February 26, 2015 
Accenture South Africa hosted its first Accenture Innovation Conference at The Country Club Johannesburg in Woodmead on 26 February 2015. The conference included a gathering of some of the world’s foremost innovation thought leaders to focus on how South African companies can best use innovation to achieve greater competitiveness, productivity, efficiency and growth. The conference, organised around the theme Dare to Disrupt, brought together more than 1,500 business leaders, including many of the country’s top business innovators.
The conference focused on a broad range of topics related to the use of digital and other breakthrough technologies in areas ranging from strategy development to business operations. Top-class speakers explained how technology—notably digital technology, has already disrupted every area of our lives, challenging industries, companies and customer channels. They also addressed how business and government leaders in South Africa and the sub-continent can nourish innovation, change conventional thinking and support transformation.
In his opening address, Accenture South Africa Chief Executive William Mzimba indicated that against the backdrop of increasing volatility and growing competition fuelled by globalisation, only organisations that seamlessly integrate innovation into everything they do will secure sustainable growth and create a competitive advantage. He stated that the Accenture Innovation Conference provides a platform from which businesses and organisations can explore strategic and practical insights on innovation to help frame their strategic vision and drive their innovation road map in an unprecedented manner. He also explained the relevance for South Africa as a regional leader and why innovation can bring value to the sub-continent.
“If South Africa, as part of the broader Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, is to take its place on the international stage, it must recognise the imperative role that innovation will play,” Mzimba said. “We should recognise the fact that our country’s success is linked to the ability of its companies and public sector organisations to innovate.”
Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen, author of the book The Innovator’s Dilemma, and keynote speaker at the conference, unpacked the theme of Dare to Disrupt in his address. “Disruptive innovation is not a breakthrough innovation that makes good products a lot better; it has a very specific definition, and that is to transform a product that historically was so expensive and complicated that only a few people with a lot of money and a lot of skill had access to it. Disruptive innovation makes it so much more affordable and accessible that a much larger population has access to it,” underlined Christensen. “The root of disruptive innovation is amending the way people think. Instead of sharing what to think, business should focus on how to think, this will profoundly impact organisations and their leaders across the globe.”
According to Greg Brandeau, president and COO of Maker Media, and former chief of Technology and Operations of Pixar and Walt Disney, innovation leadership is the key to creating an innovative culture and harnessing the business value of innovation. “The most successful innovative companies have a leader who drives innovation actively throughout all levels of the organisation. Creative thoughts are encouraged; incentives given for ideas that can be commercialised and processes are in place to support that commercialisation. It is a culture that drives competitive differentiation,” stated Brandeau.
“The key to company-wide creativity is a special kind of leadership. It does not necessarily look like other kinds of ‘good’ leadership. It does not mean creating a vision and trying to make innovation happen as an individual. Instead it means creating and sustaining a culture where innovation is allowed to happen again and again, creating an environment where people are both willing and able to do the hard work that innovative problem-solving requires,” concluded Brandeau.
Speaking about his innovative patent and the use of reverse innovation, South Africa’s youngest patent holder, Ludwick Marishane, said that his mission is to develop innovative products that solve the global consumer’s pressing needs, while contributing extensively to the development of Africa’s own world-leading innovation ecosystem. “The process of reverse innovation begins by focussing on needs and requirements for low-cost products. Once the products are developed for these markets, they are then sold elsewhere at low prices which in turn creates new markets and uses for these innovations,” stated Marishane. He also explained the challenges faced by innovators to take their ideas to market: “Entrepreneurs face a number of challenges including accessing of the right skills, securing funding, scaling, and sustaining innovation and growing internationally.”
Sebastian Thrun, Google Glass inventor, robotics developer, educator, CEO and co-founder of Udacity, advocated the value of innovation to change people’s lives. “Innovation in education, especially in Africa, will reap immeasurable results for the future and holds huge benefits for African economic growth through providing the skills to drive innovation and deliver on the growth agenda. At the end of the day, the true value proposition of education is employment,” stated Thrun.
“Innovative organisations leverage innovation to combat increasing volatility, industry-specific concerns and growing competition. By fostering a culture of innovation seamlessly in everything they do, innovative organisations decrease costs without reducing headcount, increase their market share and improve social conditions. When leadership is able to strategically focus their efforts around innovation they will secure sustainable growth and create a competitive advantage,” explained Lisa Bodell, best-selling author of Kill the Company, in her talk about removing the obstacles to harnessing innovation.
In his endorsement of the conference, the United States of America Ambassador to South Africa, Mr. Patrick Gaspard, said “innovation will drive the economies of the future, including South Africa, and the time to focus on innovation and entrepreneurship is now, in order to achieve the future we all want, that of prosperity for all people.”
