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Computerizing Ethiopia

A Conversation with Daniel Admassie

Ato Daniel Admassie is today the General Manager & Senior Systems Analyst at OmniTech, Ethiopia's first software company fonded in 199?. Daniel is not as widely known outside of Ethiopia as some of our other heros of Ethiopic computing. The irony here strikes deeper than the oft noted contrast to Mark Aderseen's fame (creator of both "Mosaic" and "Netscape") versus that of Tim Berners-Lee (creator of the World Wide Web itself). In the world of Ethiopic computing within Ethiopia, Daniel would be the combination of both these inventor-visionaries.

As the century turns Daniel has nearly 18 years of experience in the field. Continuous Experience. Once he got into the field he never stepped back out again. As fascinating as where he has been and what he has been through in these last 18 years is where he is heading and leading Ethiopia.

Impetus for Personal Involvement

How did you get into computer science?

You know I went through the social sciences in Sweden. I started in that field in the middle of the 1970s. I went to the National Economics Institute and the philosophy, political science and social science institute.

When I started my Dr. course in the National Economics Institute I was cleaning a hospital in a part time job. There was no job for a foreigner who has studied social science.

But if you had technical education there were jobs, so I decided to change fields. I had studied a two year course in high school in physics, mathematics, chemistry and biology and then I applied to the (xxxx) institute and I was accepted into the science programme. So that is how I changed.

What prompted you to start your first project? What was the problem you wanted to solve?

There were two reasons.

Do you know Professor Sven Rubenson? He has published archival Ethiopian books, these are mainly correspondents of Ethiopian historical personalities. He has collected it from various archives in Europe, the Middle East, the Turkish archives, the Egyptian archives and so on. And this it should be translated and published.

He was also editing the proceedings of an Ethiopian history conference. And there, there was difficulty, because these things were to be published in Sweden, there was difficulty because these old type setting machines were changing and computerizing and they didn't have Amharic fonts.

So one reason was that I realized that if one could develop fonts for Amharic, because I was helping both in translation and writing these documents in calligraphy and I was very bad in handwriting, so I thought developing fonts for computer would be good.

At that time, 1983, I was teaching at an organization I had access to these small computers there were Vic 20 and ABC 20, they had 3K of memory. And then I developed fonts that worked with a BASIC program.

Did you see fonts on the screen?

We did not see fonts on the screen, just printed, and it wasn't good because to write texts and so on it would have been very difficult.

Then me and a friend, who is a medical doctor now in Sweden, his name is Tariku Teshager. We thought of developing first the fonts, the only real Amharic good fonts we had was the Bible so we projected the Bible and tried to make fonts out of them.

And then the IBM PCs came and when they came I started working on that. So how I came was out of the need because of work with Professor Sven.

Your first fonts were made by projecting the Bible?

Yes, we photocopied the Bible, projected it on the wall and tried to draw it because to have it very good to have a very full font we had to have a big one. It it was a very tedious thing. But we gave up on that and worked with my handwriting. So my first fonts were exactly my handwriting.

What were the limitations?

For screen fonts? For printer fonts, we were limited to 3 bytes.

Are these the fonts that the ESTC still uses for the Agafari operating system?

No, these are the early ones, the ESTC has lost them. When I came here the ETC had much resource and we developed better fonts.

Had the ESTC started any computer projects before you arrived here?


You had to first establish the NCC for that purpose?

Yes. I brought my work to the ESTC and I described how it works and so on, then I was given about 6 professionals who work with me. Because there was some things that were not finished, because the idea with my software was that even DOS we had to translate DOS it into Amharic, the BIOS we had to translated into because every prompt on the computer was in Amharic. The commands for DOS was in Amharic.

So there were some things that were not finished, we finished with these people these things and then we translated Word Perfect, and then I was invited to stay and start the National Computer Center.

By this approach, the translation of existing software for Amharic, was it a better approach than starting from scratch?

Yes, we debugged the program with a debugger. We took the unassembled code and from there tried to figure out where changes were necessary. This was a very tedious thing, as an exercise it was very good. But as a continuation of work it is very tedious, especially with modern technology it is easier to develop from the beginning.

