Tuesday, 26 July 2011

New Facebook 'Like Box' On Our Blog

We have installed a Like Box on our blog so that we can link our Facebook Fan Page to our company blog. Let's hope this gets us more fans. 

We found the tip on 50 Ways to Get More People to Like Your Facebook Page. It's a great site and this is only one of the few tricks they advise. We like! 

Friday, 22 July 2011

1404 Viruses in 1 really very sick Laptop!

By Haresh the "Virus Buster" Karamchandani 

We are in the process of signing a new monthly maintenance contract with an INGO and had done a survey of their offices and presented our proposal to them.

Then one fateful day they called me and said that they have another set of computers stacked somewhere that were not added to the inventory and we need to come and take note of them as well to form part of the Maintenance deal.

I was happy that the size of the contract would thereby increase and that would mean more income for the company so I rushed to the NGO office site to do the new inventory myself. On getting there the manager complained that these fairly new (7 in number) laptops apparently did not have any Anti-Virus loaded on them and therefore were not working well. She wanted to purchase AV from the market and I advised her that that would not be necessary as NATC can load the free version of AVG AV and license it till 2018 at no cost whatsoever.

Now she was happy, and she requested me to begin the job right-away. I brought back 2 Laptops to the office and started downloading the AVG AV on them. On completion we discovered that these 2 Laptops were badly infected and indeed had 34 and 16 viruses respectively. The AVG healed the viruses and the computers were up and running, fully healed back to life.

Next we started working on the other 5 laptops and this is where the story begins:

Laptop 1: The Windows OS was not genuine! The computer kept crashing on start up. We realized that the computer would have to be formatted and a genuine OS would have to be installed. Therefore we decided not to do the AV installation and set it aside.

Laptop 2: The network drivers were missing and could not connect online. The only solution we felt was to re-install the OS, therefore we had to set this one too aside.

Laptop 3, 4 and 5: All these laptops had issues with the OS license. The license was temporary and would expire in a few weeks. They also had USB driver problems, Network driver problems, etc. These problems could be resolved but that would mean formatting and re-installation. We felt that if we anyways have to format the computers it would not make sense to invest time in installing the AV. Because of the slow internet speed here in Liberia it would take up to 6 hours to download the AV per computer. In any case we felt that we should go ahead with at least one more computer and download the AV for the client.

We downloaded the AVG AV on this laptop and after we updated it we put it on a full computer scan. I felt that this scan would be over in a few minutes and we would see maybe 20-30 viruses. But I was wrong! The scanning began and took the whole night to complete. I had taken this laptop home to do the scan and kept awake until the late hours and kept checking and checking and checking. I stopped checking when the virus count reached 800 and went to sleep. When I woke up in the morning and checked the laptop again I was alarmed to see 1404 viruses!!

Types of VIRUSES detected:
Win32/sality, Worm/Mabezat.A, Autoit.CZ, Autoit.DB, Trojan Horse Back Door.VB.LSX, Win32/Cryptor, Trojan Horse Generic22.VSY, worm/Autorun.HV, Win32/Patched.GT, Win32/Virut, Trojan Horse. Cryptic.COL, Trojan Horse Generic18.BEZN, Trojan Horse Generic13.BOPQ, Trojan Horse PSW.Lineage.BVE, Win32/Heur, Trojan Horse SHeur3.CESH, Trojan Horse S.Heur3.BIKN, worm/Generic2.DHR, Trojan Horse Generic 22.ZRO, Trojan Horse Cryptic.BJD, Worm/VB.13.BV, Win32/Tanatos.H, Trojan Horse VBCryptic.XT, Trojan Horse Generic_C.AGHY, Trojan Horse Generic14.BANO, Worm/VB.9.BT, Trojan Horse Crypt.HIC, I kind of like the names of some of these viruses!

I spoke to the client in the morning and reported the issue to her. I wondered aloud, how would the computer get so badly infected and nothing was done about it? She explained that her staff was quite computer illiterate (Multiply that by 100!) and did not know how to manage IT related issues.

I told her it was time she got the Monthly Maintenance contract signed so that a professional company like ours would come in and ensure that their expensive equipment is secure. Hopefully the contract should be signed by the time I end this blog!

Meantime, you can call us the Virus Busters! 

Saturday, 16 July 2011


Contributed by Cecelia Cooper

On the 14th of July 2011, one of our clients had a problem with their Uninterrupted Power Supplies (UPS) (a total of 5) not booting correctly and some not booting at all.

