Batunde Odunlami is the Chief Executive Officer of GS1 Nigeria, a company that license barcode numbers called Global Trade Item Numbers (GTIN) to manufacturers.
He spoke exclusively to Vanguard on why they are going after micro, small and medium enterprises in the country to embrace global standards for their products. Excerpt:
WHAT is the business focus of GS1 Nigeria?
We are the member Organisation of GS1 International; a neutral, not-for-profit, international organization that develops global standards and solutions to improve the efficiency and visibility of supply chains across industries. It engages a global community of trading partners, industry organisations and technology providers to understand their business needs and develops global standards in response to those needs. . Today, GS1 System of Standards is the most widely used supply chain standards system in the world. GS1 has local Member Organisations in over 110 countries and its head office is in Brussels.
What has been the response of SMEs and large enterprises to bar coding?
When we started, we took multinationals in Nigeria into consideration. They have businesses that run across the world. If you pick Unilever Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa, and wherever, they are there operating in the U.S. If you pick Procter & Gamble, it is the same thing; they understand the need to have barcodes on their products such as GS1 does. ‘Pure Water’ factory So, we said look, the biggest group that we need to be able to service is the SMEs. We really need to be able to get round to the SMEs and so we designed ourselves from day one to be pro-SMEs; we call them micro-SMEs in Nigeria. This is because products that are imported already follow this standard, so our aim here is on the Nigerian products. How do we get to them? First, we decided that we must have a structure that can accommodate them and make it possible for them to access these keys. Now, when I say key, am referring to barcodes that we give out. Certification and assurance Until I see a bar code on the sachet of pure water, on a bottle of groundnut in Nigeria, we have not succeeded. That is what I said to myself. If I see barcode on Lux soap, it is imported; I want to see it on sachet water, I want to see it on a bottle of groundnut.
Why are barcodes important?
Barcodes are important. It is a way for brand owners to stand behind their products and say “I am the one behind this product and I give this product 100 percent certification and assurance that whatever happens to it traces it back to me down the supply chains.” Barcodes also provides some level of confidence to buyers that this is a genuine product. People who do good business don’t hide; it is only those who counterfeit and produce things illegally that hide. They know they are doing something that is bad but if you are doing something good and making profit from it, you should be able to stand behind your product. That is the way I see the barcode keys; any company that has a GS1 barcode on his or her product can actually export. Your product can sit on the shelf of Wal-Mart, Tesco, Shoprite, all this big retail chains because you can’t even sell to them without barcodes, you can’t. Chain stores rely on bar codes for analysis of sales, for performance, product recalls, etc. You can even list on Amazon with barcodes.
How affordable is barcodes to SMEs?
We have structured our pricing of what people need to pay to be able to obtain these keys at the lowest possible level. It is not like barcodes must cost $1 for example.
It is not done like that in GS1 Nigeria. We look at your situation, your environment; use best judgment to determine what people who want to subscribe to the keys should contribute to the operation. This has made it possible for people to be able to afford our service. If Brussels has said you must charge 1 Euro for every barcode, you can imagine the disparity between the Naira and the devaluation that has happened in recent time; the value that you need to pay for barcodes would have gone up by 50-60 per cent. But because we are local and our cost is local, our commitment to our global organisation is based on what we generate on a local basis. They have given us that leeway. That is the advantage that the Nigerian market is benefiting. If we don’t have such a structure, things would have been pretty different and I won’t be able to say I want to go down to the micro-SMEs. I would have been constrained by a lot of realitie