Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 Reflected

by Haresh Karamchandani

Today is the last day of 2014 and I am feeling so satisfied and happy with our achievements this year. It is a good time to reflect on the year gone by and plan for the year ahead.

2014 started slow as every other January. The regular contracts were being adhered to, nothing new happened. It was a relaxed slow month.

Then came February, when we managed to bag a juicy Networking and Supplies contract with the Ministry of Lands Mines and Energy. This contract involved supplies of:
  • HP Proliant DL380 G7 Rack Mount Server
  • TRIPP LITE B021-000-19
  • 1U Rackmount Console
  • KVM Switch with 19" LCD
  • CISCO 3925/K9 Network Routers
  • 42U Switch Rack with PDU  
  • APC Smart UPS
  • 25kVA/360V  Pure Sine Wave (3Ø) Inverter with 200AH/12V SMF Battery  Bank,  that would provide up to 8 hours of backup time
  • Microsoft SQL Server Standard Service Pack License 2012
  • Terastation 5800 Network Storage 24TB
We had to network a new trainingbuilding and install 30 Desktop computers with adequate UPS. This kept the team busy for most part of the month, closely monitored by senior management.

We also bagged a contract to supply 90 pcs of  Sony Experia E Dual Sim Android Phones, Factory Unlocked to the USAID. NATC actively participates in Government and Non-Government tenders and since we have very good overseas supply contacts we have been able to be quite competitive.

As soon as we commissioned the MoLME project, we bagged another similar networking contract from Bureau Veritas. They wanted to re-network their whole office block on Broad Street and add more network points throughout the office. As usual the team was up to the task and completed and commissioned the job in record time to the satisfaction of our client.

During the month of March we managed to secure a supply order for an Ultrasound Machine which was to be donated to a Women’s Fertility Clinic by Lonestar Communications. The machine was ordered from our source in the USA and was promptly delivered. I guess this is the only functioning Ultrasound machine in the country at that time. We also received many other regular supply contracts for Genuine Toners from our regular clientele. The regular maintenance contracts continued to be serviced as usual.

Something exciting and different happened in April. We bagged our first ever training contract from CICA Motors (Toyota Garage). They wanted us to come in and train about 20 personnel in how to use Microsoft Office Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, Outlook etc. At that time we had Osman Fofanah working with us who was well qualified and Microsoft Certified to carry out this project. Osman prepared some handbooks, and a proper plan. The training was done successfully and we handed out Certificates to the CICA staff at the end of the training.

We also bagged a huge contract to supply the Liberia Electricity Corporation a big quantity of HP ENVY  17  Leap Motion 8E NB Laptop Computers. These computers are State of the Art machines with Intel Core i7 Processors and a powerful NVidia Graphics card. We also supplied the LEC with some HP525 Multi-Function Printers.

At the end of the month we managed to secure another contract with a Harper based NGO, Danish Refugee Council. This entailed travelling to Harper and fixing about 20-30 machines, printers, Desktops, Laptops that were not maintained for a very long time and were giving multiple problems. Our Head of IT along with Head of Operations spent a whole week in Harper and were able to resolve most of the problems which included, printer fixes, Anti-virus installation, Operating system, networking issues.

The month of May was quite tragic. We bagged a contract from a USAID funded project for supply and installation of a 25KVA Battery Bank for a Government Agency. Due to the “tight delivery deadline” set by USAID our Head of Operations personally decided to travel to Nigeria to procure the Heavy Duty Sine Wave Inverters and Deep Cycle Batteries required for this project. The goods were procured and shipped out by Air Freight. We meanwhile began all necessary preparations for Grounding and Stacking of the Batteries at the client site. When the batteries arrived we called the USAID to come and inspect before delivery. They came and inspected and gave us the go ahead to supply and install. The heavy batteries (each weighing 65 kgs) were transported and manually lifted to the 1st floor server room of the client and we began making all the connections. Then an officer of USAID visited the site and rejected all the goods!! He said there were scratch marks on the Inverters and Batteries and therefore they were not new! He also said that the shelf life of the batteries were close to expiry date. We tried out best to assure him that yes, there was a 6 month shelf life, but if we begin to use the batteries within this period and since they were Deep Cycle and once they are re-charged they would be good to last for at least 4 years if re-charged regularly. We even offered to extend the warranty from 1 year to 3 years as we were confident that the equipment was good to last that long. All our explanation, pleas, requests, guarantees fell on deaf years and eventually we had no choice but to bring all the equipment back and return the order back to USAID. The batteries have since been installed at another site and are working PERFECTLY well!

