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.”

Accsys

Accsys

Winner of the Excellence in the Management of Systems award for 2018, category for medium enterprises

Our adjudicator Marilze Schwar shares with us their experience of Accsys.

How to keep your thinking at the cutting edge

When you’re good at what you do and it’s working well, why change? That attitude is called complacency and it doesn’t go down well at payroll and HR software solutions company Accsys.

“We’re constantly reinvestigating our systems and processes as if we had just bought the company and were walking in cold,” says CEO Teryl Schroenn, who has regular conversations with fellow executives and other employees to check what’s still working and what’s not.

Such discussions can lead to interesting solutions in unexpected aspects of the business. “This morning, feedback received from some of our staff is that diversity is a major issue,” Teryl says. “One of the things we came up with is that for the next year, we will focus on one of the South African languages so that we can all at least greet each other in it.”

Age diversity also helps keep the company’s thinking fresh and creative, she says. “The youngest people here are interns straight out of school. The oldest person is 72. This cross-generational mix is important because it provides a blend of stability and new ideas.” When some people are risk-averse, others risk-tolerant and the rest somewhere in between, the results are more likely to be working than if one or the other dominates.

And results says Teryl, are what count. “The implementation of any technology or system should be designed around outcomes and not the method. The question we ask is: What results do we require?”

That might seem like common sense but a surprising number of companies focus on method rather than results. For example, some businesses will automate their payroll systems but keep the old Excel spreadsheet system just in case.

“The one system checks the other,” she says, adding that this might sound like a good idea until you consider that it not only costs more to run two parallel systems but it is also time-consuming – so there go any time-saving efficiencies management might have been hoping for. “Don’t just do old things in a new way. You’ve got to shift your thinking.”

Something else to be on the lookout for is processes and systems that employees are supposed to be following or using but aren’t, Teryl says. “Ensure that what you think is happening is actually happening. People don’t like change and old habits die hard. If you change something and no one is really watching, people will fall back into their old ways.”

Then there is the not-so-old cliché about fixing things that aren’t broken. “Sometimes it is tempting to change something to make your own life easier but, in the process, you might be making life more difficult for 10 other people. You have to keep on asking yourself and others: Is this really going to drive the business forward?” So there you have it: Go to work every day looking at your company as if you have just bought it and are walking through the door for the first time. What would you change and what would you keep, and what results do you seek?

Ready to put innovation on the map in Africa?

Ready to put innovation on the map in Africa?

The Innovation League is a study that explores the innovation landscape in South Africa and Africa. It is the only awards programme in the country that focuses on innovation as a strategic capability and has been running since 2015. The Innovation League is executed by Innocentrix in partnership with varies stakeholders, including the prestigious tt100 Business Innovation Awards and Milpark Business School. It celebrates innovation excellence while helping organisations in Africa better understand their innovation maturity. It also provides excellent insights into the African innovation context and supports innovation capability building.

The aim is to help organisations to innovate better and to specifically write up case studies on innovation excellence in Africa. Results are unpacked and the winners recognised at an annual Innovation Conference in collaboration with partners and friends of the Innovation League.  

Based on INSEAD’s Innovation Readiness Model, upon completion of the survey participants will receive a short feedback report at no cost, explaining their innovation maturity score. The report will present a snapshot of your organisation’s innovation strengths and weaknesses, great insights on what your organisation is already doing to be at the leading edge of innovation and a view of what you can improve upon. 

Click to participate in the Innovation League  
The Innovation League Survey takes only 15-20 minutes to complete. It does not ask for detailed information and there are no costs involved! We are looking forward to meeting you at the award ceremony later this year!
 
If you have any questions please contact  Henra Mayer by sending an email or alternatively get hold of Zander Powell by clicking here. The competition closes on 15 October 2019.  

Thank you for your participation and good luck!  

Kind regards,


Henra Mayer                                     
CEO Innocentrix                                

De Beers Group Technology

De Beers Group Technology

Winner of the 2018 award for Excellence in the Management of Systems, category for large enterprises

Our adjudicator Ann Naicker shares with us their experience of De Beers Group Technology

Even ‘trivial’ details matter with systems thinking

In most workplace settings, the swing of the doors is probably not a particularly important parameter. That changes dramatically in confined spaces such as ships, aircraft and underground mines where a door with a large swing can be a serious and expensive drawback.

“In isolation, the door swing is not a big deal, but when space is at a premium, it becomes really important and can add significantly to your capital costs. From a systems perspective, we have learnt not to underestimate even the most trivial parameter,” says Gordon Taylor, Operations Manager, at De Beers Group Technology.

