Category Archives: TT100 Awards Programme

Top Innovators Set Alight Da Vinci’s TT100 Business Innovation Awards

Johannesburg, 15 November 2017

Top innovators have received high praises from the Minister of Science and Technology Mrs Naledi Pandor at the 2017 Da Vinci TT100 Business Innovation Awards, showcasing how South Africa is building an inclusive innovation system through growing support for grassroots innovators and developing local innovation.

In total, 28 winners were presented by Minister Pandor with trophies at a gala dinner held at the Johannesburg Country Club on Wednesday, 15 November 2017, which was attended by business innovators, industry captains, government officials, researchers, and academics.

Minister Pandor, who gave the keynote address, expressed her admiration for the quality of business innovation entries in this year’s competition, an achievement she has described as encouraging and in line with the National Development Plan’s (NDP) objective of turning South Africa into a high-growth, employment generating, knowledge-based economy.

Minister Pandor said the long-standing alliance that the Department of Science and Technology (DST) has maintained with the TT100 awards programme was central to the ongoing efforts to strengthen public-private partnerships in support of South African technology-based businesses.

“Such partnerships not only enable awareness creation of business technology development initiatives and opportunities but also profile the innovation prowess of SA tech companies to local and international markets.”

“This is in line with the NDP’s recognition of the importance of innovation as laying the foundations for more intensive improvements in business productivity and a more intensive national pursuit of the SA knowledge-based economy,” said Minister Pandor.

The 2017 TT100 awards were held under the auspices of The Da Vinci Institute School of Managerial Leadership, which has partnered with the DST, MTN, and Eskom to make the TT100 innovation competition possible.

The TT100 awards programme has been running since 1991 and its aim is to promote the culture of innovation amongst large, medium, and small businesses.

“The objective of the TT100 awards is to promote the importance of developing an innovative management ecosystem, which can help boost innovation outputs in our companies in a manner that impacts positively on socio-economic development and the bottom lines of our companies, whether small, medium or big,” said Professor Bennie Anderson, CEO of The Da Vinci Institute School of Managerial Leadership.
There were 379 entries in the following 6 categories: management of technology; management of innovation; management of people; management of systems; sustainability; and innovation concepts.

A total of 91 category finalists were selected following a rigorous face-to-face adjudication process, which culminated in a total of 28 category winners being selected as the top-performing innovators in 2017.

Four industry winners representing emerging, medium, small, and large enterprises were selected, who respectively received the DST Director-General Award and Minister Award for Overall Excellence.

“This year, we have added the Innovation Concepts category to assist in raising the profiles of innovators who have outstanding concepts, but don’t have the funding to commercialise their concepts.”

“With the addition of this category to the TT100 awards programme, we are hoping to connect the innovators to venture capitalists and other potential funders to enable them to commercialise their concepts and take these promising ventures to the market,” said Professor Anderson.

The 2017 TT100 awards also received a resounding support from Kammy Young, Innovation COE Manager at Eskom, who concurs that the programme will go a long way towards driving socio-economic development in South Africa.

“Innovation is one of Eskom’s values. We strive to embrace new processes and technology to improve business efficiencies, while investing in science, engineering, technology and innovation in the country, with the aim to grow the economy in support of socio-economic development,” said Young.

The TT100 programme provides enormous benefits to winners and finalists. TT100 participants receive intensive, customised feedback on how they manage technology, innovation, people and systems, enabling them to improve the way they operate their organisations.

Winners and finalists receive the additional benefit of becoming part of the TT100 community and being invited to participate in TT100 events, including business forums held jointly with government and partners involved in promoting business innovation, particularly the DST.
About the Da Vinci TT100 Business Innovation Awards Programme
The Da Vinci TT100 Business Innovation Awards Programme is South Africa’s foremost business Awards programme. TT100 has been recognising innovation and technological prowess in South African companies for more than 25 years. In going forward, it is focused on identifying true managerial leaders who through innovation, tenacity and a belief in people, have been able to take their organisations to new levels of competitiveness.

The programme seeks to identify role models within the management of innovation and technology domains who have demonstrated their excellence in co-creating new workplace realities.
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Alfa Destiny Communications

Altron: The key is to adapt and to adapt fast

Allied Electronics Corporation Limited (Altron)

Joint winner of the 2016 Blank Canvas International Award for Sustainability
Category for large enterprises

The cloud has changed everything

These are exhilarating times for businesses which understand that what is popular in the marketplace today might be gone and forgotten tomorrow.

