The RSA Clusters Group aims to use responsible technologies to help connect local industry, strengthen linkages between local manufacturers and industry support, and develop a dynamic knowledge base.
What do we want to do?
Create a single, simple place to search for South African made industrial products and manufacturers.
Search by manufacturer, product, industry, region, certification, coding standard or local content.
Enable individual companies to retain ownership, manage and store their own information securely.
Empower companies to keep their information up-to-date and correct.
Ensure that the maintenance and updating of information is simple and painless.
Be affordable to both big and small companies.
What about existing solutions?
As you may know, there are a couple existing solutions to this problem. Let us explore them:
Listing sites like Yellow Pages
These sites often only have a brief company description, a list of industries in which the company operates and some contact details. These listings are generally not updated regularly and do not include a list of products on offer. More effort would be required to get a better picture of the company and whether or not they are relevant to your query.
Company catalogues and product lists
These are often sourced individually, provided you know the company already. Search capabilities are limited, as they usually take the form of a PDF document or a printed physical book. Searching also does not span various vendors, as you need to search each catalogue. This can be a tedious process.
Company websites can be a good place to find this kind of information. Sadly, website vary wildly from company to company. Firstly, you may not come across the website at all, as companies spend differing amounts of time and budget on search engine optimization (SEO). Secondly, different websites are structured differently and include different information. Some companies list their products on their website, others simply a PDF link to their catalogue. Some companies simply have a landing page that redirects you to a social media profile on Facebook or Linkedin.
Reaching out to a cluster, association, chamber or council
A common way to overcome some of the above mentioned shortcomings of existing solutions is to reach out to an industry support structure such as a cluster, association, chamber, etc. These collectives have a general idea of who their members are and what they make. They are likely also to know about other companies within their orbit. However, this can be far from representative of the entire local market and they are likely to know only enough to make an introduction and get the ball rolling. Specific product information and capacity would be referred to a company catalogue or salesperson.
Additionally, a lot of industry knowledge is stored in the heads of aging industry professionals. This may not be transferred or utilized effectively by younger stakeholders once the knowledgeable person retires or passes away. This knowledge is subject to bias, may be outdated and cannot be considered an asset until it is recorded and embedded into a usable process.
Google - Search, Shopping, Business Profile & Maps
Google offers an incredible set of tools for companies to be discoverable and for certain industries to reach their end customer in the easiest possible way. Performing a Google search for a company or industrial product is likely to provide you with search results that you may find helpful. The challenge, however, is that Google Ads and embedded content from the likes of Alibaba, Amazon and alike make legitimate search results something you need to seek out on the page. Promoted pages are likely not to offer South African made industrial products, as foreign solutions have the budget to rank their results higher in a Google Search.
Google Profiles are an excellent tool for companies to use! We recommend companies use this tool to make them more discoverable on Google Search and in Google Maps. The challenge, however, is that this profile only shows up once you know who to search for. If you search for the company, the profile will make it easier to get to their different resources - contact information, address, website, pictures, reviews, etc.
Google Shopping does a lot of what we would like to do, but not for industrial purposes. Google is focused on the consumer market. Searching "bluetooth speaker" will provide you with a carousel of options which you can peruse and purchase with little effort. Searching "twist lock" does not do the same.
Alibaba - the correct solution, but too risky
The best solution currently available are industrial listings on Alibaba. Unlike Amazon and Google, Alibaba have welcomed industrial products and manufacturers onto their platform. They offer search, they have all the information you may be looking for and they do so in a very comprehensive and convenient way. Their product listings have everything you may want to know when considering to purchase, as well as company details, photos and videos, pricing, shipping information, factory tours, certifications & accreditations, information about the manufacturing process, machinery, and certified skills involved in manufacturing, etc. They also allow companies to have profiles that provide them with a place to put everything you may want to know about the company and its offerings. Take a look at this example:
Responsible technology and oversight
The challenge with a solution like Alibaba is that it operates to the benefit of Alibaba as a company, and the Chinese government who has a sizable influence over it and its operations. We need to ask ourselves, are we pawns, or will we be proactive? If you own your platform, you control your own destiny. If you use somebody else's platform, your destiny is dictated to you.
We believe in building a platform for industry, owned by industry, via a non-profit for that purpose. It should be built to benefit South African industrialists, it should be built atop of a responsible technology that allows companies control over their data and what it is used for, and it allows South African industry to be the beneficiary of its own data, rather than a foreign technology solutions provider. The digitalisation of legacy supply chains is inevitable. We can either be proactive, or have to adopt an existing solution from a foreign technology provider, often at the cost of input into the process and authority over ones data and what is done with it.
Our solution will establish an oversight committee of industrialists and key industry stakeholders, the platform is based on open source technologies and provides controls to each company that participates to decide what is done with their information, and who can see/has access to it. The platform belongs to industry, not to any one company, party or collective. It will be industry led, transparent and accountable.
Anonymised, aggregate information can also be used for industrial planning and decision making processes. Profiles can be drawn up based on industry, skills, employment, etc.
What would we be interested in collecting from companies?
As part of the initial scope, we would be interested in:
Basic company information
Name & logo
Industries & sectors
Product listings and descriptions
Finished product (equipment, part, component or raw material)
Volume/ mass/ weight (where applicable)
Manufacturing process (where applicable)
Certifications & accreditations
Basic skills profile
Verified local content
What do we have?
We have the platform. The RSA Clusters Group has worked alongside a team of local developers to create this platform, built from the ground up with privacy and security in mind. This team has invested nearly a decade into the development of this platform and its tools and frameworks.
The backend system is in place and ready for deployment.
What do we need?
This project lacks adequate funding for rollout. Funds are needed to justify existing team members spending more time on this project moving forward, and to hire a project team to assist in the awareness and rollout stages of the project. Once funding is secured, the desired front end user interface can also be developed to match the goals of the project. This would be the website that will interfaces with the platform.