Friday, 23 December 2011

2011 in Reflection

From Karachi, Pakistan

The CEO and Head of Operations are currently in Karachi, Pakistan on holiday. We just interviewed a young Pakistani IT professional for a potential position at NATC on the 9th floor of the Sheraton Karachi where we are staying. It was a good interview and it looks like we will have a new expatriate staff member on our team. 

The interview was scheduled by chance through a business owner from whom we purchased some equipment and goods for NATC. He introduced us to this IT professional and the fellow came over for an interview to our hotel. It is an interesting manner in which we arranged and conducted an interview but that is what makes running a company so exciting. We are able to hire people through flexible procedures and able to take risks. 

Sitting in the business lounge of the 9th floor of the Karachi Sheraton, sipping a steaming cup of espresso, and talking about our IT services company in Liberia was a memorable moment. Here we are, an Indian Head of Operations and a Pakistani CEO, interviewing a young South Asian about a potential job opportunity in an emerging economy in West Africa! Nothing could be more global village than that. 

So here we are on Christmas day and NATC would like to extend compliments of the season to its friends, staff, and customers. 2011 has certainly been a year of growth, a year of HR challenges, a year of expansion of clientele, a year of streamlining of procedures, and a year of growth in sales. 

Reflecting on 2011

NATC, a year old company, is the successor to NLTC, a company which was founded and operated by the late Wesley C. Daames. NLTC was one of the first, if not the first, IT services company established in 2003 in post conflict Liberia. Its main objectives was to provide quality and competitively priced IT services and goods to the market by expertly-trained Liberian technicians. NATC is carrying forth this legacy. 

We started the business from a humble apartment cum office space on Randall Street and are now poised to inaugurate a brand new swanking office space (we call it the "Loft") located opposite Harbel (Abijaoudi) Supermarket on Randall Street. This office and IT showroom will cater to our exclusive clientele where we will stock the latest technologies and equipment and supplies. 

For those of you who do not know what NATC does we provide on-site IT maintenance and services and supplies of IT related goods and  consumables. Our client base comprises of Multi Nationals, Mining Companies, Banks, UN Agencies and NGOs. We have also broken into Government Ministries and Agencies recently by competitively bidding for supplies of Computers and peripherals. 

We have also created a niche in GENUINE Toner and Ink Cartridges, so much so that other local vendors have started to purchase/depend on us for supplies. The ultimate aim is to wipe out supplies of FAKE/Compatible cartridge brands in the market by creating awareness amongst the consumers about the advantages of using GENUINE Toners and Cartridges in the long run. We have tied up with HP and DELL USA and will be embarking on a nationwide advertisement campaign soon. 

Critical lessons

We have learnt and experienced some critical lessons during the year. 

Clients expect competitively priced service and good value for money. This holds true for small NGOs as well as huge mining outfits. We are compelled to offer our customers long term warranties for our supplies, all round the year, on-site visits to trouble shoot and resolve IT issues, intelligent and experienced IT professional staff, advise on latest technologies, all of which we have been able to improvise upon each and every day. So, we have come up with an all-round contract which not only includes monthly maintenance but free site visits for ad hoc issues. 

Although seemingly saturated by Indian and Lebanese stationery shops, there is a lot of scope for providing quality IT hardware to the Liberian market. We do not intend to switch to retail and plan to increase our turnover by continuing to focus on institutional clients, but we can exploit the current demand for latest and industry-specific technologies. For example, our clients need ID card printers to create HR systems for vast numbers of workers on their farms and camp sites. They need plotters and plotter cartridges to print geological maps. Others are looking for specific brands such as Lenovo to match their corporate standards. And so on. 

NATC, with a partner office in Houston, Texas, is responding efficiently to customer needs. We regularly ship out items such as cartridges, plotter ink, high-spec laptops, replacement parts for damaged hardware, ID card printers and ribbons, and heavy-duty network printers. 

Image is important. We constantly strive to project a particular image: a young, dynamic and professional company which provides excellent service at a great price. We have invested a lot of time and funds on creating a website and logo. We spend valuable hours blogging and updating our Facebook page. Likewise, we have invested into a new office which we are confident will be the swankiest space in Monrovia. 

Do not undermine procedures and constantly communicate with the client! NATC places great emphasis on internal procedures such as filling out forms for monthly maintenance and call outs to client sites. If need be, we buttress these forms with separate reports and e-mails. Not only does the client appreciate this kind of attention to detail, it also presents us a company that maintains records and knows how to follow up on issues. It also helps us to create a record of what we have accomplished for each client, especially when there is a turn over of staff amongst some of our international clients such as UN agencies and NGOs. 

Spend time with staff and explore training opportunities. NATC inherited trained and experienced staff from NLTC but some of them stayed on while others took on other job opportunities. We hired new staff and have finally settled on a core team which feels like a small family. We engaged an experienced English teacher to come in for regular English classes to improve communication skills. We ensure we have regular office meetings to update each other on company news, share anecdotes and make plans. We are also planning on sending staff members abroad for advanced training such as the field of fibre optics. And lastly, we are planning on hiring an expatriate staff member who would head and train the technical team. 

We are convinced that the current economic outlook in Liberia is only the beginning of an imminent  foreign investment boom which is going to create opportunities for local companies, especially in the area of services. It is a good time to be doing business in Liberia. 

Final thoughts

It has been a good year for NATC and we are grateful to our staff for putting in all the hours of hard work, whether it was performing on site services out in Grand Gedeh County or running after that tax clearance! We are grateful to our partner in Houston for sourcing quality goods at excellent prices and putting that extra personal touch in ensuring our goods get to us in good time. And lastly, we appreciate the wide range of our clients who have confidence in us. 

We would end by remembering and honouring those who have passed on. Joseph Dennis, our janitor and security, died suddenly of a stroke, and his loss is greatly felt and mourned by NATC. 

We have also sponsored the medical treatment of a former NLTC staff member who is currently in Mumbai. We hope Naomi is fully cured and will be amongst us soon. For more details you can see our blog post Please help NATC save a life

We wish everyone a memorable end to 2011 and a smooth transition to the new year. See you all in our new loft in 2012!

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