Spark ATM Systems, winner of the
Management of Sustainability Award in the large enterprise category
sustainability, stick to the basics
business is riding out a storm such as a global pandemic or trying to keep the
lights on when the power is out, the best course of action is to go back to basics.
For Spark ATM Systems, the basics that keep it anchored amid turbulent times are
its underlying mission and values.
“When faced with a situation or event that impacts on the business, we lean into our values – passion, integrity, and excellence – and ask ourselves if our decisions are in line with these,” says Russel Berman, Sales and Marketing Director.
This sustainability strategy has been tested time and time again – and held steady – in the 15-year history of Spark, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of US-based Cardtronics, the world’s largest ATM operator.
Its latest test has, of course, been the
Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on Spark ATM’s operations.
“When the country went into level five lockdown, we embraced the change of working from home and conducted a detailed needs analysis for the whole team,” says Russel. “This analysis considered home office components including a comfortable chair, sufficient screens, internet connectivity, scanner/printers, and even stationery.”
Attending to basic details like these is in sync with the company’s values. An employer with passion, integrity, and an ethos of excellence would hardly sit back with folded arms if its employees lacked comfortable seating arrangements and proper workspaces, even if there was a pandemic in full swing.
No sooner had all those arrangements been made than along came load shedding and Spark went back to basics again, making sure that the work from home arrangements was not affected by power supply issues and provided UPS units for all internet and laptops being used.
“Embracing change and creating value is fundamental to sustainability,” says Russel. “You’ve got to keep reinventing yourself in the face of change.”
As we speak, for example, Spark is preparing to launch the first South African-assembled ATM, the state-of-the-art Touchline, which has a 15-inch touch screen, a Linux operating system, and, most importantly, faster transaction times than the current standard.
Spark ATM remains committed to environmental sustainability with the offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg taking care of plastic, paper, and metal recycling as wells as exploring solar installations to support the power grid.
Nor do its old ATM components end up in landfills. “An initiative that we are particularly excited about involves donating old ATM motherboards to local technology universities and colleges so that students can work on these components to gain experience,” says Russel.
“Creating a sustainable organisation is
critical for the longevity of a company. Being able to rely on a solid set of
values as the foundation of the team is a critical starting point. If these are
in place then going back to basics when needed will be an easy task for a
committed team” says Russel.
Vault Group, winner of the Innovation Concepts Award in the Small Enterprise category
Relief in store for crime-hit courier companies
Courier companies in South Africa have become a soft target for criminals, especially now that online shopping has taken off and there are so many courier vehicles on the roads carrying high-value packages.
But it will soon be a whole lot harder for thieves to carry out heists on couriers. VaultGroup, specialists in secure storage, has come up with a solution to outwit the criminals.
“Courier companies are making massive losses and people are losing faith in the industry. As a consumer, I’ve been thinking, ‘Do I really want a courier van to come into my road?’ We realised that courier companies are suffering so we developed something for them,” says Lance Baum, VaultGroup chief operating officer.
That something is called AutoVault and criminals are not going to like it.
It’s an extremely secure system of lockers that uses geolocation and will only open when the courier driver arrives at the correct delivery address. When the driver is about 100 metres from the place where a particular package has to be delivered, the locker containing it – and only that locker – will unlock.
What’s more, the locking system is remotely programmed and operated for the safety of the driver.
Lance says geolocation-based storage is better suited to the courier industry than time-delay systems, which work in retail but could be detrimental to courier drivers.
“AutoVault is designed to cause as little disruption or inconvenience to the drivers as possible,” says Lance.
On the other hand, it should cause plenty of disruption among criminal elements who, up to now, have had the odds stacked in their favour.
Hopefully, this crafty innovation will bring some relief to the hard-hit courier industry.
PRD Logical Solutions, winner of the Innovation Concepts Award in the Emerging Enterprise category
Dignity for wheelchair-bound people when it is needed most
Approximately 75 million people around the world need a wheelchair on a daily basis, representing about 1% of the world’s population, according to the World Health Organization. Yet even in the high-tech 21st century, some of the most basic needs of wheelchair-bound people have been overlooked, such as being able to go to the toilet without assistance.
