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ICT and related network challenges

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The issue of “network failure” seems to be synonymous with Malawi’s ICT industry in recent times. More often than not, making transactions through ICT related platforms is a nightmare as many are forced to spend precious time over a transaction that should have taken less than a minute.

What is more unsettling is the fact that such challenges have not left any sector and Malawians have to endure sub-standard services in almost every sphere of life.

Wisely Phiri, ICT Association of Malawi (Ictam) President, says network failure is mostly an excuse used to define a number of problems, which range from core system failures to peripheral failure.

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He faults the players in the industry for being lean with the truth when they experience network problems.

“ICT sensitisation is the key element that is missing in service providers’ interaction with the general masses. Players are being unfair by not being able to explain clearly what the problem is and how or when they intend to sort out such problems. This way, they are giving people the leeway to speculate and they [people] pick on the issue of network as the easiest reason,” he said.

Phiri calls for companies to invest in two or more network providers to ensure continued and successful delivery of services to clients without major interruptions.

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“Of course, connectivity remains one of the problematic areas in Malawi but we have made headway and the issue of connectivity is not really the main issue. We have a number of network providers and we expect companies to have backup plans by subscribing to two or more network providers,” he said.

Commenting on the frequent blackouts that the country is experiencing, Phiri said the development has affected delivery of ICT services and ICT-reliant businesses in a number of ways.

“Cost of services is going up since, for one to remain in business, companies are investing in alternative energy sources like generators which require fuel and these costs are then passed on to the end user. There is downtime when power is gone which affects delivery of services and efficiency. The end user requires electricity to have their gadgets like laptops or cell phones in use. Hence these frequent blackouts are negatively affecting the revenue for the businesses as people talk less. Also, it’s an inconvenience to the end user of ICT products,” he said.

Phiri, however, said there is growth in alternative power source business lines such as solar power providers.

Meanwhile, the Ictam President has admitted that the association has to do more to increase its membership and turn Ictam into a voice of authority on matters reflecting on ICT professionalism in Malawi

“We need more people to register and pay up as our constitution recognises and gives more powers to paid-up members and we also need the participation of students in colleges in the Association. We need the establishment of active working groups [affiliates of the association]. There are so many disciplines in ICT which can create working groups and operate under Ictam so that these professionals can discuss their issues in detail,” Phiri said.

In a related development, Phiri said Ictam will use the forthcoming ICT Innovation Forum set for Sunbird Nkopola in Mangochi to inspire players that have improved the lives of Malawian with different innovations in the ICT industry. There are in a number of categories including health care delivery, financial services, business processors, agriculture and entrepreneurship among others.

“Initially, the conference was set for November but we had to change to December to give members more time to submit their innovations. To be considered for these innovations, the innovation should have been in use for at least the last three months. We will consider Malawian individuals or Malawian-based companies that have come up with innovations and helped locals,” he said.

Recently, Ictam highlighted some of the achievements since the current executive came into office.

“We established the secretariat in Lilongwe, City Centre, which is fully staffed and we also started mass sensitisation of the association to all ICT professionals in Malawi and those in the diaspora as well as registering members,” Phiri said.

He added that uplifting of the association online image by coming up with an a website for the association [www.ictam.org.mw] which is interactive and allows members to even register through the website

“We made our contributions as an ICT body to the Communications Act which were presented to Parliament through the Media Committee and I also represented Malawi at the Comesa ICT Business Council in Kenya, which I attended with the regulators. I have also lobbied, through Comesa, for Malawi to have its own ministry of ICT since we did not have representation of ICT at ministerial level, unlike other countries like Rwanda and Kenya which are advanced on ICT penetration,” he said.

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