We made the following diagnosis:

We observed that one of the UPS wasn’t booting correctly. We checked the power cable and checked the power button but it wasn’t a power connection problem.

We then checked the battery and noticed that the battery was completely dead and was not re-charging. The only solution here was to get a replacement battery.

These UPS batteries are not imported and stocked in Liberia. Our Head of Operations sent an email to our associates in the US and asked them to source the battery from APC. We were asked to send the Manufacturers serial number barcode on the UPS which we did. We were shocked to receive a reply that 3 out of 5 serial number’s were non-existent therefore the 3 APC UPS were not genuine and manufactured elsewhere! The other 2 were Genuine numbers but unfortunately the validity period was over and therefore could not be covered by the APC replacement guarantee.

APC has a policy that in case the battery goes bad they would replace the battery free of charge if it is within the one year validity period. Otherwise we would have to pay for the battery.

We have advised the client accordingly and are awaiting their confirmation before placing the order for new batteries.

We have 1,478 hits on our blog!

Contributed by Farzana Rasheed

Today we decided to take out our calculator and see what the stats look like. And behold, ladies and gentlemen, we have 1,478 hits on our company blog. Yay!

And, we have 5 followers, two of which are ourselves. 

So how did we get 1,478 hits? All of the staff have the company blog in our our digital signatures at the end of our e-mails. For instance, mine is like this:

Farzana Rasheed

New Africa Technology Company (NATC)
1st Floor, Above Master Trading, Randall Street
Tel: + 231 6 531 458
E-mail: farzana.rasheed@newafritech.com
Company Blog: http://newafritech.blogspot.com/
Skype: fazrasheed-london

I'm sure some of the recipients of my e-mails have clicked on our company blog to check it out. Half of the hits must be through the e-mail. 

We also have a Facebook page through which we promote the company blog. Every blog entry is posted on the New Africa Technology Company Facebook page

We have put a great effort into using these tools to promote ourselves and try to keep us in the public eye. And it looks like we will have to keep up the aggressive promotion by posting all our blog entries, small blurbs and technology news from BBC or Al Jazeera on Facebook as we really want more hits and many more followers.

We think we should also start using more of LinkedIn and try to raise our company's profile using that medium. 

I'm also thinking about inviting an outsider to write as a guest writer and contribute an entry, perhaps something like A Day at NATC

Lastly, the staff need to write more about themselves and what they are doing! We are getting increasingly busy but don't talk nearly enough about it!

The blog

So, we started blogging about our company back in October 2010 when we had set up the business. We have blogged about whatever we thought was interesting and relevant to blog about. 

In the beginning we posted three entries on the new website and logo we had commissioned and set up around the same time: New Company WebsiteDesigning the Company Website, Which L-O-G-O? and A Digital Green Africa

We have blogged about major projects that we have undertaken like setting up of a wireless network across a mining camp using Meraki technology (New Product: the Meraki MR58), installation and set up of the latest Windows 2008 server (Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition R2 x 64-bit), and launch of an SMS Broadcast Service

Two of our staff members (one is not working with any longer, incidentally) have also blogged about themselves: My name is Onesimus Borkuah and I work at NATC and My name is Cecelia Cooper and I work at NATC

There are also rather random entries such as the Spanner No. 9 and and a rusty NUT. Read it - it's quite amusing.

The blog is truly a useful tool and forum. It helps us to promote ourselves as a young, vibrant and excited IT company that uses blogging and Facebook. It allows us to project an image of a company that has its people at its centre. We encourage our staff to write about ordinary call outs to customer sites so they can start communicating what they do on an every day basis. It will also help them to improve their language skills and find creative ways to express themselves. And lastly, it'll be a good forum to discuss IT issues. 

We look forward to also having a historical online record years from now. 

We are pretty sure we are one of the few businesses in Liberia that has a blog if not the only one!

So please keep reading and following our blog! A deep thanks to all our existing 5 followers. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

IT Maintenance Contracts

Contributed by Farzana Rasheed

This blog post was prompted by a very promising meeting with a UN agency on the possibility of providing monthly maintenance services at their offices. The organisation was previously engaged with another IT company who initially provided good service but tapered off to the point where assigned staff to the site was constantly changing, breakdowns of hardware were not speedily attended to and service was quite poor. 