But at that time it was a very good challenge, it was reverse engineering, we go back and unassemble the codes of any software, because we don't have the source, make a change, and assemble it again and make it work.

That was preferable to writing from the beginning?

Because of the method that was implemented, changing the BIOS, changing the fonts, the internal fonts of the computer, necessitated, because every messages you get from DOS or from the BIOS would be just garbage. Because the fonts that you see on the screen was Amharic alphabets. So it becomes garbage. So because of that there was a necessity of translate everything, the command and the prompt.

So if you want to format, the format command, for instance, we have to translate it and it was "amash". So you say "amash" and you are formatting a new diskette.

But editing the binary code ... that was easier?

No, but you know it was a newly started center so the first time the professionals we got were just getting exercise here and they were to be sent abroad for their computer science courses, for their 2nd degrees, so we don't have very good, or enough programmers. But after they came they began designing software. But at that time there were not enough personell to start designing and developing software.

I had developed a very small word processor using Pascal, but it doesn't compare to any word processor. So, more it was more of an exercise to go in and change any software and make it function and then you get a nearer experience to how programs work and so on.

And then when they went abroad to get their computer science training they knew, they had some basic experience and all of them they came out with flying colors.

What would you call your first success?

It was on the IBM PC, it was on the XTs. Then I had developed a very small word processor, and every font was there and then on NEC printers, dot matrix printers, I had installed fonts, still EPROM fonts, and then there was a Casio Light Writer laser printer and on that one also I had installed fonts.

So then I could manipulate any Amharic text and print it. And I partially translated DOS, I partially translated the BIOS, so I was communicating in Amharic with the PC. So that was the first success. The others that was only partial but that gave me a hint that I could go on.

That was back in '87?

When I finished? No, that was in the middle of 1986, it was in '87 that I came here.

What drove you at that time, what rewarded you and kept you going? Was it the publication of the professors book?

No, with the professors publication there was no computer involved, it just gave me the idea that this should be done on the computer. But in his work there was only my handwriting and translations.

The thing is once you start working on a project like this, every little subjob when it is crowned with success, you know, you tend to go on because the gratification is immediate while working with computer. You don't have to produce the whole font, you work on one character, you test, you say "I have done it!" and you go on to the next.

But did you ever get a letter from a user who had appreciated the work?

No, it was more ... I was working by myself. One thing that encouraged me, when I was working with the Casio Light Writer, I was working with one company in Copenhagen.

I met some people at an exhibition and asked if I could work, and then they said it is they manager who decides, I met the manager who said "Ahh, I don't believe it works", but if I was willing to spend my time I can use their office.

So I was traveling very often to Copenhagen to work on the printer and the when finally it worked the guy was very happy, and yeah he, he congratulated me. And that, that was a very good feeling! Because I didn't know this guy but he let me use their resource and then he was very enthusiastic when it worked. It is those people who helped me while I was working, because I didn't have very much money to spend, I didn't even have money to buy a computer. So it was those organizations, that said "ok, try it on our equipment". When it worked they were happy.

With the NEC printer it was in Stockholm, and the guy who was help me with that gave me access to NEC printers, he was also, his reaction was very happy.

Did you always work alone in Sweden? Who else would you credit for the success of your work?

When I worked in Sweden? I worked alone, I was alone. It was this NEC company in Stockhold, the NewData in Copenhagen and the Guttenberg. It was these people they gave me their assistance. I used their office, I used their equipment, then when things worked they were very much wanting (to be) enthusiastic and encouraging me.

Did you ever try to sell your software in Sweden?

No I didn't. When I got in contact the ESTC I felt that if I gave them my work they could take it and develop it further. I didn't have the idea of making it..., I just wanted that my effort to be recognized.

But once the IMC manager when everything was working he said "I'll hire you, why don't we market it?" and then I said "no".

So you were just interested in the science of it?


I have heard that in 1989 there was a secret project lead by a Mr. Fasika of the ESTC that was to develop the first Amharic computer. Allegedly with the help of some Swedes and financed at 2 million dollars.

(Editors Note: I said ``Dollars'' when I meant ``Birr'')

I really don't know, I don't know of any project costing 2 million US dollars or demonstrated at the Hilton. Our project was demonstrated at the Ministry of Economic Planning. It was not only Amharic software, it was both Amharic software and hardware add-ons. Like computer controlled text signs, the big billboards that was developed at the national computer center and we demonstrated these things.

