Cura Risk Management Software, winner of the Sustainability Award
in the small enterprise category
Multiple futures await business in SA
If the path to
success was a straight line, it would be a very crowded path. It isn’t, of
course. There are multiple possible future and multiple paths towards them, and
the steps a company takes now will determine which future it ends up in.
Management Software has already been in business for almost 20 years, which is
an eminently respectable age for an SME in South Africa. It is banking on being
around for a long time to come and with that in mind, is planning for the
futures. (Note to reader: this is not a typo.)
“There is not one
set future but multiple possible futures; that’s very important to grasp,” says
Jessica Knight, head of Strategy. “When you assess multiple possibilities, you
enhance your preparedness for anything that might arise.”
Here are just a
few examples of the different futures that might be awaiting the company. “One
is where we achieve our Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) of establishing a
significant presence on every continent. Another is where we never achieve
that. And another is where we no longer exist.”
possibility is not an option any company wants to imagine (with the exception
of fly-by-nights and other short-termist enterprises). But if you don’t, your
days could be numbered. So while thinking about your organisation’s demise
might not be pleasant, it’s a prospect that can’t be ignored if you still want
to be around in 20, 50 or 100 years.
“We are assessing
all possibilities, doing risk assessments and learning from our clients and
listening to what they want,” says Jessica.
and learnings are constantly fed into Cura’s strategy document, which is a
never-ending work in progress that ensures the business stays true to its
strategic objects and moves ever closer to its BHAGs, while adapting to
whatever curve balls might come its way.
The Covid-19 is a
prime example of such curve balls, of course, providing many useful lessons for
Cura to incorporate into its planning for the futures.
Aizatron, winner of the Sustainability Award in the medium
How humans and robots can co-exist in the 4IR
For anyone worried that robots are
going to take over all our jobs, a conversation with Ansu Sooful is a
reassuring experience. “That’s scare tactics,” is the matter-of-fact attitude
of Ansu, managing director and founder of Aizatron, one of South Africa’s first
purely 4IR companies.
While automating businesses can
reduce dependencies on humans, which can lead to job losses, this is not inevitable,
“Based on the outcomes we have
seen, a completely automated workplace is not desirable from a productivity
perspective. A completely manual environment is also not conducive to business.
The latest research shows that what is the most desirable environment is where humans
and bots work hand in hand together.”
Humans bring a dynamic to the work
environment that bots have not yet been able to emulate, making person and
machine a better combination than one or the other. “Artificial intelligence
should be seen as tools that humans in the business use to do their jobs
better,” Ansu says.
But this vision of
happy co-existence between humans and bots is not going to just fall into
place. It is going to take work and commitment to retrain and reskill human
workers of today to be ready for the jobs of tomorrow, he says. “We must train
the people on the technology and push them up from manual and repetitive tasks
to become more creative and add more value.”
The question is:
will businesses rise to the occasion and do the right thing? Well, Aizatron’s
“We are very
involved in the automation space where we use artificial intelligence and smart
technology to automate business processes. But as social entrepreneurs who want
to use technology to solve society’s problems, we approach this from a holistic
perspective. When we go into an organisation, we don’t just set out to automate
its business processes but also to train up its human resources to be more
creative and function at a higher level.
“This is the
proposal that we always put forward when we look at automation and artificial
intelligence. If the organisation doesn’t want to take our training and won’t
look at upskilling, we generally won’t take the business, unless they explain
what’s going to happen with these employees, such as moving them to other areas
of the businesses where that makes sense.”
So far, Aizatron’s
commitment to automation that does not cost jobs has served it – and its
clients – well. Since opening its doors at the end of 2017, the Cape Town-based
company has grown exponentially, almost doubling its revenues every year and
increasing its own employee numbers from a handful to over 35.
this growth to the company’s conscious choice to use technology to the broader
benefit of South Africans and to anchor its business on its values. “Each of us
needs to centre ourselves around something to be productive and contribute,” he
says. “From a company perspective, we are centred around our values as an
organisation. If something violates our values, we won’t do it. If it supports
our values, we will.”
VNI Consultants, winner of the Management of Systems Award
in the emerging enterprise category
The consulting firm was ahead of its time in anticipating business in a pandemic
In August 2019, about six months before the world changed irrevocably, Pieter du Toit, founder of VNI Consultants, gave a presentation to the tt100 panel of adjudicators. It was titled, “What would you do as an SMME when a pandemic hits?”
His thinking at the time was that if a pandemic struck,
small businesses everywhere would probably need to move everything into the Cloud.
In anticipation of such an event, VNI Consultants had already
become providers of a platform that would ease small businesses’ journey into
That platform, which has since been trademarked as BluAgile™, saw VNI Consultants walking away with the trophy in the Management of Systems category of the awards. It had been a finalist in this category for three consecutive years and this was its first win. But not it is last.
Pieter was back again on 28th October 2020 with a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) solution that was perfect for a pandemic – which by then, as we know, had actually happened.
This new cloud-based solution, named EduNomix™, offers business education on demand,
asynchronously. In other words, there are no teachers or facilitators and the
students engage with the learning material as and when they want to. Fourteen
EduNomix offerings are already up and running, including Would prefer
programmes such as Occurrence Investigation Management (OIM), Applied
Creativity in Business Management, Continuous Change Management, New Venture
Creation and Advertising to replace the ones mentioned here.
EduNomix was an idea whose time had come and which was ready just
when it was needed. VNI Consultants duly walked away with their second trophy
in the Management of Systems category.