UN agencies have 'corporate' standards, central servers, standardised OS and Anti-Virus on all users' machines, and massive bandwidth. The whole system usually runs pretty well, updates are automatically and swiftly done thanks to high internet speeds, equipment is regularly replaced, and so on. 

What can NATC do? Where NATC can bring value is servicing of the hardware especially copiers and printers in order to extend the life of these machines, prevent breakdowns and not let users be affected. Laptops may experience blue screens due to a hardware or memory failure. NATC can resolve these problems by replacing parts or re-formatting the disks. By adhering to regular maintenance and being available for requests for call outs and breakdowns/repairs we can help this organisation to maintain its set up and the IT officer can focus on overall management of the system. 

The meeting went well and fingers crossed, the client will approve our proposal. 

We are currently signed on with several customers in the NGO and mining sectors and the experience will inform the technical and financial aspects of our proposal. 

IT Maintenance Contracts in Liberia

IT Maintenance Contracts have a significant scope in Liberia. The potential market is comprised of international NGOs and the UN agencies, banks, multi-nationals, mining outfits and local companies.  NATC is currently providing monthly maintenance to such entities who not only benefit from monthly maintenance on hardware and software but also general tech support and network management. In short, some of the clients we deal with have outsourced all their IT to NATC. 

Qualified and experienced IT professionals are hard to find in Liberia because of the poor educational system, lack of IT forums, and very few job opportunities. Organisations often complain of having poorly-skilled IT officers who cannot do basic trouble shooting. 

NATC routinely addresses IT issues of organisations that vary in size, style, culture, and location. One one hand we deal with modest-sized international NGOs who need monthly servicing on rather outdated laptops. Their local staff are not so IT-literate and ask us to help them with basic queries. On the other hand, we deal with giant mining companies who need us to transfer their V-SAT equipment from one camp to another; to extend their network across their new pre-fab container offices and rooms; and, repair large network printers. We solve very varied IT issues every day which gives us a lot of experience and knowledge on how to resolve hardware failure, source replacements parts, plan and execute projects in Monrovia or in other counties; and so on. We are familiar with organisational issues and how they affect IT. All in all, this gives us a significant edge over the average IT officer working here in the IT-deprived environment of Liberia. 

But things are improving! 

Ushahidi and iLab Liberia recently organised a workshop to discuss the use of free online tools to monitor the elections and open source technology.  Google West Africa has also organised a couple of "Google Internet Camps". However such workshops and events are rare. 


Liberia's economy is slowly but steadily moving towards services. Services can be typically more difficult to 'sell' than goods and Liberia is no exception. People prefer purchasing a good which they can touch and see rather than paying for preventative maintenance on their hardware and software. It can be quite tricky to convince new customers to invest in monthly servicing of their equipment and network. 

International NGOs have very limited budgets. We have experienced termination of contracts after 5 or 6 months into a signed contract due to "limited funding." This is a euphemism for 'we find your services too expensive and only realised this now.' This has led us to offer even more competitive pricing to the NGO sector. In fact, we now throw in any request for tech support free of charge within the same monthly flat fee. A customer can call us at any time and we dispatch a technician to their offices as soon as possible. 

Such pricing issues have forced us to assess all our contracts and apply the same strategy across the board be they international NGOs or international mining outfits. We now offer a flat monthly rate to all customers for all their IT needs. The customer gets regular maintenance as well as all the tech support they need. They would only separately and additionally pay for replacements parts in case repair of a hardware is needed. 

The local Liberian IT officer, who is essentially our counterpart, can be a challenge at times. He/she has to be engaged in a manner which does not challenge nor undermine him/her. We have actually been driven out of two organisations where the IT officer was a Liberian with whom we initially enjoyed a pleasant relationship, delivered excellent service, and even covered up his/her desperate lack of IT prowess but only to be sidelined out of a contract!

The ideal customer actually does not have in-house IT personnel and sees the merit in outsourcing IT to a company. It actually turns out to be cheaper than hiring personnel, paying a salary and benefits. 

Clients have also poached our painstakingly-trained and polished IT personnel. So there is the danger of having our staff snatched away, especially by those clients who have cancelled our contracts. You know who  you are!

With some of our customers, our entry point is usually at a nascent stage i.e. we come in at a time where the customer is setting up their office, needs networking, a server, hardware and reliable internet services. This is the most ideal context where NATC can actually help the client to set up their IT and then maintain it. Apart from the obvious profitable bit of it, it makes it that much easier to provide support on it. The customer feels comfortable in us managing and maintaining their system. 

