Covid 19 Expedites the Future of Work.

Evolution and technology

 

Human evolution is an inevitable phenomenon that we cannot evade as a species. And this is evident in the trajectory that humans have steered towards since the advent of time.

Our evolution, invariably, brings with it, constant change whether physically, socially, spiritually, and intellectually. We are forever evolving towards our “true potential”.

Our mind is designed in such a way that we are inquisitive about our environment. This curiosity is the reason for theories formulated by, the likes of Einstein and Newton, explaining relativity and newton’s law, respectively.

I recall in my early teens, with the introduction of the Walkman. The portable cassette player was the first Walkman I was exposed to. And I recall my friends and I exchanging the latest albums, and the irritation of reduced playback speeds due to fading batteries. Shortly thereafter, the transition to the CD player Walkman was introduced and subsequently the Mini- Disc, MP3 and finally, we now stream music with our smart phones.

Technology has advanced exponentially over the years, that it is mind boggling the pace at which it has evolved. Our lives have been consumed by this technological shift to the extent that technology has taken some form of intelligence – what is known as artificial intelligence or machine intelligence. Leading AI books define this area of study as, “any devices that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of successfully achieving its goals.”

Technology has had ample positive strides in driving productivity in civilization, in general, and facilitating arduous tasks that free up our time to further evolve as a species.  The workplace has been automated significantly through technology as the world gears up for a new development phase.

 

 


 

 

4th Industrial Revolution, AI and IoT

 

In the article ‘Fourth industrial revolution: Technological drivers, impacts and coping methods’, Lui and Xu (2017) state the three major technological advancements. The First Industrial Revolution which originated in Great Britain, by the introduction of Hydraulic and steam machine to the factories.

The Second Industrial Revolution which introduced standardization and industrialization. It saw huge industries of economic of scale and “throughput” in manufacturing. The outcome was affordable consumer products of mass production.

The Third Industrial Revolution presented the application of electronics and information technology and automation of manufacturing processes as alluded to earlier. 

 

 

We have, now, entered the Fourth Industrial revolution. This is understood as deeply integrated intelligence and networking systems (Zang, 2014). The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not confined to production but spans to every field of human life. Previously, where humans were required to achieve a set task i.e. a doctor performing a surgery on a patient, can now be performed by robotic surgery.

Another concept to consider, is the internet of things, which refers to the transmission of data over a network without human -to- human intervention.

Billions of electronic devices are able to communicate and share information with each other over  public or private networks.

Keyur and Sunil (2016), eloquently articulate the fundamental principle that outline the Internet of Things (IoT). In their article, they describe IoT as “the  notion that considers pervasive presence in the environment of a variety of things/objects that through wireless and wired connections are able to interact with each other.”

 

 


 

 

What is this new way of work?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, therefore, renders some of the physical aspects of work redundant. The pervasive surge of automation in the mining sector, for example, has seen this sector gradually dissipate towards its extinction over time. Myriads of sectors will inevitably follow suit, consumed by Artificial intelligence and technology, and jobs that required physical labour becoming obsolete.

The Fourth Industrial Revolutions questions the norm and the conventional way of work. It forces businesses, institutions, and the public society to alter their outlook on practices considered immutable.

With the Covid 19 pandemic reaching South African shores, government announced a new way of work.  From the 26th March 2020 the president announced a nation-wide lockdown where the South African public including all shops and businesses except a few essential sectors i.e. pharmaceuticals, laboratories, banks, supermarkets and petrol stations inter alia had to operate from home.  This resulted in companies having to adopt to a “new” way of work. With the pandemic and the dawn of Fourth Industrial Revolution, companies, now,  had to exploit innovative and  novice ways of becoming more efficient but productive in their way of work.  Companies unexpectedly had to become proactive in their approach to  garner new business whilst keeping costs down.  Employers were forced to consider virtual offices and operate off-site. Companies had to embrace technologies such as the internet of things and to use cloud-based technologies.

The future of Jobs report 2018, explain how a broader range of robotics such as stationary robots, non humanold land robots, automated aerial drones and machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence have become a major topic of interest within business. The report further juxtaposes 2018 and 2022 (projected)  stable roles, new roles and redundant roles as seen in the snippet below.

