From rural rags to logistical riches

From rural rags to logistical riches

The 2008/9 recession has made the business world a whole lot smarter, but there’s always room for improvement … JACO DE KLERK takes a look at various tools that are stimulating economic growth, and helping the transport and logistics industries achieve optimum performance.

It’s been dubbed the Great Recession, the Second Great Depression, a Lesser Depression or the Long Recession … While many factors directly and indirectly caused the global economic downturn of 2008/9 (experts reportedly place different weights upon various reasons), it demonstrated just how interlinked the world has become.

During this time, emerging economies proved surprisingly resilient, however – with some taking it on the chin slightly better than others – and the results were better than expected.

It would seem that these markets are even stronger now, than after the onset of the Long Recession, as they’re becoming global players in their own right – especially if you look at those on the African continent.

According to David Ross, FedEx Express senior vice-president for Middle East, Indian sub-continent and Africa, as a trading partner the continent offers huge opportunities to the world. “This is because of the change in Africa over the last few years, regarding the ongoing investments pretty much across the board – particularly in sub-Saharan Africa,” he tells FOCUS.

It’s no wonder that this global courier and delivery services company has expanded its southern African footprint, with the acquisition of Supaswift businesses in South Africa and six other countries, namely: Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zambia. This, according to FedEx Express, provides the company with access to an established regional ground network and extensive knowledge of the southern African region.

“Our strength is our network and our network is the world,” says Ross. “So the more we establish ourselves in emerging markets, particularly those in Africa, the greater opportunity we have to grow our business.”

The company is now connecting the region to more than 220 countries and territories worldwide, enhancing customers’ business flexibility and speed to market. Ross adds: “Now that Africa is becoming a greater global player, you’ll see that the need for logistics and courier services will grow exponentially.”

He explains that companies like FedEx provide opportunities for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) – and not just large multinational corporations or specific industries – to grow beyond their normal domestic environments.

“Now, more than ever, logistics and courier services are there to stimulate growth and develop further opportunities – not only within the existing and neighbouring markets, but worldwide,” Ross emphasises. “We’re a platform and key for everybody to take their goods further without incurring huge costs of entering local markets.”

This bodes well for the economies in which these retailers find themselves, as SMEs are usually a major part of every economic environment in countries across the world. “If SMEs have the ability to access new markets and more information, then they’ll grow,” says Ross. “And when they grow, the economy grows, employment grows – and all of those good things.”

He adds that all this is thanks to the age of the internet, which allows goods to move faster and beyond normal boundaries. “People were selling goods domestically, they then migrated to selling them regionally, and now they can move their goods globally without a huge cost – and the internet really is the basis for that to happen.”

The internet isn’t the only logistics-aiding techno instrument, however, as wireless networks are proving to be important business tools at ports. Michael Fletcher, sales director at Ruckus Wireless, explains that wireless networks are used at dry bulk terminals to locate various containers and keep track of where everything is going in real time. An operator’s life would be very difficult if he had to manually look for a single container in a container-stack.

The problem, however, is that container terminals are always changing. “It is like a Lego village of blocks, where everything moves around,” says Fletcher – which makes things difficult for wireless networks. In explaining why, he compares wireless transmission to a light bulb.

“If you have a light bulb with a normal globe, and you switch it on, the light just goes wherever the light can go – it cannot move,” Fletcher points out. “And if there is a shadow in a particular place, you have to move the light bulb, or you have to move the environment, to dispel it – you can’t make light move.”

Just imagine what mayhem could be sown at a port if everything is set up and functioning, and suddenly, a container is placed in front of the “light”. The company has pioneered a solution, however, named BeamFlex – smart Wi-Fi if you will.

The technical jargon and functions are a bit daunting, but Fletcher resorts to his bulb example to clarify it. “BeamFlex’s smart antenna system is like a whole lot of LED flashlights where you can make the beam go wider and narrower, as well as turn it up and down.”

It also features some mean computing skills. “So if you end up in a situation where someone puts a giant container in your way, the system can make the beam go a little bit wider on the outside, calculate from which container it can reflect the beam, and find the optimal path to where it needs to go,” explains Fletcher. He adds: “So it has the ability to shift, and to manage interference in a constantly changing environment.”

Currently, Ruckus has deployed its BeamFlex solution in some ports in Mozambique and East Africa. “There’s an inland container port in Rosslyn, Pretoria, that also runs with Ruckus equipment,” Fletcher points out. “One of the motor manufacturers, initially using a different vendor, was having some challenges with its Wi-Fi, as it wasn’t able to adapt to the changing container environment – but we fixed this with a small deployment.”

He adds that Ruckus has a few trials running in Namibia as well. “In Africa, as a whole, we’re really not doing badly and things are picking up traction.”

So the future prospects of Africa are really looking bright as various business tools are boosting its logistical capabilities … enabling its ports to achieve greater efficiencies through smart Wi-Fi (which can keep the lights on in an ever-changing environment) and the continent’s economic enhancing SMEs (in particular those in southern Africa) to get their goods to the global market.

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publication in southern Africa.
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