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.”

Netstar

Netstar

Netstar were the tt100 2018 winner of the Excellence in the Management of Technology award, for large enterprises.

Our adjudicator Ann Naicker shares with us their experience of Netstar, a subsidiary of Altron.

Pressing the accelerator on innovation-led business 

Slow and steady doesn’t always win the race. To survive in today’s highly competitive environment, organisations need to be more agile and innovative. A key driver in boosting such a culture is fuelled by a willingness to invest in research and development, as well as the ability to learn from previous wins and potholes along the way.

For many years, Netstar’s basic business has been stolen vehicle recovery, and a solid business it is. Today it is also a driving force in Asset Tracking and Insurance Telematics.  

“Netstar, a subsidiary of Altron, delivers innovation that matters”, says Pierre Bruwer, Group Managing Director for Netstar. “One of our key strategic objectives is to grow our market share within the IoT and Data Analytics space. With Netstar’s Insurance Telematics, insurance companies can now perform accurate driver behaviour analysis allowing them to manage their risk more effectively. Both solutions rely on our IoT and Data Analytics platforms”, he continued.

 The automotive industry is multi-layered and offers an array of business opportunities.

“Netstar provides protection to over 700 000 vehicles and have recovered in excess of 80 000 stolen and hijacked vehicles,” says Quintin de Kok, cloud solutions architect at Netstar. “Every day, our devices stream between 250 million and 300 million messages to our insurance clients – some of whom base their whole insurance model on the data we provide.”

Usage-based insurance is one of the fastest-growing data-driven trends. This is where drivers are rewarded or penalised according to their driving behaviour.

Giving drivers incentives to drive better

“According to an analysis we did for one large company, the behaviour score of drivers who were incentivised improved by 4% to 5% on average, and 17% more had a 100% score,” Quintin says. “Incentivised drivers drove better than those who knew their score but were not incentivised and those who did not know their score and were not incentivised.”

Netstar has been making major inroads into the user-based insurance market on the strength of a combination of factors including: the huge number of Netstar devices installed in South African cars, its highly scalable technology platform, the ability to attract and retain top technology skills and their strong investment in R&D.

“We are constantly investing in new technology, spending 3.6% of our annual turnover on Research and Development,” Pierre says. “Our technology strategy is tied to our business strategy of improving revenue growth, profitability and customer experience, as well as employee excellence. To this end, we have entered into new markets in terms of our local technology offering and global presence. Our Asset Tracking solutions allow our customers to monitor more than just vehicles, but their high value possessions as well.”

Cycling is a growing sport in South Africa with cyclists on expensive bicycles becoming easy targets for criminals.  To help foil them, Netstar has partnered with CycleSense to offer cyclists a tracking and recovery solution for their bicycles. A first in the South African market. 

Further to local technology growth, Netstar recently entered the Indian car market.

“As stated in McKinsey’s July 2018 report profiling India’s passenger-vehicle market, the country is predicted to become the world’s third-largest passenger-vehicle market by 2021; and we intend on maximizing this opportunity from both a consumer and commercial perspective.”, Pierre concludes. There’s little chance that Netstar will be pressing the brakes any time soon.

Accsys

Accsys

Accsys were the tt100 2018 winner of the Excellence in the Management of Technology award, for medium enterprises.

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

Six out of six is hard to beat

Talk about making a clean sweep. Payroll and people management company Accsys entered six tt100 award categories in 2018 and walked away with all six, including excellence in the management of technology.

“We were surprised,” admits CEO Teryl Schroenn. This is not because Accsys is a newcomer to winning awards – it received one tt100 award in 2017 and four in 2016 – but rather because it had just emerged from a challenging period.

Transaction Capital acquired Accsys in December 2017 after it had spent several years in the Telkom/BCX fold. “As a subsidiary, we had been hampered by corporate restrictions and it was only quite recently that we felt we were back on track,” says Teryl.

Six tt100 awards seem to confirm that, but truth be told, Accsys’s business and technology model is built for resilience across short-term wobbles. As payroll veterans who have seen more change than most, Teryl and her COO Cathie Webb know that nothing is more important to people than their salaries. Being paid the right amount, on time, is non-negotiable, and a payroll provider worth its salt makes sure that if there’s one thing its clients’ employees can bank on, it’s their salaries.

