In Conversation: Komal Rao (Managing Director,RPC Data)

Komal arrived at RPC Data in the early 2000s as a sales manager and leveraging on opportunities presented to him along the way, he managed to ascend to the position of Managing Director. In this interview, he chats more about his role, how the Botswana tech scene has changed over the years, RPC Data's future plans, and much more!

In your own words, please tell us who Komal Rao

I consider myself as someone who always tries to make whatever positive difference I can in any society that I inhabit. My lifetime objectives have included giving back to the societies that I exist in. The second objective has been to build an enterprise in Botswana that employs many people and become a recognized leader in ICT services not just in Botswana but the whole of Africa. My third objective, I'd say, is to bring out the best in the people that I associate with.

On a more personal note, I owe the majority of my success to my parents who came from a very humble background but managed to provide me with a solid foundation for me to pursue my dreams

My interests include gardening, singing, and keeping abreast of current affairs. If I'm not working or thinking about work, I spend my time mostly with my daughter and trying to help her advance her career.

Briefly take us through your journey to a career in tech?

When I was joining the workforce, tech and IT were just beginning to become a big deal in India and everybody was moving towards that and this was a motivation for me. It was an alternative to the monotonous options we used to have in India which was either becoming a doctor or an engineer. I basically started with programming and coding in those days then also got involved in sales because I had managed to become good with business development. That prompted me to start my own company in my early 20s which I ran for two years before having to put a stop to it and working in an organization. Then the option of moving to Botswana came through. Back then, Botswana was a fast-growing economy and the country was investing a lot in ICT infrastructure so it was a fantastic opportunity. After stints in two other ICT companies here in Botswana, I joined RPC Data in 2001 as a sales manager. I then worked my way up to becoming a shareholder and Managing Director in the company.

You are currently the Managing Director at RPC Data. Please tell us more about the company and your role

Currently, we are in what we call RPC 4.0. RPC has been in existence for about 32 years and when I joined, the company was already 11 years in existence. There was a period between 1989 when the company was founded and 1999 when it was listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange which I would call RPC Data 1.0. RPC Data 2.0 then came through between 1999 and 2014 which was a period of ups and downs. 

Due to government policy changes regarding procurement terms and conditions which grouped companies into a majority, minority, and fully citizen-owned but no provision for public listed companies, the company decided to delist in 2014. There was then a management buyout which included me, I period we refer to as RPC 3.0. This was a difficult period because we acquired the business which was basically a startup then. Then came COVID in early 2020 but fortunately, it did not damage us but rather allowed us to strategize better and get into 2021 where we assumed COVID would be gone but alas. From January 2021 to now, we consider that period RPC 4.0.

I have been MD since 2015 and my role includes stabilizing and optimizing the company best and taking it on a significant growth path. We have also recently strategized for our upcoming 3 years (fiscal years June 2022-May 2025) and hope to reach great heights in RPC 4.0

RPC Data recently celebrated its 32-year anniversary. Having been in operation for this long and you having been with the company for 21 years, please give us a walkthrough of how the industry you operate in, being tech, has evolved over all those years

The ICT industry in Botswana started off in what I would call the right way with a big emphasis on infrastructure which included providing PCs for government offices and parastatals. The private sector was also automating but I would say, in my view, that it has been disappointing in its use of technology. It should be used more than government and parastatals and that's not the case in my opinion. After focusing on acquiring infrastructure, from 2000-2002, governments and parastatals started actually automating their business processes. Shared services centers became the norm which made sense for a small and developing country like Botswana.

Over the years, the tech adoption stagnated but what remained was this dependence on the government as the core buyer of ICT services from these companies. If you look at statistics, 1800 ICT graduates are produced by 21-22 tertiary institutions, and hardly any of them get absorbed by the industry because of the roughly 150-200 ICT companies, on average, each employ staff of about 10 which is not nearly enough to absorb graduates.

With that, there is still a lot to do to grow the industry. On a more positive note, what I have realized since I arrived is that most firms in the private sector have always automated their accounting processes but that is still not nearly enough. There is still more to look forward to with 4IR adoption which I hope will bring the private sector more on board. We have an enormous amount of young talent in this country and we hope that enough will be done to make Botswana an ICT hub.

