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Africa must invest in quality and efficiency

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With its young population, dynamic growth and improving infrastructure, sub-Saharan Africa has the potential to become a manufacturing powerhouse, but first it must boost efficiency and productivity, says MATTHEW KIBBY, VP: Sage Enterprise, Africa & Middle East.

African countries from South Africa to Ethiopia to Nigeria are pinning some of their hope for economic growth and job creation on industrialisation. With its young population, dynamic growth and rapidly improving infrastructure, sub-Saharan Africa has the potential to become a manufacturing powerhouse in the years to come.

But first, African manufacturers must boost efficiency, productivity and quality if they are to compete with low-cost producers in Asia as well as with the high-tech, tightly integrated supply chains in North America and Europe. A new industrial revolution is rapidly transforming how and where goods are made, and the African industry needs to keep up.

For example, advanced robotics and a range of innovative materials are making it cheaper and faster to produce even complex technical goods in factories across the world. Leading manufacturers are using tools such as the Internet of Things, big data, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve productivity, reduce energy and resource consumption – and African companies stand a chance of getting left behind.

To stand out in a globalised market, African manufacturers need to be able to compete with low cost overseas competitors. Taking control of data for better customer insight is key – it will enable manufacturers to anticipate customer demands and become more agile.

Delivering the right product, at the right time and at the right price requires manufacturers to take total control of their product development process, from initial design to final production. By using specialist technology will help shorten the time-to-market for products, improve product quality, and increase customer satisfaction.

Better business management – better business

Before jumping into advanced robotics or AI, sub-Saharan Africa’s manufacturers should be looking at their business management systems to ensure they are fit for purpose. Many of them are using legacy systems or even heavily manual processes, rather than integrated, enterprise applications. A robust business management solution can be a real game changer, helping manufacturers meet the evolving challenges of today’s business world.

According to a recent Forrester report, manufacturers can realise up to 218% return on investment (ROI) within four months by implementing effective business management solutions. The report also found that, as well as receiving significant ROI within a short amount of time, manufacturing organisations reported strong improvements in: financial management; purchasing; sale management; inventory management; and customer service.

Business management solutions enable manufacturers to meet the challenges of today’s business world, helping them to accelerate collaboration and reporting, providing real-time insight into costs and operational performance, and providing information for smarter and faster business decisions. This, in turn, allows them to enhance efficiency, diminish costs, and increase sales and profitability.

Next generation business management systems enable a company to optimise the end-to-end manufacturing process – including production planning, project management, process scheduling, compliance, and mobile supply chain management, while reducing overall total manufacturing costs.

Removing the heavy-lifting and mundane tasks that slow down productivity, stifle flexibility and inhibit growth can transform an organisation into a world-class player. Improved visibility between the front- and the back-office will lead to better insight and improved decision making across key company operations.

An investment worth making

Next-generation business management solutions take the complexity out of running a manufacturing business, simplifying operations to allow enterprises to grow faster and stay agile. With minimal IT investment and resources, companies can enjoy rich, integrated functionality to support all core business processes. And they’re easy to adapt to fit unique processes, roles and preferences.

Automated solutions and consistent processes lead to time and cost savings, easier collaboration and faster outcomes. Integrated reporting allows regular and real-time operational insights, enabling better, quicker business decisions. The right solution will allow African manufacturing companies to consistently deliver and take advantage of new commercial opportunities.

The efficient, streamlined processes that stem from the right business management solutions enable improved productivity and profitability – and accelerated growth.

Africa News

IoT’s answer for Africa

IoT and digitization enables us to efficiently, proactively and predictively address the sustainability challenges that are faced globally and on the African continent, RESHAAD SHA, CEO of Liquid Telecom.

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With Africa’s population set to increase from around 1.3-billion in 2018 to 1.7-billion in 2030, both challenges and opportunities are presented with regards managing issues including food production and security pose  as well the utilization of limited natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Water scarcity and quality for example are realities that negatively impact health, food production and security. Population growth rates and climatic changes place an exponential demand on this scarce and dwindling resource. These are just some of the sustainability challenges facing not just the African continent, but other developing nations and the world as a whole. In addition to this, the demand for the delivery of basic services as healthcare and sanitation also increases.

Against this background of African population growth lies the grim projection that Africa will account for more than 50% of child deaths (under 5) by 2030, while each day, nearly 1000 children die owing to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases according to the UNICEF 2017 trends in child mortality report. It’s an alarming fact, given that while some 2.6-billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, 663-million people still do not have access.

The department of Water Affairs and Forestry estimate that the agricultural sector accounts for more than 50% of water use in South Africa and experience water losses of between 30 and 40 per cent. Further, the department states that around 35% of irrigation system losses, often nutrient enriched and containing herbicides, pesticides, and other pollutants, return to rivers. These are just some of the ways in which reactive, inefficient, and manually driven processes have limited us in responding in an impactful manner and timeously mitigating these risks

It is for these reasons and other socio economic and environmental concerns that the United Nations has established its Sustainable Development Goals strategy, addressing the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, and environmental degradation.

We need to look at smarter ways that leverage technology in order to addressing these challenges. The situation requires a radical response that delivers a proactive, predictive and data driven approach to addressing these issues with exponentially growing levels of speed and impact.

