There has been a lot of talk about the IT-haves and the IT-have-nots, writes Roisin Woolnough. Nowhere is this more relevant than in developing countries, where people often do not have access to computers, let alone the means to develop an e-commerce strategy.
Enter afriproducts.com, a site set up to promote exports and imports between Africa and the rest of the world. The site was constructed in November last year by Anthony Babasola Kuti, his sister, his sister-in-law and a friend, all of whom founded UKWeb design company Arocom IT in 1997. Three of them were already working in the IT industry, while the fourth used to be a construction engineer.
The foursome have built several sites for African communities, such as www.african ladiesconnection.co.uk, a support network aimed at African women that also organises events to raise money to help impoverished children in Nigeria.
For their latest site, they wanted to create a service whereby anyone running a small business in Africa could sell their produce through the Internet. "We wanted to help people put their businesses online," says Kuti. "It's a good way to break the boundaries of the communication gap."
The site was built using mostly Microsoft Front Page, with a bit of Java coding and some HTML. "Front Page was the easiest tool for us to use and it's compatible with most servers," explains Kuti. "We needed to use basic tools, rather than something like Flash, because a lot of people in Africa have old PCs. With Front Page, all you need is Internet Explorer to access the site. But it does have its limitations. For example, you can't customise and animate your pages as you would be able to with Flash."
The site runs on a Unix server, but Kuti says this will probably change to an NT box as they are looking at using Active Server Pages. He also wants to switch from an Access database to an Oracle or SQL Server format, so the site can handle more traffic.
But the biggest plan in the offing is to open offices in Africa, both to recruit more small businesses and as a centre for people who do not have access to computers. Arocom IT has already opened an office in Lagos, Nigeria and hopes to employ about 40 staff across Africa within the next couple of years.
Name: Anthony Babasola Kuti
Job title: director of IT infrastructure
Qualifications: BSc in business information systems, certified Novell administrator
IT skills: network analysis skills, PC support and networking, NT
Hobbies: football, squash
Favourite pub: Tradervics, Park Lane
Favourite film: The Usual Suspects
Kuti on Kuti: hard-working, fun-loving, industrious