 

 

The projection as per the future jobs survey show a reduction in redundant roles from 31% to 21% and an increase in new roles from 16% to 27%. The increasing demand in new roles are predominantly made up of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Specialists, Big Data Specialists, Process Automation Experts, Information Security Analysts, Human -Machine Interaction Designers, and Robotics Engineers. And Jobs which are redundant included routine-based, middle-skilled white-collar roles such as Data Entry Clerks, Accounting and Payroll Clerks, Secretaries, Auditors, Bank Tellers and Cashiers amongst others that saw a decrease in these roles. This clearly depicts a shift towards Artificial Intelligence and a reduction in conventional office or labour-intensive roles.

What the Covid 19 pandemic has done, is to expedite and provide a glimpse into the future of work. It has caused companies to question the norm and consider the use of AI and automation to create economic enhancement that leverage off new technologies. It has posed a question on the survival of companies without employees . It has looked at cost reduction strategies and the feasibility of rental space and offices and redundant jobs which can be replaced by machines. It has created virtual offices, cloud-based platforms and virtual meeting rooms where employees can work. There has been a dynamic shift all over the world in relation to how the new labour markets evolve, and with the advent of the Covid 19 pandemic, the shift has been towards a new way of work. A futuristic  way of work. Let us embrace this way of work and attempt to incorporate it into our current roles to ensure that we meet and accept the fourth Industrial evolution in earnest. Corporate, Government and the population at large need to address the looming transformation in preparation of the new way of work.

 

 


 

 

References:

Li, G., Hou, Y., & Wu, A. (2017). Fourth Industrial Revolution: technological drivers, impacts and coping methods. Chinese Geographical Science, 27(4), 626-637. doi:10.1007/s11769-017-0890-x

 

Patel, K., & Patel, S. (2016). Internet of Things-IOT: Definition, Characteristics, Architecture, Enabling Technologies, Application & Future Challenges. International Journal of Engineering Science and Computing, 6(5), 6122–6131. doi: 10.4010/2016.1482

 

World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, 2016. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2018.pdf

 

Zhang Shu, 2014. The Industry 4.0 and intelligent manufacturing. Machine Design and Manufacturing Engineering, 43(8): 1–5.

 

 


 

Author –  Sanele Kweyama, 10 July 2020

 

The Four Types of Businesses in South Africa when it comes to B-BBEE

It’s a sweltering day in October of 2016 and I’m navigating through an industrial cluster north-west of the outskirts of Pretoria. I arrive at the factory premises of a leading toilet paper manufacturer for a meeting around our B-BBEE software. I’m welcomed by my host, Vimla, the newly appointed Transformation Manager. She ushers me through the bustling plant and upstairs towards a large boardroom overlooking the factory floor. Walking into the room I’m introduced to the management team comprising of about sixteen executives. I can’t help but notice they are all white males, barring one coloured lady sitting at the edge of the table. Since working in B-BBEE, it’s become a professional slant of mine to observe the composition of leadership teams.

 

 

The atmosphere in the room is rather subdued, however I break the ice with some pleasantries and get a few half smiles and murmurs in return. In my usual jovial manner, I begin my presentation, showing as much of my pearly white teeth as I can. But, my energy is unrequited. The executive team sits before me stone-faced and arms crossed. I begin with my slides, while thinking to myself, “tough crowd, did these guys just get a retrenchment notice…?”. Despite the abrasive body language, I survive the opening question and answer round, and continue to the software demonstration.

Standing by the screen in front of the audience I announce: “this is it, the BEEtoolkit landing page. Isn’t it fantastic!” and belt out some of the features and the benefits that will simplify their transformation journey. My exuberance seems to bounce off the walls as the audience still sits  dead flat.

So, I do something I have never done before.

I stop, and in absolute silence, make distinct eye contact with each person across the room. I walk back towards my laptop and slam it shut saying, “can we take a few steps back from my presentation please. I’d like to find out from the team what your thoughts or feelings are about B-BBEE in general?”

The room remains quiet and now all heads turn downwards toward the table as the audience before me tries hard not to make eye contact. Continuing, I say, “this is a safe space and there is no right or wrong answer. Let’s just express our feeling towards B-BBEE?”

Suddenly, one of the executives blurts out from the corner of the room, “This B-BBEE is just Jacob Zuma’s nonsense!”, and that’s my censored version in order to get this piece published.

