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ROLAC, SCRAP-C: Spreading Message of FOI Act in Nigeria

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FOI Act

By Walter Duru

From East to the West, North and South, the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption-ROLAC programme of the European Union and the Strengthening Citizens Resistance Against the Prevalence of Corruption – SCRAP-C programme of the United Kingdom Aid have been traversing the length and breadth of Nigeria, spreading the good news of the Freedom of Information Act.

For ROLAC, an anti-corruption programme funded by the European Union, but managed by the British Council, the journey started with an assessment of the use and implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2011. The assessment, conducted in collaboration with the Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria – FOICN and Media Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption-MIIVOC on one hand, and the Federal Ministry of Justice on another hand, focused on four states of: Adamawa, Kano, Lagos and Anambra, and of course, the Federal capital territory for federal Public Institutions and civil society organisations.

The need for empirical data on the level of citizens’ knowledge and use of the FOI Act on one hand and the level of compliance with the provisions of the Act by public institutions on the other hand informed the decision of the ROLAC programme to support a Rapid Response Assessment on same. The Assessment of the level of FOI implementation and compliance among federal public institutions, as well as state public institutions in Adamawa, Kano, Lagos and Anambra was the crux of the study for public institutions. Structured Questionnaire, Observation and Personal Interview were the instruments used for data collection. The choice of the four states and the federal capital territory was informed by the fact that they are the focal states/areas of operation of the ROLAC programme.

The study was coordinated by the leadership of the Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria. Findings show that the knowledge gap on the provisions and use of the FOI Act remains wide, particularly, at the state level, requiring that deliberate steps be taken to enhance same.

According to the findings, the percentage level of awareness of public institutions on the FOI Act in Adamawa is 9%; Lagos- 20%; Kano -11%; Anambra -10%; while the federal capital territory is 35%.

On compliance, the percentage level of public institutions with the FOI Act in Adamawa is 0%; Lagos – 10%; Kano – 7%; Anambra – 0%, while the federal capital territory is 25%.

On the part of the Civil Society, about 90% of the respondents in Adamawa have no knowledge of the provisions and application of the FOI Act; 87% in Lagos; 93% in Kano and 91% in Anambra do not know the provisions and applications of the FOI Act.

On the use of the FOI Act, data gathered shows that 93% of respondents in Adamawa state have never made an FOI request; 87% in Lagos; 91% in Kano and 90% of civil society actors studied in Anambra have never made an FOI request.

The findings therefore informed ROLAC’s decision to, in collaboration with the Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria-FOICN, Media Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption-MIIVOC and the Federal Ministry of Justice to commence an elaborate capacity building programme, targeting state and non-state actors in the areas studied.

The overall objective was to increase citizens’ demand for accountability and transparency from public institutions, through enhanced awareness and capacity on effective use of the FOI Act on the demand side (civil society); and to improve compliance and implementation of the FOI Act on the supply side (public institutions). So far, two states- Adamawa and Kano have benefited from the week-long capacity building exercise, which took stakeholders through the rudiments, provisions, application and all the elements of the FOI Act, 2011. Lagos State is next to benefit from the exercise. Following the trainings, excited Kano State Civil Society actors are firing from all corners, making demands on public institutions.

The ROLAC FOI trainings are delivered by the Chairman, Board of Governors, Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria- FOICN, Dr. Walter Duru, Secretary of the Board of FOICN, Longe Ayode and Mr. Benjamin Okolo, Head, FOI Unit of the Federal Ministry of Justice, who always leads the Ministry’s team. Pwanakei Dala, ROLAC’s anti-corruption programme officer is always on ground to give support, while the ROLAC Staff in the focal states ensure that everything is in place for each of the trainings. ROLAC’s anti-corruption Programme Manager, Emmanuel Uche is always on ground to show leadership.

The highlights of the training are Paper presentations, practical FOI request writing by civil society participants; practical writing of responses to FOI requests by participants from public institutions, interactive and experience sharing sessions, questions and answers sessions, among others.

