Spark ATM Systems, winner of the Management of Technology Award in the large enterprise category
It’s well known that repeat customers are more profitable than new customers, and that the costs of retaining an existing customer are significantly lower – up to five times, some studies say – than the costs of acquiring a new customer.
Which means that Spark ATM Systems is on to a very good thing.
Its business is to deploy, install, support and maintain ATM machines on behalf of banks, for which purpose it signs five-year contracts with host merchants such as retail outlets and petrol stations.
After five years, the host merchants can decide whether or they want to stick with Spark. By far the majority of them do, according to Russell Berman, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer.
“We’ve got something like a 92% renewal rate, which is a statistic that we’re very proud of,” he says. “I always say to my team that it’s free business because you’ve got them to come back for a second and in some cases a third term.”
Russell says this enviable renewal rate is driven by dedicated customer service and the top-notch systems in place at Spark, the wholly owned South African subsidiary of US-based Cardtronics, the world’s largest ATM operator.
So what does Spark, which has over 4 500 ATMs across South Africa, do so well when it comes to managing technology?
“We’ve always had a policy of developing our systems in-house rather than buying software off the shelf,” he says. This includes the operating platform on the ATM, which Spark developed in conjunction with its South Korean machine manufacturers, the data monitoring platforms and its own switch.
“Ordinarily in the payment space, the switch is an off-the-shelf package that comes with significant costs and transaction fees. We’ve run and maintained our own switch since 2013.”
The benefits of in-house development are substantial. “It allows us to operate at a lower cost per machine and a lower breakeven number of cash withdrawals per month per device,” says Russell.
While Spark develops its own software, it sources the hardware, the ATM machines, from a South Korean company. Designed to Spark’s specifications, these ATMs have up to now arrived in South Africa fully assembled.
But change is in the air, says Russell.
“Importantly, what’s coming up this year is we’re actually going to be assembling our own ATMs in South Africa for the first time. The components are going to arrive from various parts of the world and we’re going to put it together and do a lot of the engineering ourselves at our labs in Paarden Island in Cape Town.”
Local assembly of ATMs has not been done in South Africa before, Russell says, and will reduce the cost of ownership. Known as the Touchline, the new machine has a 22-inch touch screen, much faster transaction times and a Linux operating system, further reducing costs. “It will be the state-of-the-art device and very quickly become the gold standard in the country.”
Accsys, winner of the Management of Technology Award in the medium enterprise category
Meet Teryl Schroenn, Director of payroll and people management software company Accsys and lover of poetry. One of her favourite poems is TS Eliot’s The love song of J Alfred Prufrock, he of the immortal line, “I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled …”
While Prufrock agonises over the passing of time and whether he will have enough of it to finally profess his passion to the subject of his admiration, Teryl and her team at Accsys know how to make the most of time.
After all, this is what technology is all about: “The concept of not wasting time has driven technology. The human race is an impatient group and our expectations are just exponential,” says Teryl, pointing out that if something takes 10 minutes today, we want it to be five minutes tomorrow and then are extremely unhappy if it takes six. “The constant demand that we humans are not wasting our time has driven technology intensely in the last 12 months.”
Being in the payroll business, time has always mattered to Accsys. Clients’ employees must receive their salaries on time and to the cent, and there is no tolerance for delays and mistakes. “If you can’t pay your people, you can’t do business,” Teryl says.
So when the COVID-19 pandemic reached South Africa and the hard lockdown was announced, the pressure was on to ensure clients could continue to pay their people without skipping a beat.
Accsys sprang into action.
“In three days, we were able to move from an on-premises businesses to an at-home business in March 2020,” Teryl says. “Fortunately, a lot of our stuff was already in the cloud, so that enabled us to run everything from home, including our outsourcing department, services, sales, training – everything.”
Even before the hard lockdown started at midnight on 27 March 2020, every one of Accsys’s 100-strong staff was working from home, equipped with computers, connectivity and SIM cards to ensure that clients could pay their people without skipping a beat.
Then government introduced COVID-19 Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) benefits and the Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme (TERS), followed by a quick succession of changes in regulations to adapt to the unfolding pandemic. “At that point, there was a lot going on and, along with managing the technology, we had to become experts very quickly in the statutory requirements because that’s what our clients expected.”
Not content with that, Accsys started looking at what else it could do to assist its clients in coping with the fallout from the pandemic from a people management perspective.
“What we saw immediately was that businesses were going to have to go back to work and their first challenge would be to keep their people healthy.” Realising that its biometric readers for access control could come in handy with this, Accsys worked with one of its partners, ZKTeco, to introduce thermal detector readers to the market.
“These readers can detect whether someone is wearing a mask and their temperature, and is actually more accurate than those handheld temperature devices,” says Teryl.
Accsys wrote the code to align with the hardware, and within six weeks, by mid-May 2020, the first installations were done.
Hand in hand with this, Accsys and ZK hosted weekly webinars to demonstrate live how the software and hardware worked together. Hundreds of people attended.
