De Beers Group Technology

De Beers Group Technology

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 something tangible.

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 swing.

Air Blow Fans

Air Blow Fans

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 important.

Technology is a big part of this, but so is the human element, says Gavin.

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.

Avantcore (Pty) Ltd

Avantcore (Pty) Ltd

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 enterprises

Love it or hate it, digital assets are here to stay

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 Durban.

“A parallel 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.

“With 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.”

Clearly, there 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 worlds.

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.

“The challenge 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.

Avantcore 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 frameworks. 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.”

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