Beaton Nkhono was the country service manager for the respected IT company IBM in their operation in Malawi. In an outsource model, he worked directly under my IT operations for a long time.
Beaton was one of the best five IT local experts that I have come across in the last 10 years. He died in South Africa and was laid to rest in his home village in Nkhata Bay last Sunday.
When it comes to Management Information Systems (MIS) or Business Information (BI) and database systems, it would be difficult to find someone that could beat Beaton’s expertise. It is no wonder that at one stage Beaton enjoyed a ‘retention bonus’— when his employer had to pay him a sum of money on condition that he had to sign that he would not leave employment for a period of two years or so!
Many people that worked with Beaton remember him for his humble disposition, for his willingness to always teach others what he knew and for his hard work. I also remember Beaton for pushing boundaries of possibilities.
In the telecommunications industry, MIS reports are at the core of the management of business. Every hour, every day, numerous meetings and decisions are made using reports processed from huge data sets. These include all activities of customers on the network like numbers and locations of customers that buy new SIM cards and join the network, numbers and nature of scratch cards bought, activities revolving the actual topping up of airtime, the usage of airtime, number of minutes called out and for receiving calls, SMS, amount of data downloaded, voice and data bundles, other products, international and roaming calls and so on.
All these metrics need to be known on a daily basis. All these reports need to be packaged in a way that business managers can easily analyse and make business decisions to run faster than the competitor. Beaton’s job was to design and implement solutions that produced these reports. In this area, he was ‘mapeto’. There was no reference beyond Beaton.
He was the last line. He had 100 percent knowledge of his area. Even the most complex problems that came to him, he would have a ready answer in seconds. In rare cases, Beaton would say: “This is not possible”
Normally he would come back about a day later with a smart way to still resolve the puzzle.
I remember one time we had a huge system crisis around 2012. The system vendor (manufacturers) failed to resolve the issue over a period of three weeks. Beaton offered to try and design his own system from a scratch and try it. In a matter of three days or so, Beaton completed the design, development and testing of his system. We asked him to present to us the methodology and the outputs of his system. Two things impressed me.
First was that in his methodology, he began by using ‘SET Theory’—a mathematical concept usually taught at the start of science, engineering and mathematical degree courses in university. It was the ingenuity of its application in solving the problem at hand that impressed us all.
Secondly, was the fact that when we tested his system using historical data, his results were identical to those obtained using the foreign system purchased expensively—with a variance of less than 0.01 percent. We adopted his system and went on to use it for more than three years!
As we mourn Beaton’s early departure, it is important that we spread key attributes of his expertise and what made him unique. We hope that this way, you too can rise and shine like Beaton. Key to Beaton’s extraordinary expertise were three things. First, his passion for what he did.
Beaton loved his work and enjoyed every bit of it. Secondly, Beaton always believed that he can solve the problem. It starts in your mind. You need to believe. Thirdly, Beaton worked really hard. He worked until work finished. He often worked very long hours.
Good luck as you work to emulate the ways of working of the unsung hero Beaton Nkhono. n