Portia Mavhungu, South African social entrepreneur and inventor, is changing that. Her invention, the Para Tube, is a wheelchair device “that helps people maintain dignity when they need it most”.
The Para Tube is a retrofitted wheelchair seat with a hidden toilet beneath it that the occupant of the chair can operate himself or herself without having to be lifted off or out of the seat.
The device includes a biodegradable bag containing a sachet with powder that soaks up the contents, turning into a gel that deodorises the bag, which is sealed until it can be disposed of.
This is a significant improvement on the usual built-in toilet facilities for wheelchair-bound people – typically a commode that also fits under a wheelchair seat but usually requires at least some assistance from a third party.
The Para Tube was inspired by Portia’s own experience of temporary disability a decade ago.
“In 2011, I fell from a three-storey building and broke my pelvis and arm,” says Portia, who vividly remembers the indignity of having to ask her mother or grandmother to lift her out of the wheelchair when she needed to use the toilet.
“I went into a deep depression, even though my disability was temporary. It got me thinking about what people experience when they have a permanent disability.”
Portia came up with the idea for the Para Tube, and then started looking for funding to develop it. She sent an email to all the Cabinet Ministers in government at the time, saying that she was a black African woman wanting to make a contribution to the quality of life of people with disabilities. “I said that if they couldn’t help, I could always go to America,” she recalls.
“Within 24 hours, I received a reply from the Minister of Science and Technology, who suggested I approach the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).”
TIA agreed to provide R1 million in seed funding, along with coaching and mentorship and after that, one thing led to another.
As things stand today, 20 working prototypes of the Para Tube are undergoing clinical trials in South Africa and the patenting process is well in hand. The device has been granted PCT registration in China, South Africa and the United States, and the Austrian Patent Office – the largest in the world – has granted Para Tube novel status, confirming its uniqueness.
Portia and her company, PRD Logical Solutions, have since received no fewer than 24 innovation and entrepreneurship awards for the Para Tube, along with funding from the Industrial Development Corporation, a Presidential mention in 2019 and an honorary ambassadorship to the United Nations. The company is also working with Yale University in the United States on a marketing plan.
Portia is optimistic that the Para Tube could be on sale in South Africa before 2021 is out, helping to bring much-needed independence to wheelchair-bound people across the country.
Spark ATM Systems, winner of the Management of People Award
in the large enterprise category
‘There are no skills shortages for an employer of choice’
South Africa’s talent pool has never been healthier, and
it’s clear that Russel Berman of Spark ATM Systems is not joking when he says
“There are no skills shortages for an employer of choice,”
says Russel, Sales and Marketing Director. “It amazes me the number of times
people who apply say ‘We’ve heard from our friends what a cool place Spark is to
work at’. We have never found it
difficult to find talent.”
This is despite the fact that the payment systems industry
itself is small. “We hire for attitude and train for skill,” he says,
explaining that rather than recruit from just one or two industries, Spark
likes to hire young graduates from a variety of industries. “They bring in
their own ideas and fresh concepts.”
One of the qualities that makes Spark sit up and notice is a
problem-solving mindset. “We look for self-starters who approach a problem with
a solution. The team here know not to say, ‘I’ve got this problem, what should
I do?’ Rather, it’s ‘I’ve encountered this problem and our possible solutions
are x, y or z and I suggest y. Nine times out of 10, they are making the right
call and this way we are encouraging sound decision making habits,” Russel
If a company wants to attract and retain self-starting, creative-thinking,
problem-solving people it had better have the people management policies to
“One area where we are unique is that we pay two bonuses per
year – in December and in the middle of the year, for star performers,” says
Russel. These six-monthly stars are nominated by their managers, reviewed by a
committee and confirmed by Spark’s executive committee.
Other components of the company’s work hard, play hard
approach are gym facilities at both offices (in Cape Town and Johannesburg),
regular wellness events and, pre-pandemic, weekly socials and team breakfasts
With all this, and more, Spark is generally a happy,
productive group of high-performing people. But just as it strives to identify
and reward the top performers, the company knows there will also always be a
small percentage of underperformers.
