Accsys

Winner of the Minister’s Award for Overall Excellence for 2018, category for medium enterprises

Excellence does not necessarily mean perfection

While a thesaurus might throw up synonyms such as “perfection” and “flawlessness” for the word “excellence”, they don’t mean the same thing at all in the book of Teryl Schroenn, CEO of Accsys. The payroll and HR software company won no fewer than six awards in the 2018 tt100 competition, more than any other winner.

“Excellence is not doing everything perfectly; it means being on the right path – for now,” she says, adding that this particular path does not have an end destination. “The biggest mistake, in business or life, is thinking you’ve gotten somewhere.”

In other words, complacency, resting on one’s laurels or taking success for granted are sure-fire ways to lose momentum and become stuck, whether as a person or a business. “You’ve got to keep on asking what’s next and continue re-examining and questioning yourself.”

Teryl and her fellow senior executives at Accsys do this regularly by looking at the company through the eyes of a stranger. “When we walk in the door, we ask ourselves what a stranger would see if they came into our offices.”

This is a useful exercise because a familiar eye, accustomed to the way things are done, tends to overlook things that a stranger might instantly spot.

Another valuable tool for keeping forward momentum in the business is to constantly ask Accsys’s people for feedback and to act upon it. This is something many companies say they do but relatively few embed in their culture, let alone act on – which is why they might see the same issues keep cropping up again and again.

At Accsys, formal and informal feedback mechanisms tend to bring new topics to light, some of them surprising. One of the latest to raise its head is the company’s dress code. “We’ve just done a confidential employee survey and found there are people who are not happy with the dress code; they think it’s too formal,” Teryl says.

While no one felt adamantly enough about the issue to say they strongly disagreed with the dress code, the fact that almost 30% of staff raised it in the survey meant it was important enough for the top management team to take another look at. Teryl says they are looking at ways to “soften” the dress code somewhat without going too far. The company dress code might seem like a fairly minor business problem but that’s actually the point: when you deal with the small issues as and when they arise, they won’t escalate into big, intractable crises. Incremental progress, step by step, is the path of excellence.

Air Blow Fans

Winner of the 2018 Director-General award for Overall Excellence, category for small enterprises

Good, solid engineering and no hot air

A good, solid engineering company with a good, solid name that says exactly what it does, Air Blow Fans might not have the bells and whistles associated with more flamboyant enterprises but then it’s not in the business of producing hot air.

Actually, that’s the last thing its clients would want. Quietly, competently and without fuss or fanfare, Air Blow Fans gets on with the job of repairing, supplying and upgrading the industrial and mining ventilation fans that keep the wheels of industry/and mining turning smoothly and efficiently.

It’s a competitive field, with some major international players targeting Sub-Saharan Africa, yet Air Blow Fans is holding its own on the strength of good, solid, all-round engineering excellence – as the tt100 adjudicators signalled by presenting it with no fewer than five awards in 2018, including the Department of Science and Technology Director-General Award for Overall Excellence.

What this strong showing tells you is that consistency is what has brought Air Blow Fans to this point in its 15-year journey and that consistency is what will continue to drive it for the next 15 years.

“Nothing happens in isolation and there is no one component of business you can focus on to the exclusion of all the other elements. Everything has to tie up. It’s all those interconnected activities that feed into each other so that we can act fast and respond to clients’ unforeseen needs,” says Gavin Ratner, managing Director of Air Blow Fans.

Air blow fans continually put its money where its mouth is by consistently solving problems for clients at risk. This builds confidence in our engineering capabilities and develops a client relationship built on trust and creates loyal clients.

In managing technology and systems, for instance, the company is continually improving its skills and solutions, having invested intensively in engineering software for analysis, design and systems monitoring. It is one of a handful of small South African companies with ISO 9001: 2015 accreditation.

In people management, Air Blow Fans uses professional personality profilers to help it build coherent teams that can capitalise on and complement members’ diverse strengths.

As for sustainability, the company has a history of energy efficiency, a refurbish able product range and a culture of reducing wastage wherever possible.

A lot of effort is placed on engineering new and improved designs to existing product ranges – but more importantly – using technology development to create solutions to problems experienced in our chosen market place.

