Senegal's Netcom challenges CFAO Technologies in francophone West Africa

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The biggest technology player in francophone Africa is CFAO Technologies. A Lonrho-style concession company selling things like cars, it was bought by French magnate Francois Pinault. He decided to make it a major African technology player and its rapid growth put the heat on local ICT suppliers. Now there's a Senegalese company that's biting back. Launched by Mamadou Dieng, Netcom is a systems integrator that is rapidly building itself a regional presence through local acquisitions. Interestingly, there are few independent regional companies like this in anglophone Africa of any scale. Russell Southwood spoke to Netcom's President about how the company has grown and its future ambitions.

How did the company get started?

I used to work for SITA, the company that provides the airlines with their platform for communications and transactions. I used to do the telecoms side for them.

In 1999 I decided to use this experience to launch Netcom and things moved on from there. In 2001 we opened in Mali. In 2002 we opened in Burkina Faso. In 2003 in Chad and in 2004 in Paris, Niger and Togo. In each case we bought a local company with a client base to build on.

Who’s the investor behind the company?

The investor? It’s me.

What’s the company selling?

We offer the following: the implementation of telecoms and computing projects; maintenance; network installation; applications development; integration of value-added services like SMS and billing and training. It has strategic alliances with Acer, Sun Microsystems, PCS, Siemens, Symantec, Microsoft, Cisco and Oracle.

In terms of server-based database applications who’s using what in Senegal?

All the large companies in Senegal use Oracle. SAP is simply too expensive so our main competitor is SQL from Microsoft but it does not have much of a presence here.

What’s your client base?

Government, banks, manufacturing companies, SMEs and international organisations like ASECNA.

And who’s your main competitor?

CFAO Technologies.

How do you compete with a large multinational like CFAO Technologies?

It’s because it’s <notre vocation>. Our local operations are more important to us than being first in France. Our expertise is local and is based on a knowledge of Africa.

Give me some examples of the work you carry out.

We’ve installed and deployed a database application for the Electoral Commission in Burkina Faso. We’ve installed another database application for Gaston Berger University here in Dakar which allows them to manage enrolment, administration, salaries and the teaching programme. We’ve also worked on telephony applications for Sonatel and connecting the offices of the power utility Senelec. We’ve also connected all the offices and branches of the Bureau de Poste.

Do you offer VoIP applications?

We’ve got them under development and will be targeting them at the banks, multinationals and Ministries.

With the opening up of competition in the telecoms sector in Senegal what do you think the new opportunities are?

VoIP, which we’ve already mentioned. Wireless access. Internet access points and corporate gateways.

Where would you like the company to be in five years time?

We want the company to be at the cutting edge of technology and to have worked with all the major companies on the continent. We want to create a large group that will have strength in depth. To do this, we need to be serious about training and to ensure that our employees have an in-depth product knowledge.

How many people are you currently employing?

80 people.