In Africa, e-commerce revenues are expected to exceed $46 billion in 2025, up from $28 billion in 2021, and 500 million online shoppers in 2025, up from 350 million in 2022, according to the latest study by consulting firm TechCabal Insights. Launched in 2016 by the Universal Postal Union (UPU), the Ecom@Africa project aims to develop intra-African and international e-commerce through the postal network in each of the five major African regions. The objective is to facilitate and accelerate the e-commerce activities of artisans, microenterprises, and small and medium-sized enterprises in this geographical area, enabling them to access local and international markets.
There are many challenges to overcome for the signatory African countries, from implementing a virtual e-commerce platform to designing a parcel receiving and sending logistics platform, as well as establishing a local distribution network and harmonizing practices. Among the first countries to experiment with this initiative, Tunisia aims to become the e-commerce hub for the North African region, according to an ambitious IT and logistics project roadmap. In this context, the Tunisian Post, a member of the UPU since 1878, has selected ISITEC International’s intelligent incoming and outgoing parcel sorting solution to equip its international e-commerce logistics platform, Ecom@Africa, through a tender process. Located on the outskirts of Tunis-Carthage Airport, it will be operational in January 2024.
Automating, ensuring reliability, and accelerating parcel sorting
Facing the decline of traditional postal services, the Tunisian Post aspires to seize the opportunities offered by the unprecedented growth of e-commerce, positioning itself as a key player in the management and optimization of associated services and logistics flows. It is currently establishing a state-of-the-art international logistics platform, Ecom@Africa, to optimize the processing of incoming and outgoing e-commerce parcels, as part of the UPU’s regional pilot program for the development of trade exchanges in Africa. To handle a growing volume of parcels, driven by e-commerce growth, the Tunisian Post aims to implement an automated sorting solution in 2022 to enhance operational efficiency, reliability, and agility, while reducing labor costs and human error.
This new equipment must address various challenges: automating, ensuring reliability, and optimizing the parcel sorting process to reduce processing and, consequently, delivery times; easily handling peak periods such as year-end holidays and Ramadan; providing seamless parcel traceability at every stage, ensuring transparency and customer satisfaction; and guaranteeing flexibility in sorting parcels of all sizes and shapes.
Sami Inoubli, PMO of the Ecom@Africa program at the Tunisian Post, summarizes: “The installation of an automated parcel sorting machine aims primarily to improve efficiency, reduce costs, increase sorting accuracy, and better manage capacity to cope with the exponential growth in parcel volume associated with the rise of e-commerce.”
As Inoubli, PMO of the Ecom@Africa program, reveals: “In our tender, we focused on identifying the key competencies required to find a company capable of providing us with a truly tailor-made solution that can be easily integrated into our IT systems, technical expertise, and maintenance and support services.” Ten criteria were defined: the capability to design and manufacture customized solutions that meet specific parcel sorting requirements (postal IT, size, shape, and volume of parcels), engineering capacity ensuring equipment quality, reliability, and durability, deployment of advanced automation technologies (computer vision, barcodes), and control software, integration with the existing postal information system, responsive maintenance and support, employee training, compliance with applicable standards and regulations, references, and a track record.
As an expert in optimizing postal and logistics flows worldwide, the French company ISITEC International stood out and won the tender from the Tunisian Post in December 2021. Inoubli adds, “In the context of our public procurement tender, the choice of ISITEC International was based on the total cost of ownership (TCO) of their intelligent parcel sorting solution. It is important, in our view, to evaluate a solution based on its total cost of ownership over its entire lifespan, from purchase and operation costs to maintenance and upgrades.”
Moreover, numerous strengths of ISITEC International’s proposal confirmed the Tunisian Post’s choice: performance, customization and scalability of the equipment, easy integration with existing IT and logistics systems, availability of technical support and after-sales service. The collaboration started in January 2022.
Inoubli said, “Our project requires close communication and careful planning with ISITEC International’s team to ensure that our equipment meets our needs and operates optimally.” Among the highlights of the collaboration with ISITEC International are the functional analysis stage, where the teams from ISITEC International and the Tunisian Post worked together to design and customize the parcel sorting machine according to specific needs, technical adaptations imposed by the facility’s area, options for customized sorting, and integration with existing systems. The installation, commissioning, and real-world testing of the ISITEC International solution were completed in September 2023.
Once the Ecom@Africa Hub becomes operational in 2024, ISITEC International’s intelligent sorting solution is expected to provide the Tunisian Post with greater operational efficiency through swift and precise sorting, ensuring high-quality service. The automation of parcel sorting is also expected to reduce labor costs, minimize sorting errors, and consequently reduce costs related to returns and re-shipments. ISITEC International’s solution will also significantly contribute to rigorous traceability. The equipment allows for precise tracking of parcel locations at every stage of processing within the Ecom@Africa e-commerce logistics platform.
In the coming months, the Tunisian Post will undertake a key step in its Ecom@Africa roadmap, the design and implementation of an Integrated Logistics Centre, which will cover all logistics aspects of national e-commerce, including inventory management, order preparation, and returns management. Once again, storage, automated sorting, and order preparation systems will be necessary.
Inoubli concludes: “Based on the quality of the relationship established, from contract signing to provisional acceptance, and including functional analysis, we have a partnership with ISITEC International rather than a customer-supplier relationship. In this partnership, we aspire to work together to optimize parcel sorting efficiency and achieve our goals. This necessarily involves close communication, faultless technical support, and regular equipment updates by ISITEC International.” The collaboration between the Tunisian Post and ISITEC International will span seven years, with two years of warranty period and five years under the maintenance contract.