In early February 2021, Hans Kissling travelled virtually to Uganda. After four months, he successfully completed his first SEC remote consultancy assignment with an agricultural company. Together, client and expert set up an automated warehouse management system.
The SEC client is active in Uganda’s largest economic sector, agriculture. The agricultural company “MARA Agribusiness” sells agricultural inputs and operates in the coffee trade. It faced a major problem. Its five branches in rural Uganda were not connected to an automated inventory management system, making it difficult to keep track of the stock levels in the branches. This made it impossible to manage the branches efficiently, as the head office did not have oversight of the level of inventory.
During his four-month SEC remote consultancy assignment, the experienced agricultural economist and SEC expert Hans Kissling was able to support the client with his broad expertise in logistics. As a management consultant with his own engineering office, one of Hans Kissling’s main areas of work is computer-integrated logistics management. Together with the managing director of the agricultural company, he analysed what the company needed to manage its stocks efficiently. The result of this consulting assignment was the procurement and application of an automated warehouse management system.
Hope despite strict lockdowns
Thanks to the competent support of Hans Kissling, the client is now able to keep track of the stock and the sales made. This is especially useful during Uganda’s strict lockdowns this summer because the manager does not have to go from sales point to sales point to check the stock levels but can view them from home. This successful automation of sales processes also shows that there is great potential for development in Uganda in the use of digital and communication technologies.
Silas Gwamoiza, SEC Coordinator in Uganda, reports: “Most companies in Uganda had to lay off employees due to the pandemic and the associated lockdowns.” This client also had to lay off five of its eighteen employees due to the pandemic, as its sales declined. Thanks to the expert’s support with a follow-up assignment, the manager has new hope: “I expect sales to increase again thanks to a jointly developed business plan.” In addition, the assignment has produced another nice result: “Hans Kissling and I have become friends, and I hope it stays that way!” says the Managing Director.
About the client
MARA Agribusiness advertises with the slogan “leading farmers to prosperty”. It sees itself as a social enterprise and wants to work with young people from rural areas. About 70% of Ugandans between the ages of 18 and 35 are unemployed. The vision of “MARA Agribusiness” is to empower these young people by offering courses in coffee cultivation and to provide them with high-quality agricultural inputs.
Through the training offered, 2500 young coffee producers should be able to enter the coffee trade by 2025. MARA offers the necessary means of production for coffee cultivation in its branches. At the same time, it acts as a buyer for the harvest, which it processes and sells.
MARA’s team is also young. Guided by the aspiration to be innovative and entrepreneurial, it has been very open to taking on board the expert’s suggestions. The team successfully implemented the automation of the work processes in the branches.
Interview with SEC expert Hans Kissling
How do you assess the results achieved and which factors contributed to the assignment’s success?
The client needed support in the procurement of an IT system that would automate the management of stock. In the course of the situation analysis and the definition of requirements, it became clear that an order processing system with stock management was necessary to cover the requirements in the long term. In the evaluation phase, a supplier was finally selected whose system could fulfil the obligations and with whom a favourable contract could be worked out. The system was introduced, the staff was trained accordingly, and the system seems to be working to the best satisfaction.
This result was based on a highly systematic approach. This took more time than the client expected but ultimately led to the achievement of the goal and to new experiences.
What were the special challenges of this remote assignment for you?
When working remotely, the only means of communication available are telephone and e-mail. You can’t see the actual situation on site, you can only estimate the needs, and you are dependent on the client’s messages in all steps of the work. It is practically impossible to give a spontaneous input.
A second challenge was the “wording”. For all stages in the process a mutual understanding of the content, the procedure and the expected effects had to be reached.
What are the challenges for the client when working remotely?
For the client, everything is even more unusual than for the consultant: he does not know the consultant, neither his skills nor his experience nor his working style. Nevertheless, he has to trust that the advisor can grasp the client’s needs, knows the possible courses of action and suggests the right course of action. And all this is not done in a face-to-face meeting on the spot, but mostly time-restricted on the phone or electronically. So, the client must constantly convince himself that he could not achieve the stated goals without the advisor’s recommendations. In my opinion, this is very distinctive.
What is the special or additional role of the local coordinator in a remote assignment?
Especially in the case of a remote assignment, it is important that the coordinator is very close to the client and the expert. They should often and regularly ask about the client’s sensitivities, i.e. those sensitivities that the client does not want to share with the advisor for whatever reason. This gives the advisor additional information, for example about which topics he should make additional suggestions or where he should take a step back.
The local coordinator thus supports both the client and the consultant, not in terms of content, but rather in terms of interpersonal communication.
Did you continue to be in contact with the client after the end of the assignment? With what kind of support?
Yes, and that is good. During the course of the assignment, the client realised that the strategic orientation of his company was not clear enough and too focused on his own wishes.
Soon after the conclusion of the first consultancy assignment, he applied for a follow-up assignment, which will then focus on business development. And what makes me particularly happy is that he wants me to accompany and support him.
How do you assess the influence of the Corona pandemic on the success of this remote consultancy?
It is anticipated that the pandemic will remain a central issue for some time, especially in Africa, and will leave deep scars on the population and the economy. Domestic trade in Uganda is heavily staff-driven, little automated and the digital linking of supply chains is still in its infancy. In contrast, the introduction and operation of an order processing and warehouse management system is independent of the pandemic. Corona therefore had no negative influence on this assignment.