The business landscape, especially the electronics industry, is littered with once-successful products that are now virtually museum pieces: the pre-digital camera; tape recorders, video cassette recorders, dial-up internet, palm pilots…

Having been in business since 1965, Altron has seen and been through the electronics lifecycle enough times to know that the next wave of newness is just around the corner. You’d better be ready for it.

Right now, the current wave is all about the cloud; the internet has changed everything. But what stands out this time is the sheer speed and velocity of the change. It’s all happened extremely quickly.

In no more than a few years, the electronics industry has become highly converged and concentrated, with telecoms companies dominating and hardware companies taking strain because of the rush to the cloud.

The key is to adapt and to adapt fast

A quick look at Altron’s history since 1965, when it started up as a manufacturer of DC equipment, shows how good the group has been at shedding assets that are showing “fatigue” and acquiring fresh assets in new and growing directions.
It has been many years, for instance, since Altron washed its hands of home appliances and exited the increasingly difficult consumer cellphone market. By contrast, it has strengthened its position as a technology company with valuable intellectual property in fintech, healthtech, safety and security, not just in Africa but also in the United Kingdom, Australia and Malaysia.

Knowing when to let go and when to take on new business lines is only one of a multiplicity of factors that have converged to create Altron’s 52-year-long story… and counting.  

Here is the group’s sustainability strategy in a nutshell: Do business for longer. Do business better. Be the best in what it does. Employ the best people, develop and retain them. Improve and grow the bottom line. Anticipate risks and seize opportunities.

It seems so simple: the art is in the execution.

Altron’s Success to Managing Systems

Allied Electronics Corporation Limited (Altron)

#TT100 Winner of the 2016 Eskom Award for Excellence in the Management of Systems

Category for large enterprises

Stronger, nimbler and better, together

Going it alone is a business model that belongs in the past; the future will be built on partnerships, with five, six or sometimes more companies combining their skills and strengths to co-create the best solutions for clients.

This is the thinking at Altron – winner of no fewer than five awards in the 2016 TT100 Awards Programme – which may well be ahead of its time in moving away from the traditional “winner takes all” model of doing business.

For Altron, part of systems thinking is the ability to see the bigger picture and realise that one company cannot control it all. It means looking at how innovation can occur across companies working together, with each partner bringing their particular skills and strengths to the value chain.

This model is becoming especially important in mega-projects, such as the City of Tshwane’s broadband access and fibre initiative, where one player is extremely unlikely to have all the skills and resources a project of this scale demands. For big projects like this one, the consortium model can work well, provided everyone knows exactly what they are supposed to do, is accountable for their part and keeps in mind that the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. 

Keeping track of the detail 

Just as important as seeing the bigger picture, though, is the ability to view and manage the detail. At Altron, this means having the ability to track every product across its lifecycle, from the individual electronic components that go into it on the assembly line to the finished product that is shipped off to its destination anywhere in the world.

Lifecycle management is critical because if something goes wrong, the problem can be quickly traced back and picked up. As a result, Altron manufacturing processes have a very low defect rate.

The same meticulous systems management goes into other Altron business lines, such as Netstar, which monitors 200 000 trucks and 600 000 cars at any given time. This calls for exceptional coordination across different systems, and the ability to process, analyse and make sense of masses of diverse data in real-time, ensuring that the vehicles stay on their routes, away from crime hotspots and free from the clutches of hijackers.

In the end, systems are what keeps a business one step ahead – on the roads and in the marketplace.

PFK Electronics: A sober yet passionate look at sustainability

PFK Electronics

#TT100Winner of the 2016 Award for Sustainability,
Category for large enterprises

A sober yet passionate look at sustainability

Drunk driving is a headache worldwide, which is why more and more countries are turning to alcohol ignition interlocks to keep inebriated motorists off the roads. Interestingly, quite a number of these countries are purchasing devices from a South African company, PFK Electronics.

“Our units are designed and made here in South Africa and are used predominately across North America and Europe, including countries like Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom. As an example, PFK supplies the government of Sweden, where it is legislated that motorists convicted of driving under the influence are required to use an interlock device,” says Marco Valente, Managing Director of Sales & Marketing.

The company’s range of interlock devices, branded Autowatch Interlock, provides an alcohol ignition interlock breathalyser system that will not permit a driver to start the vehicle before passing a breath sample test. Once the vehicle is moving, the unit can be configured to request breath samples to monitor the sobriety of the driver.