What we demonstrated there was a word processor, WordPerfect in Amharic, a desktop publisher, Ventura Publisher in Amharic, and network software in Amharic, and very many programmes that were translated into Amharic.

The idea was to introduce what the NCC was working on and at that time the NCC was allowed, and when I worked at the NCC the salary of the employees was paid from budget, at the same time we were allowed to generate income for the center by giving training and items and other things. And while I was there, during my 5 year stay, one year went to create the center, and the four years it was about 1.8 million birr income. This was audited and most of it went to pay back, we were building an office, we got a loan from the construction business bank of 2 million birr, so we were building an office so most of this income went to pay for that loan.

The building was nearly completed, So I don't think the government lost any money on this project. The only thing it paid was for the salary of the experts.

Was any of your work at the NCC secret?

No, it wasn't (laughing). No, because it wasn't very much work as I told you we were translating software we were building... The idea was that the center would be fully functional when we send batches of people to be trained abroad, because there was not enough people with computer science skills, especially young people, that we could employ.

The university at that time was not giving computer courses. So they were sent abroad, and when the number was enough we would send more and more so that we have enough people with PhDs for the different sections In the mean time we did some basic works here in the NCC, we were building an office for it,it would be headquartered there.

Then the government would decide at that time whether to have it as a private organization and give it capital or if the government decided to it should be a research institute and give it a generous budget.

Even the government wasn't decided then that the center should be a research institute, or business institute, or a company that should generate income.

We were advocating that it shouldn't generate income, the government should give it. If we were forced to generate our own income we would be lost trying in hunting money. But if it is kept with enough people with PhD and competent people working there as a research institute.

So even that was not decided.

The NCC wasn't recognized by law it was just on a trial basis. So it was only after the arrival of the new government that the NCC organizational status was recognized by law.

So at that time it was not even decided what it would be. We were trying to impress the government to give us some kind of status. So that is why we were working. We were working more than 12 hours a day.

The rumours they were abundant.

Some said I came from after a very long stay abroad and that I was very much paid. Some said that he was an Arab. Some people were telling me that I was earning $10,000 US per month!

What are the favorite rumours you have heard about yourself?

I used to here very many rumours because rumours are rampant in this country. Once when I was working at InfoTech I went to install software for one company. The lady there she said:

"I know you, aren't you Daniel Admassie"?

I answered "Yes".

"You are working with Science and Technology?"


"I know you, you are the one who came with an Amharic software and you were awarded by the government a new Toyota car"

"I said no, I wasn't awarded a car..."

"I have seen it on TV when you were given the key and you drove the car. It was all on TV."

she said. But then there must be another Daniel Admassie who looks like me, but this Daniel didn't get anything.

Yeah, and some people tell you to your face. There was one guy, I was introduced to him, he said to me:

"You are Daniel Admassie?",


"From Science and Technology?"


He said he had been abroad and he wanted to bring a computer because the price was attractive, then he found out that he could not bring a PC to Ethiopia, PC's were forbidden from Ethiopia because a certain Daniel Admassie had said to the government that importing PCs is not good because Daniel Admassie was going to design PCs for Ethiopia. I told him that I have not said this and there was no such law. He said "it is true!" This guy wouldn't be convinced and I let him go on believing his own story.

What was your reason for leaving the NCC?

It was because of the market economy, there was a change in policy. So most things were under the private things to do.

So if I could work privately I would be very much more (freedom) because the private businesses are allowed to work in a free market economy. Then I would have much more freedom than working with a restricted job description in a government office.

Because the orientation of the National Computer Center with a free market economy is changed.

In what way did you feel restricted at the NCC?

Because with government, as I have told you at the NCC it takes a lot of time for the authorities to decide. So the NCC didn't get what ever status it should get until there was a government change.

It was working just by saying "ok, we think we will be recognized later". So the science and technology policy was not legalised, the policy it was discussed it was given a governmental budget it was discussed in depth it was after the EPRDF came to power and reconsidered it and made adjustments for the free market economy and it was made into national policy.

