Africa’s digital revolution has been hailed as one of the continent’s most historic changes in the past decade. Despite challenges with infrastructure, prevalent poverty, poor health system and weak governance, the 21st-century African business is thriving through sheer innovation and local knowledge by leveraging digital technology. However, before this digital explosion, several African companies had been silently pioneering innovation on the continent.
One of those pioneers of this digital revolution is SystemSpecs, a 29-year-old Nigerian technology firm that has evolved from very humble beginnings as a five-man start-up in the early 1990s to a technology giant with hundreds of staff and a towering influence across Africa today. SystemSpecs’ story is all about the silent evolution of an African technology giant, an indigenous pioneer whose history is defined by its landmark innovations for Nigeria and the entire African continent.
Seasoned journalist, David Hundeyin, once alluded to SystemSpecs’ pedigree as a pioneer when he tweeted about companies that provided technology solutions in the early 90s, long before the internet became ubiquitous in Nigeria.
SystemSpecs was founded by an ex-banker, John Tanimola Obaro, in 1992. The firm started in Lagos as a value-added reseller of American software solution, SunSystems. It proceeded to launch its own human capital solution, SpecMan, about 3 years later. This was followed by SpecPen which was for pensions processing and then SpecPay which was for payments. All of these three were consolidated, in 2000, in a solution known as HumanManager.
Fast-forward to 2020, the firm carried a restructuring and repositioning of its business to adjust to current realities and maximize new opportunities as its profile continues to rise as a leading financial and human capital technology company in Africa.
Human Manager and IPPIS
At the turn of a new century in the year 2000, when endless paper files and long cabinets were the norms in many organisations, SystemSpecs developed HumanManager, trailblazing human relations and payroll management solution.
The first self-service platform in Africa and arguably the world, HumanManager is today an intuitive, ground-breaking, and easy-to-use human capital management solution trusted by many small, medium and large-scale organisations across Africa. Its track record of innovation has been proven across the shores of Nigeria, in various African countries including Benin Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe where its footprints exist through a wide range of subscribing organisations.
In 2006, SystemSpecs executed the pilot of the Federal Government of Nigeria’s Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) as part of an Economic Reforms and Governance Project aimed at transforming the entire public service through a number of carefully selected programmes and initiatives. All of the objectives of the project were delivered by SystemSpecs within a record 6 months!
This phase of the project saved the government about 420m Naira on a monthly basis, within a sample size of 50,000 federal government workforce out of an estimated 1.2 million employees. In former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s book on his presidential years, he noted that he was proud that the company that achieved this milestone for the country was Nigerian owned.
Remita and the Treasury Single Account
In 2005, SystemSpecs developed Remita, a technology solution that set the company’s feet in financial technology (fintech) and was adopted by several organisations in the private sector. Remita was later adopted as the payment gateway into the Treasury Single Account (TSA) of the federal government. This was well ahead of several local and international platforms which also expressed interest in becoming the TSA technology backbone but lacked the capability to meet TSA requirements.
In July 2019, a representative of Nigeria’s Accountant-General of the Federation (AGF) announced that the government had collected over N10 trillion through the TSA from 1,674 MDAs. The AGF also said through the TSA, the government was able to save over N45 billion monthly in interest on ways and means that it used to pay.
SystemSpecs’ monumental role in the drive to improve transparency and accountability in Nigeria’s public sector amidst precarious economic conditions is underlined by its success in powering the TSA. Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, once said that the judicious management of the Treasury Single Account, TSA, saved the country from collapse during the 2016 economic recession.
Remita’s rising presence is, however, much more than the TSA. With its presence in the private sector as the preferred platform for payments, funds collection and payroll management, it is a known brand with some of Nigeria and Africa’s leading organisation and even of SMEs. One of its key propositions is its ability to provide more payment options than any other solution in Nigeria today.
Change, they say, is the only constant thing. It is the reason SystemSpecs, in February 2020, restructured its business operations to deepen its presence in more segments of the economy and help it maximise its potentials within the African market.
This landmark development effectively changes the firm’s brand perception from a software company to an innovative African technology giant and a house of brands operating in different business spaces including HR and Fintech.
This bold move saw the transformation of the company into a holding firm with four Strategic Business Units (SBUs) to maximise the efficiency of the company’s operations. Each of SystemSpecs’ major solutions is embedded within a different SBU.
The first SBU is Infrastructure and Payment Gateway, with the responsibility of providing critical financial processing connectivity with other entities such as banks, payment processors, and other service providers, providing the service as a solution delivered directly to the market.
Another division is the Payment Applications and Vertical Markets which is saddled with the responsibility of providing customer-centric applications like Remita and Paylink to a rapidly expanding market.
A third SBU is focused on providing Human Capital Solutions and services.
The fourth SBU is the Public Sector and Special Projects Division, which encompasses, among others, the firm’s dealings with the public sector, including Remita’s deployment for the TSA and its use by over 22 state governments in Nigeria.
Consolidating on the successes of its landmark products, Remita and HumanManager, SystemSpecs launched Paylink.ng, a simple, pragmatic solution directed at the consumer market. It is an instant payment solution, with an ecommerce store, that allows individuals and SMEs receive funds directly to their bank accounts without exposing their bank details.
Paylink.ng is SystemSpecs’ response to the growth of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) as well as a rapidly evolving Nigerian business landscape. With Paylink.ng, small businesses in Nigeria, many of them without infrastructure, resources, and personnel to have a structured operation, can process payment more efficiently and reach their customers more easily.
An Enduring Innovative Pioneer
According to Ginni Rometty, Executive Chairman of IBM, “the only way you survive is you continuously transform into something else. It is this idea of continuous transformation that makes you an innovation company.”
The continued relevance of SystemSpecs as a key player in providing technology solutions could only have happened through continuous innovation. The company has survived, evolved, and thrived for about three decades by continuously evolving and improving, often emerging stronger from every challenge.
In a country where start-ups die out within the first few years of incorporation, SystemSpecs has managed to weather the storms. Obaro’s leadership has seen the company grow become one of the largest technology firms in Africa with hundreds of staff and a rapidly expanding operational network across the continent and beyond. One can safely posit that, for SystemSpecs, the best is yet to come.