If a breath sample is above the legislated limit of a country or the limit set for the driver, the interlock device sends a notification via GSM communication to a control centre, where the vehicle will be immobilised as soon as the ignition is turned off. Fleet managers also use this product feature to adequately manage their risk, as well as to reward safe drivers.

Valente says PFK is passionate about proactive risk and asset management to ensure continued organisational asset and employee sustainability. 

The importance of exports

PFK’s success in global markets is impressive. Approximately 70% of its products are exported, with over three million vehicle security systems operating in the United States alone and 100 000 telematics systems in Russia. In the OEM market, international customers include Bentley, General Motors, Volkswagen, Renault France, Ford, Lotus UK, Proton Malaysia and Tesla USA. In all, PFK’s distribution network spans over 25 countries and it has sales offices in the UK and Sweden.

“Exports are key for sustainability and we are constantly on the lookout for new markets and new distribution partners,” says Valente.

In South Africa, the company contributes a massive 80% of the local car alarm, immobiliser and vehicle security aftermarket.

Some of the factors fuelling PFK’s success are its insistence on quality (its international certifications include ISO/TS 16949, ISO 9001 and ISO 14001), excellent design and manufacturing systems, and strong relationships with customers, staff and partners.

Then there is the sheer love of technology and the excitement of developing something new and different. “Over the years we’ve invested in a variety of different solutions driven more by excitement than financial gain at the time,” says Valente.

As they say in the classics: If you do what you love, the world will love what you do.

About PFK

Since opening its doors in Durban in 1985, it has grown into the largest automotive electronics manufacturing company in South Africa, with solutions that include vehicle alarm and immobiliser systems, stolen vehicle recovery, driver behaviour profiling, insurance telematics, fleet management telematics, video telematics and; under the PFK Shurlok banner, Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) approved plastics, instrument clusters, harnesses, among others, as a first and second tier OEM supplier.

Khonology: Making things happen on Mondays


#TT100 Winner of the 2016 Eskom Award for Excellence in the Management of Systems

Category for small enterprises

Making things happen on Mondays

Many people like to ease slowly and gently into the working week on Monday mornings. Not Khonology. Every Monday is “admin day” – time to take a fine toothcomb to the company’s finances, operations and sales figures. This weekly exercise might take up the whole morning but every minute spent keeping Khonology running like clockwork is worth it, says Michael Roberts, CEO of Khonology, an African business services company skilled in sourcing and building African talent and technology.

“From day one, we’ve managed our processes, systems and procedures really well, including our cash flow, so that there are no unpleasant surprises down the line. We’re very disciplined and we’re always looking forward: we do weekly, monthly and 90-day forecasts, and also have a five-year view.”

Roberts knows only too well how important it is for a small company to plan properly, be proactive and pay meticulous attention to risk management and mitigation. He’s previously been part of businesses that didn’t worry so much about these things.

“If you don’t plan, you spend all your time firefighting,” says Roberts, who has “been there, done that” and has the t-shirt to prove it. “But failure isn’t bad. It’s one more step closer to being successful – as long as you learn your lessons and don’t repeat your mistakes.”

So Monday’s admin sessions at Khonology are non-negotiable, as is the daily check-in process for its management team, ensuring they approach each new day with a clear focus and plan of action.

Systems support success

Turning to the company’s management of systems, which so impressed the TT100 adjudicators, Khonology has three main systems and all of them are put through their paces once a week at those famous Monday morning meetings.

“For finances, we’ve built a dashboard and procedures for checking inflows and outflows and doing forecasting and modelling,” says Roberts. “The second system is for our operations – people, headcount, compliance, risk and issues – and is very outcomes based so that we know how and where to focus. Thirdly, we have a sales system for understanding the sales pipeline, from leads to opportunities to real pieces of work to our current run rate.”

Another indispensable tool is Khonology’s ACI framework, standing for “Achievements, Challenges, Insights”, enabling the team to understand where they’re doing well, what obstacles need to be ironed out and what lessons they should be learning so as not to repeat mistakes.

Talking of lessons, one of the most valuable lessons Khonology has learnt is: Don’t sit and wait for something to happen, or hope that a problem will go away. Take action – informed action. “We’re constantly looking around and making sure we’re aware of what’s happening around us, and we’re proactive, especially with client engagement. The minute there’s an issue, we’re on-site, turning it around.  We won’t sit and wait for issues to become risks.”

