What is the problem at the Kenya ICT Board?

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When the Kenya ICT Board was set up about two years ago, there was a lot of optimism in the Business Process Outsourcing sector; the board was composed of the “dream team” and who is who in Kenya’s marketing.

The board was tasked with the sole responsibility of marketing Kenya as an outsourcing destination; and many people in the business were hoping that their fortunes will turn around.

So, it was shocking to me when Nick Nesbitt of KenCall wrote in one of the mailinglists “I have just spent a week in the UK meeting with some of the largest outsourcers in the world.  They have never heard of Kenya as an outsourcing destination.  Very interested now, but completely unaware.  We stopped marketing Kenya as a BPO destination before we had built international recognition and credibility, which raises questions  in these prospects’ minds about our commitment as a country to making Kenya an outsourcing destination…”

Earlier, Gilda Odera, the chair of the Kenya BPO society had commented to a story I was doing on why the industry had not snapped up a $ 7 million subsidy and said that maybe the BPO subsidy could have been handled better.

When commenting on my questions, Gilda is very brief and its almost hard to guess the real issue. You see once you interview many people, you can almost guess who will say what, and what they mean when they say this. For Gilda to say that there has been no flow of information from the board, it consoled me, it made me believe that am not the only one that the board does not respond to.

Gilda’s response also made me believe there was a problem at the board, no one wants to speak ill about it but for people to talk about failings in marketing and the lack of information, surely there must be something.

For instance; I wrote to the board asking for names of organizations that had benefitted from the subsidy, I wanted to know whether the subsidy was the real problem with the sector, but no answer. I stuck for a week, trying to convince the board to at least answer the questions, even in part; but nothing.

In the end I had to forward the same questions to Bitange Ndemo, the PS and he answered by the end of that day. The question I always ask; how comes Ndemo is always accessible to answer the questions and the board does not? Ndemo is good, he is probably the only PS you can send an email and he will respond with answers bet he needs to convert his soldiers… a song I will keep singing.

Anyway, I also came to realize that am not the only journalist that the board does not respond to; Michael Ouma told me that he even sends texts to the people in the board that he knows, and he gets no responses, so am consoled.

But why would an agency, tasked with marketing, hug its data or be stingy with information?

Back to the question of BPOs, Agosta Liko responded to my article saying that maybe what the industry needed was not subsidy, given that the cost of connectivity has come down; maybe they needed customers. And he is right.

I bumped into Ndemo at an exhibition hall yesterday and he also commented on that piece saying that bandwidth is the last thing on people’s minds, they want to have business, because without clients, they cant pay workers even if they had the fastest connectivity in town.

So, if Ndemo knows this, how comes the board does not know? After all, they are the marketing experts!

Then there is the question of the digital villages, what happened after launching them with all the pomp and color and promising to revolutinalize Kenya? Two years after, am yet to hear of anything else apart from the one opened in Kangundo.

Anyway, I have written all that but I am still not sure what is wrong with the ICT board.

So much promise so little to show!

23 COMMENTS

  1. The bandwidth subsidy was well intended, but really only one of the problems. I got the impression that serious players (of which there aren’t too many) had already factored in the connectivity cost into their overall business plan and the subsidy programme then attracted a number of not-so-serious companies that were mostly after the cash only:

    http://www.ratio-magazine.com/20090612691/Kenya/Kenya-Bandwidth-Subsidy-for-BPO-Did-Not-Hit-the-Spot.html

    Plus administration of the ICT Board wasn’t as smooth as can be: I have heard from BPOs that here’d been wrangles over the exchange rate and value date in the reimbursements (a bit odd, I think, since the World Bank funding would have been provided in USD, and the invoicing done in USD as well).

  2. Having said that, I don’t know what the problem is with the ICT Board either. I have asked a great many times to be put on their mailing list for press releases, and said that I’ll include events in our business diary (http://www.ratio-magazine.com/Business-Diary) and job ads in our careers pages (http://www.ratio-magazine.com/Careers) for free, but have never received any regular communication. I was told at one point that maybe I’m ‘too small’. Hm!

  3. Wanjiku

    We always give you information when you need it. Sometimes perhaps we need to get more details before we can respond and this was the case in this instance.

    Our relationship with the media is very open. Perhaps only last week, we may have had a breakdown in communication internally due to an overwhelming number of requests.

    regards

  4. Hi,

    I have my reservations about the Board. I honestly believe they can do so much better, but are not up to the game. The ICT Board to me has a lot more to offer than they are, but it appears they are not.