And we learnt recently, that the USAID changed the order and purchased the same equipment from another vendor for nearly DOUBLE the price we had offered and it has been 7 months and the job is still not yet complete or commissioned. Talk about “tight delivery deadlines”!! Ha!

We have taken this experience in our stride and have moved on. Some clients are impossible to deal with!

The Ebola crisis struck in June and July and we were equally affected by it. No new contracts! The regular maintenance contracts were cancelled and we watched the panic from the sidelines. We ensured that we put all necessary precautions in place to protect our staff from the deadly virus. We are proud to say that we are all safe so far.

Come August and we were able to secure another interesting supply contract with UNMIL for supply of air conditioner PCB Boards. Apparently the UNMIL here has more than 1000 air conditioners and need to keep spare parts for the regular service and maintenance. We were able to procure the parts directly from the source in China and have them delivered on time as usual.

September was quite uneventful, Ebola was at its peak. We had a house guest, a NBC cameraman. I would hear his dreadful stories and see his camera work on a regular basis, warning my staff and friends that Ebola is indeed real. We just tried to keep safe and continued the regular rigmarole.

Then came October: Something that I really dreaded and hoped would never happen. One evening, I get a call from Ashoka, “Haresh, I am having a high fever and I think it is Ebola!”” I was terrified. This man was in my house, with Ebola! I decided not to go home that evening and instead try and look for a hotel room at Mamba Point. All hotels were fully booked. No rooms available. I had no choice but to go home and face Ebola heads on! I armed myself with rubber gloves, face masks, and some anti-bacterial sprays. I sprayed the whole house and kept my gloves on till I went to bed. Poor Ashoka was in his room, on the telephone trying to plan his evacuation to the USA. I gave him some food and he assured me that he would leave for the ETU the next morning. The night went by. I could not sleep, wondering if the Ebola Virus would sneak under my bedroom door and attack my immune systems. I left the house very early the next morning, Ashoka managed to find his way to the MSF ETU at ELWA. I kept calling him throughout the day to check if the blood test was out. Finally at about 3 PM he confirmed that yes indeed he was Ebola Positive! Shivers ran through my spine. I started panicking. What if I was also infected??!!??

I called my travel agent and asked him to book my ticket to Mumbai the same day. Got the ticket issued. Then the same day, I heard that one Mr. Duncan had landed in the USA with Ebola and had mis-declared his health condition at the airport. He would be prosecuted. I decided that this was not a good idea. In case I did have Ebola I did not want to travel with it and endanger other passengers. I decided to resign to my fate and if I had to die, I would die in Liberia. I called my agent and cancelled the booking. The next few days were terrifying to say the least. The slightest cough or sneeze would send my mind into panic mode. I kept myself under self –imposed quarantine and monitored my temperature regularly. The first 2 weeks were stressful. I kept a bottle of Anti-bacterial handy all the time and would wipe my hands when I would touch a door handle.

Well, I did not contract Ebola! I am well and alive and kicking.  I celebrated my 50th Birthday in style with Farzana and Kavita at the Royal Palms Resort in Labadi Beach Accra! I think I deserved it.

November and December have been very fruitful. We have bagged a couple of new Internet contracts. Our team is currently in Zwedru setting up a V-satconnection to end the year with a big bang. We also managed to secure many supply contracts, the biggest being a contract to supply Genuine Toners to the US Embassy valued at US$275,000.00! These goods are already on the way and will be arriving during the first week of 2015. We are very excited at our prospects for the new year and look forward to implementing a whole range of new business ideas and plans.

I thank all our valuable clients, friends, bankers, well-wishers for making 2014 such a great year and look forward to working with them in the next.

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