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INFOTECH: AFGRI Sees Outstanding User Buy-in


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AFGRI, South AfricaÂ’s leading listed agricultural services group, has successfully rebuilt and upgraded its Microsoft SharePoint solution from version 2007 to 2010. The project was carried out in conjunction with Datacentrix, a provider of high performing and secure ICT solutions.

Previously, AFGRIÂ’s Animal Feeds business unit used SharePoint for approximately eight years as a quality management system (for ISO and HACCP certification), while the companyÂ’s intranet was also hosted on SharePoint but usage was limited to group policies and occasional announcements.

According to Tracy van der Schyff, Quality Systems Manager at AFGRI Animal Feeds, the previous SharePoint installations weren’t very stable and the migration from 2003 to 2007 had not been successful. “Based on these factors, we made the decision to rebuild the Animal Feeds solution and intranet from scratch, in order for us to start using SharePoint as a business critical application and management platform, not just a portal.”

The timing of the project tied in well with the implementation of the combined AFGRI strategy and philosophy, which addressed the consolidation and streamlining of business processes and also created the opportunity for workflows using technologies like InfoPath and SharePoint.

“Following the initial rollout of the new SharePoint setup, the solution would then be expanded to include the rest of AFGRI. This would give us the opportunity to build both a more stable, user-friendly system as well as to clean up and archive data.”

The Success of AFGRI

Launched in May this year, the new intranet loading page has a very different look and feel, aiming for more of a “notice board” appearance, which Van der Schyff felt would be more appealing to users. “The result has been fantastic. Users now have a far better understanding of SharePoint and are seeing the potential in it as a tool for everyday use, something that can certainly be attested to by the number of comments and requests received.

“AFGRI’s project has seen such great success since we got the formula right by involving both the business and the IT side, so the pains of the user were brought to light and fully understood. Without user buy-in and uptake, investment in technology is wasted. Thus, it was also with the user in mind that we designed the intranet landing page in a way that is practical but fun, with a funky cartoon character mascot that is also used on communications and training manuals. So many organisations have forgotten how to have fun at work and still be productive and efficient.”

She maintains that many businesses fail with their SharePoint installations because they limit usage to document management instead of utilising it to its full potential. “SharePoint is the most powerful tool out there for quality management systems and integrating processes,” she says. “With ‘compliance’ becoming the new buzz word, you really can’t go wrong with this technology.”

The new system has also enabled simpler navigation, taking the approach that business processes, like the specific requirements of the Human Resources department, are laid out in a straightforward format and linked where relevant to necessary documentation. This means that navigation is made far less complicated and more logical.

The Management Strategy of AFGRI

Furthermore, AFGRI is using SharePoint for incident and innovation management and seeing a huge amount of value add on this side. “This marks a very exciting chapter for AFGRI as it is all about helping users of every level - even if they don’t use the system directly, they still influence it,” Van der Schyff adds.

Currently approximately 500 AFGRI staff members are up and running on the new version of SharePoint, a number that is set to increase to a few thousand in the future.

“Datacentrix was the obvious choice to partner with on this project due to our ongoing relationship and the technical expertise it has onboard and we were very fortunate to work with a knowledgeable, professional team.”

Says Reinald Bormann, Datacentrix business development manager: Business Intelligence: “As a Gold Certified Microsoft partner, Datacentrix is in the process of establishing itself as the leading SharePoint partner in South Africa. We truly believe that an implementation like AFGRI’s, which required a large amount of custom development, attests to our expertise within this sector and is a feather in the Datacentrix cap.”

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