Winner of the 2018 award for
Excellence in the Management of Systems, category for large enterprises
Our adjudicator Ann Naicker shares with us their experience of De Beers Group Technology
Even ‘trivial’ details matter with systems thinking
In most workplace settings, the
swing of the doors is probably not a particularly important parameter. That
changes dramatically in confined spaces such as ships, aircraft and underground
mines where a door with a large swing can be a serious and expensive drawback.
“In isolation, the door swing
is not a big deal, but when space is at a premium, it becomes really important
and can add significantly to your capital costs. From a systems perspective, we
have learnt not to underestimate even the most trivial parameter,” says Gordon
Taylor, Operations Manager, at De Beers Group Technology.
Understanding the bigger
picture and the detail of how everything fits together is what systems thinking
means at De Beers Group Technology, which designs and produces specialised
mining equipment such as sorting machines.
It’s this kind of thinking that
the organisation strives to encourage among its employees through programmes
such as the internal innovation system, known as Boost.
The idea behind Boost (named after
the first staff-inspired innovation to receive a boost) is to encourage
employees to think and contribute beyond their immediate jobs. “If you have an
idea in your head, use Boost to translate it into something practical,” Gordon
says. The organisation provides seed funding of say R3 000 or R4 000,
and time is set aside to experiment towards translating that idea into
A substantial amount of time and effort has gone into fine-tuning Boost so that it produces real results and doesn’t just fizzle out. The reason is that it’s important to generate new ideas internally. “The innovation industry is a multibillion-rand industry and we know we can go outside (for innovation services) but we want ideas created internally and we want to do this at a grassroots level,” says Gordon.
This means everyone in the
organisation is encouraged to be involved in idea generation, from artisans and
tradespeople to administrative staff and engineers, cutting across all age
groups. “You must have diversity and inquisitiveness to succeed, and you need
to get out of the siloes,” he says. “People should be willing to try things
that are out of the ordinary and management should make it clear this is okay.
Employees shouldn’t think, ‘Don’t worry, the management team will take care of
this’. That stifles innovation.”
The message behind all this is
that nothing happens in isolation. Everyone has a part to play in making an
organisation work better and no detail is too trivial – including the door
Our adjudicator Kenneth Mabilisa shares with us their experience of Air Blow Fans
Winner of the Excellence in the Management of Systems award for 2018, category for small enterprises
When there’s a big competition, it’s all systems go
Probably the biggest competitive advantage of a small engineering
development company like Air Blow Fans is agility and responsiveness compared
to larger rivals in the industrial fans field. Agility is not necessarily a
question of size, however. Rather, it’s a matter of achieving that end-to-end
seamlessness that is so talked about but so challenging to actually accomplish.
“Everything has to tie up. It’s all those interconnected
things that feed into each other so that we can act fast and respond to
clients’ unforeseen needs,” says Gavin Ratner, managing member of
multi-award-winning Air Blow Fans.
The operative word here is “unforeseen”. There is no set
formula for fixing the massive centrifugal and axial flow fans that mining
houses, power utilities and the like use to keep their plants running smoothly.
Every situation is different and every solution has to be approached on its own
merits, making those interconnected processes and systems all the more
Technology is a big part of this, but so is the human element,
Most plants have remote monitoring systems so that pre-emptive
maintenance can be scheduled before there is a breakdown, but in practice,
relatively few companies do regular checks. So when their mission-critical fans
start vibrating more vigorously than they should, or some of the moving parts threaten
to malfunction, Air Blow Fans will receive an emergency call.
That often means racing off to the client’s site for an
on-premises, eyes-on assessment, after which technology can take over. “We feed
the information from the site visit into a computational fluid dynamics package
so that the computer can run different scenarios and devise a mechanical
engineering solution that is reliable and fit for service,” Gavin says.
Next comes the design of the system, ordering of the
materials, manufacture and installation of the equipment, underpinned by
quality assurance. Air Blow Fans has ISO 9001 certification, which is unusual
for a small engineering company.
Let’s not forget the people management part. “In a small
group like ours, we are all interdependent. While a big organisation can
compensate for one or two rotten apples, we cannot and it’s really important to
have the right people working together for a common cause.”
With all the moving parts in synch, human and machine, it’s
all systems go and no spanners in the works.
Our adjudicator Chipa Maimela shares with us their experience of Avantcore (Pty) Ltd
Winner of the
Excellence in the Management of Systems award for 2018, category for emerging
Love it or hate it, digital assets are here
Whether you love
to hate it or love to love it, digital assets are not a fad. There are billions
of dollars in digital assets already being moved around the digital universe
every day and the industry is only going to grow, says Nicholas Allen, CEO of
fintech research and development (R&D) house Avantcore, based in Kloof near
financial universe is currently in the process of being established; a paradigm
shift is going on,” he says, referring to the host of fintech exchanges,
platforms and products springing up around the world and turning traditional trading
and transactional models on their heads.
traditional models, there always needs to be a third-party intermediary.
With the emergence of digital assets, value can be transferred between two
individuals, without any intermediary,” says Nicholas. “This is uprooting the
way business is done, not just in banking and financial services but in many
other industries too, because end-users can interact directly with each other.”
is a vast gap between the conventional centralised world and the new
decentralised world of digital ledger technology (DLT) – or blockchain as it is
more commonly known. The niche that Avantcore occupies is right in the middle;
it seeks to build products for businesses to bridge the gap between the two
There is risk in
the DLT space, of course, just as there is risk in the old centralised
financial world, and businesses understandably tend to be both eager to and
apprehensive about crossing the digital divide.
is to get the balance right by staying agile and nimble while keeping control
of processes,” says Nick. “this is why everything we do involves identifying
what possible failure modes there could be, understanding the repercussions and
preventing failure from occurring.”
For example, one
of the products Avantcore has developed for a client is a digital asset
management engine that draws on and analyses massive volumes of data from
multiple sources, checking and double checking its accuracy and reliability.
implements rigorous processes and systems for conceiving the required architecture
and developing and testing DLT solutions and products, including thorough
design processes, structured development models, code reviews and evaluation
This balance between creativity and
innovativeness, on the one hand, and structure on the other, is starting to
resonate with businesses considering taking the next fintech steps. There is
still a long road to travel before this fintech finds general acceptance in
business, Nicholas says, but progress is evident. “We have been pleasantly
surprised to see how large corporations are interested in and working to get
clued up about DLT and the emergence of digital assets as an asset class. They
may not be advertising it but they are interested.”