“What this experience showed us is how quickly we were able to come to market with a solution as well as advise companies in making people’s workplaces safer.”
It also shows just how much can be achieved when time is of the essence and it is wisely used. Dream on, Mr Prufrock.
Cura Risk Management Software, winner of
the Management of Technology Award in the small enterprise category
‘Beautiful’ technological process
underpins Cura’s success
Steve Jobs’ aversion to focus groups and
surveys was well known but he was probably uniquely gifted in knowing what
solutions would work for customers. For the rest of us, the more open we can be
to quality input when designing our products, the better.
This doesn’t mean listening to whoever
talks the loudest or longest, and of course you need to be able to “filter out
the noise” and home in on the things that really matter. The important thing is
having the right sounding board and a good roadmap – or three – to take you to
where you need to go.
Cura Risk Management Software, winners of
five tt100 awards for 2020, including Management of Technology, attributes its
success – in the tt100 awards and its business performance – to its
three-in-one roadmap and Product Advisory Board.
“We have three individual roadmaps that
integrate into an overarching technology roadmap that includes a wide variety
of inputs and data gathering, this would be the main differentiator for winning
the Management of Technology award,” says Jessica Knight, Head of Strategy at
Cura, a software company focusing on
governance, risk, compliance and risk-based audit solutions, manages technology
across two fronts: as a technology solutions provider and as a business that itself
consumes technology. “Our roadmap enables us to deliver technology and software
platforms to the quality we would like and to align the business with
best technology practice,” she says.
The overarching roadmap is an integration
of the following three individual roadmaps:
Product suite roadmap – focusing
on the user experience and guided by global best practice, regulatory
requirements and advisory partners;
Functionality and platform
roadmap – derived from the company’s Product Advisory Board, with input from
customers, industry experts, thought leaders, internal innovators and subject
matter experts; and
Technological roadmap –
determined by global technology trends with the objective of maintaining Cura
as a technological leader.
“Our solutions are the end result of the
three roadmaps, all linked together and informed by the Product Advisory Board
and external sources,” says Jessica, adding that Cura is continually making
room for new solutions, improving existing solutions and retiring products that
are no longer relevant.
“Cura’s model for managing technology is
complex, detailed and fully functional,” she concludes. “It’s a beautiful
technological process that we get excited about. It’s amazing.”
BMP Properties, winner of the Management of
Technology Award in the emerging enterprise category
Cash and paper are a thing of the past
for this technology-wise stokvel
The stokvel industry in South Africa turns
over R10 billion a year and almost all of this is paid in cash and recorded on
paper, exposing stokvels and their members to all manner of risks. One that has
broken the mould is Soweto-based Buhla Mahlo Properties (BMP), which has gone
completely cashless and paperless.
“Yes, we are trailblazers in the use of
technology in our industry, and introducing a cashless, paperless environment
has solved a lot of problems for us,” says Archie Rantao, chairman of BMP Properties
(which, as its name suggests, it more than a burial society – but more about
Archie says the standard stokvel model is
for members to pay their contributions in cash, often on a Sunday when the
banks are closed. “The treasurer has to keep all that money until he can go to
the bank on Monday, putting his life at risk.”
But safety is not the only challenge that
cash transactions pose for stokvels.
“There also used to be a lot of conflict
about members’ payments,” Archie says, explaining that proving who has paid how
much and when is crucial for a stokvel.
“We are underwritten by a major insurer. If
a member passes and their contributions are more than three months in arrears,
the cover will not be paid. Before, members were always suspicious about the
record keeping; now we can prove who paid and who didn’t, and there is no more
Archie explains how this came about. “Cash
puts your life at risk; you can lose it or be robbed. To mitigate the risk, we
stopped accepting cash and asked members to deposit their contributions into
“We then downloaded the banking app to see
who has paid and created a computerised spreadsheet to record the transactions.
Once a month, the spreadsheet is circulated to all members on WhatsApp for everyone
was some resistance to the new way of doing things. “In the townships, cash is
still king,” Archie says. “It took some time to convert our members to cashless
and paperless processes, but people see the benefit. It’s more transparent.
Trust is key in everything we do in life. Without trust, there is no
are greater efficiency and better client service. “Using technology, you can
track and reconcile your earnings and you always know how many clients you
have,” he says. “And why put your life at risk or expose people to temptation
by working with cash?”
successfully introduced cashless, paperless business, BMP Properties is also
expanding its scope of activities. It has purchased a stand at Protea Glen in
Soweto and is seeking corporate partners either to establish a private school
or build student accommodation.
“We decided we
wanted to be more than a burial society and also contribute to access to
quality education in the townships so that our kids don’t need to travel to the
suburbs,” Archie says. “Kids have to wake up as early as 4.30am to get
transport and they come home at 6.30pm or 7pm, tired. It’s too much for them.
We want to bring services to the townships so that our kids can have a better
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.