Friday, 24 October 2014

On site

Text by Farzana Rasheed
Photos by Daniel Collins
We bagged a new internet services client. It is most exciting and encouraging news! 

See some photos of us on site setting up the network. 

By the way, this was an entirely wireless network and according to our staff, Daniel Collins, a smooth job: "The client request for wireless only so there were no need for  too many drilling, terminating wall boxes and others."

See photos of our team on site:

Best of all, I loved what Daniel had to say: "I like to say,  No matter what the crisis (EBOLA) is, we are here to stay and work as a team."

Saturday, 4 October 2014

A Saturday photo

I asked Haresh to take a picture of our staff and here's a photo of Daniel and Emmanuel.

Friday, 3 October 2014

A rainy Friday morning

Photo by Haresh Karamchandani
This is what our entrance looked like this morning. The NATC office is on the right in the picture, the one with the massive green sliding gate.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

MS Office 365 – A “Boon” or a “Kaboom”

Contributed by Haresh Karamchandani

Flashback: August 2013 – A mining company client calls NATC tech support, knowing our reputation that we offer only Genuine software, to check if we could offer them MS Office software for 5 laptops.
We immediately put forth the following proposal:
MS Office 2013: The latest version from Microsoft consisting of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, Access. Perpetual licensing. Price US$350.00 each.
MS Office 365: Exactly the same as MS Office 2013. One year license. Price US$20.00 each. (US$99.99 for 5 users per annum).
We advised that the MS Office 365 would be a much better bet as MS would keep upgrading the software from time to time, and when it is time for renewal the next year we would just have to pay US$99.99 and get the latest version. Whereas the MS Office 2013 would get outdated in a few years’ time. (I know of some clients that are stuck with MS Office 2007 till today!) The client took our advice, and we delivered.
License was bought in the USA, by our US Office and the product key was emailed to us for activation and installation on the client computers right here in Liberia. Everything worked smoothly.
Current day: August 2014 – The client is roaming in India and calls  and says that the license is expiring and needs to be renewed. We assured them that it would be done promptly as usual. We got down to the job immediately and called up MS Sales to purchase a renewal armed with our US credit card details.
To our utter shock and dismay, the MS Sales declined to renew the license saying that it is being used in a different region other than the US and therefore we would have to use a payment method from Liberia in order to get the license renewed! We called the client and advised that they get the license renewed from India using their company card. They call back the next day to say that it was declined as well. Then we try using another UK VISA card. Declined again!
Finally, after being on the telephone for 4 grueling hours (the line would get disconnected after about an hour on the phone and MS would not call back, and we would have to call back and start the troubleshooting from the beginning), finally MS Tech support “understood” our problem that we do not have any payment method (Credit Card system) in Liberia and agreed to accept our US card as payment. A new order number was generated and a new product key was emailed to our email account.
We “thought”, phew, that should be it. We emailed the client the new product key and instructions on how to get their software activated and went to sleep late in the night. We were awakened early the next morning with a call from India. The client complained that the software was not getting activated. They were getting a “Region” error! As long as the software was not renewed/activated they would not be able to produce new work as the license had expired.
We assured the client that we will do whatever it takes to resolve the problem.
We again called MS Tech support for Office 365 products, I now know the number by heart, and explained to them our predicament. Again the same rigmarole. We kept getting disconnected and they would not call back! After another 4 grueling hours of troubleshooting the best MS could offer was that we should create a brand new email account on a computer in the USA and use the product key to activate the license on that computer! We had to do a conference call to our US office along with MS Tech Support and finally the problem was resolved. We cannot use the original email account though, but we have a new account with US details and the client can use this new account to have their respective software activated.
What did we learn from this? MS Tech Support sucks! 

Friday, 29 August 2014

Our most popular posts

Contributed by Farzana Rasheed

We have strived to maintain a blog since we started the company. The objective of the blog is to present a commentary and online-diary of our company. We want to chart our progress, our successes and day-to-day challenges of an IT company in Liberia. We want to come across as a group that is very passionate about delivering quality IT services in a challenging environment in Liberia. We are not afraid to talk about challenges and difficulties, either. 

