Nando’s: Beyond Automation – the Team behind the technology

Nando’s: Beyond Automation – the Team behind the technology

Nando’s was built on the solid foundations of family, integrity, pride, passion and courage. When Deon Pillay, Head of Supply Chain – Nando’s Grocery International, joined the company in 2014, he was also introduced to the motto “Have fun and make money” – in that order. In 2016, Pillay become Nando’s Head of Supply Chain, and has always endeavoured to ensure this motto is included in everything he does, and is passed on to his team and to business partners.
“My role has evolved over the time I have been at Nando’s – it has been the most exciting evolution I have ever experienced. I started in the role of Logistics Manager, handling export shipments out of South Africa with one person in my team. Today, in my role, I look after the wider supply chain which is strongly focused on four primary and overarching areas: Global Production, New Product Development, Operations & Integrated Business Planning, and Product Integrity.” Despite being only nine members strong, the grocery supply chain team manages a huge portfolio of products and activities that it is incredibly proud of. “I am often guilty of making some ridiculous asks of my team and pushing them well beyond their perceived limits. Fortunately, (I believe) this has helped grow them even more than just playing safe in any comfort zone would,” adds Pillay.

As supply chain and procurement operations gain momentum across a range of industries globally, no longer being viewed as back-office functions, their role at Nando’s is changing too. “The supply chain and procurement roles have been edging closer and closer to centre stage – moving closer to taking their rightful place on the mainstream business podium. We are continuing to integrate across all functions to bring business equilibrium to an ever-turbulent commercial world,” he says. Pillay is still concerned that supply chain does not always receive the appropriate recognition it deserves: “We are fortunate that at Nando’s the supply chain is seen as a critical cog in the company’s well-oiled machine. When I joined, supply chain – or rather logistics – was viewed as a peripheral and basic function that got containers out the door. It was a functional department tasked with handling order administration,” he adds. Since then the business has seen steady growth and the supply chain operations have transitioned to a key business discipline consisting of order administration and customer supply, logistics, packaging development, regulatory, compliance and food integrity.

“Even as a young, small team we have achieved so much,” Pillay notes. “The team has managed to be so nimble to adapt and react to changes in our ecosystem, both macro and micro. We have moved entire production capabilities and expertise across continents, we have researched, developed and implemented new packaging substrates and formats at break-neck speeds without compromising quality whilst staying current and abreast of regulations and the happenings in the industry.”  With supply chain having significant touch points to every part of the business and fully integrating into all Nando’s functions, the department is firmly on its way through its digital transformation journey. “Digital transformation will herald a new era for us – with the business growth we have experienced it would be counter-productive to merely throw bodies at the increase in activity. We commenced our technology journey a year and a half ago and it has already yielded benefits.”

By using digital as a catalyst to handle growth, Nando’s is able to achieve more without being resource-heavy, as well as becoming more time efficient. “It allows the team to free up their time spent doing the mundane activities and focus on the value adding actions,” Pillay notes. “This has been particularly refreshing for our supply chain – so much so that we were able to extract superfluous costs out of our value chain and bring immense, sustainable value to our processes and continue to deliver these cost-saving efficiencies to the business.

“I quite often say to my team that technology is not the future, but technology is now,” enthuses Pillay. Nando’s endeavours to be a strong player in the fields of Internet of Things (IoT), Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Blockchain. Crucial to transparency and efficiency, these technologies have caught the attention of the firm. But it is also important for Nando’s that these initiatives are fit for purpose for their business. The company is looking to introduce RPA to reduce the time associated with repetitive tasks – Nando’s made previous attempts to integrate electronic data interchange (EDI) services to tackle these issues, but found RPA more adaptable and impactful with a quicker implementation timeline. “With more focus on creating transparency in the supply chain, I firmly believe every professional in the sector will need to step up to technology or get left behind. Once you see it in action you get inspired as to how supply chain digitalisation is such a real and relatively easy win for any company,” he adds.

