Malawi Agriculture transport system automated
| Oct. 15, 2014, 6:42 a.m.
By Gregory Gondwe, Blantyre, Malawi
Techno Brain, Africa’s leading custom software application development multinational company, has started operating an Automated Fleet Management Information System at one of Malawi’s major ministries, the Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Ministry.
The fleet management system becomes the first of its kind in the public service in Malawi.
The system, which became operational earlier this month, has been described by minister responsible Allan Chiyembekeza as historic considering that the sector plays a very critical role in the national economy.
“The Automated Fleet Management System is expected to improve the management and efficiency of the ministry’s fleet operations,” he said.
He said he believes that the ministry’s deliberate effort to develop and operationalise the system should be comforting enough on the part of their development partners on their resolve to prudently manage resources at their disposal.
Chiyembekeza said the system will ensure that the ministry is prudent in use of government as well as donor resources in delivery of its programmes in the sector.
“As we all know there is always a People factor in any system,” he said. “So this system will only be able to deliver the desired result if we are committed to its implementation as designed.”
“Currently, it accounts for approximately 30 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employs about 80 percent of the workforce and contributes 80 percent of all export earnings and provides a livelihood for 70 percent of the population that rely on agriculture,” he said.
He therefore said the need for use of vehicles is therefore critical to achieve economic prudence for the country considering that Government has identified agriculture as a key priority among the nine priorities of the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy which it demonstrates in the government’s annual budget allocations over the years with the sector consistently receiving the highest proportions.
Chiyembekeza said when these resources are made available to this sector, implementation is done by different players to deliver the services and he therefore pointed out that the actual expenditures constitute procurement of goods, services and works.
“There are also operational expenses in the process related to internal travel and this is very important for this sector as we increase interface with farmers to disseminate various technologies and messages as well as supervise and monitor implementation of the activities,” he said.
He said the system will only be able to deliver the desired result if officials are committed to its implementation as designed.
“The Ministry will extend use of this system to produce replacement plan for vehicles that are obsolete,” he said.
He said although the system is currently being implemented at Agriculture Headquarters they plan to roll-out the automated system to the districts, agricultural development divisions and all research stations.
In addition to having the Automated Fleet Management System, he said the ministry has also developed the Fleet Management Policy which aims at guiding the way we have to manage the transport system.
“The Policy covers among other areas the objectives, principles and strategies that shall ensure the provision of efficient, well coordinated, and sustainable transport operations so as to make significant contribution towards the improvement of transport service delivery within the Ministry,” he said.
He said it is therefore important that the resources that they use to deliver the services be efficiently used and managed to make sure that they deliver with minimal loses.
The World Bank has provided the financial support through the ASWAp-SP to enable the Ministry to build its capacity in transport management where among others they have trained one officer to BSc level and four officers have been trained to certificate level in mechatronics.
“These are providing improved services in the management of the ministry’s fleet of vehicles,” he said disclosing that the project also procured 24 vehicles to support implementation of the Ministry’s activities.
Considering that the Ministry had an old fleet which was very expensive to maintain coupled with government ban to procure vehicles as an expenditure control measure, he said this was a very big push to the sector.
Principal Secretary in the Ministry Erica Maganga said the Ministry had been facing a number of challenges when managing its fleet manually.
Some of the challenges are she listed were unreliable and old fleet as well as lack of information to enable the ministry to produce fleet replacement plan.
Fleet Operation inconsistencies, among various departments and shortage of skilled transport personnel to manage transport operations in various departments as well as poor coordination of fleet operations across the whole ministry were the other challenges.
She said the formulation of the Fleet Management Policy and associated Fleet Management Information System are some of mitigation measures on the transport challenges.
“The automated system to be where it is now, the ministry had to hire the consultant in the name of Techno-brain Limited who developed the system and produced the draft Policy with financial support provided under ASWAp-SP from World Bank,” she said.
Explaining after the deal Techno Brain Corporate Affairs Manager Lorraine Mopiwa first acknowledged that vehicles are expensive to buy, equip and maintain and no matter how many vehicles one has, the fleet costs probably forms a large percentage of one’s budget which includes items such as licenses, permits, fuel, maintenance, repairs, tyres, tolls, accidents and fines.
“Based on the average running cost of a vehicle, it is probable that your vehicles cost you more than they need to,” she observed.
In order to overcome this situation, Mopiwa explained that organizations are increasingly seeking a completely automated, robust and flexible solution that will help them track, manage and maintain their fleet better and also make “timely and accurate” decisions regarding usage and value of vehicles.
Smart Fleet, which the ministry has now taken on board, is a fully customized and perfect off-the shelf Fleetmanagement solution by Techno brain which will now enables the agricultural ministry to make a proper analysis based on the vehicle maintenance done, fuel consumed against mileage.
It will also help monitor and manage drivers assigned to the vehicles and track incidences committed by the driver.
“With Smart Fleet, you can be rest assured as it acts as the security control, monitoring your fleet 24x7x 365,” declared Mopiwa.
She further explained that Techno Brain’s Smart Fleet comprises the different modules that the ministry will now be enjoying and they include driver management, vehicle scheduling, geo fencing or area profiling as well as fuel monitoring and statistical reports.
Under driver management Mopiwa explained that this will help the government ministry in managing all personal and license status of drivers.
And considering that driver license expiry falls at different periods through the year, with the system in place supervisors will informed via an alert messages in the form of email, SMS or a report at a configured time.
“As license expiry is critical, this alert helps in preventing vehicles or drivers from being used in booking and scheduling until the flag is cleared,” she explained.
The system will also allow for driver ID with Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags which will help in managing the fleet or vehicle by restricting access to the unauthorized drivers or employees.
“Drivers with assigned RFID tag will be getting it authenticated on a GPS device fixed on the vehicle before gaining access to the ignition,” she said.
Mopiwa said the RFID tags will allow identification of drivers while they walk up to vehicle and upon recognition of the correct tag, allow the vehicle to start.
“This way management will record all valid events and also send an alert to the control room in case of any unauthorised access,” she said.
With vehicle scheduling which Mopiwa said it’s an intelligent optimizer engine and service agent that manages and monitors flow of vehicles on a daily basis, it will enable transportation planner in the ministry to optimally use available capacities of fleet and vehicle with the goals of more efficiently planning, loading capacities and lowering costs.
With the geo fencing or area profiling module which is a designated route on the Google map using rectangular or circular geo fencing tool that it assigns to the vehicle before start of the trip the ministry’s fleet will be able to send alerts during the route deviations of vehicle while in active trip.
Fuel monitoring device will help the ministry in monitoring fuel level in the tank and automatically indicate the level information in voltages through GPRS thereby reducing fuel expenses as it will be taking full control of fuel consumption of the vehicle.
“Fuel sensors installed in the vehicles end all the live data to the fuel monitoring system which is aided with colour coding where green is refueling into the tank and red is consumption or theft from the bank,” she said.
Using Management Information System (MIS) the system will also be able to come up with statistical reports that will provide detailed journey reports showing violations through its type, location and time as well as stops points and durations, start and end points, street name, etc. that will help supervisors in historical investigation of vehicle or the driver and even the driver history, fuel consumption, fuel drain, active on move status and many more.