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Digital transformation will leap frog Africa’s growth

Dr John Wentzel, Group Chief Commercial Officer, was recently invited to share Tsebo’s journey to digital transformation at the 2019 Africa CEO Forum, held in Rwanda. The Forum annually hosts the continent’s major decision-makers with the collective goal to unlock Africa’s economic potential.

Following his panelist discussion at the Forum, Dr John Wentzel, elaborates on his thoughts on digital transformation and how technology can be used to help connect a business to its people:

By Dr John Wentzel, Group Chief Commercial Officer, Tsebo

While many may think that Africa’s development is far off, I can categorically confirm that the time for Africa is now. Although the continent may still experience major developmental challenges, such as slow advancement in infrastructure, capacity and skills, there are a number of solutions that are fast pushing the African continent into the global economy.

That is why at Tsebo, we have taken a firm decision to expand across Africa Middle East, with our new business in Egypt being the latest addition to our footprint that spans across 28 countries. We are optimistic about Africa’s opportunities, but we do recognise its challenges and we are able to navigate them if we cannot solve them. The only way we can resiliently grow the continent and grow with it as multinational businesses is to build solid partnerships that will enable us to actively invest in people, combat digital poverty and catalyse easy access to information.

More than, 20 percent of the world’s population is in Africa and just over 70 percent of Africans work in the agriculture sector. With that in mind, using the agricultural industry as an example, national governments and African firms produce little by themselves, hence leaving land and capital available to external actors. Why is this the case when other developed countries in the world are able to successfully leverage the sector as an economic growth driver? This means, Africans cannot even solve the continent’s problems around hunger and food nutrition within their own environments, yet they sit with so much land at their disposal. What may be missing, in this scenario, is education and skills to develop the industry as well as technology to yield much higher agricultural productivity.

What do Africans need in order to turn the tide and reap the rewards of their own land?

It starts with Investment in human capital and key to this investment is education and skills development. We need to put in proper effort in using technology to provide Africans with information. Digital transformation should be at the heart of the continents development as it has the ability to provide connections of economic activity beyond traditional infrastructure such as roads and bandwidth restrictions.

Recently, I attended the Africa CEO Forum, an event which seeks to find future solutions for the benefit of the continent’s development by bringing together governments and industry captains to engage on what is possible and at this year’s meeting, digital transformation was a topic in which many were interested and dominated the conversations in some of the sessions and hallways.

As part of the panel that spoke on the subject, we debated how the digital world is transforming the way business is done in Africa. At Tsebo, we fully embrace the increasing role that digital plays in doing business across Africa Middle East. We pride ourselves by using digital as an enabler of improved customer experience through training. By making our training primarily available through digital methods and making the modules available on cellphone platforms we can reach more than 40 000 people quickly, easily and at their convenience. We are now able to ensure consistency of service delivery across 28 countries covering staff in thousands of sites. There is just no other way we could do this.

We have used technology to enable our staff to better perform their jobs and deliver outstanding results for our customers.

This gathering of business and government leaders who have shown bench strength in taking economies to the next level was hosted by a country that is championing the acceleration of innovation and digital transformation across the continent. As Rwanda commemorates 25 years since the genocide in 1994, we all need to be inspired by the leadership of the country and its ability to find refuge in a digitised economy.

The World Bank forecasts growth of 3.5% in 2019. This provides a window of opportunity for businesses to strengthen trade relationships with counterparts on the continent to build sustainable growth. As a business with a strong African heritage, we saw the need to focus on harnessing the power of doing business on the continent and using technology to give us momentum in finding growth opportunities.

Technology will continue being the backbone of a successful business. In a fast-moving environment, technology is required to help connect the business to its people and the outside world, optimise systems and processes as well as enhance products and services. As part of our growth strategy, we are looking at how human interaction can work together with technology to provide staff with tools to sell Tsebo products and services as well as embrace Artificial Intelligence (AI) to simplify activities.

The fourth industrial revolution is here and with the aid of digital transformation Africa is not being left behind.

About John Wentzel

John applied his credentials in physics and engineering to a career that earned him broad experience across the retail, FMCG, banking, communications and logistics industries in just as broad a range of management roles, including operations, IT, project management and HR.

Over the past five years John has successfully led the largest facilities management company in Africa, Tsebo Facilities Solutions and under his leadership, now leads the Africa Middle East growth of the Tsebo group.