    Sad.

    Kahenya

  5. As a major implementer of government ICT projects I shall accept that the ICT Board has not communicated as effectively as we should have and I am therefore not surprised to read some asking what we have been up to. I accept full responsibility for this.

    I have mandated a change in approach effective today to widen communication from the board to include project progress details rather than reporting what we consider major achievements. Our previous approach was developed before we increased our staff count and beefed up our skills which we have now concluded.

    I will be brief and yes, this is being brief!

    The board has divided its projects into five pillars as follows each headed by a Project Manager.
    1.Digital Inclusion. These are projects concerned with providing access to the masses. Specifically this includes,
    oKENET bandwidth support project (for providing universities bandwidth, so far 64 tertiary institutions in Kenya have been connected).
    •Upgrading university networks where they were not optimal and purchasing and providing 200mb of bandwidth. This has resulted in reliable broadband availability to all students in public and private universities.
    •Board has initiated the development of a world class network operating centre to manage this network
    oDigital Villages Pasha Project. I provided an update on this in an earlier email
    oLaptops for universities project, which is aimed to making it affordable for students to purchase laptops. This project is currently awaiting approvals to be formerly launched.

    2.Egovernment Shared Services. Working with the egovernment secretariat and the ministry of local government, the aim is to provide a shared services platform for the delivery of key government applications that are run government-wide, including financial systems, HR, procurement. The status here is that we are concluding the consultancy award.
    oOther projects in progress include
    •The development of the government network operational centre
    •The migration of government telephone systems to an IP based unified communicated system
    •ICT Board fundraising efforts have resulted in a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation towards the support of shared services development for local government. Details of this will be made available once the project has commenced.

    3.Egovernment Applications. This project relates mainly to projects to digitize key government registries,
    oOperationalisation of the Outsourcing Business by Governments: The State Law Office. The Board has been supporting the State Law Office in Digitising and eventually automating its operations: To this end, the project to digitise the entire company registry has already been awarded, and the contractors are mobilising teams. The immediate benefits we are seeing are:
    •A total of 300 NEW direct jobs in the BPO sector will be created for the digitisation project alone.
    •Operationalisation of the Outsourcing Business by Governments through mainstreaming of documents conversion
    oBroadband Internet for Government
    •A total of 80MB of Fibre –based Internet connectivity has been delivered to the government through an initiative by the Board. All the head office government ministries in Nairobi are enjoying this capacity, and there are plans to take the same to the entire provincial and district offices through the National Fibre Backbone Infrastructure. This is a first
    oCapacity Building
    •As a partnership with Microsoft, the Head of Security for Microsoft Mr Roger Halbheer will be giving talk on IT Security Best practice to stakeholders. He is already in town and the Board has organised a specific session for GOK officers on 2/2/2010.
    •As a partnership with Oracle East Africa, The ICT Board will be conducting a 2 day detailed workshop on shared services implementation for leading government officials.
    •As a partnership with Microsoft, the ICT Board is completing its 20 seat eservices training centre at the new offices under completion on the 12th floor of Teleposta Towers.
    •As a partnership with another leading global player, the Board will be setting up a state of the art video conferencing facility to be used by the BPO and other players in international marketing to minimise marketing costs. It will also be used for training.
    oPilot Project for computerised digital land database
    •A partnership programme with a leading global player is working with the Board and Ministry of to establish a Google Maps enabled Digital Land Database. Shortly we shall be announcing the outcome of the pilot project of a web based digital lands platform as a precursor to the national mapping and digitisation exercise
    oThe Digitisation of the Judiciary
    •This is ongoing.