On the other hand, if the entry point is after the organisation has already set itself up and has been around for a while, it takes time to 'learn' the the system and accordingly provide the best possible maintenance services. 

Lastly, it is useful to draft extremely detailed contracts but also to be flexible because the customer is always right!

How to stand out from the crowd?

First of all, NATC does not really have much in the way of competition. So, it is quite a thin crowd. But that does not mean we should not try to be as professional, stream-lined and on our toes all the time!

We have designed multiple forms to be used when on site. We have a Call Out Log for ad hoc calls and jobs. We also have a Maintenance Check List for the monthly visits. And lastly, we have a Customer Feedback form so we can constantly gauge the client's perceptions and levels of satisfaction.

For quality control purposes, the head of operations regularly accompanies staff on call outs and monthly visits. 

For comprehensive maintenance contracts, we submit detailed monthly reports that serve as a good record for what we have accomplished and highlight any relevant recommendations. As good and hardworking as our staff is, the basic report as written by them cannot be submitted as it is. We often have to heavily edit and beef it up. Furthermore, basic language skills are quite poor so we have started vocabulary and spelling classes at the office on Saturdays!

To overcome the high turnover that is common in Liberia, we have a trainee programme at NATC where youngsters can apply and enter a two-year traineeship. These trainees are taught, supervised and groomed both by the IT Supervisor and the Management. 

We are also planning on sending our staff for fibre optics training to Nigeria later this year in anticipation of the arrival of the undersea cable from France to West Africa and how it will affect the IT market/infrastructure in Liberia. 

It's Worth It and Moreover, it's Still Good Business

Despite all the challenges outlined above, IT Maintenance contracts have excellent potential in Liberia and this market is only going to grow. Multi-nationals and mining companies are coming in by the bucket loads and they all need IT. Moreover, these big corporations really appreciate the concept of outsourcing services like IT. They have global contracts, large and sophisticated systems that still need require local support and they are more than happy to pay for it. 

The ups and downs of various contracts we have executed have emphasised the need to be as competitive as possible in terms of pricing and as professional, efficient and slick in the actual service as possible. 

A deep understanding of the client in terms of their organisational structure, changing needs and priorities is also very useful. 

As mentioned previously, service can be difficult to sell and deliver but it is profitable. The main investment is staff and continual development and nurturing of staff - as opposed to stock, warehousing, exports/imports, duties and fees etc - which is well worth it and rewarding. 

We at NATC believe we have raised the standards for professional IT maintenance services in Liberia. We have an excellent core team of technicians managed by a forward-looking and optimistic leadership! We can't go wrong! 

Monday, 11 July 2011

Genuine Toners and Cartridges

Contributed by Haresh Karamchandani

The Liberian market is flooded with fake or substandard or duplicated Toners and Cartridges imported from Dubai and China. We have learnt that the duplicate cartridges come in different quality levels. A1, A, B1, B, C1, C, D1 and D quality. The A1 being the best duplicate and the D quality being the worst! Prices for these duplicate cartridges vary according to the quality.

So far nearly all businesses here in Liberia have been importing these duplicate goods and selling in the market. Customers obviously hardly have had any choice but to make do with these duplicate goods!

These duplicate quality toners would permanently damage the expensive printers due to leakage of ink on the printer head. Also the yields for these cartridges are extremely low. For e.g a Genuine HP 9730A Black Toner Cartridge used in HP 5550 Multi Function Printers gives a yield of 13,000 printouts, whereas the duplicate would not exceed 3,000 printouts!

The time for change has arrived!

NATC has now become a full fledged importer and supplier of Genuine Toners and Printer Cartridges. We recently imported a consignment of these items from the US. These Toners and Cartridges were sourced directly from DELL and HP. We were able to convince a local bank to purchase their quarterly supplies from us and also offered them very competitive prices for the Cartridges. They have placed out first big order and we are preparing to supply them today.

A convent school was stuck with a Epson Printer that was donated to them without cartridges. Luckily the manager knew that we deal in genuine stuff and sent us an email. Voila! We could supply them their requirement and they are now able to use their Printer.

We have also sent out an email to local traders informing them of arrival of these cartridges and last week we did make some actual sales to these traders. In the coming future we plan to build up our stock position and keep importing all the regular types and brands of Genuine toners and cartridges, i.e. DELL, HP, EPSON, CANON.

Eventually we hope that the users realize the importance of only using genuine parts which will help keep their expensive equipment in top shape.