TIPS™ really works for multiple tt100 award-winner
After winning four tt100 awards and two finalist positions, you’d think that PFK Electronics would be patting itself on the back and basking in the glory of being one of the biggest winners yet in the tt100 Business Innovation Awards Programme.
Far from it. “Winning doesn’t mean you’ve made it. Winning means you are aware of your weaknesses and where you can improve,” says Alan Sullivan, chief technical officer of the multiple-award-winning Durban-based company.
This is not false modesty. As Alan points out, PFK Electronics is one of a handful of South African auto electronics manufacturers left, and upping its game constantly is a matter of sheer survival.
“Our market is international and it is becoming more and more difficult to keep competitors from the East at bay,” he says, adding that Indian and Chinese companies especially have the advantage of significant R&D support from their governments. “If the South African government only understood how thin our engineering industry is…”
PFK Electronics is definitely not waiting for government to come to the industry’s rescue. “We have the benefit of 40 years of R&D investment behind us and we are continually evolving, continually looking at ourselves to see where we are and where we can get better. In this business, if you’re going to say, ‘I’m a fat cat now, I can relax’, you’re lost.”
Put another away, “If you do not change, you can become extinct.” These famous words are from one of Alan’s favourite books, Who moved my cheese?, by best-selling author Dr Spencer Johnson.
Staying on its toes is part of the PFK Electronics ethos, and an important part of that in the past 10 years has been to embed the tt100 TIPS framework into the business.
Says Alan: “TIPS™ is not some fancy idea that is all theoretical. If you are aware of what it means and how it all fits together, TIPS makes it so much easier to understand the connection between technology, innovation and the human factor, and to bring it all together.”
Look no further than the *four tt100 awards that PFK Electronics walked off with in November 2017 in the category for large enterprises. It’s a hard act to follow, but then following isn’t how winners are made.
*MTN Award for Excellence in Innovation, Eskom Award for Excellence in the Management of Systems, Blank Canvas International Award for Sustainability and, last but not least, the Department of Science and Technology Minister Award for Overall Excellence.
Winner of the Management of People award for 2017, category for emerging enterprises
How to compete for talent with the big boys
When competing for talent against the likes of Amazon and Google, cool office furniture, refreshments on tap and PlayStation can only take you so far. You can’t afford to pay the salaries and benefits that the tech giants can, so you’ve got to come up with something that they can’t – or won’t – offer.
How about letting your own people take all the credit for the solutions they invent while working for your company, and even putting their names on the patents? Yes, indeed. That’s probably unheard of in Silicon Valley, not to mention corporate South Africa, where licences, royalties and patents make big money for the companies that own them.
But then again, ThisIsMe is an emerging enterprise that hasn’t got where it is by doing what everyone else does.
“We are not a corporate machine, although most of our clients are corporates. There’s not much of a hierarchy here and if you have something to say, you put up your hand and say it. The opinions of senior management are expressed alongside those of the most junior staff members,” says David Thomas, managing director and one of the company’s founders.
He describes the culture of ThisIsMe, which specialises in digital identity verification and has about 100 clients, as innovative and intellectually collaborative. “It’s important to have a set of clear and understandable goals, focused around your client’s requirements, and then to give your staff free rein to get it done. Junior staff are part of the decisions and can see their work become legitimate products.”
Products that are the brainchildren of its own staff, most of whom are in their twenties, include a mobile verification solution, a breach-tracking solution that can test whether an email address has been compromised, and a soon-to-be-launched product that protects against identity theft.
“As an agile business, we can make a decision on a product, develop it and roll it out in two or three months. Corporates take at least a year,” says David, adding that ThisIsMe has two current patents and a third pending, with staff members as the inventors, not the company.
Another key element of its people management philosophy is to hire people “who are more intelligent and more capable than us”, says David, “us” being the management team. “There’s no point in hiring someone you think you are better than. We believe it’s crucial to utilise the people you employ and to judge people by their actions and nothing else.”
Passion4Performance: Winner of the Department of Science and Technology Director-General’s Award for Overall Excellence, category for emerging enterprises
Qualified by experience: it’s how you use knowledge that counts
Most qualifications take years to complete. However, if what you already know – and can actually do with that knowledge – is taken into account, your completion time could be compressed into a matter of months, weeks or even days. This is the beauty of recognition of prior learning (RPL), the key to which is credible, meticulous and instant assessment, says Darryn van den Berg, founder and Visionary MD of Passion4Performance.