Understanding the bigger picture and the detail of how everything fits together is what systems thinking means at De Beers Group Technology, which designs and produces specialised mining equipment such as sorting machines.

It’s this kind of thinking that the organisation strives to encourage among its employees through programmes such as the internal innovation system, known as Boost.

The idea behind Boost (named after the first staff-inspired innovation to receive a boost) is to encourage employees to think and contribute beyond their immediate jobs. “If you have an idea in your head, use Boost to translate it into something practical,” Gordon says. The organisation provides seed funding of say R3 000 or R4 000, and time is set aside to experiment towards translating that idea into something tangible.

A substantial amount of time and effort has gone into fine-tuning Boost so that it produces real results and doesn’t just fizzle out. The reason is that it’s important to generate new ideas internally. “The innovation industry is a multibillion-rand industry and we know we can go outside (for innovation services) but we want ideas created internally and we want to do this at a grassroots level,” says Gordon.

This means everyone in the organisation is encouraged to be involved in idea generation, from artisans and tradespeople to administrative staff and engineers, cutting across all age groups. “You must have diversity and inquisitiveness to succeed, and you need to get out of the siloes,” he says. “People should be willing to try things that are out of the ordinary and management should make it clear this is okay. Employees shouldn’t think, ‘Don’t worry, the management team will take care of this’. That stifles innovation.”

The message behind all this is that nothing happens in isolation. Everyone has a part to play in making an organisation work better and no detail is too trivial – including the door swing.

Air Blow Fans

Air Blow Fans

Our adjudicator Kenneth Mabilisa shares with us their experience of Air Blow Fans

Winner of the Excellence in the Management of Systems award for 2018, category for small enterprises

When there’s a big competition, it’s all systems go

Probably the biggest competitive advantage of a small engineering development company like Air Blow Fans is agility and responsiveness compared to larger rivals in the industrial fans field. Agility is not necessarily a question of size, however. Rather, it’s a matter of achieving that end-to-end seamlessness that is so talked about but so challenging to actually accomplish.

“Everything has to tie up. It’s all those interconnected things that feed into each other so that we can act fast and respond to clients’ unforeseen needs,” says Gavin Ratner, managing member of multi-award-winning Air Blow Fans.

The operative word here is “unforeseen”. There is no set formula for fixing the massive centrifugal and axial flow fans that mining houses, power utilities and the like use to keep their plants running smoothly. Every situation is different and every solution has to be approached on its own merits, making those interconnected processes and systems all the more important.

Technology is a big part of this, but so is the human element, says Gavin.

Most plants have remote monitoring systems so that pre-emptive maintenance can be scheduled before there is a breakdown, but in practice, relatively few companies do regular checks. So when their mission-critical fans start vibrating more vigorously than they should, or some of the moving parts threaten to malfunction, Air Blow Fans will receive an emergency call.

That often means racing off to the client’s site for an on-premises, eyes-on assessment, after which technology can take over. “We feed the information from the site visit into a computational fluid dynamics package so that the computer can run different scenarios and devise a mechanical engineering solution that is reliable and fit for service,” Gavin says.

Next comes the design of the system, ordering of the materials, manufacture and installation of the equipment, underpinned by quality assurance. Air Blow Fans has ISO 9001 certification, which is unusual for a small engineering company.

Let’s not forget the people management part. “In a small group like ours, we are all interdependent. While a big organisation can compensate for one or two rotten apples, we cannot and it’s really important to have the right people working together for a common cause.”

With all the moving parts in synch, human and machine, it’s all systems go and no spanners in the works.

Avantcore (Pty) Ltd

Avantcore (Pty) Ltd

Our adjudicator Chipa Maimela shares with us their experience of Avantcore (Pty) Ltd

Winner of the Excellence in the Management of Systems award for 2018, category for emerging enterprises

Love it or hate it, digital assets are here to stay

Whether you love to hate it or love to love it, digital assets are not a fad. There are billions of dollars in digital assets already being moved around the digital universe every day and the industry is only going to grow, says Nicholas Allen, CEO of fintech research and development (R&D) house Avantcore, based in Kloof near Durban.

“A parallel financial universe is currently in the process of being established; a paradigm shift is going on,” he says, referring to the host of fintech exchanges, platforms and products springing up around the world and turning traditional trading and transactional models on their heads.

“With traditional­­­­­­ models, there always needs to be a third-party intermediary. With the emergence of digital assets, value can be transferred between two individuals, without any intermediary,” says Nicholas. “This is uprooting the way business is done, not just in banking and financial services but in many other industries too, because end-users can interact directly with each other.”

