Category Archives: #TT1002016

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.”

X/procure®: Small company, big impact

X/procure® Software (Pty) Ltd

#TT1002016 Winner of the 2016 Rica Viljoen Award for Excellence in the Management of People

Category for small enterprises

Taking the pain out of procurement for pharmacies

Running out of stock is a nightmarish scenario for pharmacies large and small, whose customers cannot wait until the shelves are replenished to have their prescriptions filled. In South Africa, the advent of electronic procurement has taken much of the pain out of the supply chain and one company, in particular, X/procure®, is helping pharmacies keep their house in order.

“About 76% of South African pharmacies use our ordering portal, which processes around 500 000 orders a month and R10 billion worth of orders a year, consisting of scheduled, over-the-counter and front-shop items,” says JD Henderson, X/procure® managing director.

The portal’s popularity is easily explained. It seamlessly connects pharmacies to the wholesalers who supply them and provides almost instantaneous feedback on whether the required product is available.

If that product happens to be an originator drug (the original patented version), X/procure®’s portal will instantly display an advert of the generic alternative. “This is unique to our system and is a very important feature because legislation dictates that pharmacies must always recommend the cheaper, generic alternative to an originator drug,” Henderson says.

The ordering portal also helps pharmacies improve their stock management. “Our software provides a clear history of what, when and how a product was ordered and alerts the client to any anomalies,” he says. “If you typically order 10 packets of a particular product but are suddenly ordering 100, the system would query that.”

Then there’s the portal’s ability to help pharmacies buy front-shop items (tissues, cosmetics, vitamin supplements and the like) at the lowest prices. “When ordering from multiple wholesalers, the pharmacy can see the prices from all the wholesalers and choose the lowest-priced options,” says Henderson. “That’s a major advantage because pharmacies can only make a profit on front-shop products, not on the medicines they dispense.”

Small company, big impact

Despite the huge volumes of orders that X/procure®’s procurement portal handles daily, it has a staff of only 38, many of them being technical resources and all of them hand-picked for their skills and their compatibility with the company culture.

“We employ like-minded people with the same values,” Henderson says. “No matter how great your skills are if you don’t share our values we don’t hire you.”

Those values include putting the customer first (“That sounds like a cliché but we really go out of our way to make the customer feel like the only person in the world.”), under promising and over delivering (“If we say something will be ready at 8am tomorrow, it will be.”) and honesty and integrity (“We will tell you upfront if we can’t do something for you.”)

Playing for points

Innovation, too, is a core value. “It’s important that everyone on the team is part of the innovation process, so we’ve created an in-house portal where people can log new ideas,” Henderson says. “You earn points for submitting an idea – whether it’s good, bad or ugly – and more points if our innovation panel picks your idea. If it’s taken to development you earn more points, and when it’s commercialised, you are involved in that – and you earn more points.”

At the end of the year, staff members redeem their points for PlayStation games, LCD screens and movie tickets. “But if you don’t want to redeem your points, you can convert them to cash and donate it to charity,” says Henderson, adding that this was a staff idea that became reality, as was the suggestion that flexitime be introduced to avoid sitting in Sandton traffic.

Other people management practices that X/procure® takes pride in are the benchmarking of salaries, drawing up of development plans for every staff member, succession planning for every position, and a culture of celebrating successes, birthdays and other memorable occasions.

Overindulgence at staff functions is not encouraged but if a staff member is feeling worse for wear, there’ll be a designated driver who’ll get him or her home safely, says Henderson. “We have a lot of fun here. We work hard and we party hard, and when we party, we do it responsibly.”

PFK Electronics: The art of dealing with ‘hunters’ and ‘farmers’

PFK Electronics

#TT1002016 Winner of the Da Vinci Award for Excellence in the Management of People

Category for large enterprises

The art of dealing with ‘hunters’ and ‘farmers’

When it comes to salespeople, there are acquisition salespeople or “hunters” and then there are retention salespeople or “farmers”. Understanding the differences and, more importantly, mobilising them advantageously, is a critical success factor for PFK Electronics, South Africa’s biggest manufacturer of advanced automotive technology. PFK uses its sales force to identify and nurture partnerships around the world as it is a partner-centric business.

“Our Global partners are key to our business strategy and a key to the PFK end customer. Nurturing these partnerships is incredibly important for our success. That is why it is critical that we appoint the right sales profile to look after our partners and customers, tailored to the sales lifecycle and market they find themselves in,” says Marco Valente, Managing Director of Sales & Marketing.

“Choosing the right people for the job – whether in sales, R&D or the assembly line – is a key part of PFK’s strategy to grow into a multibillion-rand business in the next five years,” says Valente.

“No one gets it right all the time. We’ve all made hiring mistakes, but the important thing is to understand upfront what and who it is that you want and need. Once your talent engine within your business understands exactly what they are looking for by using the various talent profiling tools we’ve developed, it makes for a mutually rewarding relationship for both the employee and employer,” he says.

From semi-skilled to skilled

“We invest greatly in skills, specifically in turning semi-skilled employees into skilled employees and giving them a career path. We also pay attention to the wellbeing of employees and support the health of their families.” Recent health and wellness initiatives include factory floor talks on early screening for cancer and many other health and wellbeing related topics, in addition to the availability of qualified nurses to assist with healthcare matters.

