of goods and services to the petroleum industry within acceptable quality, health, safety, and environmental standards in order to stimulate national development and security.” Dr. Uwaje said.
NIGERIAN OIL & GAS INDUSTRY CONTENT DEVELOPMENT BILL 2010: A Bill for the development of Nigerian Content in the Nigerian Oil & Gas Industry, Nigerian Content Plan, supervision, Coordination, Monitoring and Implementation of Nigerian Content, and for related Matters is contained in the NIGERIAN OIL & GAS INDUSTRY CONTENT DEVELOPMENT BILL 2010.”
The example of India on Local Content Development
India is the fastest-growing telecom market in the world with over 550 million internet connections and over 500 million smartphone users with a 1.3 billion population and an economic growth rate of over 7 percent. India’s Software Local Content generated over $150 billion within 2017 and 2018. She imported $2.2 billion in computer and electronic equipment from the U.S. in 2017 (NAICS code 334).
The ICT sector growth rate is over 9 percent per year and it contributes about 9 percent of India’s GDP and the ICT market in India is estimated at $180 billion and is projected to grow to $350 billion by 2025. The ICT hardware market on a standalone is estimated at $20 billion.
Why is Nigeria a Late-comers in critical Innovation development mission?
The emergence of tech hubs and clusters has seen a considerable level of growth caused by the utilization of technology and the empowerment of digital creatives. However, with minimal resources and not-so-sizable attention to these key players (I mean hubs), the slow-mo rate is inevitable. It is evident from developing economies; that incubators and innovation hubs play key roles towards economic development from empowering entrepreneurs with the skills they require to grow a successful business to incubating innovation ideas that disrupt systems, HP – for instance, one of the global PC powerhouse.
In Africa, Nigeria no doubt follows as a Top-Tier Incubator network. Top-tier countries remain the same as those identified in 2016 study (South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Morocco) with South Africa largely outperforming in the number of active tech hubs (59).-Source: Ecosystem Accelerator.
Although Nigeria’s sizeable market has begun showing evident signs of awakening. In less than two years, the country – with over 74 active tech hubs (According to Innovation Support Network -Nigeria)– outnumbered Egypt (34) and Kenya (30) by the number of active tech hubs, positioning itself on a par with South Africa.
Meanwhile, (after 2016) Lagos, the economic hub of West Africa, now counts more hubs and programs than any other city across the continent (26 in Cape Town, 25 in Nairobi, and 23 in Cairo) – Fewer than 10 within the oil-rich Niger Delta region.
New research carried in early 2018, shows that since 2016, the number of active tech hubs across Africa has grown by over 50%: from 314 in 2016. 442 hubs are now active on the continent and a dozen is due to launch in early 2018. (Source Ecosystem Accelerator)
Nigeria has made indisputable efforts to improve the investment climate and take part in the tech race that is characterizing the continent. The recent announcements of new hubs by Google and Facebook also denote that the upward trend is steady.
Question is: Why is Nigeria a Late Comer in critical Innovation development mission?
Today, the Nigeria Association of Innovation Hub Owners proclaims that there are over 750 Technology Innovation Hubs in Nigeria – springing up like Churches and Mosques all over the Country!
Why the sudden surge for ICT Research & Innovation Hubs?
WORLD POPULATION TODAY: The world population today has ballooned beyond our collective imagination to 7.4billion, so has that of all nations and State Governments around the world. Nigeria is not left out (with about 200million) and indeed presents a special challenging case study on the critical need for innovation to fulfill the urgent needs of the teeming population.
In particular, the mission of ICT Innovation Hub is to engage the monumental challenge of addressing and providing sustainable solutions to the topical issues of Inclusiveness in Governance, Youth engagement and citizen unemployment, social inclusion and wealth creation –especially: Education, Community Development, State security, health care, poverty and protection of life and property.
Engaging these challenges urgently require new skill-sets, work models and responsive Local Content strategies and solutions focused on Governance, National Security and Survivability.
