We are progressively keeping pace with tech advancement in Nigeria – Papyrus Boss
Richard Iweanoge is the Chief Executive Officer, Papyrus Digital Solution Limited. A seasoned professional with 25 years cognate experience in commercial business spanning business strategy, business development, consumer sales, distribution channel development, consumer marketing and brand management, his experience cuts across several FMCGs and telecom companies. He was at MTN Nigeria for 19 years; and while there, he played diverse management roles such as Senior Manager, Sales Channels; General Manager, Consumer Sales; General Manager, Business Development, Sales & Distribution; General Manager, Consumer Marketing, amongst others. He spoke exclusively with MARKETING EDGE recently. Excerpts:
How would you assess the evolution and explosion of technology in the digital solutions ecosystem in Nigeria in recent times?
My assessment is that digital solutions are here, accelerating and impacting all aspects of business, work, and personal lives. We tend to trail the developed world in terms of new technology adoptions in these parts but slowly and surely it eventually gets here.
I also note that the time frame for mass adoption of these technologies seems to be shortening here which means our lag time is now different from what it used to be. This is positive for us.
Narrowing it down to your company, how far and how fast is Papyrus Digital Solutions keeping pace with technological advancement in its areas of operations?
Papyrus Digital solutions Ltd plays mostly in the Field Force Management Automation solutions space with our flagship product FieldMaxPro. So we require the convergence of several technologies to enable our solution to deliver on its promise.
In recent times, we have noted the emergence of things like AI, machine learning, and now large language generative pre-trained transformer models like ChatGPT that potentially can have a huge impact on some of our services.
Our engineers are constantly finding ways to ensure we are on top of these developments and that we incorporate them into our platform where necessary. Let me give an example. Usually, if a sales representative goes to a retail store to conduct a retail audit, he typically will count the number of his products on the shelves and also count that of his competitors in order to confirm that his products are available, on display, and compares favorably to his competitors’ products in that outlet. That can take maybe 5mins to do. With machine learning, FieldMaxPro can simply take a picture of the shelve, and the system will automatically identify the products, count them and give instant feedback. This takes only a second. So you can see with this little example how we can use machine learning to enhance and improve our service.
In more explicit terms, how is tech advancement impacting on your company’s product and service development and offerings?
Significantly. And also constantly moving. It is a moving target and we are also making sure we are keeping pace.
A little history of FieldmaxPro might help buttress this point. In the early days of Papyrus, we took a bet on the tablet form factor as the likely form factor for doing field work with solutions like FieldMaxPro. However, over time, companies decided it didn’t make economic sense to buy their field reps tablets when they all already have phones. So the phone form factor won out and we adapted to this change early. FieldMaxPro is primarily built now for the phone form factor.
We also took a bet that internet access might continue to be a challenge in Africa so we built the solution around being able to work offline.
Today, over 98% of our users work online. Internet access has become so prevalent that it is no longer a major factor for consideration.
We still have the functionality but it is hardly used now. So, you can see how as technology progresses, we always ensure we are keeping abreast and adapting to it also.
How is this aligning with tech advancement in its clients’ spheres of operation?
I think all organizations now consider it imperative that they must incorporate the use of technology to gain a competitive edge in the market place. And we see most of our clients moving rapidly in this direction.
In our space of Field Force Management automation, you will hardly see an organization with a reasonable number of field representatives not using some form of field automation to manage their field reps. If they don’t, they will find it hard to compete, to respond to market changes as quickly as their competitors who use technology can.
Part of what we do in Papyrus Digital Solutions is to help our clients see the potential and impact of this technology on their operations. Not one client has said to us to date that they do not see the need for it. That is a testament to the benefits the technology brings to the table.
Are there challenges being thrown up? If yes, how are the challenges being surmounted? If no, why not?
There are always challenges. I wish it was easy. The biggest challenge in our space is inertia. The reluctance to stop doing what you have been doing for years in order to adopt a new way of doing things. Or, if you reverse it, the reluctance to start doing something new. It’s a human problem so we tackle it like all human problems, Let clients learn and gradually allow experience and comfort around the technology to lead them to a new space.
The second challenge usually is the fear of seemingly being monitored by management because now with our technology, management can have a full view of the field team’s daily activities whereas in the past they were completely blinded to it. We find field teams struggle with this. But it is something we also work with clients to overcome.
How does the Nigerian digital solutions sector compare with its counterparts across the globe in terms of keeping pace with tech advancements?
Interestingly, technology really does away with geographical boundaries. The typical s curve rule applies to all technologies and we find that new tech revolves around an initial small group of passionate adopters before exploding into the main steam.
However, the time frame for this keeps getting shorter and that includes the time frame for adoption here also. So, I will say we are keeping pace. Albeit slightly slower but much faster relative to previous decades.
What do you consider to be the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of tech advancements, generally? Every technology in my view is inherently neutral. It is the use people decide to put it to that can make it beneficial or hazardous. This applies to all technologies from Nuclear technology, to the internet and every other advancement humans have made. Including discovering fire. They all can be put to good use or used negatively. In itself, all technologies are neutral. What you see reflects the state of humans. Not the technology.
What future do all of the above portend for: A Papyrus Digital Solutions Limited; (B) the Digital Solutions industry in Nigeria?
At Papyrus Digital Solutions, we are excited about what the future holds. We see how we can advance and enhance what we offer our clients leveraging the new advancements coming in the tech space. We are challenged to ensure we keep up and remain relevant. We are also a proudly Nigerian company and aim to prove that technology solutions, conceptualized and developed here by Nigerians can stand and match any such solutions from anywhere in the world. This is what keeps us going and hopefully, our clients feel this desire in our engagements with them.