Done properly, RPL can save employers substantial amounts of time and money on unnecessary classroom-based training, while giving employees the recognition they deserve for their skills and experience.
“In 2017, one of our clients had 40 human resources managers who were doing a diploma training course that would usually take two years. With RPL, the average completion time was three months but quite a few of the learners completed the course in three weeks and one lady did it in three days!” says Darryn.
Learning by doing
“80% of learning takes place in the workplace,” he says. “People learn by doing. You might learn the basic rules in the classroom but learning to apply them in the workplace is what matters. When you go for training, you might already know a lot of the content and as such only need one or two training modules to wrap up your qualification.”
This is where Passion4Performance (P4P) comes in. “Knowledge is good, but a knowledge test does not show what the learner is capable of doing in a real-life scenario. So, instead of writing a test, learners go back to the workplace, apply the skills acquired and are assessed in a live environment.”
In a nutshell, P4P’s online assessment process works by connecting technology, innovation and people, as follows:
- The learner undergoes training (which has nothing to do with P4P, as the company works only with assessment, not with learning content).
- Back in the workplace, the learner creates evidence (eg a 20-minute video clip) of him or herself applying the skill covered in the training.
- The learner uploads the evidence into P4P (the online interface), which immediately alerts the training provider’s assessor.
- The assessor then accesses the evidence and conducts the assessment, using specified criteria in an online checklist and posting the results into P4P for tracking and reporting purposes.
The assessment process – which is entirely online – continues until the learner is considered to have closed any learning gaps and successfully acquired all the necessary skills.
“Everything happens immediately,” says Darryn. “The assessor is notified as soon as anything has been done by the learner, and vice-versa, again saving time and costs. P4P enables the assessment process and is therefore relevant to any sector and for any content – as long as there are assessment criteria.”
The meaning of excellence
Asked what excellence means to P4P, he says: “Excellence is a quality which consistently surpasses ordinary or minimum set standards. We make the impossible more possible.”
Make no mistake: What P4P does is significantly more challenging to do than through traditional training methods (and yet is proving to be far more valuable to business, says Darryn). Which explains why the company is one of a handful in the world with the capability to do digital, skills-based assessment as opposed to the usual paper-based or knowledge test-based assessment standard.
“Our approach to excellence is to understand the current standards, using legislation, current practices, policies and company data. We then distil the noise of too much writing into focused themes. Next, we engage with our user to prioritise the themes and agree on the pressing builds that will enable excellence. We then build and test and test and test – and then we excel!”
The tt100 adjudicators thought so too.
Brucol Global Development (Pty) Ltd
Winner of the Management of Technology award for 2017, category for emerging enterprises
Organic growth is best, whether for veggies or business
Many an emerging enterprise has come unstuck by biting off more than it can chew or, alternatively, skipping crucial growth steps. Bruce Diale, chief executive of Polokwane-based agricultural services company Brucol Global Development, has no intention of going down that route.
“When it comes to managing technology, something we do well is to have distinct timeframes for moving forward with the business,” says Bruce, a qualified soil scientist-turned-entrepreneur. “We operate on strict timescales and our technology process is based on what stage we are at in our markets.”
In its first four years, for instance, Brucol’s focus has been on marketing its water-efficient tower-garden technology, GardenIzly, in rural communities. “Our technology uses a minimal amount of water for growing vegetables, so we have been supplying to rural schools, farmers and households because they do not have easy access to water.”
Since water efficiency and food security are this market’s priorities, Brucol has been concentrating mainly on the basics: delivering and setting up the product so that the recipients can start growing their own vegetables without delay. “There is no need for nice packaging; our market just wants us to deliver.”
Urban markets will have different priorities altogether, Bruce says. They will want attractive packaging, digital material, online purchasing facilities and courier delivery, among other things.
“We have already secured funding from Discovery to develop an interactive website to grow our concept to the next level, the urban market. But we will only take that next step into the urban market when the business is ready. When it is, we will hit the button.”
Brucol’s plans to move into the urban market will mean moving the company out of the emerging enterprise bracket and into a new stage of business development. That will inevitably mean upscaling its manufacturing process.
