Saturday, 23 May 2015

Interview of Head of Operations by CEO

By Farzana Rasheed, CEO

Haresh, we have not updated our company blog in a long time. I’m sure our readers would like to the latest news from NATC. Instead of asking you to write a general update, I thought we could do an interview instead. 

1) The number of clients who are subscribing for Internet services from NATC has increased this year. How many clients do we have now? How many MEGs in total? What have you learned about customer service as it relates to Internet services? Is it easier or more challenging than providing monthly maintenance services? What was your most experience so far?
Yes, we have indeed added quite a number of new clients, both on the fiber network as well on the V-sat Links up country! I am not going to disclose the number of clients in this forum as this is a closely guarded secret. But I can confidently say that we have the technical expertise and manpower to comfortably cater to our growing number of clientele. 
Talking about customer services, it has been quite challenging. “The customer is always right” has been our motto but sometimes it can be really very irritating when a customer calls and says that the internet is down and we should send a techie over to check. Our techie goes to the respective site only to discover that the wifi router is switched off! In some cases there have been extremely complex issues that we have had to solve. The most recent one being a cyber spam attack from the outside world on one of our clients network. This really stressed us out completely as we had never experienced this kind of an attack. The clients server was intruded via 1000’s of different IP’s. After a lot of phone calls, troubleshooting we finally were able to block out this cyber attack. All is well at the customer site. For now at least.  
Monthly maintenance is more or less straightforward as we have set templates, and check lists that the technician follows religiously. In another client experience, we are upgrading all their users to the new Microsoft Office 2013 suite. This includes migrating all their emails to Outlook 2013, training them on how to use the various apps. This is ongoing and should be completed before end of May.

2) The number of clients who have monthly maintenance service contracts has drastically dwindled. How many of these contracts do we have? Which sector are these clients in? Why do you think the client is still with us and others were not interesting in pursuing the service contract?
Monthly maintenance service contracts have dwindled not because of our service capabilities, but mainly due to the Ebola crisis that has grappled Liberia. Most clients have cut down their operations drastically thereby sending most of their staff back home. All sectors were affected. Mining, INGO’s being the most badly affected.   
The good news is that we just reactivated a monthly maintenance contract with one of our old clients who is back in the country now that Liberia is Ebola free. We expect the same to happen with atleast 2-3 more clients.  
We also added a new INGO client and also a Private sector client to our monthly maintenance contracts this quarter. 
Therefore, the techies have been busy as usual.
Yes, of course, there have been some issues as described above. I will write separate blogs on some of them at a later date. 
4) How is the technical team coming along? Are they building their knowledge, skills and understanding of customer service?
The technical team is very hard working and dedicated to say the least. The new trainee Emmanuel Jacobs stands out as a shining example of dedication and hard work. This young man is always enthusiastic about working, preparing for a new job, organizing tools and materials. He keeps coming up with out of the box ideas and solutions.  
We are planning to send Daniel Collins to Ghana for a training on how to install Thermographic cameras. This contract is in the making and NATC will be installing 28 Thermographic cameras in strategic locations all over Liberia. Daniel has also started a night course with an Indian University for Microsoft Certification in Servers. 
Jonathon will be attending a short training course in MicroTik technologies soon.  
They continue to provide the best customer service. I am proud to say that we have not received any negative customer feedback for a long time.
5) A much bigger component of NATC’s revenue is import and supply of IT equipment and consumables. How is that side of the business coming along? Has 2015 been a good year so far?