Botswana has always lagged behind in the adoption of new technologies over the years. As a technology company, how were you able to surmount this challenge and stay in operation for all these years?

I wouldn't say Botswana has lagged behind on the advancement and adoption of new technologies. When I came here, the country was actually doing quite well in that respect. It was actually leading a lot of African countries. 

As an ICT organization, as early as 2001-2003, we had started our regional presence. There is a system called GABS (Government Accounting & Budgeting System) launched in 2004 and run by the Ministry of Finance which helps with accounting and budgeting for government departments. In other countries, it is called IFMAS (Integrated Financial Management & Accounting System), a name given by the World Bank/IMF because it is implemented to track projects they provide funding for.

It is called GABS here because back then, the country had managed to make a system of its own instead of having to adopt IFMAS like other countries. We implemented IFMAS (GABS basically) in countries like Uganda and Zambia because they had heard good things about Botswana. In 2005, the government was even thinking of automating national archives and records and that was not heard of in most African countries.

So in my view, the country was a leader in tech adoption but somewhere along the road, the direction got lost but I think a lot of things are happening now to get the country back on track

As RPC Data, we have managed to stay afloat by moving into the region. We wish this could have happened more proficiently but we have faced our own challenges. The other reason is that we have primarily been a company providing services for large-scale private enterprises, government departments, and parastatals but over the years, we have provided cost-effective services to SMMEs which has diversified our service provision a lot.

You recently launched your own HRMS solution called i-Duela. Please tell us more about that?

i-Duela came about as a result of our diversification exercise. In a B2B situation, Botswana is a really small market. Back when we were still a public limited company, we had pressures of growing every year as a result of this small market. As a result, we had to diversify, and building our own technology was an avenue for this. 

We identified that most applications in use by most businesses were from abroad with the IP not being owned by anyone here. So in deciding to make our own products, we had to appreciate that even if a product gains traction, the numbers here are too few so we had to have a pan-African vision. 

Therefore, we had to build a product that could be used by any organization anywhere and not just in Botswana. We identified that someone was doing a payroll addition to SAP Business One in India and we acquired this product, built on it, and localized it to the Botswana market.

What goals do you have for the i-Duela platform in the next 3-5 years?

We want to make it the preferred and go-to HRM solution among SMEs and big enterprises in Botswana. If you go to any organization in two years, we want you to see just i-Duela. We would like to establish i-Duela in three other countries in the region being Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Of course, it is not going to be easy but you have to set goals that are a bit “far-fetched” so that even if you fail, you still end up much further than where you started off

Our other goal is to establish a presence on the cloud. A lot of payroll solutions current in the market are moving clients towards the cloud of which servers are located in faraway regions. What we are trying to do is to provide a cloud environment with servers in Botswana.

What has been the proudest moment of your career journey so far?

Without a doubt, when I became a shareholder of RPC Data because I came to join an established company that was on a huge growth path and was quite established in Botswana.

I got to work with great people who were then running RPC Data and I still take mentorship from them not just in senior management but also on the board.

Acquiring i-Duela was also another proud moment because acquiring your own IP product is a great way for an ICT company to plot its own growth path without having to depend on other companies’ IP products.

Apart from i-Duela, is there anything you would like to share with our readers regarding any exciting products or ventures RPC Data is launching in the near future?

We are currently in RPC 4.0 which is really about launching multiple products and strategizing towards and growth path of getting into the region. One of our main visions is to become a recognized market leader and a preferred partner in delivering enterprise software solutions in Africa.

There are a lot of things we are working towards in terms of launching/acquiring new products and services and we are looking forward to sharing more in time.

Having been a part of the RPC Data team for all these years, what advice can you give to young people looking to start and run a software company in Botswana?

Patience, endurance, and perseverance. I came into RPC as an employee and it took me about 15 years to work up to a Managing Director role. If you work hard, opportunities will be presented to you.

I worked hard and got presented with an opportunity to become a shareholder and Managing Director. This all came as a result of patience. Of course, there are and there will always be challenges but those three principles will be key in helping you surmount the challenges.

As a young entrepreneur, look at ideas, have the patience, work on those ideas, approach experienced industry professionals for guidance, stay firm on your vision and aim for the sky

Lastly, please share with our readers where you can be reached if they are interested in getting in touch



NB: Interview has been slightly edited for clarity

Previous Post Next Post