So these things it takes time with government and in technologies like computer technologies and emerging technologies like micro electronics you know, if you stay with making a policy you can't follow suggestions you have to take time and two years later it is already a dead case because the technology has gone in advance. The response in a private business, when you sense the change and if you have the resource, when you can hang on to that change immediately. But the government is very slow for a large many reasons.

Would you go through your experiences again?

Yes I would do it again but I would be a little more careful than I was.

Any regrets?

You know, the way things are done outside it is left with understanding, you talk with people, with authority and you agree on one thing and that agreement are binding. But here small paper works have to be filed. So I have ... my only regrets is that every thing I have done, everything I have agreed should have been documented.

If I do it again I will be careful on filing things, because this is a very beuractratic society and once you have discussed with people and what you have agreed it is just a matter of contention after a year or two.

So if you have filed your papers with authorities or individuals you keep it on paper, that is how things are done.

The Present

Had you not left Sweden at the invitation of the Ethiopian government would you still be doing software now? Or Ethiopic software?

I'm not sure, because there is attractive salary in Sweden if you keep on with programming, for developing programs for businesses rather than doing other uncertain areas, it is very good. I think the room for working for Ethiopian software over the long period that would be difficult.

After the NCC, how did you choose to work for InfoTech?

I was a partner in InfoTech, we started it together, it was one of the earliest companies under the new economy policies, I started with that.

There was an idea difference on how to go on. My idea and the business idea at InfoTech we started diverging. It is better to start a little company that was much more fits to my idea.

Unlike other early pioneers, who were with Ethiopic computing for a few years and later moved on to other career paths, you are still at it. Why?

When I came to Ethiopia it was at the invitation of the Science and Technology Commission to present my work. I came for a three month period and then I was invited because there was a need, that the ESTC had recognized earlier for the establishment of the National Computer Center.

So I worked with that, and while working with that, recruiting people for the National Computer Center, I came to realize that there was a big potential for Ethiopian professionals at home and at the same time while we were developing the program for the computer center the aim was to encourage software development because software development unlike other industries is knowledge intensive it is not capital intensive. With educated people in Ethiopia, eventually we believed we can grow up to a level of exporting softwares. And that I still believe that is why I have kept on.

Even though we have very small resources in our private organization. Because with the change of government and economic policy the platform for the NCC was changed and it allowed private business, so in private business I still believe that we can grow up to be software exporters.

There are other third world countries, that with government policies, supported with government policies, are exporting softwares to the developed countries. Like India and Pakistan. And I still believe will manage to reach that stage, that is why I have kept on.

So you foresee exporting Ethiopic Software to other countries?

Why we keep on working with Ethiopic software is that we are a private business we, especially OmniTech started by professionals who have no access to very much resource so we have to build the resource base of OmniTech in order to reach that level. The only way we can reach that level is first by being strong in the Ethiopian market and being profitable and acquiring a team of software experts that have worked together and have refined their working methods so that is why we keep working in Ethiopic software.

Finally the argument is that we can advance the Ethiopian market as well as reach the standard of software development so that we can be attractive for foreign markets as well.

At the NCC when you were developing the Amharic fonts and software were you aware of any competition? Were you racing against anyone else to make the first Amharic computer?

No, what we were trying to do then was, we were trying to build a national computer center. This center should be there to encourage others. We were not competitors.

In the final report one idea we had when working with a consultant from Hungary, Dr. Bakoni, was to convert the NCC to become the Nation Computer Research Center. The idea was to make research, the idea was not to compete with individuals. To make it a public service, to aid the computer technology capability in the country.

My approach, my personal belief and that of other people is different. My belief is that finally Ethiopia will be capable, because this is a knowledge intensive industry, and given the resources required and given the man power after a certain period we will be exporting software to the developed economies.

The idea is not that people in developed countries should work on Amharic software and export it to Ethiopia.

So that is where, I think, some people recognize me as a barrier. There are some very few individuals who believe I am evil, because there is an idea collision.

The idea collision is that we will be capable of developing not only for our needs but we are going to export software abroad. Some people believe that they should be in Europe or America and exporting software to Ethiopia.

Your philosophy here reminds me of the success in recent years in India, in line with what you envision they now have their own "Silicon Valley" known as Bangalore.