“We are focused on developing a much broader, stronger economic partnership with South Africa to help develop a vibrant innovation economy, capturing the tremendous potential of your scientists and companies to help solve some of the planet’s toughest medical, environmental and manufacturing challenges, while making businesses more productive and helping to create thousands of new jobs,” added Gaspard.
South African business innovation success stories were showcased in the exhibition sections at the conference. The showcase culminated with the announcement of the winners and findings of Accenture’s second Innovation Index, which examined how innovation is managed within an organisation and looks at a number of key aspects of innovation management, including how the business encourages innovation among employees, leverages technology and embraces innovation in service delivery. It also assesses whether companies are innovating in a manner that is socially and environmentally responsible.
The Innovation Masters category comprises of two sub-categories. The Accenture Innovation Overall Masters Apex Award for 2014 goes to an organisation with an annual turnover of less than R40 million and the top honours went to Angel Shack (Pty) Ltd. The Accenture Innovation Overall Masters Zenith Award for 2014 goes to an organisation with an annual turnover of more than R40 million and the winner was Blue Strata Trading. Meanwhile, Easy Equities – First World Trader (Pty) Ltd was awarded the title of Accenture Innovation Concept for 2014.
The Accenture Innovation Index welcomes entries from listed and unlisted companies, as well as Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and public organisations across a variety of industries including financial services, resources, health and public sector, communications, technology and media. The Accenture Innovation Index participants enter in two categories of innovation – The Innovation Masters and the Innovation Concepts.
Innovation Masters comprises companies that exude innovation through everything they do. Entry into this category was open to any organisation regardless of size, industry or listing. The judging process explored how innovation is managed in an organisation and looked at a number of key aspects including how companies encourage innovation with their employees, leverage technology and embrace innovation in service delivery. The judging process also considered whether companies are innovating in a space in which they remain socially and environmentally responsible.
Organisations may enter a concept into the Accenture Innovation Concepts if the concept has been commercialised, sold in the market place for a period shorter than three years and is genuinely South African. Evaluation of the entrants looks at product development, process and system design, as well as service delivery.
The 2014 Innovation Index saw an increase of 90 percent in entrants vetted for creditworthiness by TransUnion compared to 2013, demonstrating a higher number of quality entrants and revealing organisations’ seriousness about innovation. “South Africa’s average innovation score improved by a third this year compared to 2013, indicating that corporate South Africa is driving new thinking to face market opportunities head-on,” stated Yusof Seedat, head of Accenture Research, South Africa.
“South African companies can use innovation to achieve greater competitiveness, not only through new market ideas, but through productivity and efficiency improvements,” stated William Mzimba, Chief Executive of Accenture South Africa. “Successful innovation drives transformation, brings about convergence of customer needs and breaks down geographic boundaries. South Africa needs greater collaboration between public and private organisations to drive greater GDP growth through innovation. This should focus on better education and training, improving entrepreneurial culture, increasing R&D and creating technology-led business models.”
“A positive trend this year has been the growth of open innovation as a means to leverage knowledge from outside the organisation to help solve problems and find new ideas for creating growth. This collaborative approach is seen as an important way to bring innovations to market faster and gain a competitive advantage over peers,” stated Seedat.
“Among the most important findings this year, given the recurring theme of innovation leadership, is that chairmen and CEOs may remain the ultimate custodians of the innovation agenda, but there is a gratifying increase in the number of innovation departments formalised within company structures,” explained Seedat.
“The 2014 Innovation Index results show an improved innovation score in South Africa – the outcome of several positive organisational evolutions. At the same time, much work remains to be done to overcome barriers in the way of adopting innovative practices. Laggards and smaller organisations can emulate the habits of highly effective innovators, including committing strong leadership and embracing emerging digital technologies that foster collaboration and ideation at scale,” concluded Seedat.
Annually, Accenture partners with The Da Vinci Institute to develop a sound methodology for the independent measurement of entries in the Innovation Index. Accenture does not participate in the evaluation procedures. Each organisation entering receives a customised innovation diagnostic report or dashboard that identifies their innovation gaps and strengths, providing business value to the entrant. It also benchmarks the organisation within its industry and provides strategies that may help the organisation to gain a competitive advantage. Working collaboratively to complete the questionnaire for entry, the process sparks new conversations across various areas and levels of responsibility in organisations to help them uncover their strengths and opportunities from the onset of their participation.
The assessment process includes a vetting through TransUnion – the credit and information management company – completion of the main questionnaire and adjudication of high-scoring companies. Further vetting through TransUnion and a final judging round is undertaken to verify organisations and determine the winners. The Innovation Index survey is quantitative in nature with very limited open-ended questions. It touches on all aspects of an organisation’s innovation and those who enter have the option to submit their concepts for consideration in the showcase and awards.
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