Another executive jumps to his feet and exclaims, “why do we need all this B-BBEE crap after Nelson Mandela took us to the Truth and Reconciliation commission in 1996! Where’s the reconciliation now!”

 

 

**

At that moment, I recognised the meeting had changed, and so had my role. I quickly realised that this was no longer a B-BBEE management software meeting, the gathering was now a platform for this management team to air their earnest views on B-BBEE. Views perhaps never voiced prior, and my new role was now educator and councilor to bravely address their interpretations and tackle any distortions or miseducation.

The meeting was now a legal hearing where Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment stood summoned. The executives before me were ready to give testimony for the prosecution and I found myself as the attorney for the defendant. In this trial of law, I opened the floor and invited each executive in the room to express their opinion on B-BBEE. One by one they did. For some it was easy; for others it was like pulling teeth.

Not all the views were negative. In fact, the majority of the team was indifferent to B-BBEE and saw it as tick box exercise to attain their desired score. A few were positive about transformation and saw the inherent benefits for all South Africans regardless of their race.

After everyone had expressed their perspectives, the air cleared and everyone opened up like a heavy burden had been lifted. There was some form of catharsis, the faces before me warmed and the hands that were crossed relaxed.

**

Vimla shouts towards me from the back of the room, “it’s your turn now!” and all eyes turn towards me. Here is my closing argument.

“Well, we cannot expect democracy alone to redress the structural inequalities of the pre-1994 era. The only way for South Africa to progress at a macro level and scale is with much greater inclusion of black people, who are the majority of humans here, into the economy at a greater level. We desperately need more black people to simply join us in the economy as we simply have too few people active in the economy in proportion to the people the economy supports. For example, we cannot continue to have a situation where we have about seven million tax-payers carrying 56-million people. On the other side, we cannot continue to have more than eighteen million people on monthly social grant support.

B-BBEE may have suffered some form of “Zumafication” but transformation has nothing to do with Jacob. B-BBEE seeks to incentivise large organisations such as yourselves, to pull more black people into the economy, so the entire economy will grow for the benefit of all citizens and all races. The legislation is not perfect and is clearly a work in progress. But if you understand how it works and its intent, you will realise it’s a beautiful body of work that has the potential to advance us all. White males and white females included.  

I mean, just imagine if just another one million more people could afford toilet paper in South Africa?”

The team chuckles.

“And imagine if your workforce and your management team was a little more diverse, perhaps there are other sanitary products you could develop to reach millions more black consumers today? There might be massive opportunities for your business in local markets you don’t even know exist. Who knows?”

I learned a lot that day. The cliché is true, that we don’t see the world as it is, we see life through the lenses that cover our eyes. Sometimes these lenses can be blurry and we don’t even realise it. Perceptions are indeed reality and we need to be very careful as to what we embrace as truth. It might just be our emotions leading us astray… 

Through the insights that day and after further observation I realised there are four predominant paradigms in South African business when it comes to B-BBEE. Here are my observations about the four main ways in which companies interpret and relate to transformation.

 

 


 

 

The Four Types of business in South Africa as they relate to Transformation

This model assumes the primary goal of the business is to generate revenue. As such the model is based on how the leadership of commercial enterprises view or are impacted by B-BBEE.   

 

 

 

Quadrant 1: The Bystanders

These businesses don’t need B-BBEE compliance to generate revenue, and don’t care about it. Their feelings towards B-BBEE are neutral. These types of businesses are disconnected from the process of transformation and view B-BBEE as the prerogative of “other organisations” and not their own. They operate as if B-BBEE does not exist and persist in this cocoon, as long as their business has no economic imperative to transform.

 

 

Quadrant 2: The Angry

These businesses need B-BBEE compliance to generate revenue within their industry, but the business is negative towards B-BBEE. The compliance pressure typically comes from their clients or competitors via a loss of revenue or the threat of a loss of revenue if they don’t comply and boy, does this make them mad! These types of business either don’t understand B-BBEE or have rejected its premise outright. These institutions commonly view B-BBEE as advancing other people at their expense. They often view the entire framework with suspicion and they feel threatened. For these types of businesses B-BBEE compliance is an agonizing burden they endure just for the sake of revenue and approach their scorecard as a tick box exercise.  

