Accsys

Winner of the Minister’s Award for Overall Excellence for 2018, category for medium enterprises

Excellence does not necessarily mean perfection

While a thesaurus might throw up synonyms such as “perfection” and “flawlessness” for the word “excellence”, they don’t mean the same thing at all in the book of Teryl Schroenn, CEO of Accsys. The payroll and HR software company won no fewer than six awards in the 2018 tt100 competition, more than any other winner.

“Excellence is not doing everything perfectly; it means being on the right path – for now,” she says, adding that this particular path does not have an end destination. “The biggest mistake, in business or life, is thinking you’ve gotten somewhere.”

In other words, complacency, resting on one’s laurels or taking success for granted are sure-fire ways to lose momentum and become stuck, whether as a person or a business. “You’ve got to keep on asking what’s next and continue re-examining and questioning yourself.”

Teryl and her fellow senior executives at Accsys do this regularly by looking at the company through the eyes of a stranger. “When we walk in the door, we ask ourselves what a stranger would see if they came into our offices.”

This is a useful exercise because a familiar eye, accustomed to the way things are done, tends to overlook things that a stranger might instantly spot.

Another valuable tool for keeping forward momentum in the business is to constantly ask Accsys’s people for feedback and to act upon it. This is something many companies say they do but relatively few embed in their culture, let alone act on – which is why they might see the same issues keep cropping up again and again.

At Accsys, formal and informal feedback mechanisms tend to bring new topics to light, some of them surprising. One of the latest to raise its head is the company’s dress code. “We’ve just done a confidential employee survey and found there are people who are not happy with the dress code; they think it’s too formal,” Teryl says.

While no one felt adamantly enough about the issue to say they strongly disagreed with the dress code, the fact that almost 30% of staff raised it in the survey meant it was important enough for the top management team to take another look at. Teryl says they are looking at ways to “soften” the dress code somewhat without going too far. The company dress code might seem like a fairly minor business problem but that’s actually the point: when you deal with the small issues as and when they arise, they won’t escalate into big, intractable crises. Incremental progress, step by step, is the path of excellence.

Air Blow Fans

Winner of the 2018 Director-General award for Overall Excellence, category for small enterprises

Good, solid engineering and no hot air

A good, solid engineering company with a good, solid name that says exactly what it does, Air Blow Fans might not have the bells and whistles associated with more flamboyant enterprises but then it’s not in the business of producing hot air.

Actually, that’s the last thing its clients would want. Quietly, competently and without fuss or fanfare, Air Blow Fans gets on with the job of repairing, supplying and upgrading the industrial and mining ventilation fans that keep the wheels of industry/and mining turning smoothly and efficiently.

It’s a competitive field, with some major international players targeting Sub-Saharan Africa, yet Air Blow Fans is holding its own on the strength of good, solid, all-round engineering excellence – as the tt100 adjudicators signalled by presenting it with no fewer than five awards in 2018, including the Department of Science and Technology Director-General Award for Overall Excellence.

What this strong showing tells you is that consistency is what has brought Air Blow Fans to this point in its 15-year journey and that consistency is what will continue to drive it for the next 15 years.

“Nothing happens in isolation and there is no one component of business you can focus on to the exclusion of all the other elements. Everything has to tie up. It’s all those interconnected activities that feed into each other so that we can act fast and respond to clients’ unforeseen needs,” says Gavin Ratner, managing Director of Air Blow Fans.

Air blow fans continually put its money where its mouth is by consistently solving problems for clients at risk. This builds confidence in our engineering capabilities and develops a client relationship built on trust and creates loyal clients.

In managing technology and systems, for instance, the company is continually improving its skills and solutions, having invested intensively in engineering software for analysis, design and systems monitoring. It is one of a handful of small South African companies with ISO 9001: 2015 accreditation.

In people management, Air Blow Fans uses professional personality profilers to help it build coherent teams that can capitalise on and complement members’ diverse strengths.

As for sustainability, the company has a history of energy efficiency, a refurbish able product range and a culture of reducing wastage wherever possible.

