Al Edwards, Business Co-ordinator
Eyre at his Belmont Road headquarters in New Kingston. - Michael Sloley /Freelance Photographer
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY powerhouse, Fujitsu, which operates in the Caribbean, is the world's third largest IT services company, operating, implementing, managing and supporting infrastructures behind the Internet society. It employs 170,000 people around the world and operates in 65 countries. It invests about US$3 billion a year in research and development.
Fujitsu Caribbean, valued at US$30 million, is headquartered in Jamaica and is headed by local boy wonder, Mervyn Eyre, who is the region's president and chief executive officer. Last year was a good year for Fujitsu, largely brought on by the deregulation of the telecoms sector in Jamaica. The company worked assiduously on the NCB IT transformation project. It's objective there is to grow its relationship with that account. It also installed the PBX system at Digicel's call centre and put in place its data security systems.
Mervyn Eyre says he fell into the IT industry by divine accident. He was fiddling with some wires one day and almost short-circuited the family home. His father decided he would have to go to college to master electrical engineering. He studied in England and then pursued a career in computing. He says his time abroad proved invaluable, giving him exposure and experience, which he would later use back home in Jamaica.
"People worry about Jamaicans migrating but I think it is good if you can acquire international experience, provided you can return and help to make a contribution to the development of the country. We have to start benchmarking ourselves against global standards," he says.
He returned to Jamaica in 1983 and took up the position as general manager of Computer Point, a distributor for ICL. It wasn't long before the distribution operations outpaced ICL itself. He then became sales manager for ICL and five years ago, became Fujitsu's CEO for the region.
"Fujitsu is not driven by mandates from above (the parent company). Performance is the watchword. This company allows individualism and dynamism. I have been here for 15 years now and I have never been bored, I am constantly being challenged and engaged," he says.
Under Mr. Eyre's tenure, the company has seen quarter-on-quarter profitability, which has doubled in size over the last five years. And the staff compliment headcount has risen from 115 to 150.
"We are unique in being the only truly regional IT company and that has been a major differentiation for us. We have exploited the skills base across the islands in which Fujitsu operates, namely Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados and the Bahamas, with agents across the entire region. We have taken success stories in one location and replicated it in another. Last year, the population registry system in Trinidad was expanded by using Fujitsu expertise. Regarding the travel industry, in Barbados we are maintaining the airport systems at Grantley Adams Airport. So you see we are offering a good cross section of infrastructure products and services. This comes at a time when our competition is weakening and the industry globally is re-strengthening.
"The way I think Fujitsu operates is that once it has a successful operation in one region they tend to leave that alone to operate as is. The Caribbean has proven to be a successful sphere for the company and has been growing consistently for the last five years. In fact, some of the successes the company has had in the region have been of interests to governments and the models used by them in other areas.
"We have convinced the parent company that it is vitally important that Fujitsu maintains an operational presence in the Caribbean. In terms of Fortune 50 Caribbean businesses, it is just IBM and ourselves at the moment as far as IT is concerned.
THE GROWTH OF IT IN JAMAICA.
Mervyn Eyre is upbeat about the telecoms sector here in Jamaica and supports the Government's faith placed in it. He sees the use of technology and growth in the business in a very challenging environment as very positive.
"I believe there has been a lot of misunderstanding and misrepresentation surrounding technology, which has damaged the good news that has taken place. The issue of the call centres really put a cloud over a number of other very good stories that are happening. If one observes the use of IT by Jamaican businesses and Government for its own efficiency and business transformation, I think a lot of good things are taking place there.
"But if you say, how are we using technology to generate economic wealth, I think that we have a long way to go. We have to a certain extent, riden on the back of a tide rather than sat back and said, 'what is it we wish to do'. We are not a particularly good software exporter and we can't obviously manufacture hardware. I think the skill we have centres around an exceptional creativity surrounding art, entertainment and presentation. We are good at creating interfaces for existing applications and interfaces for systems which give it a rich looking feel. It's about how you renew software that has been created already and I see a huge opportunity for that here in Jamaica."
Minister of Industry, Commerce and Technology, Phillip Paulwell, has placed faith in Mr. Eyre's abilities, inviting him to sit on the board of Central Information Technology Office (CITO). He believes some consolidation should take place and there should be removal of many of the various committees that lead to duplication of roles. He advocates an aggressive approach by one or two of those bodies to the execution of policy and strategy and he sees CITO offering that opportunity.
"There needs to be a much shorter path between what one does with IT, whether it is web creation or usage of it and national policy. At the moment, I think it's too far away from the Prime Minister's reach to find a way of engaging it. It should be made more tangible for him so that he is able to access it and utilise it for the good of the nation."
At this point in time Fujitsu is looking to surround core systems with "feel good technology", that is, technology that citizens can touch and feel and engage with in a better way.
According to Mr. Eyre, "that is something we have attempted to do with ABM's in Jamaica, where you have text written instructions and voice activation for the blind and elderly. The Internet kiosk programme where Cable & Wireless brings the Internet closer to post offices is another such example. Across the region you will find we are doing that type of initiative. The population registry in Trinidad is very innovative because one can do research by linking family relationships to pick up a birth certificate either in its more traditional form or electronically. We won an award for innovation in Trinidad for this project. We now have a campaign going on with the Registrar here in Jamaica to do the same thing."
Mr. Eyre points to the use of technology in the banking sector and in particular NCB's decision to invest US$50 million to upgrade its systems to make banking more consumer- friendly after more than 10 years of failing to do so. Last year, Fujitsu rolled out 2,200 desk top computers at NCB in a six to eight week period, a first in the Caribbean.
Fujitsu also installed Sun Micro Systems and Dell desk tops and servers throughout the bank's branch network. This infrastructure was implemented to world class standards without disrupting the day-to-day operations of the bank. Five years ago Mr. Eyre saw the banking sector as stagnating with it adopting an overly cautious posture in regard to the use of technology.
He points to RBTT, the regional banking giant, now operating in Jamaica, as making the necessary investment in technology to maximise profits and make its operations even more efficient. He mentions the correlation between return of confidence and the implementation of technology, noting that the banking business is reliant on the transmission of information.
Fujitsu is now working with insurance giant Guardian Life on its primary accounting platforms, as well as Jamaica National Building Society, to install ABM's. It is also working on C&W's Internet backbone and application platforms.
Over the next five years, Mr. Eyre hopes to ensure that Fujitsu dominates the IT infrastructure and services in the region and to grow the business. To that end, the company has in place a single service management system that allows incidents to be logged and managed anywhere in the Caribbean.