The Data Managers

0

Ugo Aliogo writes on Delivery Science, a technology startup poised to assist large organisations get data from the field to manage and monitor their distribution assets better

“Google Launchpad is intensive in a good way because it is a huge fire hole of information, knowledge, frameworks, and playbooks. We have made significant network and friendship. We have seen that what we are solving in Africa is also valid for Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe. It is also valid for Asia. We have met people who are going to help us into those markets in the next couple of months that we would have not met in a million years and it is invaluable.”

The above were the words of the Chief Executive Officer of Delivery Science, Lanre Oyedotun, at the Google developers Launchpad Accelerator Programme, at the Google headquarters in San Francisco, United States. He cofounded the technology startup company with Chuka Ofili and Dr. Toyin Oshinowo, the Chief Enterprise Architect and Vice-President, Product respectively, after experiencing challenges of non-accountability in his petroleum business. The business was meant to bring him passive income. But it failed to live up to this core mandate. Oyedotun’s truck drivers didn’t give accurate reports after making product supplies. On his part, he couldn’t track their locations, activities, or monitor what happened to the trucks from the point of loading to the delivery. The money he invested went down the drain and the business crashed.

“In the end everything went bad for me as one of the drivers sold off 6,000 liters of petrol for small amount of money. The business crashed because I needed to pay back the money I borrowed,” he noted.

Irked by the incident, Oyedotun decided to seek a solution. He shared his worries with one of the biggest manufacturing companies in Nigeria. The company affirmed that they had faced a similar challenge. But they lacked the solution to address the problem. They requested his assistance in solving the problem. But he turned down the offer and developed an initial pro-type. Through this he hoped to bring a lasting solution to the problem.

He overcame the temptation of coming with a PowerPoint presentation in order to present a demo for the manufacturing company. Through the demo presented, they were able to see the notifications in the software. With this stage over, Oyedotun, Ofili and Oshinowo decided to establish Delivery Science in July, 2014.They went on to acquire big manufacturing companies as clients and began to work with them in private beta.

As a technology startup, the group helps large organisations get data, visibility and control from the field. These organisations have staff working directly or indirectly for them in the field. Before the group created the technology solution, many organisations had no way of interacting with their customers directly. Everything was done manually, and this creates a gap in communication between the organisation and the people in the field.

To assist organisations in filling up the communication gap, the group developed a software application known as Field Insight platform. The application helps to gather data from the field. They have also decided to make their initial focus mainly on manufacturing companies.

The Field Insight platform is built to collect data and provide communication between the Headquarters (HQ) and the people in field. The application can be installed on phones and mobile devices. Once the application is installed in a phone, it can be used to carry out any task.

With the application, organisations can increase their sales and revenue. They will able to achieve this because it provides information on products on sale, and the location of these products. Therefore, they can move resources to places where it can generate maximum returns. Also, because of their knowledge of market share and competitive information, they can take actions immediately instead of waiting for a couple of weeks for reports to be brought back manually from the field. With the feasibility, they will be able to know when there is a drop in sales and if there is a need for change of strategy in order to fight competition.

The application is configured to work online and offline, but works fully offline in circumstances where a user is in a remote location and faces network challenges. When the user enters an area with network, the information can be sent back to the home office. The application is not an interface; hence it involves typing and entering the data to send. The application provides mobile forms that help users do their jobs. These mobile forms capture certain information.

According to Oyedotun, “We provide them capability to customise on their own and create the mobile forms to enable them have the standard forms which they can use for sales order, payment and delivery. The application allows you create whatever form that you want to create and publish it to your workers in the field, so that they can start collecting data immediately.

“If you launch a new initiative and you want to create a survey to find out how things are going in the field or what your workers are doing; what you need to do is to type into the application, create the form, publish to everybody and start getting the data immediately. At the home office or headquarters, if you want to create the form or use one of those custom forms, then you push a button to publish and send it to everybody’s device, immediately they will see it on their device and they start gathering their data.

“As soon as any data is gathered near real time it shows it online. If they are offline it is captured on the local, therefore whenever they enter a place with network it captures the information at the home office allowing them to know what’s going on.
“For the application, a dashboard has been built to support it and it can be accessed with the aid of a browser. This helps the organisation see what happens in the field on a daily basis, they can see the charts (pie, line or bar charts). The user can also scroll down to see the underlying data that was gathered.