The development of computer technology that is progressing every day is making computers powerful, fast, and accessing all areas. And so much programs in various fields are needed every year. New application areas are coming into existence every year.

And for this the programmers in the west are not enough. Because of that shortage the price for those programmers is shooting up. Programs developed in the developed countries are very much more respected. So they need subcontractors. I do not mean that an Ethiopian software house will compete in the market, no it will not, but we can take subcontracts like they are doing in India.

So there, some people who want to sit in their apartment in Europe or America who want to develop software and dominate the market in Ethiopia may not like this idea. Unfortunately there are 1, 2, or 3 people like this. But others they are much more knowledgeable than uncolleged people in this country.

I have received letters when I worked in the NCC from young people in the US, individuals, young people who are professionally employed in big companies saying that they have seen this effort and they want to encourage and help and so on. So there are many people who are supporting this idea. There are 1, 2 or 3 people who feel that their attitude of life, what it should be, is challenged because they have made a software and want to make money from it for the rest of their life out of it. That there is an effort in the country that will challenge. Fortunately there are not many people like that, but they should be challenged.

What would you advice for the developer community working in the Ethiopic market.

There are many topics that should be raised one is the standard. I think that all serious developers, specially after the establishment of the standards association, should discuss and formulate the font standard and others standards as well.

And then instead of viewing each other as competitors on the short term, they should view each other as supporting. Because software developers for the Ethiopic software and for the Ethiopian market have very much commonalities to share.

One is the market. The market will not grow unless it is supported by very good software. Unless people acquiring software now are satisfied it will shrink.

So one should have a longer term view as a software developer and look at what the customers get and that we make a more and more expansive market. So for this I think that they should come together and when they come together the need for programmers and so on will be articulated and so one can go on to advice the university on what courses that are relevant, one shortage here is the number of professionals.

And finally to give idea to the government on policies. Because this is not a traditional industry, this is a new industry, and the government should have a policy for how this industry should grow.

So they should work more together than by themselves.

Like a dozen other people now you are making software for the Ethiopian market, unlike the others however you are doing so within Ethiopia. What advantage do you think this gives you?

It gives me... because the priorities are set in Ethiopia, I establish an organization here, develop here, the development costs is very little here, and speaking from the economic aspect of it that we produce cheap we demand a smaller salary and supply with very little foreign currency costs. The only foreign currency costs that we incur is say with hardware and through the bank. Otherwise our salary is in Ethiopia according to the Ethiopian standard.

Whenever our programs malfunction we give direct support and then we get feedback immediately. So there is a chance to correct it immediately. So we are operating in the market where we are selling. We are not selling from remote, that is a definite advantage.

A second advantage is that the number of programmers that we can employ. Such an organization you can not establish for Ethiopian software in Europe, or America, only a one or two man staff. So we can develop more software.

What do you think of the Ethiopian copyright laws?

Yes, there is such a practice and we would like to see applied here a copyright law, a very active copyright law coming. But at the present stage it is much more wishful thinking.

How do you view the info culture in Ethiopia?

There needs to be a knowledge transfer, a technological transfer. We have a common interest. The government interest, the business interest and the organizations. So how do you address it, how do we solve these problem?

In any technology monopoly is not good, monopolists have never created technological changes. It is when there is competition that there is technology advancements, even transfer of technology. We need to have a method of transfer.

This is a knowledge area. In a knowledge area you don't hide things. It is only by giving that you become the best. In an open system there is knowledge transfer and organizations compete on perfection. So they have much more in common.

Unlike traditional businesses where you hide yourself. I emphasize this, you can not hide these things. We are dealing in information technology where everything is open. Where we want to make technology available, it is not in our interest to keep knowledge as a secret. So every competitor competes by excellence by giving values to exchange for payments.

If there is only one OmniTech then it is not in the interest of the government to help one organization. But if there are a hundred such organizations creating values and wealth in society then the government will be interested to enhance this creation of the industry.

The government will assist, it has to assist, in giving common grounds like expanding the education in the university. One hundred businesses can talk to the university and say "we want your graduates to have this and this training." And the university will know that their graduates will have a future in the industry and there will begin a dialogue.

