Thursday, 23 February 2012

Joining an IT Company in Liberia

Contributed by Guillaume Foutry

Last week I started working at NATC (New Africa Technology Company). I think my situation is a startling example of how globalised the world is: I am French, living in Liberia, working for a local IT company run by an Indian man and a Pakistani woman. This is my first job in Liberia and Africa, and I am quite excited to learn more about the IT environment here, but also on how to do business in Liberia.

Liberia is changing fast: an ever-growing number of foreign companies are investing in the country, new infrastructures are being built and the GDP is growing at a 9% rate every year. So a lot of opportunities are here for the taking for industrious and capable business people.

Haresh and Farzana, the people behind NATC, fall into that category: I have been really surprised by their resourcefulness, ingenuity and resilience. That is one of the reasons why I joined the company, but another one is its potential: NATC is specialised in network services, IT supplies and maintenance and repairs. And from what I heard talking to people here and there, opportunities are plentiful in that field.

By now you are wondering: “What does Guillaume do at NATC?”. Well I am in charge of the marketing and account management, getting the company to improve its processes to provide even better service to its existing customers and acquire new ones.

I strongly invite you to stop by at our new office on Randall St, behind Monroe Chicken to get to know more about the company and see how we can help you and your organisation.

Monday, 20 February 2012

First Week at the Loft

We have completed one week at the loft and we absolutely love it. Below are pictures taken during this first week:

View of the Admin Area

Head of Operations, Haresh Karamchandani, at his desk

View of the Admin Area

Tech Area which we are especially proud of in terms of the design. The space is going to be used for diagnosis and repairs. We installed a fibre work counter along the wall with a sufficient number of electrical outlets right above the counters to make it easier to plug in hardware. There's also a glass cabinet to store spare parts. Lastly, we mounted some old desktop monitors on the walls as a decorative feature and we think it looks amazing. 

Long view of the loft that shows the wooden floor and the genuine cartridges' stock on the right. 

The central office clock on the green wall which is the bathroom block,
above which we also built a storage space. This view also shows how effective
the hanging ceiling lights were in adding to the overall design. 

CEO's office where special guests are
served espresso coffee (from our Nespresso 

machine) or Earl Grey tea

The conference room

Our smiling and motivated staff in the Tech Area

Our Head of Operations on the phone to UPS!
See our blog post Shipping News.

CEO's bird eye view
CEO, Farzana Rasheed

Preparing one of our 2 signboards - one will go on Randall Street and the smaller one to be mounted right outside our main entrance door. 

At NATC all staff played an active part in preparing the sign board. The polyvinyl printed
artwork is being carefully rolled onto a fibre glass sheet.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Shipping News

[Picture from a fellow blogger's page, PJ's Temple]

Contributed by Haresh  Karamchandani

Besides the on-site service that NATC provides to its clients, a significant portion of our business entails sales and supplies of  genuine IT-related goods to our clients. 

All the stuff is usually imported via courier, Fedex, UPS, DHL from the US of A. Recently we have had some issues which would be interesting to share:

Fedex: All shipments on Fedex from the US to Monrovia would follow this route - US - London - Nairobi - Monrovia (Kenya Airways). Due to heavy passenger traffic on the Nairobi - Monrovia route, our boxes would get indefinitely delayed at Nairobi Airport and would be at the mercy of Kenya Airways. In one instance the boxes were delayed in Nairobi for 20 days! Normally we promise delivery of specially ordered goods within 10 days and this time around we could not keep up to our commitment thanks to Fedex using this particular route. 

Fedex has STOPPED using Kenya Airways after this incident and has entered into an "arrangement" with Brussels Airlines and Air France, so things are back to normal or even better as we now can keep our delivery terms to our valued clients.

UPS: After we had the above bad experience with Fedex, we decided to experiment with another courier company for a shipment of a huge HP Multi Function Printer weighing over 100 kgs. This Printer was shipped from California, USA to the UPS Hub in Ontario Canada. This is where the troubles began. Firstly UPS decided to "hold" the shipment as it was an "unknown" shipper as this was the first time we were using UPS. The rules are that if its an unknown shipper the shipment would have to be quarantined for a week before being lifted  on any Trans Atlantic flight. We were not informed of this strange rule in advance, and at this stage had no choice but to hang on and play along. 

The cost to ship this printer was initially agreed upon before the shipment and was arranged to be on Freight Collect basis, meaning that the freight would be paid by the consignee on arrival before delivery. 

