CFOs and Tech Special Feature part 2: Afrimat CFO on running your life and work globally
Kate Ferreira asked five CFOs about the most useful applications or types of technologies in their lives, both professionally and personally, and discovered it's not all about the newest, latest, and greatest tech on the planet, but rather how these tools and innovations are integrating into their days, unlocking insight, and - figuratively and literally - keeping the lights on.
Afrimat is a JSE-listed open pit mining company providing industrial minerals, bulk commodities and construction materials. Pieter de Wit first joined the company in 2008, working his way up to CFO in 2016. Pieter says that he considers apps to be the handiest technologies in his personal life, and that he uses many of them on both his phone and iPad.
“I use apps for various functions. For exercising, for example, I have a Garmin smartwatch which links to an app on my phone. I also use an app called Zwift, a virtual cycling app that you can use to train within your living room. Apps are great in terms of helping me to stay fit and active.”
He also enjoys that apps give him access to services no matter where he is in the world. “Recently, I was in San Francisco, and I was able to do my banking on the existing bank app on my phone, as well as using Uber and Uber EATS to get around and order in,” he says.
Other useful ones include the MySubs app, which lets him read various newspapers and magazines on the go, and his security app that’s linked to the alarm at his holiday home. “From my phone, in the app, I can see when the alarm is triggered, which zone has triggered, and I can activate or deactivate the alarm remotely.”
In his professional life, things like cloud services and data analytics are transforming reporting and the finance function at Afrimat. “This has been part of a journey for us,” he explains. “When I started here as group accountant, over ten years ago, Afrimat had just listed on the JSE. Before that, the company was a group of privately-owned companies, each one with its own software packages. The tech infrastructure was not great. We needed to bring these together.”
“The story of Afrimat and technology is driven by the growth of Afrimat on the one side, and on the other side by changes in the economic environment. Previously these changes were slower. At that stage, it was okay if you were reporting monthly, and making changes a month later,” he continues. “We had to move from this reactive reporting space to one where we were proactive, and to do that we had to adapt the IT infrastructure so it was more fit for purpose. Our first step was to get a server offsite with its own power supply, and our own cloud server. Thereafter we had to implement systems that were integrated to bring all the businesses onto one platform, using a core enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.”
Today, Pieter says, Afrimat is investing in the next step of the journey, towards business intelligence. “We are now extracting the necessary information out of all of our collected data, and moving towards near real-time reporting. We are also doing a lot of predictive analytics to see what's coming in the market, and how we can adapt to this using artificial intelligence (AI).”
A programme called QlikView has proven useful in giving “more meaning to the data” too. “Visuals help the rest of the company access the story that the data is telling us, by using graphs or tables. Others in the organisation are not necessarily as analytical as the Finance team by nature, and can't always immediately spot ‘story’ in a bunch of numbers. QlikView lets us show trends and give insight. We often use these visuals and other business intelligence during our weekly meeting with the company’s executive committee so we can unpack both trends and targets in a meaningful way.”