Winner of the award for Excellence in the Management of
Technology for 2019, category for small enterprises
Empathy and future thinking are the secrets to remaining relevant
business models have been smashed to smithereens by the brutal impact of the
COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that have gone with it. But amid the
tragedy of jobs lost and businesses bankrupted are reports of hope and
resilience – of enterprises and entrepreneurs whose underlying technologies and
business models were supple enough to prepare them for the unexpected.
Cura Risk Management
is one such company and so are a number of its clients.
“Companies that have
had proper business continuity and risk strategies will come out of this quite
well because they were prepared for the unexpected,” says Alex Roberts, Cura’s Regional
Director: Sales and Operations. “We didn’t know the unexpected would be a
pandemic specifically, but we did know that business interruption is South
Africa’s top business risk and already had the necessary response plans in
Quite a few of Cura’s clients have let the company know that
they are weathering the pandemic better than expected because they use its
tools. “Governance, compliance and risk services tend to be seen as a grudge
purchase but when businesses experience the benefits of being compliant, acting
ethically and taking responsibility for their impact and employees, hopefully
the thinking will start to shift,” he says.
Apart from the ability to exercise future thinking, the
single biggest asset a business can have in the quest to remain relevant,
regardless of pandemics and other systemic shocks, is probably empathy.
“New product development needs to be embedded in empathy so
that we understand what the end user is struggling with, get to know their pain
points and walk a little bit in their shoes,” says Jess Knight, Strategic
Manager at Cura. “Then we can define the problem, ideate, prototype, test and implement.
It all starts with empathy.”
A pandemic-related pain point for almost every business is adjusting
to the new normal and the complex and complicated lockdown regulations that go
with it, she says. Empathising with those struggles, Cura is launching a
solution to enable companies to function effectively and compliantly amid the uncertainty.
“We have very agile tools and a very agile approach to
rolling out solutions, and can do it very cheaply because we don’t change our
software, we change the solution,” says Alex. “The market guides us and
therefore we can take advantage of being the best mover – not necessarily the
first mover, but the best mover.”
Winner of the award for Excellence in the Management of
Technology for 2019, category for medium enterprises
How to benefit from
the Internet of Things without rip-and-replace tactics
If there’s one thing
everybody agrees on, it’s that the Internet of Things (IoT) is where every
business needs to be – and sooner rather than later. The thing is that
achieving this is neither easy nor cheap, especially for companies sitting with
lots of legacy devices that can’t connect to the IoT.
with legacy equipment have had just one option if they wanted to benefit from
the IoT: rip out all the old systems and equipment and replace them with new,
Then along came a
South African technology IoT.nxt and made everything simple and so much more
Its strength is the
ability to connect legacy and new devices, sensors, machines and “all things”,
creating interoperability between them all, says André Jacobs, Director:
Product Engineering at IoT.nxt. Once the old and the new are talking to each
other, in real time, the IoT comes to life, churning out data that can be
turned into really useful trends and insights.
Here’s an example:
operators have thousands of base stations that use large amounts of energy for
air conditioning because the equipment inside must be kept at just the right temperature,
meaning neither too warm nor too cool, says André.
Keeping those air
conditioners (two at each base station) working properly is critical to the
optimal functioning of the station and its energy usage, but is a hugely
challenging task given the vast number of base stations on the ground and all
over the country.
IoT.nxt and its
smart technology have not only made this task manageable for a particular
mobile operator, but financially viable, too.
trademarked Raptor edge gateway and IoT platform called Commander, the company
is “IoT-ising” its client’s base stations, given it unprecedented real-time
insight into the performance of its air conditioners.
“On a cool day, when less cooling is needed, our technology
can switch off one or both of the air cons and switch on a DC fan to blow in
cooler air from outside,” says André. “If an air conditioner is broken and the
temperature rises, the system alerts the cellphone operator, who can then send
someone out to repair it.”
What is special about IoT.nxt’s solution is that it can
integrate with many different devices through a single USB port, using their
patented SDDI technology.
In other words, instead of the (expensive) one-to-one ratio
that would be necessary through a point-to-point configuration, this technology
can reach one to many, saving plenty of time and money.
The technology has
numerous other advantages, including a no-code interface, meaning that clients
do not need to have in-house developers to operate it.
Small wonder, then,
that this medium-sized South African company attracted the attention of
Vodacom, which now owns 51% of the business, and has won or been nominated for
a host of top awards, including the IoT World Awards USA 2020 and Microsoft
Best Independent Partner 2019 – not to mention the tt100 award for Excellence
in the Management of Technology, 2019.