Photos by Cachelle Ink. See the photos shoot here.
NATC has grown in leaps and bounds. The 1st quarter turnover was > US$500,000.00!! I was pleasantly surprised when our accountant handed me a print out last week.  
This turnover comprises of a mixed basket, viz; Supplies, Internet services, Maintenance, Software development, Website creation etc.  
The 2nd quarter turnover has already crossed US$300,000.00 and we still have about 40 days to go out of 90 days. 
6) NATC also participates and often times succeeds in public bids, sometimes even for non-IT related goods. How is that coming along? What trends do you see for 2015? 
Yes, we have received some non IT supply contracts with some clients. Since we are a registered vendor with many NGO’s they keep sending us RFQ’s and ITB’s which we participate in regularly. We have received orders from supplies of Carpets, Linoleum, Wall Tiles ,Electrical goods, Air-conditioner Parts, Specialized tools and accessories, Office Equipment and stationery supplies, Genuine Toner Cartridges, Drone cameras, Battery Banks and Inverters and the latest being Gym Equipment, Pool Tables, Table Tennis Tables!  
We will continue to participate in these kind of ventures as we have excellent sourcing contacts all over the world. 
We not only offer very competitive prices, but also are able to deliver in quick time from anywhere in the world. We have successfully imported goods from USA, Europe, India, China and UAE. 
7) Has the infrastructure improved that makes doing business easier? Is LEC any better? 

Liberia’s road infrastructure continues to remain a very serious issue. Last month during one of our V-sat Installation one of our vehicles got stuck on the way to Harper and the whole project was delayed by more than a week. The LEC has improved tremendously and these days we can recharge our meters using “Mobile Money”. We can also pay our DSTV bills using “Mobile Money”.  
Banking has become quite easier with OMNI Banking offered by Eco Bank. We can transfer money, receive money pay clients, all at a click of the mouse online. The visa ATM card also works worldwide. 
The Liberia Revenue Authority, NASSCORP and other Government agencies seem to be doing a good job in collections. 
The forecast is quite exciting. Liberia is on the verge of developing a new Oil and Gas Industry, UNMIL is about to leave, 2017 will see the emergence of a brand new young Government. We at NATC are very excited at the future prospects doing business in Liberia.

8) Are you still enjoying what you do everyday? 
Every day comes with a new possibility. This is most enjoyable. Including playing online chess after working hours and Baby-sitting our sweet little daughter Kavita.
9) NATC has engaged the services of a professional accounting consultancy to help with its bookkeeping. How is that process coming along? 
New Pier Business Management has been able to bring most of our accounts and books up to date. They have introduced some new policies and systems which are helping maintain accountability and discipline. We are quite satisfied with the service so far. 
10) NATC does not have a marketing officer but we still manage to get new clients. What do you owe this success to?
Most of our new clients are added due to following reasons:

a) Recommendation from existing clients,

b) Social networking,

c) Our participation in bids from time to time which we get informed by from the daily newspapers and/or Building Markets notifications,
d) We plan to expand this possibility by investing in billboard advertisements in the near future.
11) Any exciting projects in the pipeline?
- The Thermographic Camera Project.
- Software development and training of the Liberia Prison Services, in close collaboration with the Honorable Minister of Justice and an INGO where they would be developing a tailor made software to input information about detainees at the LPS.

- We plan to grow our turnover in the next quarter to US$1,000,000 by getting into importation of IT consumables and wholesale in the local market. For this we would have to employ a marketing executive. 

- We are hopeful to enter into the Sierra Leone market by installing 3 V-sat Links within the next month.

12) After more than 30 years of doing business, do things surprise you? Are there any mottos or principles you go by?
Yes, life is full of surprises. You surprise me the most!  
I was quite surprised to discover that one of our most trusted and dependable female staff member was involved in a petty theft last week. The thought keeps bothering me over the years, ‘ Can I ever trust anyone blindly??’  
A few of my principles/Mottos:- Donate blood at least once every year (on my birthday),- Never lose hope, tomorrow is another day!- Work Hard, Party Harder!- Forgive and Forget.- Life is too short, make the most of it, you never know tomorrow.
13) What book are you reading these days? 

Toilet Reading: Calvin and Hobbes, this has always been a favorite.  
Serious reading: The latest readers digest, Economist, 
Fun reading: Stardust, 
Planning to read: Gone Girl! 

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