It all adds up to a good, solid engineering company with no loose ends and a keen appreciation of the close relationship between excellence and consistency.

SVA Innovate

Winner of the Director-General Award for Overall Excellence for 2018, category for emerging enterprises

Get that idea off the drawing board and into action

Some people have brilliant ideas that sadly never come to anything. Others manage to get their ideas off the drawing board but take so long or spend so much to implement them that the market moves on in the meantime. A relatively rare few can translate a great idea into commercially viable reality, and to do so swiftly and inexpensively too.

It’s clear to which category SVA Innovate belongs. Having been instrumental in incubating various patented – and profitable – risk management and asset protection solutions for parent company SVA Holdings, moving ideas off the drawing board and into clients’ businesses is where it excels.

“Our job is to take the ideas and make them happen,” says Lee McFadyen, Group Technology Executive at SVA Innovate, adding that this isn’t quite as simple as it sounds.

“It’s not always easy to interpret the business requirements and come up with a spec. You’ve got to have a very good understanding of the client’s business and technology, and then convert the spec into the kind of technology jargon that young people (the developers) can understand.”

Moving from idea to spec to solution involves much brainstorming and consultation, using a whiteboard approach that explores the problem and its proposed solution from all conceivable angles, from finance to design and testing.

Once a workable specification has emerged, it has handed over to the “whizz kids” whom SVA Innovate handpicked for their technical ingenuity and “out-of-the-box” thinking.

This is how the company has managed to come up with market-disrupting risk management and governance solutions like a retail stocktaking solution that is 99% accurate in predicting stores’ stock levels 24 months in advance.

What’s more, the idea-spec-solution process is constantly in progress, with a steady stream of innovation projects at different stages of incubation and realisation at any given time.

“You won’t find us sitting on our laurels and expecting what we did yesterday to be good enough for today,” says Lee. “We always have at least five products in the pipeline, all with the same ambition: How can we disrupt the market?”

It’s a hard act to follow – just ask the competition

Netstar

Winner of the 2018 award for Innovation Concept, category for large enterprises

Netstar in the driving seat of the Internet of Things when related to GSM connectivity

So you thought Netstar was just a vehicle-tracking company? That’s only half the story. Quietly and without blowing its own horn, the company has reinvented itself as an Internet of Things (IoT) business built for the future when related to GSM connectivity.

Netstar’s IoT platform has opened up a host of new business possibilities that the company is wasting no time in exploring, says Francois Stols, Chief Technology Officer.

Based on open source technology – a departure from Netstar’s traditional closed-source model – the IoT platform is highly scalable, highly redundant and capable of ingesting “massive” amounts of data for Netstar’s customers, according to Francois.

When he says massive amounts of data, he means massive amounts. Between 250 million and 300 million messages a day are streamed via the platform to insurance companies and brokers, as well as Netstar’s own emergency control centre.

These millions of messages originate from over 700 000 Netstar subscribers with devices installed in cars and trucks on South Africa’s roads (and some assets too; horse saddle recovery is another new market where Netstar is leaving its tracks).

All this data has immense value for insurers and companies with large vehicle fleets. “The better they understand driver behaviour, the better they can manage their business costs and risk,” says Francois. “Some of our insurance clients base their entire insurance model on the data we provide.”

The beauty of Netstar’s IoT platform is the flexibility and scalability that Francois mentioned earlier. Insurance players of all sizes use its data-streaming capabilities, from small and advanced brokerages through to large and major insurers.

While the platform is the same for all, the communication medium and technology service is not. Small brokers are serviced through a web portal, mobile app and insurance dashboard, while advanced brokers have additional integration. Large insurers receive their data via the IoT platform from the devices installed in vehicles.

Not content with being one of the first vehicle trackers to make headway with InsureTech, Netstar is lengthening its lead through paperless device fitment, automated capturing for workforce management and the like. It’s also exploring new market possibilities like collision avoidance systems in the mining industry, not to mention the vast potential of India, which has about 400 million vehicles on its roads.

As the saying goes: Success is not a path you find but a trail you blaze.

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