Clearly, there is a vast gap between the conventional centralised world and the new decentralised world of digital ledger technology (DLT) – or blockchain as it is more commonly known. The niche that Avantcore occupies is right in the middle; it seeks to build products for businesses to bridge the gap between the two worlds.

There is risk in the DLT sp­­ace, of course, just as there is risk in the old centralised financial world, and businesses understandably tend to be both eager to and apprehensive about crossing the digital divide.

“The challenge is to get the balance right by staying agile and nimble while keeping control of processes,” says Nick. “this is why everything we do involves identifying what possible failure modes there could be, understanding the repercussions and preventing failure from occurring.”

For example, one of the products Avantcore has developed for a client is a digital asset management engine that draws on and analyses massive volumes of data from multiple sources, checking and double checking its accuracy and reliability.

Avantcore implements rigorous processes and systems for conceiving the required architecture and developing and testing DLT solutions and products, including thorough design processes, structured development models, code reviews and evaluation frameworks. This balance between creativity and innovativeness, on the one hand, and structure on the other, is starting to resonate with businesses considering taking the next fintech steps. There is still a long road to travel before this fintech finds general acceptance in business, Nicholas says, but progress ­­is evident. “We have been pleasantly surprised to see how large corporations are interested in and working to get clued up about DLT and the emergence of digital assets as an asset class. They may not be advertising it but they are interested.”

Netstar

Netstar

Winner of the 2018 award for Excellence in the Management of People, category for large enterprises

Our adjudicator Ann Naicker shares with us their experience of Netstar

Why face time is so important in this digital era

In this age of digital communication, there is less and less need for face-to-face communication. More accurately, perhaps, there is a perception that there is less and less need for it.

Not at Netstar, where management by email or app has not replaced good, old-fashioned face time.

At least on a quarterly basis, the company’s MD and other senior leaders participate in “employee townhalls” at their head office in Midrand and conduct “leadership roadshows” in their regional offices across South Africa with their  1 200 employees with the objective of keeping employees aligned to the company’s purpose and strategy. 

“It is the way of life where employee engagement is concerned”, says Pamela Xaba, Head of Human Capital at Netstar.

While Skype or the like would be easier, quicker and cheaper (and is used for other types of company communication), feedback from employees is that the roadshows and the quarterly townhall meetings are enormously popular and make a meaningful difference in the company’s efforts to deepen employee engagement.

“People can see what we look like and sound like; it makes us approachable and human as senior leaders,” Pamela says. “As senior leaders, we need to tell employees what the strategy is and why decisions are made so that they don’t hear it from others. If people aren’t sure of the strategy, they don’t know where you are going. People shouldn’t second-guess the company. They should know what it stands for.”

While keeping employees abreast of company strategy and direction is a prominent part of the townhall meetings, Netstar’s senior leaders do as much listening as talking at the townhall meetings, she adds.

“If you ask people what they think, and if the environment is open and transparent, they will come up with solutions – really good ones, too – and get excited about being part of the journey,” says Pamela.

Just as important as listening to people’s ideas is, following up and seeing them through is also key.  “So at the next townhall meeting, we will give feedback on the input that came out of the previous round,” says Pamela, adding that this is part of putting the Netstar values which include openness, honesty and  integrity, embracing diversity and inclusion, getting things done and enjoying doing it   into practice.

So even in this digital era, face time matters, and is here to stay.

Accsys

Accsys

Winner of the Excellence in the Management of People award for 2018, category for medium enterprises

Our adjudicator Abe Wakama shares with us their experience of Accsys.

Rule number 1: get feedback and act on it 

What works for a 50-year-old might not work for a 25-year-old. What works for a computer programmer might not work for a human resources practitioner. What works for an introvert might not work for an extrovert. What works today might not work next year. With so many variables in the people management mix, there is only one hard-and-fast rule for Teryl Schroenn, CEO of multiple award-winning Accsys.

“Constantly ask people for feedback and when you realise that something is working well, make sure that it happens on a regular basis as opposed to by accident,” she says. “If the feedback shows that it isn’t working or no longer works, adapt.”

This very morning, while having a breakfast session with nine new employees – only one of whom was under 30 – Teryl asked what was working for them and what wasn’t.

“They gave very positive feedback on the culture we are trying to put in here,” she says. “One of the things they commented on was that ‘the CEO actually knows our names’.”

Accsys has about 90 employees, which means quite a few names to remember, and Teryl goes beyond that if she possibly can. “I try to remember how many children people have and what their interests are. People are not resources. It’s important to me to connect with the people here.”

What people do sometimes find surprising, she says, is her preference for an office with four walls and a door.

