Monthly Archives: September 2013

UMEME – Outsourcing Gone wrong?

UMEME, the company enjoying the virtual monopoly of supplying electricity to all Ugandan homes and businesses has been struggling so much over the years ever since it was given the concession.

As a consumer, I must say that my experience with their services has greatly improved and I do commend them for that. With a view of trying to run a lean but profitable organization, UMEME set out to shed off as much excess baggage as it could and this led to the outsourcing of various services under their operations.

It is very noticeable when one visits their head offices in the Industrial Area of Kampala that they are intent on serving the customer better and would like to walk the talk. This led them to outsource some of their key customer facing functions like Meter reading, Bill delivery, Disconnections and Reconnections of power among others.

In principle, this was a brilliant idea because the textbooks say so. However, what UMEME forgot to factor in was the local situation context especially the history of the Government Parastatal that used to play a similar role.

In the times when the Uganda Electricity Board (UEB) managed all the operations of supplying electricity to the Ugandan consumer, their customer facing staff who used to carry out works like; Pole repairs, meter reading, disconnections among others were known for among others;

  • Foul / Obscene Language
  • Extremely poor handling of customers
  • Crooked meter reading habits
  • Arm twisting customers to solicit bribes

When UMEME decided to outsource a number of its customer facing services, many former employees of the defunct Uganda Electricity Board formed companies that took up the various contracts on offer. These outsourced companies then went ahead to rely on largely the same human resource that had previously worked with UEB in order to hit the ground running.

By the look of things, no effort was made to professionalise and sensitize these people regarding the new dispensation they are working under. UMEME envisioned a very good strategy to win customer appeal and this largely worked but the missing plug in all this was ensuring that their vision for the customer was effectively communicated to the OutSourced companies and their staff.

As a subscriber with the Mukono district office, I can say that each time I have reached out to the management over there, I have been handled with care and all went smoothly but this treatment is a distant cry from the experience me and my neighbours get when we interface with their field staff. I have shared with my neighbours about UMEME and there are horror stories galore.

A few days back, I was threatened with disconnection of my power (again by the field staff who are outsoured) simply because my neighbour hadn’t paid their bill. Even when they knew clearly that we never shared meters.

Shortly after that, my Tweepie  Counsel David Mpanga published a missive of the harrowing experience he had with the over zealous field staff who were arm twisting him to install Yaka (The pre-paid metering). On Thursday September 12th 2013, even after the UMEME Head of Communications Mr. Henry Rugamba appeared on the Sanyu FM radio talk show, another tweepie Leticia Iguma gave us a real time tweet account of some hallucinating UMEME field staff who were busy on rampage re-living their UEB mannerisms of hurling all sorts of obscenities and threats at consumers whose money is the very basis of their existence. To quote her tweeter feed;

@leticiaIguma

<Umeme chap is abusing the kisasi residents who are asking him questions abt yaka n why they are being forced!>

< Want to know his name. A one Hajji >

< Back to office after wasting three good hours as the foolish yaka goons abused my neighbours who were asking questions!!!>

< Whoever is in charge of that company that was chosen to do the yaka installations has alot to answer #YAKA..>

< I am called home to open for those goons to install the thing and they take three hours!!!!!!!!!!!!!mmmsssttteeeewww!>

< I engage one guy…and jokingly tell him that he will be beaten by the angry neighbours for forcing them to change to yaka..#YAKA.>

< He assures me how he is ARMED! Umeme, is this what is has come to?????? Now u want to kill us coz of #YAKA>

< And all this time Hajji gundi is still throwing all sorts of insults at my dear neighbours!!!!!!!!!>

< he even goes ahead to start to imitate some…and asking them what they will do to him.. #YAKA >

< He even shouted from the top of the pole..”MUGENDE MULOOPE!!!’…#YAKA >

< I asked the guy if he had actually talked to the owners of these houses and explained…”OGWO SIMULIMU GWANGE” he responded..#YAKA >

Mr. Rugamba, from the above rant by one of your customers, it is very evident that UMEME has a big job to do and you can no longer bury your head in the sand and keep blaming errant outsourced staff. For your own credibility, you need to take aggressive measures to address this illness.

I would recommend some of the following measures;

  1. Set minimum standards/guidelines for all the companies that you outsource to do your customer facing work
  2. Take it upon yourselves to train all their staff in customer service and don’t leave this job to those companies because they will never do it. Trust me on this one.
  3. Outline seriously punitive measures for those companies that continue to employ such uncouth staff.
  4. Ensure your district office management takes time to tour their catchment areas periodically interfacing with the customers to find out what is on the ground.
  5. Sensitise your customers through various media about their rights and why they shouldn’t stomach bad service from any person clad in UMEME apparel.

