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Open borders allow hiring the best

By Patrick Kagenda

Interview with Charles Musisi Managing Director at Computer Frontiers

When do you start your day?

I start my day at 5 am. I’m an online man through and through. Naturally I take a quick look at the e-mails and the online local newspapers. At about 7:30 am I head off to my office.

What challenges do you face?

Finding good competent staff is hard, so we have over the years had to train our own staff who include programmers, systems specialist and call center agents. Of course like anyone in a position of management I have social pressures from job seekers and relatives. Access to government business is the other challenge. Government tenders are a mirage. If it is in the papers consider it already awarded. Do not bother. Also, we’re an affiliate of a US company and because of that we have adopted zero tolerance to corrupt practices as the US law is very clear on this vice. If we were caught in this act not only will it affect us but also our affiliate company who can potentially be barred from US Federal contracts for anywhere up to ten years and more.

How are you resolving these challenges?

On staffing, we have an internship program that has been running for well over 15 years, we head hunt and use referrals. Most of our staff would have been schoolmates referred by those who worked with us before. That keeps the bond and culture of the company. On government tenders, we network. Sometime we actually win small government tenders through referrals. My longevity in the industry is also an asset. With job seekers, I’m upfront about hiring. We only take individuals on merit. I do not hire relatives as a matter of policy even if they’re qualified. There is not one person in my company who is related to me. We have also diversified into new areas and specifically targeted other sectors such as banking, healthcare and to a lesser extent the education sector. We have clients in all East African countries, and also West Africa and the US.

What advantages does the EAC Common Market bring to service providers like you?

As a value add re-seller or business-to-business enterprise (so called B2B) our target market tends to be not the end users but other businesses. The impact for ISPs or ICT sector companies like ours won’t be immediate. The tax system is still ambiguous in treatment of intangible services and goods such as Internet bandwidth and software. As such we may not benefit from the opening up of borders. Also, the source of origin of most computer and telecommunication equipment is outside of the East Africa sub-region. It means we won’t benefit from the zero tariff regimes. The main input (import) for ISPs is Internet bandwidth which originates from overseas beyond the sub-region. There is a sub-regional component with bandwidth although the tariff component is hard to extricate. Internet bandwidth is a service product consumed on demand. Because it isn’t measurable in a direct way, the taxation is applied to the end consumer in form of local taxes such as VAT. That said, the bulk suppliers of bandwidth operate across the East Africa boundaries and because of that setup, they will most likely have exemption from double taxation under the EAC protocol, and quite naturally one would expect that the savings that accrue are passed to the ISP and end users in form of lower bandwidth tariffs. The free movement of labor will most likely attract IT professionals from the other markets, but likewise Uganda`s fairly well trained IT manpower will find opportunities in the other markets.

What is the future of computer frontiers in the EAC Common Market?

Free movement of labour poses an interesting case. We shall be able to hire good talent from across the region without incurring costs in work permits or other labour restrictions. Also, this will give us more confidence to seek out-sourced work from across boarders. To a smaller extent we shall be able to import IT goods from the Kenya market at lower cost

What new innovations are coming up at computer frontiers?

We’re into Voice Internet Telephony solutions such as Interactive Voice Response systems (IVR), audio streaming for FM radios and video streaming
for TV. We have just revamped and are about to re-launch the .ug Domain Name registry portal. We have maintained our leadership in web design and hosting. On e-commerce, we have an online payment gateway for mobile money. This works much like credit cards where individuals can pay for goods and services online on a website. We have so far implemented this for ZAIN’s ZAP and MTN Money. We also recently started selling digital security certificates for secure online transactions for website owners who wish to conduct e-commerce. We are into call centers and we would be looking at taking advantage of the advent of the marine fibre network to provide remote management of services such as hosting solutions and the domain name service.

What is your style to successful management?

My style is flat management and I have a clear one company vision.

and who are your mentors to successful management practices?

I have a few people who inspire me – or in the past inspired me. One is my uncle Omutaka Grace Ssemakula who is a veteran newspaper man who was the proprietor of the defunct newspapers Ngabo and the Star of the 1980s and early 1990s. The other person is a fellow visionary and friend Charles Mbire. He told me over 15 years ago to join him to go into Telecoms. I ignored his invitation at the time, which decision was a mistake when I look back. The company of which he is chairman is now the largest telecommunication company in Uganda. He has a unique winning style in business.


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