The IoT ecosystem, comprising of sensors, connectivity, data analytics and workflow automation platforms, and applications are at the core of acquiring, analyzing and harnessing the insights that can be integrated into agriculture, service delivery, health and resource management processer – IoT is at the core of a digitization

One such sector which has benefited immensely from technology is in agriculture pest control, with the implementation of AI and IoT by Spanish startup AgroPestAlert. The innovation makes use of “smart” traps that capture insects and analyse their wing beats to identify their species and even their sex. Placed throughout the fields, the traps communicate with the system to predict an imminent invasion. The system will send alerts to phones, tablets and computers and use an easy-to-understand visual tool to cue farmers instantly.

Around 200-million Africans use approximately 1-million manual pumps across the continent to manually access clean drinking water.  IoT applications have been utilised in assuring the delivery of water through manual these pumps, According to estimates, at least one-third of those pumps will break down at least once in its lifecycle, and up to 70% will break in the second year of operation. The impact of not having access to clean drinking water is dehydration or water borne pandemics.

In the Kenyan Region of Kyusoa, Oxford University began a proof of concept project in 2013, which made use of motion sensors) to capture the movements of the pumps’ handle which was transmitted and analysed in real time. A decision support system based on real data was  used to predict pump malfunctions, allowing for a better planning and shortening the time needed to repair broken pumps, or avoiding malfunctions altogether, directly improving the access to clean drinking water for the rural population.

Liquid Telecom realise that the future of sustainability lies in technology and innovations such as IoT. We provide high speed fiber connectivity to interconnect as well as access platforms to build IoT solutions, in addition to access to Microsoft Azure suite of platforms for analytics and algorithm driven based processing and execution. Our Pan African network enables collaboration and cross border innovation and learning, fast well as the capability to efficiently scale out these solutions on Africa’s Liquid Cloud.

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Africa start-up ecosystem can drive blockchain

Through nurturing and technical support, Africa’s tech start-up ecosystem can be a major driver of Blockchain-based innovation says BEN ROBERTS, Liquid Telecom’s Group Chief Technology and Innovation Officer.

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African communities have always come-up with inventive solutions to local problems. Take Somalia as an example. The country is said to have one of the largest diaspora populations in the world. It has few commercial banks and relations with international creditors remain fro­zen due to debts incurred in the late 1980s. 

So its population uses Hawala; an infor­mal value transfer system based on the per­formance and honour of a large network of money brokers. For example, it would mean a Somali based in the US would give money to a local branch agent, where it is sent to a cen­tral country clearing house, then onto a clear­ing house based in another country (typically somewhere in the Middle East). From there it goes to a Somali agent, before the funds are finally collected by an individual in Somalia.

Much like blockchain, the Hawala system is built on trust – but that’s where any similarities end. In fact, cryptocurrencies – many of which are blockchain-powered – may eventually be­come a replacement for Hawala and other exist­ing forms of international remittances. Cryptocur­rencies can enable people to exchange currency online without any middleman – even banks. 

International remittance is one of many compelling use cases for blockchain. The technology’s ability to digitise trust makes it a unique fit for many African countries, par­ticularly those where processes and supply chains remain poorly designed and susceptible to corruption.

At Liquid Telecom, we’re excited about the potential for blockchain technology across the region. Along with other emerging tech­nologies, we recognise this as another major new digital opportunity for businesses that utilises our network infrastructure and servic­es. The rise of blockchain innovation will rely on the skills and talent of the region’s soft­ware developers, who themselves rely on a high-speed internet connection and access to cloud-based tools. Our fibre footprint – which will soon stretch all the way from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt – is providing the foundations for digital innovation, while our partnership with Microsoft is enabling access to the cloud-based services and tools needed to create digital solutions for local problems.

Last year, with support from Microsoft, we set-up our Go Cloud initiative, which is helping to provide the region’s start-up communities with technical support, training and access to software. Using Azure Cloud, start-ups can cut development time and experiment easily with modular, preconfigured networks and infra­structure, enabling them to iterate and validate blockchain scenarios quickly by using built-in connections to Azure.

We’re starting to see the first crop of African start-ups experimenting with blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Take Rwandan start-up Up­lus, which is utilising blockchain to secure all transactions on its digital crowdfunding plat­form. The technology also allows the platform to take contributions from any country and covert it to the local currency.

A lot of existing applications in Africa tend to fall short when it comes to user experience, and blockchain could certainly help address some of these issues – be it by creating a new trusted way to make payments or verify user identification. During this early stage of block­chain experimentation and proof of concept, it will be crucial for start-ups and businesses to develop solutions that are relevant for Afri­can communities. Without that, the technology won’t gather momentum.

Regulation can nurture or constrict the tech­nology and will have a role to play in being a ‘make or break’ for blockchain. Living in Ken­ya, I’m proud to see how proactive the gov­ernment has been in seizing the blockchain opportunity. The creation by the President of a taskforce earlier this year dedicated to blockchain – led by the former permanent secretary for Ministry of Information and Com­munications, Dr. Bitange Ndemo (see page 7) – shows how committed the country is to being a leader in emerging technologies. As more African countries follow Kenya’s lead, blockchain should hopefully find itself reso­nating more powerfully with local businesses and consumers.

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