Speaking on the progress recorded so far, ROLAC’s Anti-Corruption Programme Manager, Mr. Emmanuel Uche expressed delight at the interest of citizens of the states to participate in governance, taking advantage of the FOI Act.

Uche, an anti-corruption expert described the Freedom of Information Act as the foundation stone for strengthening democratic values.

“The FOI Act is the most critical foundation stone for strengthening democratic values of any society. Democracy, which is also one of the core tenets of a free society is based on choice. Choice is not possible where citizens do not have perfect access to information on the available choices. Access to information law is one of the best things that have happened to Nigeria.”

Speaking on ROLAC’s interest in FOI, National Programme Manager, Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Programme, Mr. Danladi Plang described the Act as central to the work of the programme, following its capacity to entrench openness in governance.

“Well, ROLAC has three central themes – Criminal Justice, Anti-corruption and Access to Justice. Our work on the FOI supports and complements the work on anti-corruption, particularly, in the area of prevention. Increased citizens’ use of the FOI Act will improve transparency in the system. When public institutions realize that citizens now have a law that empowers them to ask questions about government business and get the answers they desire, they will be a bit more circumspect. There is no doubt that effective implementation of the FOI Act will prevent and reduce corruption in Nigeria”

Lamenting over the low compliance level with the Act, Plang identified low awareness on the existence and provisions of the Act as one of the challenges, promising that ROLAC will do more in spreading the message of the FOI Act. He added that the “FOI Act can help to open up government for citizens participation,” making a strong case for grassroots advocacy on the Act.

Frowning at the reluctance of some state governments to implement the FOI Act, Plang argued that “a reasonable government should encourage the citizens to participate in governance, if they are genuinely interested in the welfare of the citizens.”

Adding her voice, Component Manager on Enhancing Civil Society Engagement in Criminal Justice and Anti-Corruption Reforms, Toyosi Giwa described ROLAC’s Civil Society FOI engagements as strategic.

According to her, “for Civil Society to effectively engage the government, they need to have their capacity enhanced. Our interest in training Civil Society on the use of the FOI Act is aimed at deepening their understanding of the provisions and applications of the Act to enable them apply same effectively. Government is not usually too responsive to the citizens. One of the tools to hold the government accountable is the FOI Act. We are committed to enhancing citizens’ capacity on FOI Act to increase their participation in governance, with a view to ensuring that transparency is a culture in Nigeria’s public institutions.”

Impressed by the impact of the engagements so far, Giwa stressed: “Available statistics show that some of the civil society actors in the states we have trained are already using the law. This is very encouraging. Reports we are getting from Kano State, for instance are very encouraging. It shows the quality of engagement; but we are not there yet. We want to start seeing the outcome of those FOI requests and positive responses from public institutions.”

Continuing, she stressed that “low knowledge and application of the FOI Act is as a result of opaqueness of government. If government is open, it should even be promoting the FOI act. The ongoing training is timely. The approach of ROLAC is also very good. Training public institutions alongside civil society is a brilliant approach, so they are on the same page. A lot of awareness still needs to be created.”

She however advised civil society actors in Nigeria to remain steadfast in their efforts in speaking for the people.

In another development, as part of its support towards ensuring openness in public service and effective citizens’ participation in governance, the Strengthening Citizens’ Resistance Against Prevalence of Corruption – SCRAP-C Project organised a 3-day training (in three different locations) for civil society organisations and citizens in Nigeria on the use of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.

The first phase of the training was held in three locations: Lagos (for south-west participants), Uyo (for south-south participants) and Enugu (for south east participants). The training was carefully designed to build the capacity of participants to have a working knowledge of the purpose, provisions, application and benefits of the FOI Act. It was further intended that at the end of the training, participants drawn from across the Southeast, South-South and South Western states of Nigeria, were empowered with enhanced capacity in the use of the FOI Act. It was aimed at deepening participants’ understanding of the law.

The training was delivered by four resource persons: Newton Otsemaye, Project Manager, SCRAP-C; Chairman, Board of Governors, Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria and Executive Director, Media Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption-MIIVOC, Dr. Walter Duru; Dr. Tope Olaifa of Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta and Mr. Ezenwa Nwagwu of ‘Say No Campaign’.