A lot of effort is placed on engineering new and improved designs to existing product ranges – but more importantly – using technology development to create solutions to problems experienced in our chosen market place.

It all adds up to a good, solid engineering company with no loose ends and a keen appreciation of the close relationship between excellence and consistency.

SVA Innovate

Winner of the Director-General Award for Overall Excellence for 2018, category for emerging enterprises

Get that idea off the drawing board and into action

Some people have brilliant ideas that sadly never come to anything. Others manage to get their ideas off the drawing board but take so long or spend so much to implement them that the market moves on in the meantime. A relatively rare few can translate a great idea into commercially viable reality, and to do so swiftly and inexpensively too.

It’s clear to which category SVA Innovate belongs. Having been instrumental in incubating various patented – and profitable – risk management and asset protection solutions for parent company SVA Holdings, moving ideas off the drawing board and into clients’ businesses is where it excels.

“Our job is to take the ideas and make them happen,” says Lee McFadyen, Group Technology Executive at SVA Innovate, adding that this isn’t quite as simple as it sounds.

“It’s not always easy to interpret the business requirements and come up with a spec. You’ve got to have a very good understanding of the client’s business and technology, and then convert the spec into the kind of technology jargon that young people (the developers) can understand.”

Moving from idea to spec to solution involves much brainstorming and consultation, using a whiteboard approach that explores the problem and its proposed solution from all conceivable angles, from finance to design and testing.

Once a workable specification has emerged, it has handed over to the “whizz kids” whom SVA Innovate handpicked for their technical ingenuity and “out-of-the-box” thinking.

This is how the company has managed to come up with market-disrupting risk management and governance solutions like a retail stocktaking solution that is 99% accurate in predicting stores’ stock levels 24 months in advance.

What’s more, the idea-spec-solution process is constantly in progress, with a steady stream of innovation projects at different stages of incubation and realisation at any given time.

“You won’t find us sitting on our laurels and expecting what we did yesterday to be good enough for today,” says Lee. “We always have at least five products in the pipeline, all with the same ambition: How can we disrupt the market?”

It’s a hard act to follow – just ask the competition

Netstar

Winner of the 2018 award for Innovation Concept, category for large enterprises

Netstar in the driving seat of the Internet of Things when related to GSM connectivity

So you thought Netstar was just a vehicle-tracking company? That’s only half the story. Quietly and without blowing its own horn, the company has reinvented itself as an Internet of Things (IoT) business built for the future when related to GSM connectivity.

Netstar’s IoT platform has opened up a host of new business possibilities that the company is wasting no time in exploring, says Francois Stols, Chief Technology Officer.

Based on open source technology – a departure from Netstar’s traditional closed-source model – the IoT platform is highly scalable, highly redundant and capable of ingesting “massive” amounts of data for Netstar’s customers, according to Francois.

When he says massive amounts of data, he means massive amounts. Between 250 million and 300 million messages a day are streamed via the platform to insurance companies and brokers, as well as Netstar’s own emergency control centre.

These millions of messages originate from over 700 000 Netstar subscribers with devices installed in cars and trucks on South Africa’s roads (and some assets too; horse saddle recovery is another new market where Netstar is leaving its tracks).

All this data has immense value for insurers and companies with large vehicle fleets. “The better they understand driver behaviour, the better they can manage their business costs and risk,” says Francois. “Some of our insurance clients base their entire insurance model on the data we provide.”

The beauty of Netstar’s IoT platform is the flexibility and scalability that Francois mentioned earlier. Insurance players of all sizes use its data-streaming capabilities, from small and advanced brokerages through to large and major insurers.

While the platform is the same for all, the communication medium and technology service is not. Small brokers are serviced through a web portal, mobile app and insurance dashboard, while advanced brokers have additional integration. Large insurers receive their data via the IoT platform from the devices installed in vehicles.

Not content with being one of the first vehicle trackers to make headway with InsureTech, Netstar is lengthening its lead through paperless device fitment, automated capturing for workforce management and the like. It’s also exploring new market possibilities like collision avoidance systems in the mining industry, not to mention the vast potential of India, which has about 400 million vehicles on its roads.