Valente believes that while it will always matter what salaries companies pay and what benefits they offer, company culture is crucial too.

“In our company, we like to encourage debate and there is no such thing as a stupid question. The company structure is very flat and I would describe the leadership style as open and passionately communicative with the goal to challenge and grow our people to meet their career aspirations.”

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.

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.”

Misfits and the power of collective genius

Systemic Logic Innovation Agency

#TT1002016 Winner of the 2016 Blank Canvas International Award for Sustainability

Category for small enterprises

Misfits and the power of collective genius

Individually, the people who work at Systemic Logic Innovation Agency are a “bunch of misfits” – their own choice of words – but collectively, they’re a formidable team. “Innovation has become a team sport. It is the many little things done by many people that make a big difference. It is where enlightened trial and error trumps the workings of a lone genius,” the business incubator and accelerator services company said in its TT100 entry.

The adjudicators were certainly impressed with Innovation Agency’s clear vision, range of technologies and the way it has integrated its processes to form a cohesive organisation. Highly commendable, they said, was the patent the company has been granted for its innovation implementation approach.

Patenting is often a good indicator of business sustainability as it implies uniqueness that is protected from copycatting, enabling the holder to maintain its competitive edge.

The adjudicators also liked Innovation Agency’s strong focus on implementation, especially its emphasis on helping clients turn ideas into reality. “We bridge the gap between great ideas and real results,” the company says, referring to this space as the “dark side” of innovation.

It helps shed light on this dark side by offering incubator and accelerator services such as advice on how to turn good ideas into “great ideas with true commercial potential”, assisting with market research, business development and innovation strategy, and running practical workshops that expose clients’ employees to innovation design thinking and methodologies.

Innovation Agency works with established businesses wanting to fast-track product innovations, as well as with start-ups in the critical early stages and small businesses seeking to grow into successful sustainable enterprises.

“Business incubators are the lifeline of innovation, especially in social settings where support for start-up businesses is limited,” says the company, which has so far helped accomplish over 200 of its partners’ major innovation goals.

And it all comes back to a belief that innovation takes place through the collective effort of many people. “Ideas are everywhere. It is about our collective genius … Because no one is smarter than everyone.”

Spotless tracking record takes SA technology off the beaten track

Technetium (Pty) Ltd

#TT1002016 Winner of the Award for Excellence in the Management of Technology

Category for small enterprises

Spotless tracking record takes SA technology off the beaten track

Across Australia, it’s South African tracking technology that’s helping to keep the bathrooms of major hotel chains spick and span. In the United States, that technology is being used to keep businesses compliant with required fire extinguisher inspection codes. Here on home soil, it’s helping to reduce the time hospital nurses spend searching for missing equipment, as well as to manage the movement of smartphones in and out of retail stores. It has even been used to check when wheelie bins in Johannesburg were last emptied.

This is all a far cry from conventional asset track-and-trace, and that’s deliberate. “Although we market ourselves as an asset management and tracking company, our business strategy is not to play in a space that is overplayed by everyone else but rather in spaces that are not addressed,” says Wayne Aronson, chief executive of Technetium.

The versatility of its tracking technology is what enables Technetium to play in such spaces. Its technology is underpinned by a core generic system that, with some careful customisation here and there, can be adapted for virtually any industry. “When we develop functionality for one specific industry, we architect it so we can port it across to other industries – and we do this at no extra cost to the client,” says Aronson.

No charges for changes

This is a key strength of Technetium. “We don’t charge for user-requested additions or changes to our technology. We allow our clients to ask for new or added functionality at no cost, and we do this regularly. In this way, our clients in effect then become our R&D department, and we benefit because our technology stays at the forefront and never stagnates.”

This strategy also puts Technetium in a strong position to identify new markets that could benefit from its asset-tracking know-how. Those spotless Australian bathrooms are a case in point.

“Our client, a cleaning company, wanted to add more value to their clients, which include a number of hotel groups, one of which owns one of the largest casino resorts in the world,” Aronson says. “The problem was that the existing process of capturing cleaning records was very laborious. Every cleaner would fill in a card behind the bathroom door every time the bathroom was cleaned, and all those papers would need to be captured weekly. Going back historically was difficult, bearing in mind that in Australia you need to hold paper records for five years.”

Technetium’s response was neat and tidy. It developed a barcode-based smartphone system for all the casino’s bathrooms, dramatically simplifying the record-keeping process – and adding lots more value into the bargain. “Our client’s client, the hotel group, received the usual cleaning report and a value-added report that drilled down into the data, offering them insights they didn’t have before, such as high-peak periods when the bathrooms needed extra work.”
Lasting loyalty

Not surprisingly, both Technetium’s clients and their clients, in turn, appreciate this kind of value-add, which builds high levels of loyalty. “Our clients’ clients rely on them, and they, in turn, rely on us,” says Aronson.

Although they have won a number of awards for their technology, there’s no room at Technetium for resting on laurels. “Complacency will be our death knell. We have to maintain a sense of urgency and be willing to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, forever combing horizons to see what new technology is coming out and how we can stay ahead.”