Speaking on the relevance of the training, SCRAP-C Project Manager, Newton Otsemaye explains:

“SCRAP-C is interested in enhancing the capacity of civil society to participate actively in the anti-corruption war. The FOI Act is a veritable tool for the citizens to hold the government accountable. The idea is that ensuring that the citizens understand the provisions and application of the FOI Act is one sure way of increasing their participation by asking relevant questions regarding government activities. We are interested in ensuring that the citizens take advantage of the FOI Act to make the government more accountable.”

The SCRAP-C project is a 5-year UKaid supported project through the Anti-Corruption in Nigeria (ACORN) Programme. The project seeks to address corruption through change in social norms and attitudes that encourage corruption in Nigeria. The project is managed by a consortium of three National Civil Society Organisations: ActionAid Nigeria, Centre for Democracy and Development, and Centre for Communication and Social Impact.

With the great efforts of ROLAC and SCRAP-C in FOI implementation, donor agencies have shown that they are indeed interested in the development of Nigeria by supporting initiatives that will open up government to the citizens.

ROLAC, in addition to operating at the federal capital-Abuja, has four focal states of Adamawa, Kano, Lagos and Anambra. SCRAP-C has six states- Akwa Ibom, Bornu, Enugu, Kaduna, Kano/Jigawa and Lagos. Other donor agencies should quickly take steps to support the spread of the message of the FOI Act to other parts of the federation.

Citizens must therefore take advantage of the FOI Act to participate in governance, hold the government accountable and secure the future of the citizens yet unborn.

Until citizens own the anti corruption war, it may not go far. One sure instrument for an effective war against corruption in Nigeria is the FOI Act. All Nigerians must therefore embrace it, take advantage of it and participate in the business of governance.

Public Institutions/office holders themselves must realize that they manage the people’s resources on trust. Any government that claims to have the interest of the citizens at heart must therefore support the vigorous implementation of Nigeria’s Freedom of Information Act.

A culture of transparency and accountability in governance is the surest solution to Nigeria’s woes. This, the FOI Act can achieve. No genuine anti-corruption war can be won without the vigorous implementation of the FOI Act.

Dipo Olowookere is a journalist based in Nigeria that has passion for reporting business news stories. At his leisure time, he watches football and supports 3SC of Ibadan. Mr Olowookere can be reached via dipo.olowookere@businesspost.ng

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Okowa’s Financial Aid to Mission Schools

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Ifeanyi Okowa Delta State

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

The recent decision by the Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, to provide financial aid to 40 schools it returned to religious missions in 2011 again underscores the time-honoured belief that leaders must learn the art of management, an art of engineering and skill to absorb and mater success in their mission. As there is no hard and fast rule but involves a lot of practical wisdom and prudence in one’s functioning style and performance.

Speaking at the thanksgiving service to mark the end of the 16th Synod of Asaba Diocese, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), held at the Cathedral Church of St. Peter, Asaba, Okowa, who read the first lesson, congratulated the new Bishop of the diocese, the Rt. Rev. Kingsley Obuh, on his consecration and enthronement.

Acknowledging that the running of mission schools is difficult given the current economic condition of the nation, the governor commended the church for drawing his attention to the plight of the schools, especially his promise to ensure that grants were given to missions to assist them in giving a firm standing to the schools that had been returned to them. This, he explained, became necessary to assist the schools in running effectively, particularly in view of the prevailing harsh economic situation in the country.

Indeed, from the above comment by the Governor, it is evident that he is not taking success in leadership for granted or attributing the same to a function of luck and destiny but achievable through effective planning, genuine efforts and technique followed sincerely and scrupulously in their mission.

By his latest action, it is now evident that the Governor considers education as the bedrock of development. More than anything else, his promise to ensure that grants were given to missions to assist them in giving a firm standing to the schools demonstrates a leader with an understanding that with sound educational institutions, a country is as good as made -as the institutions will turn out all rounded manpower to continue with the development of the society driven by well thought out ideas, policies, programmes.