“Some people say management should get away from the ‘corner office’ and make everything open plan. I’m not a fan because we work with a lot of confidential documents. I do spend a lot of time in the open-plan space, though, and also going out with my salespeople on appointments. That’s always a good time to strategise with people about what they are going to say. We try to empower rather than manage.”

Something new at Accsys is the mentorship programme that was recently introduced. “We’ve been doing mentoring all along but this is a bit more structured,” says Teryl.

In fact, the mentorship programme is the perfect example of what she means about turning spontaneous or sporadic successes into a regular process or procedure. “In business, sometimes good things do just happen and they are lovely but informal, so they create pockets of excellence without spreading. People management and agile leadership are about picking up on those good things and making them happen regularly.”

Air Blow Fans

Air Blow Fans

Winner of the Excellence in the Management of People award for 2018, category for small enterprises

Our adjudicator Kenneth Mabilisa shares with us their experience of Air Blow Fans

How to use people’s strengths and avoid unproductive personality clashes

It takes different personalities and talents to build an effective, cohesive team but if the individuals in the team don’t understand each other’s differences, tension can result. Air Blow Fans has found a way to get the most out of a diverse bunch of people so that they complement rather than frustrate each other.

It starts with recognising the value that different personalities and viewpoints bring and, conversely, the dangers of attempting to stamp a culture of clone-like uniformity on business, says Gavin Ratner, managing member.

“If everyone was like me, the place would fall apart. It takes all types to be successful,” he says, explaining: “I’m not a detail person at all but my sales manager is extremely detailed. He knows it’s not personal and that he has to make sure I give him everything he needs to do his job properly. We understand each other.”

That understanding is not based on telepathy or even years of working together. It stems from the conscious effort that Air Blow Fans makes to ensure its people are aware of each other’s different personalities and how to work together productively despite – or perhaps because of – those differences.

The company uses professional personality profilers to interview each and every team member and then consolidate the results on a group graph that shows the team’s collective strengths and weaknesses, as well as the personality dynamics at play.

“We also use profiling before we hire anyone to make sure there is the right fit between the person and the position. If the position needs detail, then the person filling the position must have detail,” says Gavin. “As Jim Collins said, you must get the right people on the bus in the rights seat before you decide where the bus is going.”

With the right people on board, in the right positions, they tend to get on with the job – and with each other. “It means you don’t have to manage people,” he says. “Technology is simple and intuitive and growing the business is the easy part. People management is the hardest thing in business. It takes just one bad apple to create turmoil and dissension.”

The company doesn’t claim to have all the answers but, judging from its staff turnover, it’s doing something right. “We lost one person two years ago and we have grown, gaining three people in the past year,” Gavin says. “Understanding each other’s personalities helps me and others to interact well. It makes things a lot simpler.”

Passion4Performance

Passion4Performance

Winner of the Excellence in the Management of People award for 2018, category for emerging enterprises

Our adjudicator Dr Mthandazo Ncube shares with us their experience of Passion4Performance.

Free to make mistakes and accountable for fixing them

On a good day, the only person you can control is yourself, so attempting to control anyone else is futile. Rather let people manage themselves, have the freedom to make mistakes and be held accountable for their actions and decisions.

This is the essence of people management at online learning assessment company Passion4Performance – and while it might sound simple, it’s anything but.

“Our culture limits us in terms of who can work for us. It’s really difficult to find people who can work this way. At school and in their studies, people are not taught to think. Then they come here and have this freedom, and it’s very uncomfortable,” says Darryn Van Den Berg, founder and Visionary MD of Passion4Performance.

The uncomfortable part is that there are only two golden rules for the company’s employees. “First, you must be able to ask if you don’t know. Second, you must know if you are about to drop a ball,” says Darryn. “Our culture is that if you drop the ball, you have to pick it up.”

In other words, it’s all about consequences and accountability. “We have lots of conversations about our culture and we tend to dive into the consequences, and this is causing the uncomfortable conversations to become closer to the norm.”

Darryn recalls the time he and a young developer went to pitch for a large contract from a prospective client. “This youngster saw me as the boss and he would never say “no” if I asked him to complete a task. He said he could do the job we were pitching for and we took the risk that he could. On the pitch day, we took him with the potential client but the work was not completed and the pitch fell apart. Holding him accountable in front of the client to fix the challenges – as we were experiencing them.”

After the experience of having to explain his misjudgement to the client, this particular employee was no longer a people pleaser. “Immediately, he started saying no,” says Darryn. “Micromanaging is easy but I’m a firm believer that people must manage themselves. As far as possible, we try to create an environment where people set their own goals and targets and make their own decisions. We like people to be free from fear to make mistakes, ask for help and pick up the balls they drop.”

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