Many of us confuse the current change in the business world with technology. There is no doubt technology has a big role to play, but it’s not what sits at the center of this transformation. The simple truth is that business are able to do so much more – and do it so much better – than before.

To get there does require digital technology. We can call that the engine of change. But the fuel and steering? That’s all about the company itself and something the best technology in the world can’t buy you. To excel, modern companies need to be flexible, fast and smart. At no time is it more evident than during a disaster.

The fires that raged through the Sedgefield – Knysna – Plettenberg Bay area last year was such a disaster. A significant number of MTO Forestry’s plantations were affected and even a sawmill was lost. Fortunately, lives were saved as people were expertly evacuated, and their homes were also spared thanks to the unfaltering efforts of fire teams and firefighters pushing back the inferno. During this period, MTO’s technology teams used their close relationships with companies such as Vodacom to ensure communications systems were always available to help coordinate the effort.

Still, the aftermath was devastating, leaving countless trees damaged and destroyed. Yet again our technology teams could step up to the challenge. When the opportunity was clear to salvage many of the damaged trees, MTO Forestry embarked on its largest-ever salvaging operation. This could not be accomplished through conventional systems, so new ones were developed to aid the process.

Many of the logs were exported, creating a lot of complexity at the Port Elizabeth docks. The MTO IT team were called in to design and implement a technology system to allow faster processing of the logs at the port. This system would be used internally by MTO operations and finance and externally by the shipping yard management and agents.

Launched within three weeks, the newly developed mobile system enabled MTO to process the magnitude of logs being exported. Using barcodes, it decreased manual input errors and provided visibility via an intelligence layer to the container status.

The system proved to be very effective and soon expanded beyond the salvage operation. A new mobile system now gives managers near real-time information and further reduces the capture errors that often held up processes.

“At MTO, we don’t believe we have the luxury of taking years or even months to develop systems,” said Celeste Rogers, Group CIO of the MTO Group. “The reiteration of this is in our values of ‘be flexible – create solutions’ and ‘stronger together – get the job done’.  We know that being agile and quick with technology solutions is core to our success as a leading African timber and solutions provider.”

That cannot be overstated. The success of 21st-century companies doesn’t reside in their technology, but the flexibility of their culture. Effectively introducing new technologies to solve business problems is a hallmark of this. MTO can be proud: it may be in a centuries-old sector, but it’s clearly ready for the next century – and is bringing people, communities and the country along with it.

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