Hio Sola-Usidame is the CEO and Founder of OnePort 365, Africa’s digital channel for seamless freight management. OnePort 365’s platform simplifies the freight process by bringing transparency and optimization to a majorly traditional market. It offers features such as: Instant Quotes, Online Payment, All-in-one Invoicing, Rates Comparison, Visibility on Shipment, and a host of others. Hio previously worked at GX Rail Commodities as a Commercial Partner and attended the University of Warwick – Warwick Business School.
In an exclusive interview with Techpreneur Magazine, Sola-Usidame shared some insights on how digital solutions can help African businesses take advantage of cross-border trading opportunities.
For those who don’t know Sola-Usidame, tell us a bit about yourself
Before I started Oneport 365, I ran a traditional freight forwarding company. I was the youngest licensed freight forwarding professional at the time, this gave me the opportunity to learn more about the industry, the challenges that traders face across the continent and much more. Traders were taking up to 14 days just to get rates from different freight services and the process was heavily paper-based, which presented a wide range of efficiency and productivity challenges.
Enlighten us about what you do at OnePort 365
I am the Founder and CEO at the company, and no two day’s are the same. Most of my work involves hiring the right people for the company, as well as product development and ensuring we are delivering on our mission to the people and traders we work with. Strategizing on a daily basis is also key to delivering our mission and getting the results we want.
Technology in the shipping industry is changing rapidly, however you’d agree there are a few setbacks in implementing a fully digital platform especially in Africa. What are some of the difficulties you are facing and how are you getting around them?
Our biggest competition is the traditional way of freight management because it is so dominant and entrenched. We have to remember that these traders are moving hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of goods at a time, so trust is an essential part of the service being rendered and this can take some time to develop. However, once they experience the convenience and efficiency of our platform, the conversation becomes much easier and it is difficult for them to go back to doing things the old way.
When moving cargo between different countries, shipments are subject to local rules, laws, fees and regulations. How is OnePort 365 able to factor all these in?
Traders will have the opportunity to get GPS-enabled, real-time visibility of their shipments and they can view all documents relating to the shipment via the platform, eliminating the laborious process of physically retrieving these documents from offices or shipping line centres. This makes it easier for traders to track their goods and to trade across borders with confidence. Traders can also connect with shipping and inland transportation vendors and manage the entire process (from booking to payment) on one single platform..
Until now, bookings for different freight services were made through five to six separate service providers, through various channels. Our platform leverages the advent of technologically-enhanced infrastructure, the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS), for instant payment transactions across Africa. This is a major game-changer for African traders.
What are some of the policies that can help foster efficient cargo management across Africa?
There are many challenges plaguing the freight industry and cargo management in Ghana, but I believe the major one is around the infrastructure at the ports. Ports are all about flow, and anything impeding these much needed flow poses several challenges for all stakeholders.
We need policies that would facilitate infrastructural improvement across all the Ghanaian ports, and also entail the revival of inactive ports in the country. This would enable people to move their cargo directly to the port closest to them, as against almost everyone operating through the Accra port and then relying on road transportation for final delivery. Knowing the deplorable state of the road network across the country also leaves much to be desired, a more effective port system would enable easier cargo management and happier stakeholders in the freight industry across Africa.
With the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) in effect, what are some of the ways digital solutions can help local businesses take advantage of cross-border trading opportunities?
AfCFTA aims to create a single market for trade across the continent with a combined population of 1.3 billion and a combined GDP of $3.4 trillion, making it the largest free trade area in the world. Africa’s exports to the rest of the world is expected to go up by 32 percent by 2035 and intra-African exports are expected to grow by 109 percent. However, various issues with the way cargo is currently managed across the continent threatens to hinder opportunities for Ghanaian traders to maximize the opportunities that are presented by this new agreement.
For example, it typically takes an average of 10-14 days to get rates across different freight services. Booking for different freight services are also made through up to six different service providers which unnecessarily complicates the payment process and makes it unnecessarily expensive.
The adoption of digital solutions can make it easier to move cargo from, to and within Africa. Ultimately, we should be working towards a situation where traders can manage the entire freight management process (from booking and payment to visibility and documentation) on one single platform because that is what we believe African traders deserve. We believe managing freights should be as easy as booking a flight or ordering a ride-hailing service and it is building the operating system to make this possible.
Digital solutions can further improve efficiency and lower overheads in cross-border trading across the continent, as well as deliver a wide range of new services that will increase profitability across board. With the right digital solutions, traders will no longer have to wait up to two weeks to compare the best rates from different service providers. They will be able to access pre-negotiated rates, explore competitive offers on the platform and book freights in 30 seconds or less.
What should we expect from OnePort 365 in a few years from now?
In the next 5 to 10 years, we want 60% of every 10 containers that are headed for or leaving Africa to have been booked via our platform. We want to build brand credibility and awareness to make OnePort 365 synonymous with freight management. Our goal is to become the leading freight forwarding platform on the continent, with a presence in every major port city. We have active operation in Nigeria and Ghana, and we are actively exploring opportunities in Kenya and South Africa to deliver our solutions in those markets
We are also keen on building new partnerships with organisations such as Afreximbank, African Development Bank and shipping lines, which will deepen our reach and impact on the freight management industry across the continent.