So the backbone of Accsys’s business is extremely reliable technology. However, that’s not enough. This technology also has to be highly flexible so that all those deductions can be made, error-free, and salaries paid via whatever channels the client and its employees prefer. For the most part, 21st century employees receive their salaries electronically but there are still many unbanked people in Africa (Accsys’s clients are active in 19 African countries) whose salaries are paid in cash.

Teryl says Accsys is able to adapt its proprietary software relatively quickly and easily to cater for those preferences, not to mention the differences in various countries’ tax frameworks, employment laws and data privacy requirements.

The company is also keeping a close eye on the rapid changes in the world of work, where digitisation is ushering in new types of employment, embodied by the gig worker who chooses to work here, there and everywhere. Such trends are bound to change what, when and how people are paid, with major implications for the future of payroll.

Here, systems integration and data protection are key requirements, she says. “Software, while having to be protected to ensure data confidentiality, must still be able to contribute data to other products and accept data from other products.”

“The digital economy is still in the embryo stage but we need to be agile enough to adapt to whatever it brings,” says Teryl. “We have a team of bright young people adding depth to our very experienced team,  looking at things to add on or take off what we are already doing and making it cutting edge.” No one knows quite how payroll will change or even what currencies will exist in the digital future, but when people need to be paid, Accsys is putting its money where its mouth is.

FetchThem

FetchThem

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

Our adjudicator Chipa Maimela shares with us his experience of FetchThem

Find and fetch customers who are most likely to close the deal

It’s a scenario with which every business is familiar: many potential customers express interest in a product or service but only a small percentage of those queries are converted into actual sales. Finding and fetching customers who are more likely to close the deal is the forte of Cape Town-based digital data marketing company FetchThem.

“In a subtle and non-intrusive way, we influence the purchasing decisions of our clients’ customers by making sure the brand is exposed to their decision-makers,” says FetchThem CEO Chris Witthoft.

Here’s an example.

Company A wants exposure to certain chartered accountants in Johannesburg. Company A then gives FetchThem a list of the names of CAs it wants to reach. FetchThem locates them and makes sure that Company A’s display adverts are in front of the selected CAs wherever they go online.

“The important thing is that we integrate all the digital touch points and have a central view. The ads don’t pop up only when the person is on Facebook or Google, but everywhere they go online – across social media and other platforms,” Chris says. “This enhances the brand and keeps it top of mind.”

It’s important not to bombard the target audience, though, so the ads will run for a limited period and frequency, usually between seven and 20 times a month – often enough to be noticed but without becoming irritating.

Converting interest into sales

FetchThem’s technology model is cloud based, integrated into the leading digital platforms and running off Google Infrastructure. It connects to the cloud and clients through its own application programme interface (API), which Chris says can interface with almost any software tool.

One of FetchThem’s biggest successes to date has for a large retail distributor in South Africa, which is 2018 was experiencing that familiar challenge of converting quotations into sales.

“They receive thousands of requests for quotations every month, and were looking for an innovative way to increase quotes to sales,” Chris says. “So we took their offline data online and, within a month, they reported a dramatic increase in sales.”

FetchThem can take at least some of the credit for such successes as its reporting tools track the progress of each campaign and its return on investment (ROI). “Because our API can be integrated into point of sales, we can pick it up when someone is reached online and has actually bought the product.”

He refers to FetchThem’s business model as “account-based remarketing” because it is so targeted. While Chris would not call it a trend yet as account-based remarketing is still in its early stages worldwide, he sees it as one of the ways to solve the marketing challenges of the digital era. “Digital touch points are all over the place and business lacks a central view of what is working best. This helps us to solve that problem; it’s one of the ways that helps integrate all those touch points.”


Air Blow Fans

Air Blow Fans

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

Our adjudicator Jayesh Reddy shares with us his experience of how Air Blow Fans effectively manage their technology

Fan specialists take the risk up front and blow competitors away

A small company facing stiff competition from major multinationals has to do things differently, especially in a niche market where a competitive edge can quickly vanish into thin air.

