Winner of the Minister’s Award for Overall Excellence for 2018, category for large enterprises
Big can be
swift and agile
Conventional wisdom has it that large companies lack
agility. Well, Netstar obviously didn’t receive that particular memo.
Adept at adapting, the company has embraced the Internet of
Things (IoT) with an alacrity that would give even some start-ups a run for
their money. Starting from scratch, it took Netstar less than 36 months – from
incubation and testing to full production – to commercially launch its InsureTech
platform, making it one of the first vehicle-tracking companies to do so.
This shift necessitated some major changes, including Netstar’s
decision to base its InsureTech platform on open source technology. Since open
source is to the internet what water is to fish, this has opened up a vast new
vista of new business and market possibilities, including horse saddle and
bicycle recovery, not to mention collision avoidance in the mining industry. As
the Netstar website puts it: “No IoT solution is out of our reach.”
While the company manages to make adapting to change look
easy, a massive amount of research and development goes on behind the scenes to
smooth the way. Netstar’s annual turnover is about ZAR 1,2 billion and its
R&D budget is 3.6% of that, representing a money-where-its-mouth-is
investment that few other South African companies match.
That R&D investment goes hand in hand with a generous
training budget and bursary scheme, ensuring that Netstar has the skills to oil
the wheels of change. This includes a growing focus on developing skills for
the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), including artificial intelligence and
“The world of work is changing and we, as a partner of the automotive industry, must be at the forefront,” says Pamela Xaba, Head of Human Capital. “We are also focusing strongly on developing future leaders who can think out of the box and have a global mindset because we don’t just operate in a South African context.”
This is a reference to Netstar’s operations in Australia and
its recent expansion into India, which is on track to become the world’s
third-largest passenger vehicle market by 2021, presenting massive
opportunities for service providers that think big and strike while the iron is
hot. Big business can be swift and agile.
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
This is a useful exercise because a familiar eye, accustomed
to the way things are done, tends to overlook things that a stranger might
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.
Winner of the 2018 Director-General award for Overall Excellence, category for small enterprises
Good, solid engineering and no hot air
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
management, Air Blow Fans uses professional personality profilers to help it
build coherent teams that can capitalise on and complement members’ diverse
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.
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
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
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
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.