With over 25,000 Small and Medium Enterprises already online through the Get Nigerian Businesses online, Google and the Nigerian Internet Registration Association see huge opportunities in the sub-sector, writes DAYO OKETOLA
There is no doubt that having an online presence by any business has a transformational impact with the tendency of fast- tracking the growth and sustainability of such a business. Perhaps, it is in this spirit that Google Nigeria and the Nigerian Internet Registration Association are intensifying efforts to increase the population of Nigerian SMEs online.
In fact, experts say Google and NiRA are on the same page in empowering Nigerian SMEs to maximise the Internet for business growth.
While Google, in partnership with MTN Business and Ecobank, has developed Get Nigerian Businesses online with over 25,000 SMEs already active, NiRA says it will invest N11m on infrastructure upgrade as part of measures to achieve its target of registering 250,000 public, private and individual entities on the .ng domain by 2013.
Industry analysts say the nation’s economy will be the best for it as the schemes initiated by Google and NiRA continue to deepen.
The Country Manager, Google Nigeria, Mrs. Juliet Ehimuan, told SATURDAY PUNCH on the sidelines of the GNBO web fair, a two-day event aimed at helping more Nigerian SME owners to create their own websites recently, in Lagos, that there are a number of barriers preventing SMEs from getting online.
She says, “Many people feel that using the Internet as a business channel is expensive, intimidating or difficult to understand. They believe they have to pay an expert to create a site for them and depend on experts to keep it updated. But we want to demonstrate that there are plenty of free, easy-to-use tools available to companies of all sizes.
“That explains why the GNBO was initiated. We will hopefully help them get a foot on the digital ladder. We also introduced the GNBO web fair, a two-day event dedicated to helping Nigerian businesses create their very own websites at www.GNBO.com.ng.”
According to her, participants at the web fair were able to create their own customised websites with support from trainers, in as little as one hour, at no charge.
She explains that the GNBO initiative has thus far helped over 25,000 businesses create professional websites and maximise their business reach.
This, according to her, is expected to transform the Nigerian SME landscape and contribute to the country’s fast-paced economic growth by making it quick, easy and free for businesses to register online presence, at a time when more and more Nigerians are interacting on the Internet.
“By putting their businesses online, local businesses can reach new customers nationally and globally,” Ehimuan adds.
She stresses that the uptake of online platforms by Nigerian SMEs reveals that the nation’s consumers are interested in accessing local business information through the Internet.
On why Google is championing such a cause in Nigeria, Ehimuan expresses belief that the Internet will help SMEs in Nigeria to thrive, by bringing more local information online, and making that information easily accessible and useful to Nigerians.
She says, “The Internet enables economic opportunity and has already fostered significant growth for economies around the world. The Internet will create jobs and foster economic growth in Nigeria.
SMEs have been identified as a key vehicle for growth in the government’s ‘Vision 2020’, as well as by the new Ministry for Information Communications Technology.
According to her, the GNBO will help to remove the barriers that stop SMEs from getting online, such as lack of time, cost, and lack of knowledge, by making it quick, easy and free to set up a website.
She says SMEs can set their websites up in a way that customers’ enquiries are sent to them via SMS even if they can afford to pay a web administrator.
“So, if someone is interested in your products or services, they can provide their information online, and you get it on your mobile. Your website can, of course, also be accessed on Internet enabled mobile phones,” she adds.
Ehimuan recalls that many businesses have creatively used the platform to change the way they do business.
She says, “For example, we had a small business that sold rams online. Customers could look at pictures of different rams from the comfort of their living rooms and request that they be delivered to them. This is benefit both for the business and the customer. The Internet is helping businesses access a wider range of customers from more places at cheaper cost.”
From a barber’s shop to an accounting firm, the Google boss says any business that wants to reach a broader base of customers online can benefit from the GNBO, pegging the the cost of owning a website to SMEs at N1,500.
The Communication and Public Affairs Manager, Anglophone Africa, Mr. Taiwo Kola-Ogunlade, says that the N1, 500 is for NiRA, which assigns an .ng domain name for the newly created websites. He, however, says any business that does not wish to pay can own a sub-domain under gnbo.com.ng.
In what seems as a boost to Google’s intiative, NiRA’s Chief Operating Officer, Mr. Ope Odusan, says plans have reached an advanced stage to invest nearly N11m on infrastructure upgrade towards meeting the target of getting 250,000 new websites on the .ng domain by 2013.
He says that such infrastructure investment would focus on network subsystem and server upgrade, power systems upgrade, getting redundant bandwidth provider and customer support system
Odusan, during NiRA’s Annual General Meeting in Lagos, says, “With a vision to benchmark the .ng registry with world-class registries and maximise efforts to increase the uptake of the .ng domains to 250, 000 within a short period, it has become paramount to make the technical infrastructure of the registry much more robust.”
Highlighting the business goals of NIRA for the year, Odusan says the Internet body will increase .ng domains by 50 per cent; ensure stability and security of .ng ccTLD; organise the ‘Swhichto.ng Campaign’ in five more geo-political zones and organise Internet awards event by end of the fourth quarter of 2012.
On the Switchto .ng Campaign, Odusan says, “Our target is to have 250, 000 domain names registered in the .ng registry for government ministries, agencies and parastatals, businesses, educational institutions, and other individuals, especially the youths who use the Internet on a daily basis. This would contribute N250m annually to the economy.”
By and large, experts say the more Nigerian SMEs go online, the more economic benefit it will unlock for the country.