Accsys: “Staying power is just one element of sustainability”

Accsys (Pty) Ltd

#TT1002016 Winner of the Blank Canvas International Award for Sustainability
Category for medium enterprises

Staying power is just one element of sustainability

Accsys has been in the payroll business long enough to remember the days when employers still handed paper cheques or pay packets of cash to their employees on payday. No doubt they will still be in business when salaries are microchipped or light-beamed or transferred in blockchain currencies like Bitcoin.

“For us, it doesn’t matter how employers want to pay their people. What matters is that our software allows them to do anything they choose,” says Cathie Webb, chief operating officer. “Electronic transfers have been the main payment method for the past 15 to 20 years, but we also work for clients who have unbanked employees. South Africa is still a cash economy in parts.”

This mixed economy is one aspect that makes payroll more complex than meets the eye. Other complicating factors are ever-changing statutory requirements from government agencies such as SARS and the Department of Labour.

“There are about 250 000 companies – a lot of them tiny – that submit to SARS and approximately eight million people paying tax,” says Teryl Schroenn, chief executive officer. “Some people feel they can do their payroll using Excel, but there is a lot of risk in not using a designed-for-purpose solution.”

Accsys is able to adapt its proprietary software relatively quickly and easily – a quality that appeals strongly to clients, their satisfaction being a key success factor in its sustainability strategy. “Our systems are pretty efficient and we have happy customers,” Cathie says.
Earning annuity income and following the money

Another critical element of Accsys’s sustainability is its financial model, says Teryl. “Our model is annuity based; clients pay a licence fee for the right to use our software, which gives us the financial stability to continue developing the software. With a stable amount of money coming in every month, we have a strong financial base.”

Accsys also knows how to “follow the money” – understanding what the company is spending money on. “There is very little here that Cathie and I don’t sign off on. That might sometimes seem like micromanagement but we believe it’s critical to be extremely careful and know exactly where the money is going.”

Other critical success factors for business sustainability in South Africa are fulfilling social responsibility and statutory requirements such as broad-based black empowerment (B-BBEE). “We have to think about B-BBEE all the time. We have got to keep looking at the full context of how we fit into the South African economy,” says Cathie.

Teryl agrees. “It comes back to the South African context; there is a price for doing business in every country and if you want to do well and be sustainable, you’ve got to make it constructive in your own environment. Wherever you are, whether the United States or Mauritius, business is not for free. The question you have to ask yourself constantly is, how do we make this work for us? I think Accsys does quite well at that.”

COLONYHQ – managing innovation: Go big or stay home


#TT1002016 Winner of the Henra Mayer Award for Excellence in the Management of Innovation

Category for small enterprises

Go big or stay home

First South Africa, then the world. Armed with an innovation that’s already disrupting the way local radio stations interact with their listeners, COLONYHQ is intent on broadcasting its presence globally.

“Global domination,” is how Claira Mallett, head of Client Partnerships at COLONY, puts it – and while there may be a touch of humour there, she’s not entirely joking. So unique is the company’s latest innovation that – for the time being at least – it has little or no competition.

Called COLONYLive, it was launched in 2016 as an integrated messaging tool that lets listeners engage with radio stations in whatever way they wish – social, mobile or instant messaging – instead of limiting them to calling or texting. Apart from encouraging better interaction on air, the tool also uses data analytics to help broadcasters get closer to their listeners and gives advertisers direct connection points to potential buyers.

Until now, that has been a challenge for radio. “Radio in its current mindset only offers advertisers a reach and frequency opportunity. But in the era in which we live, where targeted advertising and measurement are the buzzwords, radio just cannot compete,” says CEO Marco Broccardo.

“So, the fact remains, direct and indirect competition will place further pressure on stations to up their game and start batting faster. For radio to remain relevant and profitable, it needs to stop thinking about selling spots based only on reach and frequency. Instead, they need to think about understanding the audiences they own in order to monetise them on platforms they don’t own.”   

First radio, then TV…

Algoa FM, which has been among the first of the radio stations to use COLONYLive, has given a ringing endorsement of it: “COLONYLive has within 24 hours of being launched on-air completely transformed the mood of the station,” says the station’s Chris Wright in a written testimonial. “We have become instantly very accessible to our listeners and their ability to provide quality on-air and online content has never been easier.”

Says COLONY’s Mallett: “We’ve built something that is really, honestly disruptive to the radio market, and we did it by finding the itches – the pain points – in the radio space. We then took on key radio stations and literally built the platform around their needs. We work in partnership with our clients, seeing ourselves not as a provider but as an invisible extension to their team.”