This reoccurring challenge can best be resolved by ventilating the inactive but critical information and data congestions that has clustered the social and economic system and sectors of governance, and business – constituting a major obstruction to carrying out economic development mandate of government timely and efficiently.
It is therefore imperative that ICT facilities and constructive knowledge processes are strategically deployed and integrated to:
- Apply Digital Literacy to Retool the workforce for optimized governance and business process,
- Reduce the administrative lapses at many levels,
- Reform the inactive models in education, business and government affairs,
- Provide multi-layered employment, create wealth and reduce youth restiveness.
- Simplify the administrative tasks; improve the quality of government service to attract more investors for global competitiveness.
- Empower the citizenry; enhance collaboration and interactions between government, business, citizens and the general public.
THE NEW FUTURE OF WORK: FACTS AND FIGURES
The Industry has recorded increased demand in digital skills over the past years. In China, it’s reported that about 12,000 Start-ups emerge per day! The transformation wave of innovation now drives the ICT Ecosystem. To remain relevant, the industry and organizations are adopting new-age strategies to engage the future of work.
The industry is, therefore, witnessing new investments towards skilling technologies such as AI, ML, Data Analytics, Blockchain, 3D Printing, Cloud, 5G, Social Media, Cybersecurity and many others.
For example, the India IT skill development sector is growing at 20% annually, producing 260,000 in Cloud Computing, 185,000 in AI & Big Data, over 180,000 in Social Media and Mobile Platform development, 170,000 in IoT, etc. Most of these skill sets are Software-Centric – focused on the demand for the future of work.
CYBERSPACE: THE DRONES ARE HERE!
What can we do if the nation is attacked by Drones?
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How can we make “Innovation’ thrive? The trick is to understand that innovation in itself is a fusion. A “Fusion of Multidisciplinary Knowledge Team.” An example is the successes seen in “AI” and Weaponization of the Cyberspace.
The foregoing makes it clear that innovation erupts from spaces with multi-disciplinary teams. It is safe to say that a successful Innovation Hub-Team constitutes a multidisciplinary Skill Sets.
According to Dr. Uwaje on his lead paper at the NCC Emerging Technologies Research and Innovation Forum, Engineering the fusion of these skill-sets required for innovation demands the following strategies:
- Disruptive Design Thinking Strategy, (Life is a Code Model)
- Industry cluster & Disruptive Content development strategy,
- Entrepreneurship strategy, (Best Product or Solution doesn’t sell itself!)
- Sociology, arts, culture, design and marketing strategy,
- Environmental sustainability strategy, and
- Community Stakeholders Inclusive strategy
The “Innovation-of-Things: The Ecosystem of Ideas, Creativity And Disruption Processes” points out four basic pillars of innovations: “CURIOSITY, IDEA & IMAGINATIONINTERACTIONS”, “DOMAIN SKILL EXPERTISE”, “APPLICATIONS” AND “MARKET DIVERSITY.”
The Fundamental Requirements and Elements of the Innovation Ecosystem
A view on the underlying frameworks of innovation Hubs, according to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, 1995, Harvard Business School (Modified), some fundamental elements that would drive an innovation ecosystem include but not limited to:
- Institutions that attract and support the people with the talent and foresight to create new ideas;
- Industry networks that encourage interaction, stimulate further innovation, help develop specialized services to support emerging companies, and encourage cross-industry partnerships;
- Facilitation of entrepreneurship to commercialize concepts so that ideas, and businesses based on them, grow in the area;
- and Cultural and social amenities constituting the quality of life that motivate knowledge workers and the innovation-based companies that rely on them to stay in the area.
LEGISLATIVE & GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR ENHANCING TECH ECOSYSTEM IN NIGERIA
The place of government and governance cannot be overemphasized. This is seen especially in the role the Nigerian Communications Commission plays in the value chain. The NCC which is the national independent Regulatory Authority for the telecommunications industry in Nigeria is responsible for creating an enabling environment for competition among operators in the industry as well as ensuring the provision of qualitative and efficient telecommunications services throughout the country.