    4.BPO/ITES. (It enabled services) The Board has recognised that promoting this sector includes widening its definition to include all the organizations that provide information and communications based services employing mainly IT based skills. The Board has therefore brought into focus the growing and highly entrepreneurial local software based business.
    •Software Certification. We are reviewing bids by local and international firms to establish a software certification standard for Kenya and certify local software.
    •BPO Centre of excellence project
    1.We have communicated this in the media before. We are concluding awarding a contract to a consortium of consultants to establish a BPO training centre of excellence for Kenya as part of developing the skills base. This compliments private sector efforts.
    •BPO ITES marketing
    1.This is an area under review to focus not so much on deals for individual businesses here (business to business) but rather on targeting blue chip global players to set up in Kenya. This approach has been necessitated by speaking to various contemporaries around the world on the dollar return of attending all the various outsourcing events. In any event, there is a discussion on-going to substantially increase the resources allocated to these 2 components and more details will be availed.
    2.Last year we supported Kenya BPO society to attend the following 3 events. We did minimise our spend per event in order to manage our budget.
    1.Birmingham Call Centre awards
    2.The South Africa BPO week
    3.ITU ICT World Forum
    •BPO ITES Capacity building.
    1.We continue to provide the sector with training in standard, exposure to best practices and opportunities for partnership (such as the forthcoming ICT Board sponsored tour of South Africa’s BPO sector in March 2010)
    •Multinational partnerships. Many of the largest outsourcers in the world are already represented in Kenya in other capacities; some of them are large banks, large IT firms, and large oil companies. We speak to their principles regularly to pitch our value proposition of Kenya as an attractive emerging destination. One large IT firm (not be named, has just opened up a 700 seat technical support centre in Tunisia for French speaking global support, they are interested in setting up one here in Kenya. The gestation period for large deals such as this is a minimum of 18 months from conception to ‘ground breaking’

    5.Local Content Development. Having recruited a new project manager for this in January 2010, work has commenced to take forward this project.
    oThe Grants Manual that will be the basis for the ICT Board grant disbursement is nearing completion and we expect to launch our call for proposals in due course
    oWe have partnered with a major global player on capacity development for local IT and content development sector capacity building to include training, and skills development. An announcement will be made in due course.
    o Our new content project head is reviewing the http://www.tandaa.co.ke with a view to upgrading it to provide a meeting point for Kenyan digital content providers
    Towards its internal capacity, the Board has contracted Deloitte Consulting to provide Project Management implementation framework for the Board and the department of egovernment with the following objectives
    1.Skills upgrade in project management with an emphasis on certification of Key staff t implement multiple projects
    2.The establishment of a national project management system for government ICT projects in line with international best practices.
    Further to this update, the ICT board has concluded the development of its 3 year strategic plan and will be inviting stakeholders for a validation workshop in last week of Feb once venue details are finalized.
    http://www.ict.go.ke
    Ends

  6. Good points, Becky. You finally become more critical, and less blindly optimistic. That is very good. It is the *only* way forward.

  7. Expectations of Kenya ICT Board from Kenyans is enormous. I imagine with big budget they have, delivery should not be a problem. Something just doesn’t add up. There is a disconnect somewhere.

  8. Mr Paul Kukubo, I enjoyed your talk at Kabarak back in ’08. You did splendid. About bringing broadband to universities, I must point out that I am yet to feel the impact here at Kabarak. The speeds are embarrassingly low for a university. I would like to know if the initiative was completed or is underway.

  9. Expectations of Kenya ICT Board from Kenyans is enormous. I imagine with big budget they have, delivery should not be a problem. Something just doesn’t add up. There is a disconnect somewhere.

  10. Baraza is quite right. The visible problem is that Rebecca Wanjiku is credible (she may not always be 100 % right, and she generally is 200 % too optimistic, but she is credible and good) while Paul Kukubo is not credible.

    But reputations do not come by themselves; they must be earned. Both protagonists *have* earned them.

  11. Oh my.. I sense a “cyber lynch mob” building up…

    @ All.. Can we give specific, constructive and *actionalble* criticism please?

    Kudos Martin Muraya for being specific!

    @ Andrea, what criteria can we use to gauge a “serious player” in BPO industry? You may not agree but in reality, a business plan is nothing but a piece of paper. Albeit, important as a communication and planning tool, but not everything. You could have the best of business plans and still not get adequate working capital.

    Consider the timing at macro / global level… global recession etc… lender suddenly became risk averse… even those with good cash flow track records could not get WC extensions and thus had to scale down operations.

    @Alexander, Is there such a thing as “*only* way forward”? If people are to be free thinkers, then we should be open to various approaches and viewpoints from others even when they differ from ours.

    @ Rebecca, perhaps the feedback about the positive/negative writing style is a call to a more critically balanced discourse. Too much positivity sounds biased (even if it isnt). Too much negativity also can sound like a witch-hunt (even if it isn’t).

    🙂

    @ all..

    Ever wondered why there’s a tendency for people to perceive that negative tales are “more true” than positive ones..?