There is a strong possibility that this business consulting company is ahead of its time. They certainly know a lot of things that aren’t commonly known. Such as the fact that it was none other than former South African Prime Minister Genl. Jan Christiaan Smuts originally coined the terms “personology” and “holism”.
These are terms that embody VNI Consultants’ view on
systemic thinking, referring as they do to the importance of understanding people
and organisations in terms of the whole person or entity. “The metaphor Smuts
used was that the whole world is working on a tapestry,” says Pieter. “We don’t
know what that picture is like unless we can engage with each other.”
Engagement with flesh-and-blood people in organisations is
fundamental to the way the company works, as are its insights into the ways
people think and therefore do business. VNI Consultants have identified four
main constructs in the way people think, i.e.: structural, process, systemic
and synthesising. “For instance, if I have a preference for analysing things,
and possibly overanalysing things, I start to structure my business to be an
analytical kind of business. That becomes the system,” he says. “But if you can
create a balance among all four constructs of thinking, not just analysis, the
organisation could be a whole lot more sustainable.”
Look out for more on VNL Consultants’ distinctive
approach in the upcoming article on their Director-General’s Award.
Cura Risk Management Software, winner of the Management of
Systems Award in the small enterprise category
Business objectives are the golden thread
Yes, Cura Risk
Management is a software company but when it talks about integrating and
linking systems, it isn’t speaking from a software perspective. It means
business – the governance, risk and compliance (GRC business).
“Our focus is on
making sure that our business objectives link throughout the entire organisation,
and to our vision, mission and overall purpose,” says Jessica Knight, head of
Strategy. “Without that systemic integration, you will have misalignment,
duplicated work effort and inefficiencies. Those are things we try to overcome
by making sure our objectives are the golden thread running through the
Every activity and
function of the company is linked to its objectives, of which it has two types:
strategic objectives and Big Hairy Audacious Goals, or BHAGs.
between them is that strategic objectives are specific, relatively attainable
business goals, which then roll up into BHAGs, which are “slightly
unattainable” so that the company never gets to the point where it has nowhere
to go and nothing to strive for.
“BHAGs keep you
moving forward and can catapult growth into a disruptive space,” says Jessica.
One of its BHAGs, for instance, is to have a significant presence on each
continent across the globe.
This might seem slightly
unattainable for a small South African company but not impossible since Cura,
founded in 2002, is already in Australia, India, Malaysia and the United
States. That means there are only two continents still to go.
The company has
several strategic tools that it uses to maintain that golden thread between
what it does and the business objectives it strives for.
One is a
stakeholder ecosystem analysis, where Cura breaks up its ecosystem into all
stakeholders affecting and affected by its business, now and in the future. It
has 27 to 30 stakeholder relationships and it has linked every one of them to its
business objectives and assigned a level of importance to each stakeholder
“In this way, we
can assess what each stakeholder would like from us now and in the future, and
how we can serve each stakeholder, now and in the future,” says Jessica.
Another key tool for keeping that golden thread
going is Cura’s strategy document, which is constantly being reviewed and
refined, and now runs into over 80 pages. “It never stops,” she says. “We are now
in a very dynamic time and we are a small business but very complex. We need a
detailed, dynamic tool to manage that.”
Aizatron, winner of the Innovation Concepts Award in the medium enterprise category
Let’s face it, crime should not pay
When the City of Cape Town started replacing electricity meters in households in 2020, criminals were quick to spot an opportunity. Posing as employees of the CoCT, opportunists gained access to many residents’ homes and committed a spate of daylight robberies. This is exactly the kind of social problem that artificial intelligence can help solve, says Ansu Sooful, managing director of technology fusion company Aizatron. Not only was Aizatron willing to provide a solution, but it was also willing to do so at no cost to the City.
“At that stage, we were building a facial recognition doorbell and we thought, Let’s make this technology available for free,” says Ansu. Aizatron promptly designed an app that anyone with a smartphone can use. All the authorities had to do was upload the faces of the employees who were officially representing it on the meter replacement drive. Then, when anyone knocked on a resident’s door claiming to be from the CoCT, the resident concerned could open the app, which would then verify whether or not the person was indeed who they said they were. Making smart technology available free of charge in this way fits Aizatron’s profile as social entrepreneurs who use technology to solve societal problems. It is not entirely altruistic, however, says Ansu. “The more faces we have on our system, the better artificial intelligence becomes at identifying people,” he says. “South Africa is an awesome country to build a facial recognition system because we have such a heterogeneous, mixed pot of facial types.” This is in contrast to less-diverse countries such as the United States and China, where facial recognition programs have shown racial bias in their inability to identify black people in particular. South Africa, with its abundant diversity, could potentially be far more effective in making facial recognition technology work. Meanwhile, another solution that Aizatron has developed to combat crime, especially sexual and gender-based violence, is its Awêh Guardian App and Awêh Panic Button. (Note to reader: Awêh is pronounced “aware”.) Community members who download the Guardian app (free from Google Playstore or iOS AppStore) become part of a community-wide network of Guardians willing and able to assist victims of crime within two minutes of an incident. Guardians are alerted to a call for help when a member of the network presses their Awêh Panic Button, a keyring-sized device (for sale from Aizatron) that can be set to send an alert within a radius of between 50 meters and 500 meters. Ansu describes Awêh as a safety system that mobilises entire communities to keep people safe. “When pushed, South Africans stand together,” he says.
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.