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Akbar tea: Using technology, curiosity and persistence to stay ahead of the game

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  • IFS Challenger champion Akbar Brothers Investments and Projects Director Zainab Abbas talks about how curiosity and persistence helped Akbar Brothers turn over a new leaf in the tea industry

More than 75 million cups of Akbar tea are enjoyed worldwide every day. But how do you orchestrate all the various processes necessary for getting the tea from Sri Lanka’s mountain slopes and into your breakfast cup?

In this interview, Zainab Abbas, Director of Investments and Projects at the world’s leading exporter of Ceylon tea, Akbar Brothers, shares her experiences from implementing state-of-the-art business technology to gain a competitive edge in the traditional tea industry. Following are excerpts: 

Q: How would you describe your role?

A: I would say that it is and has always been a very fluid role, which covers the business processes of the organisation. Although I am not particularly technically savvy, the managing of the different energies and roles and agendas to end up with a cohesive business flow is the most important outcome to be achieved.

Q: If you could describe yourself in three words, which would they be and why?

A: I would say curious, eager, and persistent.

Being genuinely curious and eager to learn about all aspects of the business is crucial to a role like mine. You must have a desire to learn if you hope to effect positive change.

I believe that persistence is a must-have when dealing with people and processes. There is always some resistance to change when bringing new ways of working into an established business. So working consistently to encourage your co-workers to adopt a new mindset is as important as the technology that you are implementing.

Q: How do you use IFS Applications to run your business?

A: I am proud to say that for such a traditional industry that is tea, we are using IFS Applications for almost every aspect of our business, covering the company from end to end.

We are running an industry-specific feature of IFS Applications that not only records the purchasing, manufacturing, and packaging of tea, but also helps with the creation of documents and reports for shipping and customer requirements that were previously done using excel and by maintaining manual log books.

By digitalising these core processes, we are seeing significant benefits in the availability of operational information, which is readily accessible for analysis and planning. 

Q: To IFS, a challenger is someone who does things differently but who isn’t necessarily disruptive. What does being a challenger mean to you?

A: To me, it most importantly means looking at what we are doing and asking the question ‘why’. Why are we doing this? Why do we need this? If you can satisfactorily answer these questions, everything else will make sense.

This has been the core of the process of understanding how we can better do what we are doing, and above all, how technology can be used to stay ahead of the game in terms of competitive advantage. 


Q: You’re a busy person. Why is it important for you to take time to tell your story? What do you hope others take away from it?

A: I am excited to hear how other IFS customers are working with innovation. By sharing our story, I hope to give others a view of how we incorporated completely new areas into the system to get the best use out of it, such as real-time recording of purchases at the traditional tea auction, or significantly reducing inventory holding costs without affecting the business cycle.

Q: If you could name one person, living or dead, who do you think best embodies the concept of a challenger and why?

A: To me, a challenger is anyone who innovates and creates a simple solution to a simple or complex problem or identifies a need that no one had considered before.

It’s very difficult to pinpoint just one person, but the founders of the tea company I work for identified a market for quality tea and filled that need for 50 years!

I also believe that a challenger can be seen in the life and the work of Leonardo Da Vinci or even in the constant reinvention that is Madonna. Simply put, someone who likes to challenge the status quo.

IFS World Conference

The IFS World Conference will take place in Boston USA from 7-10 October. The event will be the most customer-centred that they have ever run, showcasing how challengers in the industries they specialise in are embracing technology to innovate, disrupt and derive real value for their businesses. The event will focus on product news, insight from thought leaders, plus training and many networking opportunities. For more information about how you can be a part of the IFS World Conference 2019 visit IFSworld.com/WoCo2019.



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