In December 2016, Nando’s transitioned to a new enterprise resource planning (ERP). “Our new ERP added the next layer of value to our business by providing easy access to information and allowing the team to plan and perform better. We are at the stage now where we are engaging with our partners to unlock their next level of value by developing the current workspaces or opening up new ones,” says Pillay. He remarks upon the resilience of his team for dealing with any changes introduced to their operations: “They have an incomparable drive, discipline and enquiring mind which compliments my management style. The team have embraced all the changes and take continuous improvement firmly in their stride.  “To adapt a Nando’s adage that ‘it is the people behind the chicken’,I firmly believe it is the team behind the processes, and more recently behind the technology. Technology is only as good as the team that are firmly rooted behind it and that support it. The supply chain team at Nando’s recently took a decision to reengineer it’s supply chain portfolios in order to streamline operations. “The team took on more commercially functional roles which played an important part in reprioritisation as well as shifting the focus to a more strategic mindset and way of thinking,” explains Pillay. Following the change, more focus was placed on planning, action-oriented meetings and partner engagement. “The people part is what most companies neglect or omit, which leads to inappropriate processes that do not support the technology in place.” 

As well as its focus on technology as a driver to handle growth, Nando’s recognises the importance of sustainability. Pillay remarks that the team is dedicated to ensuring a decrease in carbon emissions and the incorporation of recyclability and recycled materials. Currently, Nando’s retail products’ packaging is 99.3% recyclable, with the goal to raise the figure to 100% well underway. Nando’s has also adopted ‘Changing Lives… Together’ as its company-wide purpose statement. The business really walks the talk on this purpose and has already delivered on several initiatives to prove it. “The humbling part of Nando’s purpose for me is that Nando’s chooses not to publicise these initiatives, which shows genuine heart to live the purpose.” 

Pillay has also undertaken his own, personal project. With his passion for his job so apparent, he wants to encourage younger generations to join the industry: “I want to make supply chain a profession of choice for school leavers. Many people merely wash up on the shores of supply chain, but I want to make sure school leavers buy a ticket to board the supply chain luxury cruise. I want them to understand from the beginning what they are subscribing to, and more importantly be excited to get on board when they learn how magnanimous supply chain can be. The supply chain professional has just as much, if not more, commercial leverage within business than any other C-suite executive. The personal project I have embarked on will see complete integration of the supply chain fraternity, making talent enrichment a priority for business through a collaborative network of professionals. I’m very excited about this.”

As the proliferation of technology adoption in the supply chain sector continues, Nando’s is keen to be a key player. In food supply chains, digitalising is an absolute must to enhance the way activities are processed and executed. Getting partner buy-in is not always easy, but is always a real bonus. “Our partner companies have their own strategy on where to take their automation, but we have been fortunate to partner with companies who understand our needs as well, even though they themselves may not be ready for it in their own businesses,” Pillay explains. “In some cases, we have had our partners learn from us and implement our processes into their business; we have supported and assisted them in doing this as part of our partner engagement and development programme.

“Forming relationships and connections between partners through digital platforms is high up on our agenda. Supply chain technologies are evolving at a rapid rate and the important thing is to think of the big picture, start relatively small but try and scale up as quickly as possible. Integrated platforms allow for real time-data sharing and live updates. If you are not working towards building relationships in digital space, your reaction time to new information will slowly but surely take longer than your competitors who are becoming increasingly focused on this. Again, I cannot emphasis enough that people are more important that the technology you implement.” 

  “The future is bright for the business, but we will have to face the usual industry challenges with the added complexity of our involvement in over 30 countries. Product integrity, which is a Nando’s supply chain responsibility, continues to be firmly under our watchful eye – we want the best product with the best ingredients. We always want the best for our consumers. To achieve this, it is important we have transparency and traceability from farm to fork.” Whilst upgrading its digital offerings to ensure these challenges are met, Nando’s will never sacrifice product integrity in any way. Pillay still maintains the most important part of achieving all of this is an engaged team. We also have part of the supply chain team that is based in South Africa, the spiritual home of Nando’s. Being 10,000km away,or anywhere in the world, is not a challenge anymore with technology but there is always a vested interest by all of us to make these Nandocas feel inclusive in everything we do. Again signifying the importance of people even if they are not physically in sight. Giving an engaged team the leverage, trust and respect to act on their own and try things they can justify is key to innovation and controlled disruption. And he encourages his team to take a page from Babe Ruth who said, ‘Never let the fear of striking out, prevent you for stepping up to the plate’. Apt words from the Nando’s grocery supply chain team, which has, and continues to have, successes of hitting many out the park!  

Linda Reddy