Vault Group

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. 

ends 

PRD Logical Solutions

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. 

Ends 

Spark ATM Systems

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 this.

“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 says.

If a company wants to attract and retain self-starting, creative-thinking, problem-solving people it had better have the people management policies to match.

“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 every Wednesday.

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

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

Systems take care of the boring stuff, enabling creativity

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

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.

Accsys

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

How to keep morale up in a lockdown 

Here’s a Covid-19 lockdown feat that’s hard to beat: 101 consecutive days of messages to staff and 175 days of LinkedIn posts. If there was one thing Accsys staff and LinkedIn followers could count on in those most uncertain of times, it was that each new day would bring a message from then Accsys CEO Teryl Schroenn. 

Don’t think for a moment these messages were the product of a team of ghost writers working feverishly behind the scenes to script the daily message. On the contrary, each and every note was personally written by Teryl herself.  

“Communication is a big thing for me,” says Teryl, now a director at Accsys. “With all of us working from home, it was important to keep everyone connected and morale up.” 

Sometimes external events would offer an easy entry into the message of the day to staff, such as the President’s latest speech or the first time she heard the term “new normal” being used; sometimes it would be about what the different teams in Accsys were working on, or nuggets of staff news mixed with business updates; and sometimes the daily post would be inspired by something completely different, such as the fact that the Virginia opossum can produce 16 babies in only 12 days. 

“I tried all sorts of things to keep morale going,” says Teryl.  

It worked, apparently.  

“We all became dependent on that daily email from Teryl,” says Leigh La’Fember, PR and Marketing Manager. “It must have been really difficult to think of something new to say every day, but she did it, and we all felt connected, even though we were all over South Africa.” 

The virtual meetings that Teryl began hosting added to the bonding process. “At the first meeting, about 90 of us dialled in and a lot of us were teary-eyed. It was a very good feeling,” says Leigh, adding that she had started viewing her colleagues, including senior management, differently during lockdown.  “We always saw Teryl as the CEO – our boss – but she became like the head of a home, keeping us together. It calmed me and made me less anxious.” 

While Teryl stopped writing her daily staff messages at the end of July 2020 and her LinkedIn messages in September, the closeness staff felt during those early days of lockdown has not dissipated. “I had a call with the sales team last night, and they say they’ve never been closer,” says Teryl. “That ability for everybody to talk to everybody else has been very positive.” 

It all comes back to communication – 101 staff messages and 175 LinkedIn posts, to be exact.  

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