D22 IT Solutions, winner of the Management of Innovation
Award in the emerging enterprise category
Above all else, keep it simple
Doing maintenance is a lot like
paying for insurance: their value only becomes clear when something breaks.
With government service delivery infrastructure crumbling after years of
neglect, South Africans are starting to develop a healthy respect for the
virtues of good maintenance.
One company that probably saw it coming is D22 IT Solutions. After all, its business is creating dashboards that, among other things, enable clients to see at a glance what predictive maintenance they need to be doing.
“A simple thing like maintenance can save you a lot of money in the long run,” says Delesh Kanjee, CEO of D22, which is based in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, and first opened its doors 17 years ago. It has an extremely loyal client base, consisting of mines, farms, and factories that run machines with lots of moving parts that can break down at the drop of a hat if you don’t keep a very close eye on them.
“Some of our clients have been
with us for 11 years, 15 years … I am very proud of that,” says Delesh, who believes
the secret of D22’s success in innovation is simplicity.
“People like to overcomplicate
things,” he says. “We like things to look very simple, but with deep technical
In other words, what the end-user
sees is on the screen are colourful, easy-to-read graphs that tell them what
moving part is next for maintenance or, in the case of clients with other
priorities, such as eliminating wastage or cutting energy costs, where the
Behind those simple graphs is an intricate web of sensors, software, and data readers that are incessantly busy with the calculations and computations needed to translate complex live data into sensible indicators for good decision-making.
Simplicity also runs through D22’s
own business model. It has learnt, for example, to break large, long-term
projects into smaller, bite-sized pieces with tangible goals. These tend to be
more palatable to clients than big, open-ended projects, Delesh says.
“We also underpromise and
overdeliver, use the ABC principle to prioritise and aim to make money on an
ongoing basis to keep our cash flow consistent.”
Ventso Group, winner of the Management of People Award in
the emerging enterprise category
Let your people do the talking
One day, when Ventso Group is a
household name, it will still be doing at least some of the things that its
employees like so much about it today.
“It’s the culture,” says Nomtha
Gobe, CEO of this fledgling corporate identity and branding company. “It’s a
warm environment and we’re very close knit. The word ‘home’ comes to mind but I
don’t want to create the idea that it’s just this comfortable space.”
She pauses, then makes up her
“Okay, I’m going to go ahead and
say home. It’s a family culture. There’s the brother you always fight with and
love, and the annoying cousin who always calls you out on your outfit so that
you always make an extra effort to look good… It’s the kind of place where
you get support if you need it, or a push if you need it.”
One of the people management
practices that make Pretoria-based Ventso Group feel like family is its caring leadership
“Zwanga is the kind of leader who
knows what’s going on with his people. If he sees you’re not smiling like you
normally do, he will check,” Nomtha says, referring to Zwanga Mabaya, a BCom
law student who co-founded Ventso with Luther Mochabe in 2013, when they were
both 20 years old and had barely enough money to register the company.
“We all check on each other,” says
Zwanga, popping into the conversation briefly before deferring to Nomtha again.
“I prefer Nomtha to talk,” he says. “I don’t want to blow my own trumpet and
she says it better anyway.”
Nomtha continues talking about
what makes Ventso so special in her eyes. “We’re a company of young people –
that’s number one – and we have always felt that we can’t move without people,
which is why we are always checking in with each other. Everybody’s wellbeing
is really important.”
This checking in goes beyond
ordinary, day-to-day “how are you doing?” conversations and includes weekly
check-in meetings, a formal company meeting once a month and, last but most
definitely not least, the annual teambuilding retreat.
Every year (except for 2021 when
Covid-19 got in the way), Ventso takes off for a camping weekend. “We go all
out – we glamp,” says Nomtha. “From the Thursday to Sunday, we go to another
province for team-building and self-building activities to connect as a team
and understand each other better.”
This annual retreat is definitely a tradition that Ventso plans to keep no matter how large it becomes, says Nomtha. And it has big plans; very big plans.
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.”
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.”
Accsys, winner of the Management of Technology Award in the medium enterprise category
What drives technology is time – specifically, not wasting it
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 J 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.
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, 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.”