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How an honest consulting relationship and the right software streamlined a holding company with 23 subsidiaries in Africa

The Meridian Group unleashes operational efficiency through overhaul of processes and Corporate Planning software solution

Graeme Vaughan, Chief Information Officer at The Meridian Group, says the well-designed and user-friendly solution Corporate Planning, integrated into the group through its robust and intimate relationship with Insight Consulting, has fundamentally shifted a formerly disparate reporting and budgeting process into a consolidated and streamlined business strength. 

Who is The Meridian Group?

The Meridian Group, with headquarters in Mauritius, is the holding company of 23 subsidiaries across Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The subsidiaries, in turn, are made up of four units: fertiliser blending, fertiliser distribution, retail and production of commodities. It caters for all farmers; from small holding to commercial enterprises, NGOs and government growing programs. 

“Technology is a key growth driver for the business and supports its ultimate goal of improving food security in Africa,” says Vaughan.

Who is Insight Consulting?

Insight Consulting works with businesses to formulate and deliver on data strategies at all levels of the organisation. It does this by embarking on long-term relationships with customers and unlocking actionable insights, using the latest thinking and technology across the data value chain.

What is Corporate Planning?

Corporate Planning (CP) software assists businesses 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. Businesses are able to integrate strategic and operational planning to facilitate transparent and well-founded business decisions.

The impact of Corporate Planning software on The Meridian Group?

The Meridian Group did not have full visibility of its cash flow and much of its cash was tied up in raw material. Insight Consulting helped the business, through a close and open relationship with Vaughan and his team, to follow a bottom-up planning approach with the software, where the individual subsidiaries across different regions were able plan their own budgets and forecasts. 

By integrating with insights gathered from the group’s business intelligence software, The Meridian Group was able to gain full visibility of raw material all the way to the finished product, and then developed a proper demand plan for the holding company.

This demand-supply planning approach had a direct impact on procurement and The Meridian Group was able to integrate that into the income statement and balance sheet across the entire business. “That’s how planning should work: find out what the main business challenge is, and then use the best available software and processes to alleviate that challenge and streamline the business,” says Vaughan.

The challenges

Vaughan says that when an organisation grows organically there are a number of legacy systems in place, with individuals with a great deal of institutional knowledge in key positions. “You find that you have an inordinate amount of reliance on these key resources, which becomes problematic because you’re working with different people, different data sources, using multiple currencies and following different procedures in different regions,” he says.

When errors are made, they can have a big impact, he 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.

Relationships

“Relationships are key for me in this role,” says Vaughan, “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. “Let’s be honest, there are seldom standard operating procedures in a business operating in various countries with different challenges and so there was no prescriptive process, rather an honest look at our people, processes and the technology we needed, in this case Corporate Planning, to solve problems in our organisation.”

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.”

ENDS/

About Insight Consulting

Formed in 2007, Insight Consulting is a strategic consulting firm that operates across Southern and East Africa. It is a data specialist company that finds its enterprise Customers’ raw data, frees it from vertical business silos, understands its relevance, and actions it into business value for them, by using intelligent software and analytical expertise. For more information, go to www.insightconsulting.co.za  

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