It is difficult to post regularly since we are a small business and, not everyone has time to write about what they are doing. Our technical staff, brilliant and hardworking as they are, have been shy to express themselves and also have very little writing experience. Although they are the ones on ground and would be able to write highly interesting posts about what it is like to deliver IT service in Liberia, they struggle to find the time or confidence to write. 

But I do push my staff to write! Last year, writing an end-of-the year post was mandatory for all my staff before we closed shop for Christmas. 

I also try to enoucourage my business partner and Head of Operations to frequently put pen to paper. 

We have also had part time and temporary positions filled in our company. For instance, we had a Marketing Officer who used to come and work for us for three times a week. He often contributed with a post. That post was filled after his departure too but only briefly.  I've also had some English teachers who provided English writing lessons to our staff. One of them contributed a post.  

Once we have a new blog entry, we also post a link on our Facebook page.

As far as feedback is concerned, very few comments are posted on our blog. But  I notice that people do read our blog. I often get comments first hand from individuals. 

So, we need to keep writing. 

Here are some of our popular posts:

2) Xerox 7125 Work Centre Printer Error 010-333. It received 1,028 hits. 

3) Shipping News. It received 100 hits. 

4) Is XP extinct? It received 53 hits. 

6) There is a baby in the office! It received 73 hits. 

9)  Back to Liberia  It received 65 hits.

10) Sad Day It received 65 hits.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

How does a business cope with an ebola-struck economy?

Contributed by Farzana Rasheed
Haresh Karamchandani

It is doubtful guidebooks written by business gurus appearing on the prestigious New York Times bestseller list or a graduate of the Harvard Business School could advise a company on how to handle the deteriorating situation as the likes of which we are now facing in ebola-struck Liberia. Not that we doubt these institutions!  Basic principles apply to business anywhere you operate in any part of the globe but many models and practices applicable to highly developed economies would not apply to fragile ones as in an emerging market such as Liberia.

Experience of the country, practical gut instincts, calm head, firm resolve, a do-as-the-Romans-do approach and a positive attitude are required more than anything else.

Most of last year, 2013, was kind of slow for business to begin with. Many of our clients in the mining and agribusiness sectors had tightened spending since they were transitioning from an exploration phase to trying to acquire mining and full operating licenses.  The public sector too was not spending as it had in the previous couple of fiscal years.

Besides IT services, NATC also regularly participates in public bids and has imported goods for various Liberian government ministries and the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

The deadly epidemic struck Liberia in the first quarter of 2014. It has also hit Sierra Leone and Guinea. The official number of victims killed by this deadly virus are 1,200 but this number is probably much higher.

Ebola first hit Liberia in Lofa Country (close to the border with Guinea) earlier in the year but it was not until people in Monrovia started falling ill with ebola, where at least one-third of the population resides, that the government declared emergency: the porous borders were sealed, non-essential government staff were told to stay at home and even travel restrictions were imposed between the 13 counties.  As the situation stared to deteriorate - the healthcare infrastructure simply could not cope - the government placed one of its the biggest slums under Army-enforced quarantine after an ebola treatment center was attacked by residents. A curfew was also put in place from 9 PM to 6 AM. 

Some international staff of NGOs have been evacuated. Some of NATC's clients are operating with bare essential staff and have halted operations for now. Almost all regional and international flights including British Airways, Air France, Gambia Bird, Arik Air and Kenya Airways have suspended flights to and from Liberia. One of the long-standing carriers to and from Europe, SN Brussels, first announced it had suspended flights but later informed the public it would continue service, to the relief of expatriates, many of them working in NGO and private sectors. It feels as if Liberia itself has been put under quarantine.

Some of our friends who were away on holidays, especially those with children, decided to remain abroad. This includes myself (Farzana, CEO of NATC). The head of operations, Haresh, was away on holiday for almost a month but is back since 17 August. But I wonder how long I can stay away?