As the saying goes: Success is not a path you find but a trail you blaze.

iPulse Systems

Winner of the Innovation Concept award for 2018, category for small enterprises

Biometrics that’s user-friendly yet a state of the art

Picture the scene: You’re at the airport waiting to board an overseas flight when a frantic call comes in from the office. The server you run for your biggest and most important client needs urgent attention but the only people who have access to the server room, yourself included, are out of the office. Your customer service team is panicking.

You whip out your laptop and, right there in the airport coffee shop, grant your trouble-shooters one-time, time-limited access to the server room. Emergency defused, you head for the boarding gate.

“As long as you have an internet connection, you can manage your access control from an airport coffee shop, a hotel room, your home – from anywhere in the world,” says Francois van Loggerenberg, Lead Developer and Project Manager at iPulse Systems, designers and makers of biometrics systems.  

“Our systems give clients the most granular level of control,” he says. “You can decide exactly who, when, where, for how long and for what reason a person should have access to a particular space. If someone who does not have authority attempts to enter that area, the system will deny them access and report the attempt.”

While protecting clients from intrusions, the systems also protect the privacy of the people whose fingerprints it records. “People rightly want the assurance that their fingerprint is protected and won’t be shared with someone else,” says Francois. “So we do not store the image of the fingerprint and only extract the identifying data.”

iPulse’s systems are of course smart enough to verify that the fingerprint matches the person’s identity, using an encrypted connection and application programming interfaces (APIs) to request validation from either their own product, BIOVAULT, or from Home Affairs for high level security requirements.

State of the art all this certainly is, but it’s also extremely user-friendly, Francois says. “Users are mostly receptionists and security officers with little software experience, so we have cut down on the processes that can cause complications and taken the user experience to the simplest level.”

For example, the fingerprint imaging device automatically interacts with the user to get the best possible image, guarding against blurry images and smudged fingerprints.

It’s clear as day why this small South African enterprise has succeeded in stamping its name so firmly on the fiercely competitive biometrics market. It’s going places where others can’t.

MobeeWash

Winner of the Innovation Concept award for 2018, category for emerging enterprises

Maybee what SA needs are more ideas like MobeeWash

Talk about an incredible business and job creation opportunity, and little or no competition to worry about. There are 14 million passenger cars and light commercial vehicles in South Africa’s 10 major cities, a serious shortage of professional car-cleaning garages and an abundance of unemployed or unemployable people who could be trained in “detailing” (the proper term to describe top-notch car cleaners).

It’s a market just begging to be disrupted and that’s what MobeeWash has in mind.

“Instead of queueing to have your car washed, you book a time via the MobeeWash app and either arrive and find us waiting for you, or we come to you. I’m still tickled pink when my doorbell rings and its MobeeWash,” says Sean O’Connell, founder of MobeeWash and group CEO of its parent company, Bumblebee Consulting.

Other vehicle owners like to drop off their cars while they go to the gym or a quick meeting, knowing that their pride and joy will be gleaming and spotless within an hour. (Note that only waterless, eco-friendly products and steam are used, so there’s no water wasted or messy runoff.)

It has taken MobeeWash less than two years to attract 5 000 users in Cape Town, and now to enter the Gauteng market, Roodepoort having recently become the first city in the province to have a MobeeWash operator.

The part that probably makes Sean and his business partners proudest is that so far, MobeeWash has created jobs for 60 people who were unemployed and in some cases unemployable, whether through lack of skills, illiteracy or age.

“MobeeWash was born out of a dream to get South Africa working by embracing the concepts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and disruptive business philosophies,” he says, explaining that it uses NGOs and youth programmes to find the most suitable candidates – all unemployed or unemployable. 

“We provide full training and mentoring and an initial three-month contract. If a person performs, they become permanent.” Background checks are done on all candidates before joining the MobeeWash family.

