AgriTech evolution in Africa
The transformative capabilities of technology are as explosive as the products in the South Africa agrichem industry.
Approximately 2.6% of South Africa's gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the agriculture sector, and, according to Statistics SA, it is the sector that has contributed the most to the overall GDP, with an impressive 33.6% growth in 2017.
It is the vital, beating heart of the South African economy and it is currently staring down the rotary thresher of technology that's spinning waves of disruption into every sector and industry. It is also the trillion-dollar opportunity for Africa, according to the World Bank; if the continent gains improved access to technology, capital and government support.
For Omnia, a diversified chemicals group with specialised services and solutions for the agriculture, mining and chemicals industries, technical innovation is a vital component in their plans for the agricultural market. The company is South African born with a strong presence across the rest of Africa, Brazil and Australia, with worldwide expansion into the adjuvant and mining and explosives business remaining firmly on the cards for the future.
The Protea Chemicals arm of the organisation is the 10th largest trading entity in the world, with eight major distribution hubs across South Africa and Africa.
"Omnia was looking to replace core systems and needed a platform that would provide them with financial transactions, supply chain and control across the group," explains David Ives, Director at Karabina. "The goal was to invest in a solution that included an integrated stack, had full cloud support and backup, supported both enterprise resource management (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, and had analytics and business intelligence capabilities layered on top of that."
The goal was to implement technology that can be tailored to suit the pressures of the agriculture industry and the demands of distance, connectivity, access and, of course, Omnia's own plans for global expansion. For Omnia, investment into technology for its many divisions, including agriculture, had to support its plan to increase efficiencies while also supporting its clients, agents and business infrastructure.
"There has never been more pressure on the agriculture space than there is today," says Rajan Pillay, General Manager IT at Omnia. "Our business relies on our ability to communicate with clients and teams across the globe using tools that everyone can understand and access. This means we needed a unified integration platform that can really leverage technology across CRM, HR, payroll, ERP and communication and collaboration tools."
Omnia's agricultural division has around 100 agronomists who provide the company's clients with insights and services around agricultural best practice. The challenge was to find a technology solution that gives agronomists the tools they need to help the sector overcome the challenges of water usage, planting regimes, supply chain efficiencies while managing the low connectivity and bandwidth environments in which they work. It also required a solution that could harvest the intelligence gathered from BI software, agents, and clients, and used it to enhance the business and its offering within a highly competitive market.
"It is a complex business and the more information the organisation has, the more it can service commercial farmers and provide products that hit very specific pain points," adds Ives. "Using technology intelligently allows for the organisation to adapt to policies, changing environments and ultimately manage assets more efficiently. To be a farmer in South Africa, you don't just need the land, you need intellectual capital to increase yield and become more effective and efficient."
Keith Fenner, Dynamics Business Group Director at Microsoft: "Within virtually every sector and industry across Africa, the cloud business model with solutions such as infrastructure as a service and software as a service works incredibly well. This is because the majority of businesses don't have the resources to set up, operate and maintain their own on-site infrastructure and data centres. Through a lightweight, flexible cloud solution with mobile capabilities, companies like Omnia and the customers they serve can access the benefits of advance services such as big data analytics as well as artificial intelligence. Moreover, companies are enabled to ramp their computing capacity up and down in response to changing business needs, while gaining the flexibility required to respond to customer changes, market changes and disruption."
It is a reality that Omnia is well aware of, especially the need to invest in technology that can drive its positioning and capabilities. Omnia has selected Microsoft's Business Application product portfolio for its core technology investment and a number of partners, including Karabina, as one of the solution providers. The goal was to invest in a single unified and integrated platform that would support the business from end to end, delivering seamless solutions across every aspect of the organisation.
"Both Microsoft and Karabina have been instrumental in delivering successful projects for Omnia and have strong reputations," says Pillay. "Having a partner that understands the market and how technology can impact on our growth within the market is essential, and Microsoft is tried and tested, spends billions on R&D every year, and has a really impressive local presence."
The technology implemented across the Omnia Group divisions included Microsoft Dynamics 365, Skype for Business, Microsoft Azure, Power BI, and more than 3 000 Microsoft Office 365 seats. It is a powerful technology backbone, designed to hold up the systems that Omnia needs to ensure it is prepared to tackle the global need for efficiency gains in agriculture to meet the relentlessly growing population.
"This single, unified platform is essential to our strategic vision," concludes Pillay. "It is a great partnership which will allow us to drive our digital transformation and support our plans for innovation in the future."