Secondly, it is a sign that he recognizes the challenges of perennial underfunding bedevilling the education sector not just in missionary schools in Delta State but across all the privately and government-owned schools across all the states of the federation.

This challenge has as a consequence brought upon the nation an astronomical increase in the rate of out of school children, especially in the northern part of Nigeria, to swell in number, even when it is obvious that the streets are known for breeding all forms of criminals and other social misfits who constitute the real threat in the forms of armed robbers; thugs, drunkards, prostitutes and all other social ills that give a bad name to the society. This underfunding challenge has also visited the sector with a state of affairs where a number of Nigerians are in school but are learning nothing; as schooling, according to UNICEF, does not always lead to learning.

“In Nigeria, there are more non-learners in school than out of school,” UNICEF concluded.

More specifically, aside from being in the best interest of the state government that those schools returned to the missions are supported to stand because they provide a space for study for some of our children across the state, Okowa’s current gesture reinforces the belief that we all have reasons not only to feel worried but collectively work hard to deliver the nation’s education sector in ways that will bring to an end the reign of thoughtless demand for fees of varying amounts/ proposed by the school authorities-a development that is financially squeezing the life out of the innocent students and their parents.

There exist more concrete reasons as to why Governor Okowa’s present move needs to be applauded.

At the most fundamental levels, it refreshes the minds of Nigerians of the passionate plea by the United Nations for government-private sector collaboration for sustainable development.

For instance, there was a veiled agreement among stakeholders at a recent gathering in Lagos that the government at all levels in Nigeria is shirking the traditional but universal responsibility of provision of educational, economic and infrastructural succour to the citizenry which the instrumentality of participatory democracy and election of leaders confers on them.

Essentially, participants at that event were unanimous that the 2030 sustainable agenda has partnership and collaboration at its centre. It was clearly stated that the scale and ambition of this agenda call for smart partnerships, collaborations, ecosystem thinking, co-creation and alignment of various intervention efforts by the public and private sectors and civil society.

The conference, which had as a theme Partnership for Sustainable Development and Innovation, was among other goals aimed at finding an ‘urgent need for creative and innovative thinking by all strata of the society-public and private sector and civil society-to promoting sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development and environmental protection’.

To further buttress the imperativeness of this needed commitment from all the parties in tackling the agenda, the conference stressed that the partnership is at the very centre of the sustainable development agenda as it is both a means to an end since it is a crucial enabler for the attainment of the other goals and an end to in itself since Goal 17 is a means of implementation and revitalised global partnership’.

Very instructive also, finding a solution to the societal problems, particularly providing access to adequate and quality education for the youths of this nation will in some ways help solve the youth unemployment challenge and develop a climate of sustainable future and innovation among our youths.

Talking about youth unemployment in Nigeria, a report recently put it this way: “We are in a dire state of strait because unemployment has diverse implications. Security wise, the large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation agenda that does not have job creation at the centre of its programme will take us nowhere”

Youths’ challenge cuts across, regions, religions, and tribes, and has led to the proliferation of ethnic militia as well as youth restiveness across the country. This may, in turn, hamper the peace needed if handled with levity.  But this threat has become more pronounced in the oil-rich region of the country with the chunk of the proponents spearheaded by the large army of professionally trained ex-militants currently without a job. Proper management of these teaming youth is the panacea for determining the success or otherwise of the 2030 sustainable agenda, it is only by engaging these teeming youths through employment creation that the incessant youth restiveness can be abated.

One fact we must acknowledge is that the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal was formulated to among other aims promote and carter for people, peace, the planet, and poverty but nurturing to bear the premeditated result will depend on not just the private sector but our government.

To, therefore, move this nation forward, we need to like Governor Okowa, recognize that a sound educational sector and sustained infrastructural development remain the spine. We must learn that nations such as the Jews progressed because they possessed a tradition of education combined with social and political action. They enthroned education and sacrificed to get it.

