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Digitalising Malaysia’s plantation industry – Part One

A recent report noted that, historically, the plantation or palm oil industry has been one of the key economic drivers for Malaysia, and this is still clearly the case as 2016 figures still indicate that the industry accounts for 13 per cent of our GDP.

Despite its importance, the industry has been rather slow on the uptake of integrating digital tech into their operations as some analysts point out that many companies are unmotivated to upgrade themselves due to an abundance of labour and foreign labour resources in the country.

However, with increased foreign worker levies and minimum wages, it is getting costlier for these companies to avoid going digital and so, there has been increasing interest in the digital solutions available out there for planters.

While there still isn’t any tech out there that can automate palm oil harvesting and eliminate the need for physical labour altogether, the founder and managing director of a plantation management solutions provider believes that the next step for planters will be to digitalise a lot of their administrative operations.

He noted that as the world’s population grows, the demand for edible oil will only increase so there is no doubt that the plantation industry is very resilient, adding that companies, however, still need to adopt technology into their operations as human resources are getting harder to find, lands are getting scarce even in Sarawak, and the cost of quality land is only rising higher.

Because of this, planters need to make their operations more efficient and digital tech is one way for them to gain efficiency while being able to control their cost better, he noted.

He went on to detail that many plantation companies in Malaysia, especially smaller companies, are often still manually driven; a lot of them are Excel-based and incorporate manual bookkeeping, manual systems, manual data entry and so on.

His company seeks to bring forth these plantation companies from being manual intensive to becoming a digital plantation so to speak, using IT software and other technologies to manage it efficiently. The firm provides digital management products and services that help plantations become more efficient by being less dependent on manual labour and easier to supervise.

For example, with their integrated cloud-based plantation management system tailored specifically for palm oil businesses, companies can utilise this all-in-one solution and easily manage their operations on a single system that supports various key operational functions.

These key features include functions such as accounting, staff payroll, general worker and harvester check-roll, procurement, inventory management, nursery management and vehicle management.

He explained that the system can easily simplify some of the administrative processes in a plantation company, saving valuable labour and time resources as a company would no longer need to rely heavily on large teams of administrative staff to ensure that all operational data is keyed in and kept up to date.

Being a cloud-based system, the founder commented that data from a company’s plantations can easily be seen by its management or headquarters whenever and wherever they might be in the world, as long as they have access to a working internet connection.

With the data so easily accessible online, management workflows are streamlined as managerial staff can easily supervise and control operations through the system all while making quicker and better business decisions.

Adding to that, the founder detailed that the system also included several analytical tools that could help interpret historical data from plantations to visualise trends and make forecasts.

It was noted that things yield forecast and areas of improvement can be generated. For example, companies can easily view the average time taken to transport fresh fruit bunches (FFB) to the oil palm mill or their worker’s efficiency in harvesting, the founder noted.

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