“We are always looking for the bottom 10% who need to be
process-managed out of the business,” says Russel, referring to the 20-70-10
rule coined by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch.
Good people management is, after all, not only about making
the popular decisions but the hard choices too. That’s what separates a
run-of-the-mill business from an employer of choice.
Accsys, winner of the Management of Systems Award in the medium
Systems take care of the boring stuff, enabling
Never allow a process to happen twice
without a system. Even if the process involves something as apparently simple as
collecting cans for social responsibility purposes, people management software
company Accsys has a system for it.
While this might seem like a lot
of work, it’s more than worth the effort, says Teryl Schroenn, recently retired
director at Accsys and now a business consultant at its holding company,
Transactional Capital Risk Services.
“When you have a system in place
for things, you stop reinventing the wheel every day and you pre-empt unproductive
behaviour that happens when everyone does things differently.”
Human nature being what it is, you
can ask 10 people to give
you the same information and end up with 10 different versions if you
have not explained what is required and preferably designed an input form.
When everyone approaches the task
the same way, you get the results you want – particularly if the system you
have established saves people time and minimises effort.
This is especially true for
day-to-day, repetitive or regular processes, such as applying for leave.
“The average employee in South
Africa applies for leave 8 to 15 times a year,” says Teryl. If done manually, this
can take 10 to 15 minutes every time (and longer if there are errors). On the
other hand, it can take a mere two or three minutes – and eliminate mistakes – if
the company has an automated employee self-service system.
Apart from putting systems in
place and making them easy to use, it is important to make sure those systems
are applied consistently.
An example is the monthly staff
meeting, held on the second Friday of every month. “Come hell or high water, it
will take place,” she says. “People come to rely on consistency and when you
have it, you create a platform for innovation because the day-to-day stuff is taken
care of. Systems give you confidence. They become part of your DNA. And because
the boring stuff is just done, it enables creativity.”
Systems themselves must be
flexible enough to change, and Accsys has a system for that too. Any employee
can recommend a system improvement by registering it on the SharePoint system,
after which it will be checked and approved for use – via a system.
Teryl says its consistent approach
to processes and systems is one of the reasons Accsys keeps performing well.
“We never did anything that probably thousands of companies haven’t done – but
we do what we do consistently.”
Spark ATM Systems, winner of the Management of Systems Award
in the large enterprise category
How to see problems coming before they land
Many companies would pay good
money for the ability to see possible problems coming and deal with them before
they actually become problems. Well, that ability is not as elusive as some
might think. It’s called systemic thinking.
Events – problematic or otherwise
– are hardly ever once-off phenomena. Chances are that an event looming on the
horizon now is not unique at all but has been seen before in some shape or form,
says Russel Berman, Sales and Marketing Director at Spark ATM Systems.
And if you’ve been paying
attention and adopting a systemic approach, you’ll know that the problem or
event is not an isolated one.
“When you see an event, you create
a system to acknowledge, document and formalise it so you can see it coming
again,” says Russel.
Not only that, but you also need a
lookout system. Spark’s lookout system is its executive management committee
(manco), which meets once a week, every week, to review each department’s key
performance indicators (KPIs).
“It’s a great opportunity for a
cross-sectional view of all departments,” Russel says. “Each team leader presents
the KPIs for their department and everybody has the opportunity to comment and
cross-pollinate good ideas.”
Managers don’t just present their
weekly performance statistics; they are also proactive. “It’s a manco mindset
for each manager to come to the meeting with suggestions to do things more
seamlessly and profitably. The idea is to take a view on all your metrics and
turn the dial.”
Far from finding weekly manco
meetings taxing, Spark managers thrive on them, he says. “It’s lovely having
your finger on the pulse of the business. If you only have a review once a
month, you are dealing with historical data but when you meet weekly, you can
see make decisions in real time for example a new high demand area may have
been identified in the country requiring rapid ATM deployment opportunities.
“We make profitability-based decisions through
sharing the full income and expenses of the business with the entire team down
to a very granular level. Each manager shares a “business owner” mindset which
has certainly driven profit based decisions.