We must as a nation make quality but subsidized education a human right that will be accessible to all Nigerians irrespective of tribe/ethnicity, sex, religion or creed. And develop the political will to fund education in compliance with the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) budgetary recommendation.

Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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Tips for Building a Low-code Strategy

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Low-code Development

By Hyther Nizam

Over the last few years, businesses have been racing to digitise their processes and offerings. Whether you’re working from home, banking online, or doing a quick grocery order, you’ve likely noticed a significant rate of transformation. Given that every aspect of a consumer’s daily life is connected to the digital world, the challenge of digital transformation may be daunting. Traditional ways of developing consumer and internal applications are time-consuming and usually require a large number of development resources.

Fortunately, low-code/no-code (LCNC) development platforms empower businesses to quickly create cross-platform applications without writing thousands of lines of code. Low-code/no-code not only simplifies development but also saves time and money. Low-code is not a new concept, but demand for it has increased as a result of the pandemic and the necessity for businesses to speed up their digital transformation initiatives.

The advantages of low-code/no-code 

LCNC platforms provide a visual environment for building applications. As they provide snippets of pre-built code in a simple drag-and-drop user interface, people with little to no programming experience can also build custom web/mobile applications. However, it’s crucial to take the time to identify the most effective LCNC platform for your business before diving headfirst into app building.

The LCNC platforms help teams develop applications faster and with fewer errors than traditional coding. Because the platforms provide standard components such as forms, report templates, and ready-to-use code snippets, months of development time can be saved. By eliminating some of the more complex aspects of the application development process (such as creating frameworks and linking databases), these platforms empower people across the organisation to get involved in application development and bring their business ideas to fruition, without having to depend on IT assistance.

Zoho Creator, Zoho’s low-code platform, aims to facilitate efficient app development and effective collaboration. It uses pre-built integrations to connect with hundreds of systems and cloud services to make app development quicker and easier. Organisations can seamlessly integrate Creator with other Zoho applications and third-party platforms like QuickBooks, Zapier, and PayPal. To facilitate effective collaboration, Creator gives organisations the power to assign roles to users and grant them access to information relevant to their jobs. Role-based access controls help ensure the application development process is both streamlined and secure.

Now that digital transformation is an ongoing imperative for most businesses, agility and collaboration are critical. Our research shows that 40% of organisations are involving their business teams in their digital transformation processes. This indicates a growing understanding that digital transformation affects the whole business—not just IT teams.

Considerations for using LCNC strategies

First, and potentially most important, your business must know what to look for in LCNC platforms. Besides the visual modelling and drag-and-drop interfaces that make these platforms easier to use, your LCNC platform should be secure. It should have the required security framework certifications in place and espouse data confidentiality measures. It’s important to avoid using software that potentially opens the door to hackers.

Your LCNC platform should be equipped for multi-device deployment (meaning that you only have to create an app once for it to be accessible on any device), and scalability so you can add more users to your application as your organisation grows.

Once you’ve identified the right platform, it’s time to start cross-organisational planning for the digital experiences your organisation will provide, and the ways low-code can be leveraged to create those experiences. Remember, one of the major strengths of a good low-code platform is that it allows for collaboration. People across the organisation need to be exposed to the platform to understand what it can do for them.

The time is now

There has never been a better time for your business to embrace an LCNC strategy, as the world is undergoing an unprecedented rate of digital transformation. It is essential, however, to combine the correct platform with a strategy that enables your entire company to realise the benefits of low-code development. This is the most effective way to put your business ahead of the competition.

Hyther Nizam is the President of MEA at Zoho Corp

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B2B e-Commerce: Fostering Sales, Distribution with Data Analytics

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Data Analytics

The informal sector is a major source of economic growth and productivity globally. According to both the World Bank and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) statistics, more than 2 billion people representing 61% of the world’s employed population work in the informal sector.

Of the number, 93% are reportedly in emerging and developing countries. Around 86% of employment in Sub-Saharan Africa is in the informal sector, while 80% of household retail distribution is said to be delivered via informal retailers.

