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How digitisation can help Africa’s supply chain meet demand

OPINION
By Kendi Ntwiga | February 7th 2021

Kendi Ntwiga – Kenya Microsoft Country Manager.

While it is likely few people outside the supply chain industry would have given much thought to the sector before 2020, it didn’t take long for Covid-19 to change that.

Across Africa, informal merchants and logistic firms alike battled to navigate the unpredictable supply and demand brought about by the pandemic.

We all felt the impact of the supply chain under strain. Even the most basic and essential goods were difficult to come by. And the challenge is not over yet.

With recent announcements around Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and other pharmaceuticals, conversations around finding solutions to this global manufacturing and distribution issue have come to the fore. It is only by protecting and reinforcing the supply chain network that the world is able to carry out this monumental task.

There is much to learn from major players in the logistics industry, who continue to handle complex challenges brought about by the pandemic.

Global firms such as DHL can process large volumes of orders, anticipate spikes in demand for goods and optimise routing across their warehouses to collect and pack goods more effectively across sizeable footprints.

On the outside looking in, digital transformation stories such as DHL may appear beyond reach for companies that do not have the same access to resources.

However, logistics and supply chain experts opine that employing tech solutions in an organisation’s day-to-day operations need not be a complex undertaking.

One example is automating routine tasks such as data capturing with the help of a software.

I will use the example of my son to illustrate this. During his summer job, he would spend the morning plugging in data from one system into another. After a couple of days on the job, he told his line manager that he could write a macro in Microsoft Excel to automate the process.

Within a few days, he had fully automated this routine morning task. He applied the same process in other departments.

Human talent

Using simple automation for routine tasks gives staff the freedom to attend to other responsibilities that require human talent that can’t be replicated by machines, such as creativity. Digital transformation in sectors such as supply chain does not have to begin with the complete overhaul of an organisation’s operations.

Look at what is readily available and how the technology solutions can be used effectively.

For example, Farmer’s Choice used to write down the weight scores of its animals but with the help of Microsoft technology, it captures electronically directly from the scale. As a result, the firm has experienced fewer errors and gets real-time weight recordings.

It gets accurate tracking and record-keeping to its suppliers.

This means staff can monitor fluctuating inventory levels.

Ideally, data should lead to information. Firms need to create and nurture an environment where people aren’t handling data and information but focused on knowledge and wisdom.

Firms looking to optimise their operations through digitisation should take stock of all the technology solutions that are readily available and whether they are being used to their full potential.

Leadership is key. You need people who are able and willing to push for digitisation.

The right attitude at a C-suite and executive-level means greater support and investment in the people, leading to impactful digital transformation.

-The writer is Microsoft Kenya Country Manager

Covid 19 Time Series

 

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