As for the MobeeWash app, which is downloadable from the Google and Apple stores, Sean says: “I can’t claim to be completely unique because Uber and AirBnB thought of it first. But we believe there are massive opportunities in car wash markets locally and internationally. It would take 58 000 teams 30 days to wash every car in South Africa. Were we to seek to address just 3% of this market initially, we would create employment for 10 500 people.”

SVA Holdings

Winner of the Sustainability Award for 2018, category for large enterprises

To be sustainable, differentiate yourself

About six years ago, SVA Holdings looked to the future and predicted that conventional security services would no longer form part of its strategic framework… Its response was to completely reinvent itself. The SVA of today has transformed into a Technology-based, Risk management and Asset Protection enabler and bears little resemblance to the company it used to be.

“We transformed from a conventional South African security business that only did physical guarding to a technology-based business with intellectual property that is patented in 43 countries,” says Derick Deyzel, Chief Commercial Officer.

It was a shift that was necessary to ensure the company’s longevity, he says. “To be sustainable, we had to differentiate ourselves from everyone else. As a technology-based risk management company that owns and controls our own IP, we have been able to do that.”

One of the company’s biggest strengths is through the application of its patented platform, Infoman, to help its clients identify, evaluate and mitigate through tangible corrective actions shortcomings and/or deficiencies within their supply chains and improve their legal and risk compliance.

For example, a major retail client was using manual inventory processes in all its stores, which was time-consuming and prone to error, not to mention fraud. “We forklifted their manual processes and automated them, speeding up the processes 10-fold and giving the entire line management “near “real-time visibility,” Derick says. The refined process created the operational visibility, allocated ownership and accountability but also empowered the client to test and measure the effectiveness of operational supply chain decision making, which was evidenced by analytical, source-based risk data.

SVA has mastered the art of analysing risk-related data to identify trends and weaknesses for clients to act on – and in some cases, make uncannily accurate predictions, he says. Today, certain of our clients have been able to predict shrink 2 years ahead with 99% accuracy.”

This is no idle claim: the financial statements of some of its clients for the past 4 years show that the stock level shrink predictions calculated through SVA’s Infoman platform have turned out to be precise.

While SVA’s transformation has clearly worked for its clients, and itself, there’ll be no resting on its laurels, Derick says. “To stay relevant, you’ve got to be dynamic. That’s one of the advantages of our technology platform. If we start with a process and close the loopholes, we swiftly move on to the next shortcoming within the supply chain and in so doing able to ensure Infoman’s relevance in years to come, as it may be today.

Accsys

Winner of the Sustainability Award for 2018, category for medium enterprises

The perils of depending on the next sale

Sign a new deal today; move on to the next deal tomorrow. The incessant search for the next sale keeps many business owners awake at night – and so it should. As long as the focus is on finding the next house to build, the next passenger to fly or the next restaurant meal to serve, sustainability will probably remain elusive.

Prospects for such businesses start looking even more precarious in a higher risk environment of the VUCA variety – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – like the one in which South Africa now finds itself.

“Right now, how do you run a business that can withstand the ups and downs? One way is to make sure that your income is not entirely dependent on new sales. To be a sustainable business, you need a stable line of income,” says Teryl Schroenn, CEO of payroll and HR software company Accsys.

For Accsys, which has been in business since 1981 (and a tt100 finalist and winner every year since 2006), that stable line of income comes from its ability to retain customers beyond the short term and so earn a mix of annuity and contract income.

Teryl explains.

“Why do people use companies like ourselves? Because our promise is that we’re going to keep you up to date with statutory requirements. Every time the Budget comes out, our clients have to comply with a new Tax Act, and they rely on our software to do that.”

Bear in mind that Accsys has clients in 19 African countries, which means keeping abreast of the tax and other payroll changes in all those countries.

“If we were not a sustainable business with a stable line of income – annuity income – it would be very difficult to keep on developing new stuff all the time while remaining financially stable.”

Sustainability is not, of course, just about the financial bottom line. “The triple bottom line is always important,” says Teryl. “You really cannot be an island. You do need to be part of an economic tribe and a social tribe. In Accsys’s case, this includes training and skills development for a wider circle than itself, while moving towards paperless operations and doing more recycling.