Now some guy in Ontario must have had an hangover the night before preparing the shipping documents and made a grave calculation error! (See photo above)

The normal way of calculating Dimensional weight is LxBxH/5000, L= Length in Centimeters, Breadth in Centimeters, Height in Centimeters. This would give a Dimensional weight in kgs. Courier companies apply this formula whenever the actual weight of the shipment/box is lower than the dimensional weight. They normally would charge as per whatever is the higher weight. This printer had dimensions of 77cms x 77cms x 80cms. This works out  to about 95 kgs of Dimensional weight, the actual weight was 60 kgs, so UPS had to charge as per 95 kgs. 

The "hangover-ed" guy in Ontario, calculated a figure of 219 kgs and mentioned this figure on the Air Way Bill (AWB) thereby changing the whole invoice for freight to more than double of what was initially agreed upon!!

When the printer arrives at the airport customs at Robertsfield, the duty calculation is normally like this: (Cost + Freight + Insurance) x 20%. They took the higher charge freight factor while calculating the duty amount thereby increasing our duty payment bill drastically. There is no way one could reason or argue with the custom officers and we had to quietly pay up and clear the Printer, which was already delayed for so long in Ontario.

The box was cleared and brought to the UPS Monrovia office after we paid the higher duty at RIA customs. We now had to pay the freight part to UPS and take delivery from them. They insisted we pay the freight amount that Ontario had charged. Even after we tried to reason with them that its a obvious calculation error, and that they could verify the calculation as the box was sitting right there in their office, the local UPS staff would not understand. They did not even have a proper weighing machine in their office and we had to take the heavy printer to SN Brussels Cargo to get the actual weight! 

After a long drawn exchange of emails, telephone calls, yelling and screaming, begging and reasoning with UPS Abidjan, UPS Ontario and UPS California finally the matter was sorted out and UPS Monrovia was instructed to "accept" the initially agreed freight amount. 

Dealing with the Monrovia UPS office was so impossible as they are FULLY CONTROLLED by a boss sitting away in Abidjan. They would not even breathe unless their boss in Abidjan permitted it!! And this boss in Abidjan was either busy in some meeting at the US Embassy, or would not reply to the emails or telephone calls!! After a lot of persistence we finally broke through and got what we deserved, but this delayed delivery further by another week. In retrospect it may have been better to import the printer by sea instead!

Conclusion: These big courier companies such as Fedex and UPS have a monopoly over air freighting goods all over the world and the bigger they get they lose sight of customer services. Or maybe because Liberia being a very small piece of their business pie, they DO NOT give any importance to this part of the world. They use commercial airlines to bring in consignments as the volumes do not justify them to bring in their own aircrafts. I am sure if the above would have happened in Europe or in any first world destination, the consignee would be fairly compensated. Instead these courier companies behave as if they are doing us a great service and favor by handling or accepting our goods! 

As far as NATC is concerned we have decided that we will not promise our clients 10 days delivery anymore and we ensure that we mention "Subject to Fedex/UPS" on all our offers. We have no choice but to continue to buy from the USA as this way we are assured of Genuine and High quality goods, cant say much about shipping services though! We purchase all items from source, HP - DELL - LENOVO - APPLE - CANON etc. This could be done from places like Dubai as well, but we have learnt that the standard of goods purchased from Dubai are strangely much lower, and even though we pay much more in terms of cost by purchasing in the US at least we are assured of highest quality standards for our customers.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Latest Loft Pictures

Here are some pictures of work done this last Sunday, 5 February. We are in the final stages and should be moving into the new premises this week. 

The floor has been finally finished and is breathtakingly-beautiful, the piece de resistance of the whole space. It is a solid wooden floor that will, in the words of our designer, last us for the next couple of decades and only become more beautiful over time.  

Haresh Karamchandani's original design was slightly altered but it still gives off an intricate design - with 3 diamonds. 

The work that was accomplished on Sunday involved applying a wood sealant, followed by smoothing by sand papering, and then spraying a final varnish. This process was repeated twice and the final finish is quite spectacular. The final look has multiple shades of reds, browns and yellows. It will be a pleasure to have this floor. 

Meanwhile, nearly all the electrical, plumbing and final-painting is done. In fact, we are hoping this will be finished by today, Monday, 6 February. 

We will then proceed to installed the main glass door, the work bench for the tech area, and two more display counters. 

Our LEC connection should also come on this week.

We are hoping to move in this week and have an inauguration ceremony a week or ten days after that. 

NATC will really have arrived with the most unique office in town.