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

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

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.” 

What drives technology is time – specifically, not wasting it

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

Meet Teryl Schroenn, Director of payroll and people management software company Accsys and lover of poetry. One of her favourite poems is TS Eliot’s The love song of Alfred Prufrock, he of the immortal line, “I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled …” 

While Prufrock agonises over the passing of time and whether he will have enough of it to finally profess his passion to the subject of his admiration, Teryl and her team at Accsys know how to make the most of time.  

After all, this is what technology is all about: “The concept of not wasting time has driven technology. The human race is an impatient group and our expectations are just exponential,” says Teryl, pointing out that if something takes 10 minutes today, we want it to be five minutes tomorrow and then are extremely unhappy if it takes six. “The constant demand that we humans are not wasting our time has driven technology intensely in the last 12 months.” 

Being in the payroll business, time has always mattered to Accsys. Clients’ employees must receive their salaries on time and to the cent, and there is no tolerance for delays and mistakes. “If you can’t pay your people, you can’t do business,” Teryl says. 

So when the COVID-19 pandemic reached South Africa and the hard lockdown was announced, the pressure was on to ensure clients could continue to pay their people without skipping a beat.  

Accsys sprang into action.  

“In three days, we were able to move from an on-premises businesses to an at-home business in March 2020,” Teryl says. “Fortunately, a lot of our stuff was already in the cloud, so that enabled us to run everything from home, including our outsourcing department, services, sales, training – everything.” 

Even before the hard lockdown started at midnight on 27 March 2020, every one of Accsys’s 100-strong staff was working from home, equipped with computers, connectivity and SIM cards to ensure that clients could pay their people without skipping a beat. 

Then government introduced COVID-19 Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) benefits and the Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme (TERS), followed by a quick succession of changes in regulations to adapt to the unfolding pandemic. “At that point, there was a lot going on and, along with managing the technology, we had to become experts very quickly in the statutory requirements because that’s what our clients expected.” 

Not content with that, Accsys started looking at what else it could do to assist its clients in coping with the fallout from the pandemic from a people management perspective.  

“What we saw immediately was that businesses were going to have to go back to work and their first challenge would be to keep their people healthy.” Realising that its biometric readers for access control could come in handy with this, Accsys worked with one of its partners, ZKTeco, to introduce thermal detector readers to the market.  

“These readers can detect whether someone is wearing a mask and their temperature, and is actually more accurate than those handheld temperature devices,” says Teryl.  

Accsys wrote the code to align with the hardware, and within six weeks, by mid-May 2020, the first installations were done. 

Hand in hand with this, Accsys and ZK hosted weekly webinars to demonstrate live how the software and hardware worked together. Hundreds of people attended. 

“What this experience showed us is how quickly we were able to come to market with a solution as well as advise companies in making people’s workplaces safer.” 

It also shows just how much can be achieved when time is of the essence and it is wisely used. Dream on, Mr Prufrock. 

‘Beautiful’ technological process underpins Cura’s success

Cura Risk Management Software, winner of the Management of Technology Award in the small enterprise category

‘Beautiful’ technological process underpins Cura’s success

Steve Jobs’ aversion to focus groups and surveys was well known but he was probably uniquely gifted in knowing what solutions would work for customers. For the rest of us, the more open we can be to quality input when designing our products, the better.

This doesn’t mean listening to whoever talks the loudest or longest, and of course you need to be able to “filter out the noise” and home in on the things that really matter. The important thing is having the right sounding board and a good roadmap – or three – to take you to where you need to go.

Cura Risk Management Software, winners of five tt100 awards for 2020, including Management of Technology, attributes its success – in the tt100 awards and its business performance – to its three-in-one roadmap and Product Advisory Board.

“We have three individual roadmaps that integrate into an overarching technology roadmap that includes a wide variety of inputs and data gathering, this would be the main differentiator for winning the Management of Technology award,” says Jessica Knight, Head of Strategy at Cura.

Cura, a software company focusing on governance, risk, compliance and risk-based audit solutions, manages technology across two fronts: as a technology solutions provider and as a business that itself consumes technology. “Our roadmap enables us to deliver technology and software platforms to the quality we would like and to align the business with best technology practice,” she says.

The overarching roadmap is an integration of the following three individual roadmaps:

  • Product suite roadmap – focusing on the user experience and guided by global best practice, regulatory requirements and advisory partners;
  • Functionality and platform roadmap – derived from the company’s Product Advisory Board, with input from customers, industry experts, thought leaders, internal innovators and subject matter experts; and
  • Technological roadmap – determined by global technology trends with the objective of maintaining Cura as a technological leader.

“Our solutions are the end result of the three roadmaps, all linked together and informed by the Product Advisory Board and external sources,” says Jessica, adding that Cura is continually making room for new solutions, improving existing solutions and retiring products that are no longer relevant.

“Cura’s model for managing technology is complex, detailed and fully functional,” she concludes. “It’s a beautiful technological process that we get excited about. It’s amazing.”

Cash and paper are a thing of the past for this technology-wise stokvel

BMP Properties, winner of the Management of Technology Award in the emerging enterprise category

Cash and paper are a thing of the past for this technology-wise stokvel

The stokvel industry in South Africa turns over R10 billion a year and almost all of this is paid in cash and recorded on paper, exposing stokvels and their members to all manner of risks. One that has broken the mould is Soweto-based Buhla Mahlo Properties (BMP), which has gone completely cashless and paperless.

