IT battlefield not even for newcomers?

By By Shasimana Uugulu
June 2010
MOST Information Technology (IT) services in Namibia are provided by foreign owned companies; despite young Namibians are gradually making their presence felt within the industry.

Bernard Mbeha and Pauls Pari, owners of Mbeha Software Solutions, an IT company that specialises in developing tailor made software applications for clients are determined to change the trend where Namibian companies and Ministries are outsourcing their IT departments to foreign based companies.

Mbeha Software Solutions provides a range of services that include website development, maintenance, computer repairs and training but specialises in developing tailor made software applications.

According to Mbeha, it is important for a country to rely on home grown IT expertise and innovations as this will strengthen the country’s competitive edge in international markets and make Namibia a bastion of IT innovations.

“As an upcoming IT company we need government support and protection against foreign based companies who come in here with all the support from their countries and it is high time that government encourage locally made software applications within its institutions. This will help develop the local IT industry and groom talent to be on par with international standards,” he said.

His partner Pari says the country’s Vision 2030 is vague on how the Namibian IT industry should be developed and who should take ownership.

“We took time to familiarise ourselves with the Vision 2030 particularly on the IT section and it’s a good policy and very ambitious but the implementation and the development strategies being employed need to be revisited. If you look at other countries in the world they are encouraging local talent and innovations when it comes to IT services. However in Namibia one finds that even some government Ministries and parastatals would outsource their IT departments to foreign based companies at the expense of smaller Namibian IT companies.”

He said this does not only kill the upcoming companies but also frustrate the youth who want to be self employed and create jobs in the process.

“A small company get asked questions such as who are you? Which other companies have you provided your services to? Instead of questions like; what services can you provide adequately and efficiently? What are your strengths? And what are your capabilities and qualifications? Basically, you get frustrating questions about what you have done in the past instead of proactive questions about what you can do, and your potential,” said Pari.

To them, the IT industry is not the same as the mining industry where one needs to have big heavy machines and drilling equipment.

“In this industry, a small IT company can efficiently carry out the same work as a big and well established IT company would do. The IT industry requires knowledge and expertise and not big machines,” the pair argued.

Pari said besides being a very costly venture, working with foreign based IT companies can also be a security risk particularly for Ministries as they expose critical information to foreign entities.

“Government Ministries databases contain national information and if these databases are run and operated by foreign owned IT companies, it could pose a security risk.”

On his part, Mbeha said the government should provide more support to upcoming businesses and also encourage local innovations by promoting locally made software products within government institutions and parastatals.

“When we started this business in 2008, we struggled to get the start-up capital. Thanks to our own savings we managed to raise N$ 16 000 to buy the necessary equipments.”
He said the government has good policies aimed at youth development but he took issue with the way implementation is being done.

“We found it very hard to register our business. I do not know if it’s just us but we were moved from one point to another, and the staff at the Ministry of Trade and Industry were not very helpful. It would be much easier for the youth if the government creates an institution that will cater for business needs of the youth and mentor them, starting with the registration process on wards.”

The pair also highlighted how difficult it is for the youth to get loans from banks, saying banks continuously ask for collateral that is always unavailable for most youths.

Mbeha Software Solutions provides clients with tailor-made services that are developed according to user specifications and needs.

“We do a thorough research on the needs of our clients and include all the features that they will need in the software application we develop for them.

We aim for maximum customer satisfaction and provide on-going maintenance services as well as training to clients on how to work with the software applications we developed.”

“Our software applications are client oriented and easy to use. One cannot compare our software applications to those bought from stores as the latter lack user specifications and are meant for general office usage.”

Tailor-made software applications are applications that are done specifically for a particular client or company and come with the client’s specifications.

So far Mbeha Software Solutions have been involved in developing tailor made software applications mostly for small and medium enterprises in the country and are busy with presentations to government Ministries and parastatals.

“The feedback we are getting from government Ministries is quite positive especially the one we got from the Ministry of Safety and Security.”

The duo said they appreciate the support they get from youth leaders particularly from Mr Charles Siyauya.

“The Youth Council is very helpful and more eager to promote local talent and we are determined to grow our company and create jobs for other youths in the process.”

They said that many in the community still believe that when you have good qualification you should only aim at landing a job at one of those big companies in the country.

Mbeha holds a Diploma in Computer Systems which he obtained in 2008 while Ondangwa-born Pari has a Certificate in Electronic Communications from TECHNISA, a Diploma in Supply Chain Management from INTEC and a Diploma in Directing from the College of Arts.

He is waiting for his graduation later this year with a Diploma in Computer Systems from South Africa’s Vaal University.

He adds, “When someone sees you with University qualifications they only want you to find a job in one of those big companies. But we have decided to start our own company and have an unlimited potential for growth.”

The idea of starting up a business that specialises in developing tailor made software applications started when the pair met at Vaal University of Technology in South Africa.

The two were pursuing a Diploma in Computer Systems and Mbeha was one year ahead of Pari.

Mbeha said he was interested in developing applications that will make handling of police dockets much easier.

“After conducting research with some police officers at Police stations in South Africa with regard to handling of dockets and case records, I started working on an application that will help police keep records of cases and dockets in a better and easier way,” Mbeha said.

On his part Pari said it was not hard to get acquainted I with Mbeha as there were very few Namibian students within the Vaal University and he occasionally went to his room as they somehow started regarding each other as brothers.

During their stay at the University, the pair developed an application system for the management of their university hostel and presented it to the relevant University authorities who were impressed with their innovations.

The application system had the capability to record all the necessary information regarding students and room occupants in an efficient manner. However they are struggling to sell their system to Namibian institutions.

“We have made presentations to the University of Namibia and other institutions and they gave us positive feedback but still we have not been able to install our systems with them.”

Mbeha also holds a Diploma in Electronics from Pretoria Technical College which he obtained in 2003.

He has worked for De Beers Marine as a trainee software engineer as well as for Telecom Namibia as a trainee systems engineer.PF