    Negativity is juicy and we instinctively crave for it because it tells us of dangers ahead (Real or Perceived); and “rationalizes” our on DEEPEST FEARS and INSECURITIES, justifying “fight or flee” responses…

    Such “survival emotions or instincts” lead to MENTAL BLOCKS and temporary shut down of human REASONING CAPABILITY… politicians / manipulators know this. and they use it… ruthlessly.

    The person who alleged that “something does not add up – there is a disconenct somewhere” – without substantiating was simply playing with our fear of Gov Scandals… hence creating a lynch mob. Have a look at the responses that followed…

    🙂

    =========
    Bottom line:
    =========

    1. If we have ideas for improvement why not give them to Paul and ask for timelines? Paul can you create a feedback mechanism via your website for people to collect ideas?

    2. Where we have doubt about a status report can we substantiate and stick to FACTS please? Attacking the person is not the same as attacking the argument. If we want to move forward we need to focus on the argument since it is the core topic.

    3. When we attack a person’s reputation – what do we intend to achieve or gain from it as industry stakeholders?

    I think Paul and his team have made some excellent progress especially in bringing forth the visibility of ICT within a Gov and the nation at large. Though there is room for improvement especially in “PR” and “Community expectations management”.

    Nevertheless, I vote for a healhy dose of positivity! Though this doesn’t mean naivety. Fair dues and fair criticism.

    2. I want to ask each and every one of us a sincere rhetorical question: Apart from complaining, what are we doing to help the Gov achieve its objectives?

    =====================
    Paul, Some suggestions on the PR end:
    =====================

    1. Post roll-out Review/Audit of all projects and deliverables. Same to be part of the project plan and the PM accountable for getting it done at closure phase.

    2. Stakeholder Relationshiop Management: Once a project is completed, the Gov should retain a Community Relationship Manager who would maintain contact with project beneficiaries to gauge levels of success e.g. via surveys to assess whether objectives have been AND *continue to be met* and what can be done to boost successful aspects and mitigate impact of challenged aspects.

    Each project should have stakeholder champions (a very part time role) who shall, upon completion, be community liaisons for the relationship manager.

    ================================
    By retaining the “community connection”:
    ================================

    a). it would be possible (and realistic to expect) for problems to be resolved proactively.

    b). Your office retains visibility – post project.

    c). Survey results could be published as PR material to the communities benefitting (critical) and to the nation at large.

    d). Since the data source for the report card would be *from the cummunity itself* there would be justification for personalisation of matters.

    Cheers all! Thanks.

  12. =============
    Correction (typo)
    ==============
    d). Since the data source for the report card would be *from the cummunity itself* there would be LITTLE (IF ANY) JUSTIFICATION for personalisation of matters.

  13. Maishinski,
    Kenyans are excellent whiners and complainers; but bad and inept critics. Becky however strives to be a knowledgeable and balanced true critic these days; that is why you feel so visibly uncomfortable with her article.

  14. lol @ Alexander.

    Nice try… Amateurish, but not too bad for a wannabe.

    Don’t underestimate Kenyans. We can see right through you.. like Xray… 🙂

    Cheers.

    🙂

  15. lol @ Alexander.

    Nice try… Amateurish, but not too bad for a wannabe.

    Don’t underestimate Kenyans. We can see right through you.. like Xray… 🙂

    Cheers.

    🙂

  16. (CORRECTION)

    [Had too much cofee… Rebecca pls delete my last 2 posts before this and apologies for spamming your board.]

    Here’s the decaf version of my comments (what i meant to say):

    lol @ Alexander. Nice try… your attempt at twisting the facts is amateurish at best, but not too bad for a wannabe.

    Don’t underestimate Kenyans. We can see right through you.. like Xray… 🙂

    Cheers.

    🙂

  17. I just bumped into your site. Very informative. I shall become a follower. Keep it up

  18. I like what Andrea said “serious players (of which there aren’t too many) had already factored in the connectivity cost into their overall business plan”.

    For me as a content creator, I would love for ICT Board to do more in facilitating local content content creation and distribution but truth is, I am not holding my breath. As a “serious player” with a business to run, whether the board helps or not, I will work my ass off so that it does not matter what they do.

    @Alex, I think you are a pessimist even in our so help side project (which by the way we will be looking to the ICT board grant for funding) but that is you. You keep us grounded.

    Great article and discourse.

  19. Heya! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any issues with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing many months of hard work due to no data backup.

    Do you have any solutions to prevent hackers?

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