End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. – UN, Sustainable Development Goal 2 – Zero Hunger

South Africa’s analytical data strategy and business intelligence consultancy, Insight Consulting, is being credited with unleashing operational efficiency at Mauritius headquartered The Meridian Group. The group is the holding company of 23 subsidiaries across Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe and a meaningful contributor to the agricultural sector in the region.

Insight Consulting was tasked by The Meridian Group to interrogate its reporting, budgeting and operational planning process across its entire business. The task at hand was finding a solution that creates an orchestrated harmony between the many moving parts across the various subsidiaries. This was to be achieved with due consideration for the regulations that governed the way business was conducted in each of the countries they operate in and to source and implement a technology-based solution that integrated strategic operational and budgetary planning across the group.

Meridian’s  subsidiaries – each made up of four units: fertiliser blending, fertiliser distribution, retail and production of commodities – caters for all farmers; from small holding to commercial enterprises, NGOs and government growing programs. With this knowledge and an understanding of the crucial role that the group played in Africa’s food security, Insight Consulting set out to fundamentally shift a formerly disparate reporting and budgeting process into a consolidated and streamlined business strength.

Technology is a key growth driver for our business.  It supports our ultimate goal of improving food security in Africa.  – Graeme Vaughan, Chief Information Officer at The Meridian Group

The consulting firm worked closely with the business to formulate and deliver on data strategies at all levels of the organisation. It embarked on a long-term relationship with its client to unlock actionable insights, using the latest thinking and technology across the data value chain.

This approach resulted in the customised implementation of Corporate Planning (CP) software that assists Meridian to overcome the time-consuming, manual burden of the planning process as well as the challenges associated with inconsistent reporting during their planning and forecasting cycles. Meridian is now able to integrate strategic and operational planning to facilitate transparent and well-founded business decisions across the group.

Graeme Vaughan, Chief Information Officer at The Meridian Group says, “Over the years, our organisation – and probably many others with operations as diverse as ours – had been running a set of highly complicated consolidated budgets on an annual basis. This is a mammoth task and there wasn’t much scope for in-depth scenario planning, or at least at the level that an organisation needs to be agile and proactive.”

Vaughan says that the benefits of having a shared tool outweigh the time and effort of getting various subsidiaries and users on board. One of the most pleasing outcomes of the implementation, says Vaughan, was the development of a unified culture of corporate excellence, across units and regions.

Reflecting on the partners that walked this transformation journey with his internal team, Vaughan says, “Relationships are key for me in this role because I’m not a technocrat. You need to be able to work with a business partner and have trust that your partner will help you assimilate tools that will make a meaningful impact in the business. You must have faith that the technology your partner is presenting is not just to make money but a real, meaningful solution to a problem that has been identified in the business, with a plan to solve that problem in the least amount of time and with the least disruptions.”

Vaughan adds that Insight Consulting and The Meridian Group did not follow the typical steps one would find in a consulting relationship, and that it was organic and evolved on a weekly basis out of necessity.

Shanna Jardim at Insight Consulting agrees, saying that any relationship a partner enters into with a business needs to align on the challenges, the company’s policies and their current processes, and then the team must work together closely and methodically to find the right solutions.

“We were able to drill down into the data and find where the misalignment was and then apply the Corporate Planning software suite alongside the business intelligence software to solve real budgeting and planning challenges. This ongoing relationship and our close eye over the data has enabled us to pick up problems, and then take them to Meridian with the right solutions to solve them.”

“As a proud South African consultancy, it’s been a privilege collaborating with a business that has attached itself to a higher purpose and has great aspirations for our continent, “ says Jardim.

Source: Insight Consulting