OmniTech which at present has 25 employees might take 4 or 3 graduates next year and this is peanuts. The university will not be interested to add the requirements of OmniTech to its curriculum. But if there one hundred such organizations that will take all the graduates at the end of the year then the university will be interested to discuss with the businesses "what would you like to have in this curriculum, what type of professional qualities do you desire."

So in that way we are not interested in having a monopoly. We want more businesses. There are many things we share with other companies. The relationship is not only horizontal in this industry, it is also vertical. Businesses are not only competitors, they are also need each other.

While working more than full time at OmniTech, what can you do to encourage other OmniTechs to come about? Or do you leave that to the government?

The government can not afford to wait until there are a hundred OmniTechs. There is still a problem of organizations spending money to get a solution and in many cases they don't need it. This is a waste. This is dangerous both for the organizations, they have lost their money and for serious businesses that the reputation of the industry, the understanding about the industry and technology has taken a strike.

They need to take a long view about it and so they might decide that "no" we want any regulatory systems, we don't want the government in this. So instead of such ideas growing we would like the government to look into it now. Most government organizations want computerization, they need computerization and some are in the process of acquiring this. So there must be an ethical standard in the industry. So honesty in this industry is good.

The hundred OmniTechs will come about only if the government forces honesty in the industry. Otherwise the sector will die out and there will not be anymore OmniTech there will not be any transfer of knowledge.

So the government can coordinate either through Science and Technology or anywhere else ways of recording contracts with existing business. Record them and whenever they make a contract see to it that they have fulfilled their contract obligations and issue to those who fulfill their contract some kind of certificate, a record. Those who have misused, who have failed to meet their contract obligations should be also listed

So the next guy who wants to have computerization for his organization instead of only statement of seed from the company should be able to see this record.

That sounds like a rating system.

Yes. Because that way the industry would be forced to deal with the issue. There is a lot of money to be made in this industry because it is new. And because it is new there is no way for the user to distinguish X from Y. In the end someone makes money but they don't deliver. That will eventually will kill the sector.

At the 1997 IT conference, you spoke on the need for a system's analysis standard, have you advanced those thoughts since then?

My suggestion was that there should be a standard that the user and the consultant can use as a framework, as a means of communication. If there is such a standard the user knows exactly what he can ask from the consultant and he knows what the consultant can deliver.

Without that understanding we still see that after we fulfill a contract, present the deliverables, we give them the report we don't hear from them. We then say "look, if you have accepted this you should pay us." They say "no we are looking for someone to evaluate it". So they go around looking for someone to evaluate. And who is this that will evaluate my design? Why do they want someone else to evaluate my design? I don't mean that it should not be evaluated, but had this been an understanding at the beginning then we would have put in the contract "so and so will evaluate it throughout". If there is somebody who can evaluate my work and come up with a new design then there is no room for work. But if it is a technical evaluation, and what is a technical evaluation? Do I hand someone my codes? Or is there a standard set of tests that should be performed?

The standard should act like a guideline it should not restrict the consultant to use the latest technologies that was not there when the standard was created.

What can OmniTech do to help develop these standards?

This is of interest to every company that is involved in IT, it is of interest to the government, and to the general public.

Everybody involved should present their view. For instance Science and Technology should say "how would you want it?" And the businesses, OmniTech and other techs and everybody, should present their view. And ask the organizations, "what was your problem? How they would like to have dealed with their consultant". So we get the view from organizations. And the government should ask "how best I do it". And then from all of this with future enhancing transfer of technology in mind this can be implemented easily. But everybody should be a part, in having a say in developing this guideline.

When we have this guideline it will force us to deal honestly and professionally. Those that have better knowledge will get better profit. Those, including OmniTech, if we fail than we should not get any profit.

Do you know of examples of this kind of standards system to be in place in other countries?

Yes, the Structured Systems Analysis and Design. SSAD was a British law. But no, it does not provide a rating system for companies.

Does Ethiopia have examples of this kind of rating system in place in other business sectors?

I don't know if they have a database but for instance they give awards to the coffee exporters. If you export more coffee and bring a huge foreign currency earning you are awarded. The global business in computer software is a 1.3 trillion dollar business, I think it is much more than the coffee business. This is a growing business and it is still growing. It would make a sense to the government to come and mark a little point in this growing business, so that is why I say we should have guidelines and so on.

