Taking the little guy into the complex supply chain


It’s encouraging to see we are entering an era in which everyone, no matter how small their business, is able to participate in the global economy. Thanks to mobile and ERP, even smallholder farmers are now being brought into the complex supply chain, allowing them to benefit from more efficient and cost effective channels to a larger market. But extending these benefits to everyone, across Africa takes development and training.

On the sidelines of the recent SYSPRO Africa 2013 User Conference in Johannesburg, we hosted an enlightening media round table with a handful of experts in the field, where we unpacked the challenges and potential for ICT training across the continent. The biggest challenge is skilling up enough professionals to develop and carry out business process and ERP functions across the continent. ICT is quite simply not attracting enough students, and this problem begins at school level. Professor Andre Calitz of the Department of Computing Sciences at South Africa’s Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) Department of Computing Sciences explained that maths and science standards have dropped at school, resulting in too few students entering the ICT faculties. Those who do, and excel, are swamped with job offers when they graduate. Calitz says there is a skills shortage of between 20,000 and 70,000 high-end ICT professionals in South Africa alone. “Business and education must work together to close the gap,” he says.

Because we play in the ERP space, we see how ERP systems can revolutionize markets and benefit even the ‘little guy’. The growth potential for those participating in structured supply chains is nothing short of remarkable. Take the example of long-time SYSPRO user the Brookside Dairy Limited, Nairobi. The dairy collects some 95% of Kenya’s milk and distributes over 16 million litres of milk through three national distribution depots and 200 large agents, and over 300 sub agents, to more than 200,000 outlets in East Africa every month. Significantly, the milk is sourced from over 100,000 farmers in Kenya, of which 95% are small scale producers. Much of the interaction with suppliers is done via mobile channels. This means that a woman with little more than a cellphone and three cows can now participate in Kenya’s biggest dairy supply chain. The impact is significant for her and her dependents. We would like to help by being the catalyst for similar success stories across the continent.

The catch is that while industry has indicated growing ERP skills requirements could change the face of business across Africa, a limited number of tertiary institutions are offering education in the ERP field. Dr. Brenda Scholtz of NMMU says the skills shortage is mainly in development, business intelligence and data analytics, business process modeling, testing and quality assurance, and enterprise architecture – areas with a shortage of high-level graduates.

With this in mind, SYSPRO is collaborating with NMMU to address skills shortages in the business process management and ERP space, through focused courses and the use of mobile and new technologies to deliver training across Africa. The partnership has already resulted in the introduction of a new BCom Information Systems degree programme at NMMU.

We are working on mobile training modules to dramatically reduce the cost of ERP training and take this training to a wider geographic region than we’ve been able to do in the past. There is a desperate need for ICT training and skills development across Africa, because without it, communities and enterprises will not be able to realize the full benefits of ERP or participate in the complex supply chain. Fortunately, the massive uptake of mobile across Africa is making it possible for us to take these much-needed skills development programmes across the continent, changing the structures of tertiary education. Along with the boost in ERP training across the continent, we aim to change the way businesses are run, and improve the lives of even the smallest businessmen.

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