Interview with Mark Mackay, Regional Manager of Zebra Technologies, South Africa

What innovative services does your company offer to African countries?

Zebra offers an extensive range of asset-tracking technologies incorporating mobile computing, data capture, barcode, WLAN, RFID, location systems and Zatar™, the cloud-based Internet of Things (IoT) platform.

These technologies give life to the smart and connected enterprise by transforming the physical elements of a business into the digital.

Zebra also designs and sells printing devices, including barcode, receipt, card, kiosk and RFID printers, which print variable information on demand and in case of issue.

What are the benefits for African companies and governments after implementation?

Zebra offers to customers a complete end-to-end solution, from mobile computers and scanners to special printers, RFID, software and services for identifying, tracking, and managing critical assets, people and transactions.

With these technologies and devices organisations will know in real time the location, motion and state of assets, people, and transactions throughout their operations.

Organisations can then use this data to make critical business decisions, improve customer interactions, and generate new forms of business value.

Governments can use captured data about people to conduct election, while companies benefit from reduced shrinkage, better productivity, capacity planning, enabling them to transfer assets from one region to another, and to utilise their capital equipment and costs better. Our card printer technology can be used for secured identification.

Can you give an example of successful implementation of your innovation in Africa?

With over 90% of Africa’s imports and exports operations conducted by sea, there is an increasing need for innovation and development. If you look at the way in which the top ten ports throughout Africa operate and how these hubs have made huge progress in recent years, with massive benefits being reaped through successful improvements and investment plans owing to the implementation of port technologies and management systems, then one will experience the returns of our products and solutions.

For example, cargo-handling products and location services enable the system to track containers within port lots thereby eliminating time-wasters and improving efficiency and productivity within the import/export sector and to streamline the flow of traffic.

What are the challenges your company has faced in African countries?

Every WiFi / GPS device has to be certified, and attaining the correct certification and verification documents for customs and resale purposes has proven to be a protracted and somewhat costly procedure—it can take anything up to four months for products to receive authentication which can become expensive when resources are allocated across 52 countries for these procedures to be put in place.

What African countries are the most interesting investment targets for your company?

For us, Africa is a business development and growth driver with the emerging markets and the growing consumption of the tech-savvy middle class that is eyed as ideal market to provide new sources of revenue as this market progresses along the technology curve.

Zebra has announced its expansion plans into Africa and will be driving its service offerings into new key target markets across the continent. Zebra has successfully secured its key accounts in Sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Morocco.

What are the prospects for the development of Zebra Technologies on the African continent?

Plans are underway to offer services further afield in Angola, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, Mozambique, Mauritius, and Uganda largely due to the size and maturity of these markets from a technology perspective.

How can information and production technologies affect African economies and change people’s thinking in 5-10 years, for example?

According to the Warwick Business School in London, Sub-Saharan Africa had a 5.2 per cent GDP growth in 2014 and in South Africa we see growth potential with graduates from the world’s top universities as they come back to their homeland to practice what they have learnt. In South Africa alone there are 359,000 highly skilled workers that have returned to our shores in the last seven years.

These individuals introduce the unformed markets to the technology curve by implementing new technology. These early adopters of new technology deploy technology across all other major areas—from the home to mom-and-pop stores, shopping malls, and eventually across major corporates, banks and government. As the economy improves so does technological development which means that these Agri-economies will transform into tech-driven economies over the next five to 10 years.

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