Winner of the award for Excellence in the Management of
Technology for 2019, category for emerging enterprises
Our adjudicator Mrs Janet du Preez shares with us their experience of Osprey Technologies.
Like an orchestra, IT
support all fits together
Sssshhhh! Do you hear that sound? It’s the harmony of an
orchestra where every instrument is playing at exactly the moment it should, at
precisely the right pitch and pace. Well, Osprey Technologies is not in the
music business but the orchestra analogy is a good one for describing what this
IT support company does so well in the management of technology.
“I think our biggest strength is that we know where and when
each piece of the service fits in,” says Nuren Govender, director of Osprey. “We
coordinate all the different service providers and technologies, and we put it
all together in a way that works.”
And because Osprey is the one coordinating all the different
parts, its staff know almost instinctively how to locate any piece that is out
Nuren explains. “If you as a small or medium-sized company do your own IT and you have a problem such as slow connection speed, you would phone the internet service provider. They would probably say, ‘No, it’s not us.’ Then you would phone the network service provider, and they would say, ‘No, it’s not us either’. And so on and so on. We know where the problem is and go straight to the right place without this constant bouncing around between service providers.”
Part of this trouble-shooting skill comes from long experience: Osprey has been in the infrastructure support business for 12 years. The second part of it is having really good systems in place to monitor and respond to client problems, including a central helpdesk to log, track and trace. Third, the company has excellent client relationships. “Our ethos is to build relationships with clients and we get to know their businesses extremely well,” says Nuren.
Last but not least, the Osprey team is small but highly
committed, motivated and hard-working. “Eight years ago, it was just me in the
company,” he says. “Now there are six of us and between us, we service 30 to 40
This was the first time the company had entered the tt100
awards programme, he says, and the announcement that Osprey had won Management
of Technology in the category for emerging enterprises caught him off guard. “I
had taken out my phone because I wanted to take a picture of the winner, and
then they called out our name! It was awesome.”
Winner of the Minister’s Award for Overall Excellence for 2018, category for large enterprises
Big can be
swift and agile
Conventional wisdom has it that large companies lack
agility. Well, Netstar obviously didn’t receive that particular memo.
Adept at adapting, the company has embraced the Internet of
Things (IoT) with an alacrity that would give even some start-ups a run for
their money. Starting from scratch, it took Netstar less than 36 months – from
incubation and testing to full production – to commercially launch its InsureTech
platform, making it one of the first vehicle-tracking companies to do so.
This shift necessitated some major changes, including Netstar’s
decision to base its InsureTech platform on open source technology. Since open
source is to the internet what water is to fish, this has opened up a vast new
vista of new business and market possibilities, including horse saddle and
bicycle recovery, not to mention collision avoidance in the mining industry. As
the Netstar website puts it: “No IoT solution is out of our reach.”
While the company manages to make adapting to change look
easy, a massive amount of research and development goes on behind the scenes to
smooth the way. Netstar’s annual turnover is about ZAR 1,2 billion and its
R&D budget is 3.6% of that, representing a money-where-its-mouth-is
investment that few other South African companies match.
That R&D investment goes hand in hand with a generous
training budget and bursary scheme, ensuring that Netstar has the skills to oil
the wheels of change. This includes a growing focus on developing skills for
the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), including artificial intelligence and
“The world of work is changing and we, as a partner of the automotive industry, must be at the forefront,” says Pamela Xaba, Head of Human Capital. “We are also focusing strongly on developing future leaders who can think out of the box and have a global mindset because we don’t just operate in a South African context.”
This is a reference to Netstar’s operations in Australia and
its recent expansion into India, which is on track to become the world’s
third-largest passenger vehicle market by 2021, presenting massive
opportunities for service providers that think big and strike while the iron is
hot. Big business can be swift and agile.
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
This is a useful exercise because a familiar eye, accustomed
to the way things are done, tends to overlook things that a stranger might
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.
Winner of the 2018 Director-General award for Overall Excellence, category for small enterprises
Good, solid engineering and no hot air
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
management, Air Blow Fans uses professional personality profilers to help it
build coherent teams that can capitalise on and complement members’ diverse
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Winner of the Innovation
Concept award for 2018, category for emerging enterprises
what SA needs are more ideas like MobeeWash
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).
a market just begging to be disrupted and that’s what MobeeWash has in mind.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.”