“As an emerging company, we found partners to manufacture our product for us, using our own mould and according to our specifications,” says Bruce. “As we grow, we will look at doing the manufacturing ourselves and, later, adding recycling to that as well.”
This is what managing technology is all about: handling first things first, but thinking ahead and preparing for the next steps so that when the time is right, it’s all systems go. We look forward to seeing GardenIzly making the rural-urban leap.
Curiosita is one of the Da Vinci principles referring to “an insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.” (Gelb, 1998)
The Curiosita Forum is a monthly colloquium for contemporary thinking on the Management of Technology, Innovation and People in a systemic context, hosted by Faculty of The Da Vinci Institute. The forum takes the format of a vibrant round-table discussion that consists of two parts. Firstly, a student speaker presents their research to those in attendance, with the aim of receiving input on their research methodology. Then a guest speaker from industry presents a discussion focussing on TIPS.
Mr Oupa February Mopaki, Chief Executive Officer at Media, Information and Communication Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority (MICT SETA).
Title of Thesis: “A Framework for Organisational Performance Measurement and Evaluation in the Public Sector.”
Mrs Teryl Schroenn, Chief Executive Officer at Accsys (Pty) Ltd.
Title of Topic: “Management of People.”
Teryl Schroenn was appointed as Chief Executive Officer of Accsys (Pty) Ltd. in 2002. She has spent her whole career in the IT field, starting as a programmer at NCR, moving into Business Analysis, sales and marketing, then general management.
She was selected as the Corporate winner of the BWA’s Gauteng Regional Business Woman of the Year in 2006. She is committed to mentoring other women and is actively involved in internal and external mentorship programs, heading up the BWA mentoring committee for 2 years. Accsys has won a number of awards under her leadership, including the 2017 Top Technology 100 Awards for Excellence in the Management of People for a medium enterprise. She speaks regularly at local and international conferences and writes extensively on business and women’s issues.
VENUE: DaVinci Hotel and Suites on Nelson Mandela Square
DATE: Tuesday 24 April 2018
TIME: 15:00 for 15:30 – 17:30
Click to RSVP
Brucol Global Development (Pty) Ltd
Winner of the Management of Innovation award for 2017, category for emerging enterprises
Why this proudly South African tower garden is so unique
Tower gardens for herbs and vegetables are growing in popularity among residents of high-rise buildings in the capital cities of the world, but they can be just as useful in rural South Africa with its wide-open spaces.
“Most tower gardens are for urban farming. Ours was designed for rural areas where people do not readily have access to water; it uses a minimal amount of water,” says Bruce Diale, chief executive of Brucol and co-brainchild of GardenIzly, a uniquely South African tower for growing vegetables.
The fact that GardenIzly was initially developed for dry, rural conditions doesn’t mean it isn’t just as effective in cities and towns. Bearing in mind the water crisis in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and elsewhere, this water-efficient innovation could be just up the street of urban dwellers too, and Brucol is already planning to branch out from rural to urban areas.
The company’s cone-shaped garden tower, which has been fully patented, was the brainchild of father-and-son team Dr Nkgodi Diale and Bruce.
“The concept started when I was still at school,” says Bruce, himself a qualified soil scientist. “My dad, who has a PhD in development studies focusing on agriculture, came home one day and said he wanted to build something that people can plant in. He started with a tyre.”
After much experimentation, trial and error, GardenIzly started to take shape. “Product development in an emerging enterprise is based on errors and complaints. We use feedback to improve the product,” Bruce says.
His own contribution has included advising on and sourcing specialised potting soil for use with GardenIzly, and putting in place the business, sales and marketing systems that this water-friendly product needs to make a splash.
“I set up the systems to see what the market needs,” Bruce says, adding that the value of efficient, effective systems cannot be overemphasised – especially in an emerging innovation company.
“When you are an emerging innovator, it is very important to have capabilities in terms of the business aspects. You need the business skills to determine who you are going to sell to and how, otherwise your innovation will become a white elephant.”
It seems unlikely this will be the fate of GardenIzly, which is already in demand among provincial agricultural departments and corporates with corporate social responsibility programmes. The product is also standing out by winning prizes in business innovation competitions such as the Engen Pitch & Polish and, of course, tt100.
The only way to go is up.