What problems do you see in the future for Ethiopia as different government orgs and the private sector computerize without awareness of one another? Can we avoid information catastrophe?

I think there is hope because computerization, we can say, hasn't begun in Ethiopia. It hasn't begun, this is the first attempt. In Western Europe and in America, especially during the '70s there was a lot of development of new system that has gone into the business and there has been many difficulties. What I am saying is that we should learn from those efforts. Why did organizations fail in computerization?

Many development and implementation projects are coming here after millions have been put into such things. Ethiopia has a good opportunity to be successful here because the software is now very good and we can, if we have good consultants who professional and understand the needs of an organization, avoid the problems and loss of expenses that other countries have suffered from earlier.

What are the difficulties of operating a software company in Ethiopia?

The government's perception of the industry. It is not a traditional industry. If you have got a license to assemble computers in Ethiopia you are given 3 years tax free, you have an investment license. There you have an assembly line, spare parts and screw drivers. So it is simple to see that it is an industry.

But when it comes to software you don't see it, it is a guy sitting by a PC. It is not land or capital intensive either. When you go to the investment bureau and say:

"Register us as investors."

they ask "How much are you going to invest?"

"Well in the beginning it is 5 PCs"

"How much does it cost?"

"About 50,000."

(laughs) The knowledge transfer part is forgotten there. The government should look into the computer industry and make a choice. Each part is beneficial.

The only time we are remembered is when they get a computer and ask themselves "What should we do with it? Lets call a consultant and see what softwares there are." Not a system. We are solution oriented, we provide more than only software, this is also overlooked.

What can the government do to help the sector grow?

How can the that transfer of knowledge come and businesses grow in Ethiopia, that eventually Ethiopia can be a software exporter? I select software because it is knowledge intensive it is not capital intensive. But we can not do like the Japanese did, go the hardware way, manufacture PCs and manufacture hardware. I think the easiest for countries like this as we have seen in Indiana and Pakistan and so on have selected software. Because it doesn't need much, we have educated people.

But how? How should we do it? The government can not create a big software production center. But how to go about this?

Those who perform well should be encouraged. What kind of encouragement are there? There are many kinds. You can give them money but I think that is out of the question. Tax breaks and helping by training facilities. Most software developers in Ethiopia they need training. Every time the technology is growing fast, to keep abreast you need on-going training. Somebody has to come from abroad and train. Either we have to send people to Microsoft trainings or things like that. So there is no need if the government can charge the business and bring someone from abroad. The government can say "We are giving a course in this and this subject and business should participate" and they can charge us to cover the cost.

So that is where many OmniTechs can send two or three people there but there should be somebody to come, that they invest.

What is OmniTech's role in transferring knowledge?

OmniTech is a very small organization, if it has an impact, its impact will be by those people working with us and by those organizations for whom we work. Otherwise I don't think that we are that big to have an impact on the order of things in this area.

What is OmniTech's greatest success?

The biggest contract we have had is the Metehara Sugar in Kambolcha. That was both a challenge and an opportunity.

It is an agro-investment. It is an agricultural site. They have their own roads. it has a factory where they process the cane sugar, and then they have a store where 55 thousand items are stored for maintaining the factory. It is a continuous process, if it stops time is being lost. Production time is cost, also that the cane gets aged from its optimum age. So every problem there it has an effect on every site.

So we got that contract and we made our analysis and we understand the operation of a sugar estate. I think OmniTech now knows how a sugar estate operates. We know its problems, yes, we know what kind of problems they were facing and we know, now we know the solutions.

So after our analysis we took our solved the problems, even problems that were not covered in this contract and we gave them a very good result.

Now the system will operate on a network and our local area network solution it will be seen that we have given them a good method of solution. The information system we have given them we estimate that their lost production time will be cut by 80%

It was fun working there because the people were eager to have a solution. That makes the job for a consultant easier. They were eager. They tell you the problem in explicit terms and still because they are eager to have a solution they are afraid you have forgotten it and they come to you when you are drinking beer and say "Look! Have you taken note of that!"

They were really concerned. That's why it was also a speedy solution and that is why we went out of our way and added features into the system that was not considered in the contract.