I trust that you are now aware that we are living in a Uganda where the consumer is becoming more and more empowered by the day. A lot of what used to pass unnoticed can no longer do so today. Its time for a thorough re-think of your operations and I advise that you borrow a leaf from National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) because I hardly hear people complaining about them apart from when the water supply breaks down.

It’s never too late.

Always @wirejames on #Twitter

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Procurement Mess in Uganda – The Case of the National Fibre Backbone

I have always been hesitant to come out and complain on each and every thing I hear going wrong with the handling of our ICT related projects in Uganda but it seems like the situation has hit pandemic levels. Like HIV/AIDS, this is now turning out to be a life long disease for our brethren manning the relevant civil service dockets.

On the 2nd of September 2013, I stumbled across a news article in the New Vision Newspaper titled “AG cites Loopholes in Fibre Optic Deal” by Steven Candia. As a keen industry observer I wasn’t too surprised. I had seen many flags raised on this project through the online I-Network discussion forum of the Ugandan ICT fraternity but nevertheless, I got shocked by some of the findings of the Attorney General. These include;

“The feasibility study for the National Backbone Infrastructure/E-Government Infrastructure (NBI/EGI) project was done after signing the contract.” With all due respect, I wonder how any sane person who has the slightest idea of Government Procurement rules can entertain such an action that skips basic procedure and not have the guts to resign from their job. Anyone who probably okayed such a process in my view should even be ashamed to call themselves educated at the least. Why was there a lot of haste in doing this? Was it a crisis? A project that took years to accomplish didn’t deserve taking such shortcuts unless of course if certain interests were at play. Unfortunately, when the decision makers are put to task (if the Parliament ever chooses to do so), the pedestrian answer will be; “Orders from above”. Now we all know how this statement has been manipulated to suit the interests of a selfish few.

“There was an untrained feasibility study team.” A lookup on the definition of feasibility study reveals; “feasibility study is an evaluation and analysis of the potential of the proposed project which is based on extensive investigation and research to support the process of decision making” – Wikipedia. How do you get an unknowledgeable person to carry out such a study on a highly technical project like this? How will the decision makers be best guided when the so called technocrats to be relied upon are nothing but mere uninformed wannabe consultants? Shame … A very big shame to whoever selected this team.

“There was no evaluation criteria for the proposal submitted by HUAWEI.”  By definition, “Evaluation criteria are standards that are used to assess how well an offer meets the agency’s requirements. They provide a mechanism for comparing offers by assessing the relative worth of different offers.” Someone is either too daft to understand the job they are doing or we are being taken for a ride. How do you procure something or accept a proposal when you don’t even have any criteria in place? When local businesses approach Government for work they are trashed and sidelined based on the complex processes that are usually structured to conveniently edge us out. I shudder to imagine that a multi-million dollar deal like this one could be processed without following proper due diligence. Was it a mistake? No. Someone must have been a beneficiary of all this ambiguity.

Other notable findings were;

  • Lack of evaluation of the proposed cable
  • Substandard Civil works. Cable that should have been laid 1.2 meters below the ground was largely not more than 0.5m below. Why was there no supervision? Who signed off this work? Were the contractors poorly paid by HUAWEI thereby leading them into cutting corners? (I actually got first hand information from some contractors about the stringent payment terms of HUAWEI)
  • Lack of quality assurance by sub contractors. This role couldn’t have been left to the subcontractor alone. HUAWEI as the contracting company should have played a lead role here to ensure that those that executed the work on the ground adhered to certain basics.
  • Government did not specify the requirements in the form of Terms of Reference for the project prior to contracting HUAWEI but only relied on the MoU. Could it be that our officials get start struck or numb when they interact with foreigners especially white skinned people? How else can someone explain such an oversight?

From a bungled up NBI/EGI project, a staggering National ID project to a heavily manipulated Integrated Financial Management Systems (IFMS), our folk in the corridors of power seem not to appreciate the basics of proper project planning and management and very soon we might hear them justifying the hiring of a global Project Management firm to help us deliver on these seemingly good initiatives that are always going wrong.

It is also prudent that our government wakes up to the realization that most of these things we are seeking from the outside world can actually be managed and implemented locally with ease. We spend a lot of time being fed on the propaganda of Ugandan Youths being prepared to do outsourcing jobs for countries in Europe and America but charity begins at home. Why doesn’t the Government start by outsourcing to us before it expects foreign companies to trust us? Over to you Ministry of ICT and NITA-U.

Always @wirejames on #Twitter

BlackBerry Future is Bleak

Why I am Ditching my Black Berry