While its heartbeat is in the radio space, COLONYLive has been designed to be just as applicable to all media types looking to engage and monetise their audiences, with TV being the next natural extension.

Mallett says COLONYLive is a logical – yet radical – step on the company’s continuum as a behind-the-scenes technology enabler of client campaigns and competitions.

“Diversifying our core campaigns platform with a version specialised for the broadcast industry has allowed us to work side by side with our customers to build a product so world-class that we have already initiated launching into the United States.”

Making innovation work

COLONY instinctively runs according to the TIPS principles, she says, inherently weaving innovation into the technology it creates and the people and systems required to commercialise.

It is constantly scanning its markets for itches that need to be scratched and does not shy away from making the necessary investments. “Innovation comes at a price.  When you are developing something from scratch, from doing the research to building, testing and taking it to market, investment is key.”

So is a questioning, inquisitive nature. “We have inquiring minds and we are always working to make to make our products better. No product will ever be finished.”

Leading Innovation

Leading Innovation
By Henra Mayer 
Da Vinci Head of Faculty: Management of Innovation
The significance of innovation is widely recognised as an important business driver in a dynamic world of rapid change and shifting business models. Many organisations invest in innovation initiatives to create more competitive and resilient organisations, but how to continuously produce repeatable, strategically significant outcomes remains a challenge for many. 

Intent needs to be supported with effective innovation practices, and at its core, this includes a focus on innovation leadership. It invariably points to the leader’s ability to enable a strategic vision for entrenching an end-to-end innovation capability within the organisation.

The annual Da Vinci Technology Top 100 (TT100) Business Innovation Awards programme was launched in 1991 to create an awareness of the role of technology and innovation leadership in South Africa.  It employs the TIPS™ model, which refers to the inter-relationships between how we manage our technology, innovation and people in a systemic way to enhance sustainable development within the organisation.

In essence, this model acts as a good starting point for focusing the leader’s role as orchestrator of innovation by integrating management disciplines that considers:

The Management of Technology (MoT)

The management of technology is all about the ‘tools’ and metrics organisations use to gain competitive advantage.  Simplistically it is “a way of doing things better” and may involve the use of anything from computers and hi-tech, to simple hand-held tools.  In this context, it refers to the small “t” in technology where organisations manage their technology to best position their products or services to maximise their market share.

The Management of Innovation (MoI)

The management of innovation is about how an organisation stimulates and capitalises on the ideation process to develop an innovative product or service which demonstrates either commercial or social value. It’s about hard metrics such as income generated from new products, processes or services as well as success rates in commercialising new offerings, coupled with the softer side of change management, co-creation and employee engagement.

The Management of People (MoP)

The management of people is all about the human technology interface.  It embraces both the employee and the end user.  It is about the processes that organisations deploy in the development of their human capital, and how they retain and re-skill existing employees, how they incentivise their people and how they plan for succession to ensure organisational longevity. 
The Management of Systems (MoS)

This is the process of synthesis, where systemic integration of all organisational activities and performance is used to solve unique problems, and where a hyper-competitive redesign of the landscape occurs. This includes internal synovation and organisational ecology that allows the parts to become greater than the whole.

It is evident from the TT1000 research results gathered over the past 25 years that companies who link their technology and innovation practices effectively tend to become more agile. Agility in this sense refers to the link between people and innovation practices so that employees become engaged in seeking solutions at work.  The appropriate linkage of technology and people practices tend to create better alignment to react to changing circumstances and this ensures that the organisation up-skills (by acquisition or development) the appropriate human capabilities to match, and even exceed the technological needs at any one time. From here the organisation develops, improves and adapts its technology needs and appropriate innovation is applied to generate real market value and profitability. 

It is about speed to market, response to change and an ability to cope with new world flexibility. But none of this will lead to real-world outputs if people do not make it so. People and innovation need to be managed in such a way that it impacts on the commitment and motivation of people in the workplace so that people take personal initiative and accountability. The TIPS™ model is graphically depicted below.
Figure 1: The TIPS™ model used with the TT100 Awards
In a sense, the TIPS™ framework could serve as a meta-framework for managerial leaders within the workplace, but leadership is about more than frameworks. It talks to the heart of an organisation.  

In the 2016 South African Innovation League Awards, administered annually by Innocentrix, innovation leadership emerged as South Africa’s strongest capability. It seems to be driven as a clear outcome by the majority of organisations who believe that overall strategic objectives are translated into innovation objectives. 