“There is a standard set of things that need to be done. Instead of using paper, the user has those standard set of things in his Android Phone. When a sales person visits a sales point or shop, what is expected of him is to collect the data and enter it into the electronic device (Android or Tablet device), then click SUBMIT.
“The information is sent to the Headquarters (HQ). The person at HQ can see that the activities of the sales person, the time and get an aggregate view for the company. The form captures their location, time, and enroute. Therefore, if a sales person is not doing the job, the application will reveal it.”

The application is android based, and enjoys support from Google. The startup company was among the four startups in Africa that was selected by Google to be part of its Launchpad Accelerator programme in July. At the Launchpad accelerator programme, they were offered mentorship and also gained access to Google’s product teams and infrastructure. They were also given get equity free support. The selection of the startup by Google is a landmark achievement because this will be the first time Google is picking startups from Africa to work with.
“Most office applications such as Oracle are built in a particular open source programming language. The same way Oracle did theirs, we have built our Field Insight platform using similar programming languages,” he noted.

Data protection
The group has also leveraged on Google cloud security infrastructure which has massive security measure in terms of physical and logical access. The facility is a bank grade security that is extremely difficult to hack. The application has restricted access and role based access control. There is an audit trail which allows them to know when changes are made. Basically, the full stack in terms of enterprise security are in place because they have earned customer’s trust with their data and they take every precaution to safeguard it.

The Nigeria technology ecosystem
The Nigeria technology ecosystem is growing at a rapid rate because of the increasing influx of young vibrant entrepreneurs. This has helped to increase the acceptance of technology in the country. Oyedotun remarked that the growth pace in the technology ecosystem has made startups to become an acceptable enterprise. He noted the society now understands that people can
Oyedotun said: “I think there is more of an enabling infrastructure that has come to place in the past five years. A centre such as CCHub, Yaba which was set up in May 2011 has brought together technology startups. Today, the centre is now a place for cross pollination of ideas. This is very important for us.

“There are also infrastructure such as fibre and high speed internet in Yaba cluster. May One and Lagos State Government came together to partner in an initiative which is aimed at providing fibre down to Yaba and the research Universities (Yaba College of Technology and University of Lagos). There is funding for startup businesses now compared to before where there was no funding. I think there is going to be an explosion of startups in Nigeria technology ecosystem.

“Because of this explosion, there is going to be some good ones, consequently, more startups will spring up. These startups will make angel investments because they understand technology startups. A lot of technology companies are beginning to get interested in what is going on in Africa especially in the area of technology basically because of small wins.”

Sourcing startup capital
To begin the startup, they invested their personal savings and got a couple of angel investors who also invested in the business. They couldn’t get capital from Bank of Industry (BOI) because they could not meet up with the requirements of BOI. Oyedotun said that if government wants to support technology startups, there is need to invent innovative ways of structuring the finance to ensure that people who are embarking on good initiatives qualify.

He espoused that angel investors invested in their startup because they realised that their business ideas were bankable and credible. Oyedotun added that the investors also observed that the market had a challenge which if they can address, will be a landmark success.

“They also saw that there is a long term focus in how we are doing things. We are willing to play the long game in terms of accessing the market. Development Financial Institutions (DFIs) that are set up to fund startups should try to reduce the level of requirements they place on startup organisations. These requirements are way ahead of them, they are requirements for big manufacturing businesses with assets and landed property,” he added.

Success stories of the application
The application has made remarkable progress on a client to client basis. Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc has deployed the application for all their businesses and it has reduced their reporting cycle from 20 days to less than a minute. This is an order of magnitude in terms of nimbleness, visibility, data and control for a huge organisation that produces 65 per cent of the flour consumed in Nigeria.

In Nestle Nigeria Plc, they have also deployed the application based on the percentage of their users. For the users, they have organised a report that normally takes them 10 days to generate, to less than a minute and thereby promoting visibility.

He added: “Visibility helps them increase sales. Also, it helps them reduce losses and leakages in the system. It helps them to be productive and perform better. Therefore, they can use same resources to do or smaller resources to do the same thing. The response and uptake from our customers have been wonderful. They are making new requests which we are working on.

“We are bringing in more people onboard in order to meet needs and expand to other people. In terms of progress, we are not where we want to be in a year’s time because we have not launched the platform and we have not started welcoming people. We are working with one or two selected clients because we want to learn first. We are taking everything step by step.

“Gradually, we will be bringing more companies onboard. By October/November, we hope to launch our project and start getting people onboard publicly so that they can sign up themselves and use the system. We hope to take the lessons we have learnt working with Nestle and Flour Mills in the past one year and half. We are talking to some of our clients about going across West Africa with them to other countries in Africa and establish a small beach head. There is a big market across Africa that is untapped.”