Nigeria is reputed to have a huge informal sector that makes up 50% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and accounts for over 90% of employment. The informal retail market value is estimated at US$100bn out of which the food and consumer goods retail segment is worth over $40bn.

B2B e-commerce firm Alerzo’s CEO, Adewale Opaleye, described the informal sector as a major source of economic growth, productivity and competitiveness.

Despite the importance of the sector, informal retailers face complex challenges that impede their business growth, financial and income stability and service quality. The challenges include limited inventory due to high demands, meaning the market is underserved; and limited access to funding which sometimes leads them to stock low-quality products.

The retail market is also clustered; products are often overpriced because prices are largely unregulated. Distance to market especially those in hard-to-reach locations; opportunity costs; dangers of travel; inadequate logistics such as transport to move purchased goods also impact informal retailers adversely. The unstructured nature of most retail businesses is another setback.

The challenges faced by consumers at the base of the pyramid also represent another key issue in the retail market. Often, lack of access to reliable product information, quality products and services, and low purchasing power deny consumers access to everyday essentials such as food, medicine, hygiene and household products.

The fallout of the challenges in the retail market segment is that manufacturers and distributors are often unable to track data on informal retail sales, regulate quality or access BoP customers for research, marketing or the delivery of social mission goals.

As a strategic pivot for national GDP growth, reforming Nigeria’s informal trade is a key to unlocking socio-economic prosperity for the citizens, and improving the lives of the retailers themselves including their families, and the communities in which they operate.

Hence, initiatives that remove barriers in the Factory-to-Retail distribution chain for consumer goods companies are most welcome. The role of e-Commerce, in particular tech-driven B2B e-Commerce platforms, is pivotal in this regard.

“Our mission is to empower these informal retailers through our ecosystem of digital products, so they are equipped to run profitable and sustainable businesses. We strongly believe that technology has the potential to transform the way informal retailers conduct their businesses, by using it to facilitate – with just a click of a button – fast and easy access to a wide assortment of consumer products at zero delivery cost to the retailers,” Alerzo CEO, Opaleye said.

B2B e-Commerce platforms are beneficial to manufacturers and tier one distributors as enablers of data gathering and market intelligence. By utilising an array of digital technologies to gather market intelligence and analyse data, they arm goods producers with vital information on consumer behaviour to further help them in research and product development. Distributors also use such information to scale up operational efficiency.

The use of customer data significantly fosters sales growth and enhances customer relationships. According to Statista, a 2018 survey in the United States showed that 84% of industry-wide leading firms revealed that data analytics helped to bring greater accuracy to their decision-making. That is, data utilisation and related analytics methods were reported to deliver the most value to firms by reducing expenses and creating new avenues for innovation and disruption.

Data analytics enable manufacturers and distributors to strengthen their business operations. For example, in supply chain management and customer relationship, data analytics can support the personalisation and customisation of sales and customer services to build stronger and more personal relationships with customers.

By deploying data technologies and tools, B2B e-Commerce platforms like Alerzo collect data and market intelligence to identify what customers actually expect from companies and to predict their future demands. In other words, data analytics help to create business knowledge, that is, information and understanding related to business processes and the business environment. It can additionally reveal hidden behavioural patterns.

Furthermore, B2B e-Commerce can provide manufacturers access to real-time data and instant information, creating real-time knowledge of markets, and when properly implemented, can increase sales. McKinsey’s research suggests that a healthy data culture, that is, an organisational culture that accelerates the application of data analytics, is becoming increasingly important for leading and lagging companies. Also, the deployment of data helps to provide accurate and timely information within an organisation.

B2B e-Commerce platforms by utilising their digital solutions can make the collection of data more feasible and cost-effective for manufacturers and distributors. Data analytics as one of the emerging areas in the domain of B2B marketing can even support businesses with access to big data thereby increasing access to quantitative and qualitative information beyond just transaction data such as purchase quantities.

In a nutshell, B2B e-Commerce in so many ways offers solutions that are helping to address the needs in the Factory-to-Retail distribution value chain holistically – at the supply side (manufacturers, top-tier distributors and last-mile retailers), and the consumers (demand) side.

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