Although executives are demonstrating an intent by aligning innovation outcomes with overall organisational objectives and supporting tactical thinking with concrete strategies, leadership intent alone is not going to make innovation happen. Success lies in the execution of intent and while organisations are willing and able, it is clear from the League results that much room is left for improvement as weaknesses in execution coupled with ad-hoc activities and misaligned interdependencies needs attention.[1]

Effective approaches for leading innovation could include enabling a strategic innovation vision, a focus on the customer and creating a climate of reciprocal trust. Add to this the importance of communication, the power of persuasion and an emphasis on speed[2] and it becomes clear that the role of the leader is more about being an orchestrator and supportive enabler of success. If the point is to foster organisations that are willing and able to innovate over the long haul, then tomorrow’s leaders of innovation must be identified and developed today. Great leaders of innovation, see their role not as take-charge direction setters but as creators of a context in which others make innovation happen. That shift in understanding is critical to fostering the next generation of innovation leaders and must permeate the organisation and its talent management practices.[3]

In the end, leaders who do innovation well focus on providing an enabling environment,  they create an open culture and inspire an engaged workforce, they act with strategic intelligence and foresight.  They get the experts together and connect from ground level up to forge relationships within the innovation eco-system on a local, regional and global level. Inspiring leaders provide opportunity, mentorship, and empowerment and they act with integrity and courage in integrating these values across the organisation.

For more information on the Da Vinci TT100 Business Innovation Awards Programme and to enter the Awards programme, visit or email To talk innovation and the SA Innovation League, please contact Innocentrix by emailing or by visiting

[1] SA Innovation League Report (2016) by Innocentrix (
[2] Research: 10 Traits of Innovative Leaders (2014) by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman (2014): Harvard Business Review
[3] Collective Genius (2014) Linda A. Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove, Kent Lineback: Harvard Business Review

Kirkonsult (Pty) Ltd: Keeping food and beverage-making clean and simple

Kirkonsult (Pty) Ltd

Winner of the Eskom Award for Excellence in the Management of Systems
Category for emerging enterprises

Keeping food and beverage-making clean and simple

When opening a bottle of beer or a can of soda, few consumers pause to wonder about the cleanness of the equipment used to make it. They shouldn’t have to: the laws around the cleaning of manufacturing facilities for food and drinks are stringent, and manufacturers are obliged to test their equipment for residual contaminants.

The downside for manufacturers is that it may take up to two or three hours to clean the equipment before starting on a new batch of product, and four to five days before the microbiological assessment results from the last batch come back. In the meantime, the products they have just manufactured sit in a warehouse under quarantine for four or five days until the equipment and process under which they were made receive the all-clear from the laboratory.

Through the ingenuity of Dr Robin Kirkpatrick of Kirkonsult, the time taken to test for possible contaminants can now be drastically shortened.  He has developed and patented Carbotect™ to do the same job in a matter of minutes.

Colour-coded test delivers quick results

“It’s a quick, colour-coded diagnostic test that picks up residual contaminants in the equipment or the water used to clean it. My technology can pick up extremely low levels of contaminants and it can do it within five minutes instead of five days,” says Kirkpatrick, who originally trained as a vet before switching to Microbiology, in which he has a PhD. He was also one of the brains behind the development in South Africa of Radical Water, which uses electro-activation to treat water and is now used worldwide.

Back to food and beverage manufacturing and the cleaning of equipment: Kirkpatrick says that manufacturers use high-pressure, piping hot water and various chemicals to clean their equipment, and at the end of the cleaning process, use more clean water to flush everything out. “That final water is tested to see if it is clear of any residue.”

Apart from affording a rapid and highly sensitive result for the detection of organic contaminants, Carbotect is simple to use and can be administered by a relatively unskilled worker. “I developed the solution in close association with South African Breweries, whose requirements were for a low skills-based, rapid and reliable piece of technology,” he says.

Plenty of scope for expansion

His technology is well suited to other high-risk, perishable products too, from fruit juices, soft drinks, soups and sauces to pharmaceutical syrups and other liquid-based preparations. It has also been used at membrane-based water treatment plants.

There is also scope to upscale this colour-based diagnostic system for more sophisticated settings, such as by digitalising it, as well as the potential for growth beyond South Africa’s borders. “I am now finalising the product for the international market,” says Kirkpatrick.

