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Lessons from an ERP Project Success in Africa

Posted on 20 June 2012 by Meryl Malcomess

Technology by its very nature is revolutionary. It grows, morphs and progresses our society whether we intend it to or not.

The recent SYSPRO ERP implementation at Mopani Copper Mine in Kitwe, Zambia has been a sterling example of this revolution – from the scale of the implementation and required user training, to the uniqueness of the environment and the additional Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) requirements and resulting controls.

This project required continuous efforts from the SYSPRO team, as well as the Mopani team in Kitwe. But most importantly from our Value Added Reseller’s – iPlan, who have supported with an onsite ten-man project team in Kitwe over the past year.

Culture Clash and Location Challenges

The challenges of a project such as Mopani were multifaceted. These included cultural and communication challenges, as well as the technical aspects of the solution and the environment. Marilize Wessels, a Cape Town local who recently returned from a year in the Zambian Copper Belt, where she was instrumental in ensuring a successful Mopani ERP implementation, shared some of her experiences with me.

“Life in Kitwe proved very different from home. Although South Africa is regarded as ‘Third World’ and may lack certain infrastructure and luxuries when compared to the developed world, you realize just how much we take for granted when compared to life in Kitwe,” says Marilize. “Kitwe is quite a distance from the nearest sea port – this means that goods such as electronics and appliances are scarce and costly.”

Zambia is well known for its tourism with many world-class game reserves, as well as the natural wonder of the Victoria Falls on offer. Kitwe however is a world apart from this side of the country – with a focus on industry and copper mining. This means that few amenities are available to people stationed there come the weekend.

Marilize found the main challenges that came with the project included the client’s isolated location as well as various cultural and communication difficulties.

Communication and Collaboration Proves Key

Among the 20 people in the project office, English was the chosen language for communication. Ironic when you consider that the iPlan team comprises mostly Afrikaans first language speakers, and the Mopani team speaks Nyanja as their first language.

Further challenges included the training-up of over 700 new SYSPRO users with only five consultants available to manage this task. The team decided on a train-the-trainer approach. Senior members of the Mopani team were trained by iPlan and were then deployed to train groups of colleagues. This approach proved highly successful, particularly when it came to the crucial factor of communication.

“From a procurement perspective, Mopani’s controls and systems proved extremely complex. The transaction of purchasing a good or service triggers a requisitioning process that can go through as many as ten levels of approval, explains Marilize. “This required us to design and implement a simple and clear workflow to accommodate this.”

Team Work really works

Marilize agrees that there exists a certain perception that the IT field is male dominated – but argues that although this may sometimes be the case on the technical side, there remains huge opportunities for women in the implementation and business process side of the industry.

I’d like to congratulate Marilize on her tenacity and determination. I’d also like to commend Marilize and the iPlan team on their will, endurance and hard work.

With the implementation of this project, Mopani has taken the leading role in progressing the business environment in Kitwe, ultimately resulting in improvements to employment creation and general standard of living in the Copperbelt.

Team SYSPRO, Mopani and iPlan can be proud of not only a successful implementation, but a ground-breaking, African ERP success story.

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Topics: Business software, ERP Implementation, ERP systems

Meryl Malcomess

Meryl is Marketing Director at SYSPRO Africa. She has been with SYSPRO for more than 18 years and is involved in determining the strategic direction of its marketing activities.

By the age of 21 Meryl became both the first female and the youngest Financial Manager at a large financial company. Since her early beginnings, she has accumulated experience in commodities and advertising sectors, including a stint running a trucking and airfreight business.

Meryl consistently achieves success by monitoring market forces, including customer behavior patterns and trends highlighted by industry analysts. She also liaises closely with SYSPRO group marketers world-wide.


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