In the effort of the NCC to achieve a thriving innovation ecosystem that is so much around the digital economy, an 8-Point Agenda was drafted. This agenda includes:
- Facilitate Broadband penetration through the provision and optimization access to and use of affordable fixed and mobile broadband in Nigeria.
- Improve Quality of Service by promoting the availability of reliable, interoperable rapidly restorable critical ICT infrastructure that are supportive of all required services.
- Optimize the usage and benefits of Spectrum by maximizing the availability of Spectrum in order to provide diverse and affordable ICT services and ensuring that spectrum acquisition does not distort marketing competition.
- Promote ICT innovation and investment opportunities. By this, ICT innovations will be promoted in ways that improve the nation’s ability to compete in the global economy, increased investment in youth and promotion of SMEs for new business delivery breakthroughs.
- Facilitate strategic collaboration and partnership with relevant stakeholders to foster ICT for sustainable economic development and social investment.
- Protect and empower consumers from unfair practices through the availability of information and education required to make informed choices in the use of ICT services.
- Promote fair competition and inclusive growth by creating a competitive market for ICT services that foster fair inclusion of all actors in innovative ways that facilitate new investment, job creation, and consumer satisfaction.
- Ensure regulatory excellence and operational efficiency through an effective regulatory framework, efficient processes, strict compliance monitoring and enforcement, efficient management of internal resources and structure and maintain a commitment to transparency.
The roadmap for NCC is clear at least, per the agenda which has seen substantial progress over the years. However, according to Dr. Chris Uwaje, the following policy and strategic framework are required for effective hub decisions, investments and success:
- Building High-end Expertise (for Hubs and entrepreneurs/innovators)
- To start-up, it is imperative to build a strong research capability to attract international talents in critical areas
- Identify and Promote idea Interaction
- Innovation Hackathorn for technology disruption amongst knowledge clusters and universities nationwide
- Industry linkage: Fuss multi-dimensional knowledge together with industry
- Establish Innovation Support Services to identify facility and innovation knowledge gaps at all critical levels
- Domesticate application of technology and commercialization of research
- Create partnerships and mergers amongst entrepreneurs to build large and robust corporations.
- Funding Facilities and Modalities (Grant Expertise)
- Establish competence in Innovation Research Grant Writing targeted at International and local Venture Capitalists and Angel investors. Seek donation targeted to technology infrastructure and basic research tool manufacturers.
The Nigerian Communication Commission’s Emerging Technologies Research and Innovation Forum South-South saw ecosystem players from the telecoms sector especially MTN, Glo, Ntel and 9Mobile – with media houses, government agencies, stakeholders, hubs and tech community leaders to engage and highlight disturbing areas and solutions to spur innovation and growth within the Niger Delta region.
Some of the recommendations include:
- A short term plan to get clusters and as well an ISM policy to be in place as a service provided by MNOs to support Hubs so they can benefit per economies of scale in the area of access for the internet.
- On a Long term, infracos should be supported to drive fibre optic to key areas to improve internet penetration.
- In other to drive local content, it was recommended that NCC should mandate the use of sandboxes for value-added services from MNOs;
- NCC to facilitate access to industry-wide information;
- NCC to facilitate collaborative engagement with industry players in a single forum;
- NCC to enforce reporting by all stakeholder for compliance with disability act;
- NCC to advocate and facilitate harmonization of laws and policies that impact local content development;
- NCC and other regulators to enhance local collaboration and providing a portal for local players to submit feedback on their activities;
- Industries to assist NCC in providing information that concerns the tech ecosystem;
- NCC to foster a stronger partnership with hubs in the operation of Knowledge access center for proper management;
- NCC to facilitate access to more modular devices including tools/gadgets ( a suggestion is to move for a location of a device coupling plant to reduce the cost of purchasing devices like laptops, etc.)