Such projects need not break the company budget, she adds. “If you can’t do the big things, do small things – everywhere.”

Air Blow Fans

Winner of the 2018 award for Sustainability, category for small enterprises

Sustainability starts with making changes – big and small

From behaviour change as small as putting on a jersey instead of switching on a heater to making design changes to the aerodynamics (and therefore energy efficiency) of its products, sustainability is a subject that comes naturally to engineering firm Air Blow Fans.

“A reduction in energy has a direct link to CO², as well as savings from lower power usage, and we have a history of energy efficiency,” says Gavin Ratner, the company’s managing member. “Much of our product range (of industrial-scale fans) is generally refurbished many times before they are beyond economic repair and the material is scrapped and sent back to steel manufacturers for inclusion as scrap materials into their processes.”

Through effective engineering, it’s possible to significantly reduce energy consumed, and therefore operating costs, he says. ”Using rotor designs that are more aerodynamic, we can improve the fan’s operating point on its fan curve to better suit the required system flows and pressures.”

These benefits appeal to many users of industrial fans – but by no means all.

“People tend not to like change and some are more risk averse than others. Mostly, when clients become conscious of the positive implications of the recommended change, such as greater energy efficiency and lower costs, they make the only decision that should be made – they change,” says Gavin. “Others will resist and want things left the way they are”

Flexibility and the willingness to explore and experiment are key in driving greater efficiency, which almost always means using resources more sustainably. This comes easily at Air Blow Fans. “I’m the quintessential engineer who loves tinkering,” says Gavin. “I’m not scared of change or the unknown; I enjoy pushing boundaries and trying new things.”

Where he has become something of a stickler is in discouraging energy-wasting practices such as keeping the heater on when you really don’t need it. “Put on a jersey,” says Gavin. “It sounds like a small thing that won’t make a great difference, but change starts with us. If more people started thinking along the same lines about how we use energy, it would make a difference.” Small things count!

SVA Innovate

Winner of the Sustainability award for 2018, category for emerging enterprises

Lessons in sustainability from yesterday, today and tomorrow

Learn from what happened yesterday but don’t use your rear-view mirror as the driving force.

Constantly check where you are on the S-Curve pattern of innovation and if your products are mostly approaching the top, make sure you are already starting again at the bottom with new ones.

Hire young, extremely talented, out-of-the box thinkers to turn your specifications into real, sellable products, and manage these young people extremely well.

These are some of the learnings that SVA Innovate has embedded in its business, enabling it to feed a steady stream of fresh, innovative and affordable new products and services to its parent company, SVA Holdings. Armed with these, SVA Holdings (itself a tt100 winner for Sustainability in 2018) can maintain the competitive edge it has in the governance and risk management market.

“Business sustainability means not sitting on our laurels and expecting what we did yesterday to be good enough for today,” says Lee McFadyen, group technology executive at SVA Innovate. “At any given time, we have at least five new products in development.”

This is not simply a case of churning out new products but about delivering products that disrupt the market, Lee says.

An example is SVA Innovate’s stocktaking solution, which can predict stock take results two years ahead, with 99% accuracy. “Walmart came back to us and said we were spot on,” says Lee.

One of the five or so new products that the company is currently working on is a new technology solution for retail stores battling to deal with in-store crime. The physical presence of security guards is no longer enough of a deterrent and smart technology is increasingly filling the gap.

“All businesses say they want to use technology but having a computer is one thing; employing technology is another,” says Lee, adding that many companies see technology as a “forced purchase” instead of a tool that can significantly improve their risk and governance processes – affordably.

“We don’t spend a lot on developing our solutions; actually, we operate on a limited budget and deliver products at very reasonable prices, having developed a stable framework over the past 4 years helps us in achieving this,” he says. To a large extent, this is possible because the company makes a point of hiring people with a can-do attitude who don’t demand expensive equipment to deliver. “They don’t have an 8-to-5 mindset and lack of technology is not an obstacle to them; they think differently and find a way to make it happen.”

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