Air Blow Fans have carved out a nice slice of the African industrial fans business for itself in the past 15 years, but it knows better than to settle into a comfort zone. In fact, there’s nothing like taking risk upfront to keep an enterprise on its toes, says Gavin Ratner, its managing member.

“We go out to the site, find out what the problem is and do the investigation for free,” he says. “This really means putting our money where our mouth is, and clients appreciate it that we take the risk upfront.”

The Kempton Park-based company’s clients are usually mining houses, power plants and manufacturers that use industrial-strength fans for ventilation and can ill afford the production downtime that goes with faulty or poorly functioning fans.

Their problems typically revolve around fans that someone else supplied and installed, so Air Blow Fan’s arrival is a breath of fresh air; it has a talent for fixing legacy problems.

While the fan concerned might not be brand new, Air Blow Fans’ approach is stat-of-the-art.

“We are continually improving our skills and solutions, and are very strong on the engineering side,” says Gavin. Air Blow Fans – which won no fewer than five tt100 awards in 2018 – has invested heavily in engineering software for analysis, design and systems monitoring, and is one of a handful of small South African companies with ISO 9001:2015 accreditation. It should not come as a complete surprise that the company is also a fan of the TIPS™ framework. “What I like about TIPS is the way it ties everything together,” Gavin says. “There is no one component of business you can focus on in isolation. You have to look at all of it. That’s what TIPS helps you to do.”

SVA Holdings

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

Click on the clip for a summary of our energetic adjudicator Marlize Schwar on the phenomenal ways that SVA Holding manages innovation. SVA Holding is the 2018 tt100 large  enterprise excellence in Management of Innovation category winner

Foreseeing the future of risk with 99% accuracy

Predictions are notoriously difficult to make and there aren’t too many companies confident enough in their forecasting abilities to claim a near-perfect accuracy rate. A rare exception is SVA Holdings, an asset protection and risk management company with a track record of being right 99% of the time when forecasting its clients’ risk problems – months and even years ahead.

“For instance, we can predict non-compliance issues in a retailer’s stock-take two and a half years in advance. It’s been tried and tested, with 99% accuracy,” says Derick Deyzel, chief commercial officer at SVA Holdings.

However, clients need not wait for any length of time to see the benefits of implementing the improvements SVA suggests when it detects risk or compliance loopholes in their systems or processes, from the supply chain to health and safety. “We feed back to clients in real time so that they are able to make quick decisions about their risk profiles,” says Derick. “We are constantly hunting to improve processes.”

Technology gets it right

The uncanny accuracy of SVA’s risk-related forecasting is rooted firmly in its Infoman technology platform, developed in South Africa and patented in 43 countries.

It all starts with gathering the client’s operational data 24 hours a day and feeding this into the SVA platform, where it is weighted, rated, prioritised and escalated according to the client’s risk profile, all in real time and without getting in the client’s way.

“Infoman tells us when there is a challenge, where it is, who needs to fix it and when this can be achieved,” says Derick. “Our competitors may offer comprehensive audits but they are largely based on historical information. We bring current and more relevant information, right now.”

The benefit of real-time analysis is that the client can take immediate action to correct any non-compliance. If the driver of a logistics company, for instance, deviates from the approved route, Infoman will pick this up while it is happening and alert the client, who can deal with this straight away instead of after the fact.

Similarly, Infoman will pick it up immediately if one branch of a 300-store retail chain is neglecting to do the required daily count of high-value items such as TV sets and cellphones.

What SVA’s technology also does extremely well is to adjust and align with the client’s risk policies and procedures as these evolve. “It changes and improves so that it’s as relevant to the business in five years’ time as it is today,” Derick says.

What likely also impressed the tt100 adjudicators about SVA Holdings’ management of innovation capabilities is that its technology is as relevant to small enterprises as it is to large ones. “The technology platform works just as well with a company of five vans as it does with a national retailer with 300 to 400 outlets,” he says.

Perhaps it’s time to make a bold prediction: this won’t be the last time that SVA Holdings comes up with innovative technology that changes the face of risk management.

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