He is on a constant quest to improve and enhance Carbotect, which was in development for several years and went through a number of versions before he was satisfied it was ready to patent and trademark. “I never stop questioning the status quo and looking for new avenues and new opportunities for fresh insights. So far, I have barely scratched the surface.”

Innovation Systems – Making Sense of the Noise

Innovation Systems – Making Sense of the Noise

Technology is recognised as an enabler of innovation and growth. Having a software tool, specifically the right software tool, can greatly accelerate your innovation results by creating an easily accessible and self-sustaining platform for ideation and innovation management. Over recent years, however, the innovation technology systems market exploded and an influx of players are contributing to an ever increasing maze of offerings with functionality that features internal and external collaboration capability, enterprise communication tools and in some instances the integration of various ecosystems for co-creation.

The result is an increasingly growing and crowded landscape of innovation management tools that are becoming more and more difficult to navigate – a trend that is expected to continue as new and existing offerings incorporate more radical technologies such as artificial intelligence and crypto currencies.

The current innovation technology market is estimated at over $200 million and boasts up to 250 vendors (and counting), almost doubling its size in the last two and a half years. In a fragmented innovation system market differentiation is not easy to come by. This does not come as good news for increasingly frustrated customers trying to make sense of it all. The very reason the innovation system vendors make a case for their software (to help organisations innovate and differentiate) might become a paradox in itself that begs the same question from them – how are innovation technology vendors creating new value and differentiation in an increasingly dynamic market?

At Innocentrix we understand this problem as we work with both vendors and clients to make innovation intentional, repeatable and supportive of next level growth. One solution will not universally fit all needs. Organisations need to understand the functionality on offer, how it fits the organisation’s own requirements, the financial and business models available as well as how this aligns with current innovation maturity levels and future goals.

Where to start is not always easy to figure out. The aim of this article is to offer a practical point of departure to assist organisations to navigate this landscape better.

But we can Build?

Customers increasingly look for a voice in the development of a solution that best meets their needs and prefers “exceptional service” as opposed to traditionally offered technology services. This might be one of the reasons investigating in-house development is often one of the first activities undertaken by organisations when the need for an innovation management system has been identified. It is possible that certain organisations by the nature of what they do have the ability to develop in-house and it seems like an attractive option when one ponders the crowded innovation technology landscape mentioned above. Add to this foreign currency hurdles if you are considering best of breed international solutions that also naturally comes with geographical and time zone challenges. The other reality is the speed of change, the impact of digital innovation and the requirement to have to run hard just to stand still, for what could be considered to be a non-core activity. Building you own is not impossible but with the rise of mobility and SaaS offerings, it is becoming increasingly challenging to do so well. 

Apart from functionality and development costs, organisations need to consider time available for development as well as servicing the organisation’s future innovation aspirations.

Other considerations should be:
Does your development team understand the organisation’s technical and innovation-critical requirements to enable it effectively? Can you map the minimal viable product (MVP) and do you have a good understanding of the future roadmap for the product? Moreover, does the development team really understand innovation and innovation software development?

Does your organisation have the required technical in-house experience to deliver a solution that is reasonably comparable to what is available off the shelf right now? Will you have continued access to these skills in the future and do they have the time available to bring the product to the organisation reasonably quickly?  

Innovation software vendors have been in the game for several years, they understand the dynamics of the market and are trusted by some of the world’s largest companies. This is their core competency, the reason they exist. It is in their interest to remain relevant and at the forefront of best practice in innovation management. Consider the internal stakeholder challenge as the organisation has to continually justify the investment and when it becomes a cost/price game the 3rd party vendor has the scope to offer compellingly lower prices.

Total cost of ownership
It is necessary to consider the complexity of total cost of ownership. The allure of building your own is attractive when one considers the ubiquity of the tools and seemingly low barriers of investment, but what costs are associated with personnel, ongoing maintenance, and continuous development. Opportunity costs if this is not a core competency for the organisation also need to be considered.

Building an in-house solution is possible but it is not straightforward. Initially and at low levels of innovation maturity in-house built systems can serve their purpose, but they soon fall by the wayside as maturity levels and the complexity of needed functionality increases. Another challenge is that in house development can become someone’s pet project. Organisations often fail to maintain their systems due to a change in roles and responsibilities over time, resulting in an eventual waste of not only money but time as well.

So how do you make sense of it all?

It is important to select a fit for purpose tool to fulfil the organisation’s objectives in support of its innovation business case, and to be able to adapt as the organisation matures on its innovation journey, or as needs become more varied.