“Yes, we are trailblazers in the use of technology in our industry, and introducing a cashless, paperless environment has solved a lot of problems for us,” says Archie Rantao, chairman of BMP Properties (which, as its name suggests, it more than a burial society – but more about that later).

Archie says the standard stokvel model is for members to pay their contributions in cash, often on a Sunday when the banks are closed. “The treasurer has to keep all that money until he can go to the bank on Monday, putting his life at risk.”

But safety is not the only challenge that cash transactions pose for stokvels.

“There also used to be a lot of conflict about members’ payments,” Archie says, explaining that proving who has paid how much and when is crucial for a stokvel.

“We are underwritten by a major insurer. If a member passes and their contributions are more than three months in arrears, the cover will not be paid. Before, members were always suspicious about the record keeping; now we can prove who paid and who didn’t, and there is no more conflict.”

Archie explains how this came about. “Cash puts your life at risk; you can lose it or be robbed. To mitigate the risk, we stopped accepting cash and asked members to deposit their contributions into the bank.

“We then downloaded the banking app to see who has paid and created a computerised spreadsheet to record the transactions. Once a month, the spreadsheet is circulated to all members on WhatsApp for everyone to see.”

Initially, there was some resistance to the new way of doing things. “In the townships, cash is still king,” Archie says. “It took some time to convert our members to cashless and paperless processes, but people see the benefit. It’s more transparent. Trust is key in everything we do in life. Without trust, there is no institution.”

Other benefits are greater efficiency and better client service. “Using technology, you can track and reconcile your earnings and you always know how many clients you have,” he says. “And why put your life at risk or expose people to temptation by working with cash?”

Having successfully introduced cashless, paperless business, BMP Properties is also expanding its scope of activities. It has purchased a stand at Protea Glen in Soweto and is seeking corporate partners either to establish a private school or build student accommodation.

“We decided we wanted to be more than a burial society and also contribute to access to quality education in the townships so that our kids don’t need to travel to the suburbs,” Archie says. “Kids have to wake up as early as 4.30am to get transport and they come home at 6.30pm or 7pm, tired. It’s too much for them. We want to bring services to the townships so that our kids can have a better life.”

Ready to put innovation on the map in Africa?

Ready to put innovation on the map in Africa?

The Innovation League is a study that explores the innovation landscape in South Africa and Africa. It is the only awards programme in the country that focuses on innovation as a strategic capability and has been running since 2015. The Innovation League is executed by Innocentrix in partnership with varies stakeholders, including the prestigious tt100 Business Innovation Awards and Milpark Business School. It celebrates innovation excellence while helping organisations in Africa better understand their innovation maturity. It also provides excellent insights into the African innovation context and supports innovation capability building.

The aim is to help organisations to innovate better and to specifically write up case studies on innovation excellence in Africa. Results are unpacked and the winners recognised at an annual Innovation Conference in collaboration with partners and friends of the Innovation League.  

Based on INSEAD’s Innovation Readiness Model, upon completion of the survey participants will receive a short feedback report at no cost, explaining their innovation maturity score. The report will present a snapshot of your organisation’s innovation strengths and weaknesses, great insights on what your organisation is already doing to be at the leading edge of innovation and a view of what you can improve upon. 

Click to participate in the Innovation League  
The Innovation League Survey takes only 15-20 minutes to complete. It does not ask for detailed information and there are no costs involved! We are looking forward to meeting you at the award ceremony later this year!
 
If you have any questions please contact  Henra Mayer by sending an email or alternatively get hold of Zander Powell by clicking here. The competition closes on 15 October 2019.  

Thank you for your participation and good luck!  

Kind regards,


Henra Mayer                                     
CEO Innocentrix                                

Accsys Winner of the Excellence in the Management of People award for 2017

Winner of the Excellence in the Management of People award for 2017, category for Medium Enterprises

People management: no end in sight

Never be lulled into thinking that your people management practices are as good as they can get. No matter how well they have worked up to now, and how hard you have worked at them, something will invariably come along and upset the apple cart.

“There is never a situation where we can say we’ve arrived. There is always something that needs fixing. People management is about constant fixing,” says Teryl Schroenn, CEO of Accsys, payroll and people management specialists.

Accsys won its first tt100 award for excellence in people management in 2007 and has since won the title several more times, including in 2016 and 2017.

Part of its strength is understanding that excellent people management is a constantly moving target.

Accsys experienced this for itself in late 2017 when Transaction Capital acquired the company from BCX and Telkom, says Teryl. “This caused huge upheaval and a lot of uncertainty among our staff.”

Communication was both the solution and the problem. “No matter how well you communicate, if people have their own particular viewpoint, they do not hear you,” she says.

“This was a huge learning curve for us. We found that doing all the correct things wasn’t enough. We have had to dive deep to make sure we are all on the same page and that the same message filters down and all the way through.”

One change introduced with this in mind is to require every manager to hold formal one-on-one meetings with everyone reporting to them, once a month.

“One-on-ones are critical if you really want to talk to people,” says Teryl. “The moment you lose the connection, they feel disconnected. The employee surveys we have done show that more than anything, people want to be appreciated and seen to be an important part of the company’s success.”

Another recent change has been the up and coming introduction of “Let’s talk” sessions, linked to a revitalised suggestion box system. “People put their suggestions – which can be anonymous – into the suggestion box and then we will sit down and discuss them at a Let’s talk meeting.”

Teryl emphasises that good people management is “about reacting to change as well as being proactive. You have to do both. And you have to be ruthlessly honest with yourself when things are not going well and accept that things do not always go the way you had planned. Then you’ve got to address the issues and fix them.”

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