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Caterpillar’s Congo Equipment accelerates DRC e-commerce offer

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Tuesday, 15 September 2020 11:20

Machinery at the Congolese state mining company Gecamines' copper plant in Kambove, in the southern region of Katanga. Reuters/Jonny Hogg

Caterpillar’s distributor in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is accelerating implementation of its digital strategy to strengthen relationships with customers hurt by COVID-19, Noel Mabuma, CEO of Congo Equipment, tells The Africa Report.

A plan to allow customers to order parts for their heavy equipment via a secure e-commerce platform and track delivery, originally planned for 2023, has been brought forward to 2021, says Mabuma, who is based in Lubumbashi. The platform is being developed with Caterpillar, the US manufacturer of construction and mining equipment.

Heavy equipment suppliers in sub Saharan Africa such as Thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions are accelerating their deployment of digital channels to serve their customers.

READ MORE Ghana miners get new finance options from Thyssenkrupp

The pandemic has made these tools the only reliable way to stay in touch with customers, and for the clients to monitor the performance of their gear. Congo Equipment’s e-commerce platform, which will be the first of its kind in the DRC, should be launched around the third quarter of 2021, says Mabuma.

The aim is to let clients break away from the existing process of chasing orders by e-mail and provide “fluid and accessible remote information.” This, says Mabuma, will give better visibility on delivery times for parts, and allow more efficient stock management. The service will be free for existing clients.

Customers have shown increased demand for the company’s existing digital fleet monitoring tool, says Mabuma.

  • The digitalisation of the company’s internal operations has also been accelerated.
  • Sales have dropped as a result of the pandemic, and this is having a financial impact, adds Mabuma.

Obtaining supplies has been “a bit slower” than usual, but not enough to cause a real problem. Imports from ports in South Africa which are then transported by road have never been completely blocked. The company has been able to cut costs, and Mabuma sees no need to raise new funds: “We can get through this difficult period.”

Local Skills

About 99% of Congo Equipment’s clients are in the mining sector and its subsidiaries. The company aims to diversify into supplying agriculture and construction businesses, says the CEO.

Some clients have delayed spending decisions as a result of COVID-19 and some of the company’s experts have been blocked outside the country, he says. There has been a gradual improvement since the DRC reopened its borders on August 15, he adds.

READ MORE Coronavirus is triggering deep digital change in African fintech

One long-term consequence of the pandemic for the company will be a greater focus on training and hiring locally. Some technical experts have found themselves suddenly stranded in South Africa or China.

All of Mabuma’s predecessors were foreign. The aim now, he says, is for executives at the company to be responsible for training their eventual local replacement.

  • The results of investing in internal training will be a company that is staffed in a more stable and sustainable way, he says.
  • This is in line with government policy that existed before COVID-19, he notes, adding that political and business objectives are now more closely aligned due to the pandemic.

Bottom line

More resources for developing local technical skills in the DRC can be a positive result of COVID-19.

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