Answering the question is, in essence, coming back to basics. Innovation is a business necessity but it is important to understand what you are trying to do and what good looks like for you. What are the organisation’s aspirations in this regard? Once that is defined, the road to find the best tool and operating model might be less complex.   

The Forrester Wave Report (2016)[1] used 26 criteria to evaluate a list of 15 current Innovation Management vendors and grouped them according to (1) current offering in the market (2) strategy of the vendor and (3) market presence. This resulted in a list of leaders and strong performers that according to the report represent strengths and trusted expertise in the field. But the picture is much more complex as the authors allude to in the introductory contextualisation.

Consider the following nuances.

Technology firms operate on very similar business models

Industry operating models chase brutal quarterly targets, a maximisation of licenses sold to customers and discounts for multi-year deals.  Painstakingly logged and managed, sales discussions will focus on these main aspirations which can be counter to client needs. Continuity with staff presents another challenge. Direct dealings with a vendor can become problematic as staff turnover impacts on relationships and the history with the vendor. Consistency becomes a moving target. One can argue that the technology sector is still in its formative years. Standards and interoperability across platforms are limited, with the story often being about the ‘best’ widget in town. Some have compelling features that are more influenced by the development of user interface design, but in many cases, there are much maturing to do. 

Many organisations want a voice to get what they view as valuable. They prefer more flexibility in their engagement models with vendors, as the needs of the organisation will change with a maturing innovation capability and as new learnings are integrated.  Which brings us to the next point.

An innovation system does not create an innovative culture

There are many great systems out there. None of them is going to guarantee that innovation work in your organisation. Your system will most likely become your cornerstone for success and enable innovation if managed well, but your people and doing the right things will be your secret sauce. You will need to consider many things like strategy, leadership, management, effective communication, impacting on engagement, measurement of outcomes, ROI and much more. It is important that you manage this from the beginning.

The need for partners

Many vendors have not eloquently addressed the need for partners. Strategic services are being offered by some whilst sharing their view of best practice for the use of their solution with customers is part of the package. But as put forward by Forrester’s report, few innovation management solution vendors can address wider business transformation requirements alone and need to work with outside consulting partners. Recent partnerships between KPMG and Idea Factory and IdeaScale and the content platform play to this point. It will, however, require vendors to actively build and contribute to the market in a collaborative manner. In too many instances the opposite is still true and vendors are found to dilute the innovation ecosystem instead of positively and actively contributing to it. The winners in the innovation systems market will most likely be those that recognise the exponential power and value of true collaboration to the benefit of all parties, especially their client’s. The most valuable partnerships will be those between a vendor and a partner offering expert strategic innovation expertise. Trust, ethics and respect still make good business sense and often provides an indication of vendor reliability. Choose your vendor well in this regard.

The market, maturity and attitude

In all of this, however, the client has a responsibility too. Do you have real strategic intent for innovation in the organisation?  In other words, do you have a budget in support of building an innovation capability and culture, and are you open to working with your suppliers to make it work? It might seem like an obvious question but it is an important one. Why invest in an innovation management system if you do not intend to enable it. Tripping over dollars to pick up pennies does not make sense, especially in this scenario. Your innovation team, if you have one, needs to be empowered for success. They cannot be expected to go at it alone. That is setting them up for failure from the beginning. And just like your vendors and your strategic partners, it is necessary to pull together a dynamic innovation team internally as well. This is no place for ego’s, immature jockeying for power or feeling intimidated by partners or team members for fear of being stood up for expertise. You will need to collaborate to be successful. Your external team are there in support of your success. If your innovation team cannot appreciate this your efforts will be compromised and your investment will most probably be wasted.  Take heed, this is a leadership responsibility.

So when starting out on the road in evaluating innovation management systems, think further than the obvious. Whichever way you dress it up, innovation is a complex coming together of multiple capabilities. Getting it right is hard and finding the right solution takes effort.

This article attempted to call out a number of the key tenets to consider when setting off on the journey.  Like in all relationships, it is often the little foxes in the vineyard that can destroy something good.

This article is written by Mrs Henra Mayer, CEO of Innocentrix and Da Vinci Head of Faculty related to the Management of Innovation.

About Innocentrix

Innocentrix is an ideas and innovation company. We help our clients to deliver the future. We improve existing offerings or bring to market new business models, projects, products or services. We help our clients to Create, Engage and Deliver. Find us at

[1] The Forrester Wave™: Innovation Management Solutions, Q2 2016