Dangote Group's training and technology sparks success
Written by Abigail Phillips
Dangote Group has earned a reputation for being one of the most successful companies ever to have emerged from Nigeria. African Business Review spoke to Group Executive Director, Devakumar Edwin about its meteoric rise to the top and its future plans for expansion and development.
Thirty years ago, when President and CEO Aliko Dangote founded the company, it focused on international trade of commodities such as cement, textiles, sugar, flour and salt. The first few years of trading allowed Dangote Group to diversify its product offeringin 1999 when the strategic decision to transit from a trading based business into a fully-fledged manufacturing operation was mooted. The company already had established suppliers and distribution networks allowing it to focus on developing its manufacturing arm quickly and efficiently.
Training the Dangote way
The businesses evolution bought with it a need for modern technology and a greater workforce and this is where Dangote shone. Very early on in the transition, the company recognised the need for intensive training if it was going to succeed, especially considering that fact that all other plants in Nigeria used very out-dated technology.
“Our focus on training took a front seat immediately,” said Edwin. “Our cement plants have some of the most sophisticated technology in the world and therefore we need to train people in line with global standards.”
The first Dangote Cement manufacturing plant employed fresh graduates plus 1,000 Nigerian workmen who had very limited experience working with mechanical operations. “We really believe in developing our employees so we started the Dangote Academy,” explained Edwin. “We offer all of our employees in-house training, we send them to Denmark, the US, South Africa and India to learn from industry experts and we also invite specialists from across the world to our plants.”
The beauty of the Dangote Academy is its not a one-time-only training programme, but a scheme that is integral to the development of the company – employees are given top-up training every six months and have the opportunity to go on courses. Furthermore, Dangote has forged partnerships with local colleges and universities to tap into the local pool of talent, while offering its employees development opportunities.
The value of training
Dangote Cement spends a substantial amount of money on training each year for employees across all divisions. “We don’t treat budget as a restraint when it comes to training because it ensures our plants operate at peak efficiency. It’s a long-term investment and one that reaps many rewards,” said Edwin.
Dangote Group is always investing in superior technology to bring it in line with global standards. In fact, Edwin recalls speaking to executives from large corporations in both the US and Europe, who conceded the technology Dangote has installed is far more advanced than machinery they were using. Advanced technology, coupled with a number of other factors has led to Dangote Cement’s huge success. As Edwin explains, “We have a very good understanding of our markets and we know our industries better than any of our competitors. We always invest in ultra modern technology, which gives us the lowest oil consumption and the overall best efficiency – so again we invest a lot of money but it gives long-term, substantial returns.
“We also invest a lot in our people, which rewards us with much greater return compared with our competitors. The other area in which we excel is quality; every plant is managed to very high standards. We can export globally owing to our very high standards, our market share and our highly trained workforce.”
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Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”