Things are extremely uncertain and worrying at the moment. The country has been isolated by the regional and international community by suspending flights and refusing entry to visitors from Liberia despite WHO advice. The containment of West Point, a crowded slum where some of the poorest folks of Liberia live, is creating frustration and fear of riots and chaos. Many shops and businesses remained closed on Wednesday, 20 August when the curfew was announced. 

A view of Randall Street a day after the curfew was announced.
Photo by
Haresh Karamchandani
I heard from a friend lately that Indians who were employed with Indian businesses were trying to leave, too.

News from the media and health NGOs operating in Liberia stressed the inability of Liberia's healthcare system and the limited infrastructure to handle the crisis. Moreover, people suffering from other illnesses or pregnant women could not receive care since hospitals and clinics were already over-stretched. This reality struck hard for NATC since our senior staff, Jonathan Barwon, complained of illness. He was not able to receive any adequate care anywhere. To get decent medical care has always been a nightmare in Liberia but during this crisis, it has become acute.

Jonathan was suffering from the usual typhoid and malaria combination that seems to inflict everyone in Liberia as well as a very bad stomach ulcer, he sought care from local clinics. He was told by the doctor that his blood count was getting low which may be caused due to internal bleeding from the stomach ulcer.  We took  him to Air Med a South African new clinic behind Royal Hotel where for $ 190.00 he was examined and confirmed that he was generally better from the typhoid and malaria treatment but the ulcer needed further medication. He has been going back for regular check ups and seems to be recovering. If the situation gets worse, and since flights are suspended, we would have to evacuate him through Air Med at an expense of more than US$45,000.00 as he does not have any insurance cover. 

Business it self has definitely slowed down. Calls for IT support and requests for supplies have all but dwindled. Many of our clients have drastically down scaled operations. We are still receiving RFQs and public bids though. For instance, the US Embassy put out a huge RFQ (Request for Quote) for printers, toners and office supplies. We have submitted our bid and keeping our fingers crossed. Another RFQ from the Liberia Revenue Authority to link 5 Ministries and Government Agencies via WiMax has been submitted. There are many more RFQ’s from UNMIL and Government Ministries. This will keep us busy, and hopefully we will win a few tenders.

Our colleagues in the private sector are all complaining about bad business. Many of them have traveled out and cannot return due to the flight situation. There seems to be a looming cooking gas shortage on hand, too.

The general environment is not normal. Traffic has reduced considerably. Many shops on Water Street are still shut. The Waterside market has moved up to Ashmun street. It's like a wait and watch situation. Streets are dark and quiet in the evenings. Most businesses close early so their staff can get home before the 9 PM curfew. Banks are over crowded as people are trying to withdraw and keep their cash in their pockets, just in case. 

All offices, banks are observing strict sanitary rules. Everyone has to wash hands and get their temperature checked before entering.

Haresh was walking down the street one evening this week and overheard a group of private security guards complaining about police brutality during the curfew hours.

Businesses who import and stock commodities will make more money as they will hoard and increase prices gradually as the situation deteriorates. Staff are being relieved of their jobs at the slightest opportunity to reduce cost.

In the end, NATC which has worked too hard to try to establish itself as a premier IT Services and Products company. We just have to dig our heels in, remain patient and hope for things to come back to normal. We will continue to provide the best possible IT services and patiently wait for good times which are inevitable.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A Message from NATC

Contributed by Farzana Rasheed

See the message that was sent to all our clients and partners today via e-mail.  

Dear valued clients,

During this time of tragic crisis as the ebola epidemic has struck Liberia and the authorities are struggling to contain it, we at New Africa Technology Company (NATC) would like to say we are still here.

Haresh, our head of operations, was out of the country for about a month (late July to mid August) but has been back in the country since 17th of August. Farzana, our CEO, has been away on long holiday (family visit/surgery) with Baby Kavita but has had to extend her sojourn due to the crisis in Liberia.

NATC is observing the curfew and, ensuring its staff are safe and healthy to the best of its abilities.

We are here to respond to any queries for supplies and, requests for support.

We wish for the safety of all our clients, partners, staff, friends and indeed, all our fellow Liberians.


NATC Management Team