Accsys, winner of the Management of Innovation Award in the medium enterprise category 

Now, why didn’t I think of that?

Keep your eyes open, try different things and do the research. This in a nutshell is the innovation ethos that has kept software company Accsys on top of its game for 40 years. 

That’s no mean feat considering how many companies birthed in a pre-digital era have quietly faded away as their products or services become obsolete. Think overhead projectors, video cassettes, compact disks, phone books and fax machines – all products that were standard business issue not that long ago. 

Accsys has been a leader in payroll and people management software for so long because it knows very well that having a market edge today does not guarantee you’ll still have one tomorrow. 

“You need to be looking all the time at what you can do differently to keep current. That means being open to new ideas and keeping your eyes open for ways either to serve a need or create a need people didn’t even know they had,” says Teryl Schroenn, director at Accsys. 

Many urban drivers, for example, consider parking ticket machines at office blocks and shopping malls to be a necessary evil. Teryl used to be one of them until a few years ago, when she noticed a sign up for Admyt, a pay-to-park app that gets rid of parking tickets. “Never having to worry about losing a ticket is a key part of my happiness,” she says, adding that there are countless inconvenient aspects of modern life and business just waiting to be transformed in this way. 

Something that Accsys is seriously looking into in the access control part of its business, for instance, is padlocks that can be software-controlled so that companies no longer need to have keys for them. Teryl read about this concept somewhere in her quest for new ideas and then alerted the organisation to start working on it. 

But being constantly on the lookout for new ideas is not just the task of people at the top. “In smaller companies especially, everybody needs to think about what we can do to add to a solution or make it more stable, or to get systems talking to each other better.” 

While innovation is often perceived as developing something completely from scratch, the ability to tweak and tailor something that already exists is a key element of being innovative, says Teryl. 

A good example was how Accsys and one of its partners, ZKTeco, partnered to move their offering from tactile  biometric readers into state-of-the-art thermal detector readers to assist clients in safely managing access to their premises when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.  

Whether an innovation is brand new or an adaptation, it has to be backed by proper research, lots of conversations with clients, and a good, solid business case. “There has to be innovation with stability,” says Teryl. “If you are running a payroll and you can’t trust the results, all the innovation in the world won’t help you.” 

Finally, a company must be willing to invest in innovation, she says. “Good ideas take money to create.” 


Sparks ATM

Spark ATM Systems, winner of the Management of Technology Award in the large enterprise category 

There’s more to Spark’s ATM machines than meets the eye

It’s well known that repeat customers are more profitable than new customers, and that the costs of retaining an existing customer are significantly lower – up to five times, some studies say – than the costs of acquiring a new customer.  

Which means that Spark ATM Systems is on to a very good thing. 

Its business is to deploy, install, support and maintain ATM machines on behalf of banks, for which purpose it signs five-year contracts with host merchants such as retail outlets and petrol stations.  

After five years, the host merchants can decide whether or they want to stick with Spark. By far the majority of them do, according to Russell Berman, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer. 

“We’ve got something like a 92% renewal rate, which is a statistic that we’re very proud of,” he says. “I always say to my team that it’s free business because you’ve got them to come back for a second and in some cases a third term.” 

Russell says this enviable renewal rate is driven by dedicated customer service and the top-notch systems in place at Spark, the wholly owned South African subsidiary of US-based Cardtronics, the world’s largest ATM operator.  

So what does Spark, which has over 4 500 ATMs across South Africa, do so well when it comes to managing technology?  

“We’ve always had a policy of developing our systems in-house rather than buying software off the shelf,” he says. This includes the operating platform on the ATM, which Spark developed in conjunction with its South Korean machine manufacturers, the data monitoring platforms and its own switch.  

“Ordinarily in the payment space, the switch is an off-the-shelf package that comes with significant costs and transaction fees. We’ve run and maintained our own switch since 2013.” 

The benefits of in-house development are substantial. “It allows us to operate at a lower cost per machine and a lower breakeven number of cash withdrawals per month per device,” says Russell. 

While Spark develops its own software, it sources the hardware, the ATM machines, from a South Korean company. Designed to Spark’s specifications, these ATMs have up to now arrived in South Africa fully assembled.  

But change is in the air, says Russell. 

“Importantly, what’s coming up this year is we’re actually going to be assembling our own ATMs in South Africa for the first time. The components are going to arrive from various parts of the world and we’re going to put it together and do a lot of the engineering ourselves at our labs in Paarden Island in Cape Town.” 

Local assembly of ATMs has not been done in South Africa before, Russell says, and will reduce the cost of ownership. Known as the Touchline, the new machine has a 22-inch touch screen, much faster transaction times and a Linux operating system, further reducing costs. “It will be the state-of-the-art device and very quickly become the gold standard in the country.” 

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