 

 

Quadrant 3: Advocates

These types of businesses do not require B-BBEE compliance to generate revenue, but they believe in and support it. The financial standing of these entities is independent of their B-BBEE status. Nonetheless, this grouping of businesses cares about B-BBEE and chooses to comply. They have embraced the tenets of transformation and view it as necessary for the greater good. These organisations comply from a good corporate citizenship perspective. They do their best to achieve and maintain some level of compliance, with the view that there is greater positive socio-economic impact in the country from their contribution.    

 

 

Quadrant 4: The Passionate

These types of businesses rely on their B-BBEE compliance to generate revenue. They also believe B-BBEE will advance South Africa. These businesses are typically the most fervid about B-BBEE and their scorecard is part of their core business strategy. Such organisations are very often beneficiaries of the transformation framework. They are proactive about their annual B-BBEE journey and view their scorecard as much more than a tick box exercise, they very often desire tangible socio-economic impact through their compliance.     

This model is certainly not an exact science, but it is based on my observations of hundreds of different businesses over a few years.

Where would you classify your business?    

 

 


 

Author –  Winston Nolan, 10 July 2020

 

Does black ownership lead meaningful transformation?

When one hears the word ‘transformation’ in context of the Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) environment, most business owners react by saying, “I am not going to give away half of my business.” 

 

But what does ‘transformation’ actually mean?  The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “a complete change in the … character of … someone, especially so that that … person is improved.”  The Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act aims to improve economic participation by broadening it. It promotes “economic transformation in order to enable meaningful participation of black people in the economy.” 

So how do we achieve meaningful transformation – transformation that ultimately improves our country and widens its base of wealth

 


 

 

Give a man a fish

Historically, the main focus of black economic empowerment has always been on black ownership as the driving force behind transformation. It started with a ‘narrow-based’ approach to BEE, with the focus falling on Ownership and Management and Control. This was replaced by a ‘broad-based’ approach which introduced seven elements, now consolidated to five. These still include Ownership and Management, but also now include Skills Development, Enterprise and Supplier Development and Socio-Economic Development. Many would argue that the ‘broader’ approach has already addressed this transformation concern.  But how ‘broad’ have we actually gone? 

 

From the above, it is clear that ownership remains a substantial part of the B-BBEE environment. We need to, however, be aware that the vast majority of black individuals that participate in the economy on a daily basis will not be ‘transformed’ through ownership alone. Is there hope for achieving meaningful transformation for the masses? I believe there is. 

 


 

 

Teach a man to fish

I would like to share an experience I had as a verification analyst doing verification of a construction company a few years ago.  In the interest of POPI, I will not be divulging any names.

During the verification of this construction company, I had an opportunity to speak to the black shareholder.  I believe I asked how he came to be a shareholder and he proceeded to tell me his story. 

As a young man, just out of school, he started working for the company sweeping the warehouse floor.  Many who interacted with him, saw great potential in the young sweeper and started to educate and train him in the ways of the organisation. Through this education, training and skills transfer, he managed to move up the ranks, becoming a machine operator, foreman, manager and eventually even a manager of an entire department. 

The shareholders of the organization took notice of these achievements and approached him with an offer of becoming a shareholder, which he duly accepted. By the time I interviewed him for the verification, he had already managed to pay off all the debt he had incurred to purchase the shares and was the rightful owner of a substantial business share. 

During this verification, it became clear that through his experience (rising from sweeper to owner) he had built up a wealth of knowledge and experience and understood just about everything that happened within the company.  He knew and had experienced every concern of every employee, and every manager. He was familiar with every process, every department and every pain-point and knew how to handle each situation that he may currently be faced with. 

He represents the perfect example of how meaningful transformation can be achieved – not overnight or to win some tender, but through dedication, hard-work and upskilling.  This process may have taken longer to achieve the goal, but I am confident that his life and that of his family has been transformed beyond what he could ever have imagined had he just been given the shares, without putting in the blood, sweat and tears to achieve this accomplishment. He is a true example to his peers and a role model for many individuals. In this example, the game-changer was Skills Development, and the awarding of shares was the cherry on top.

 


 

 

Final thoughts

Although ownership is a necessary component of any transformation system, I strongly disagree with any claim that it alone would lead to meaningful participation of black people in the economy.  Transformation focused solely on ownership would most likely lead to enriching the lives of only a few select individuals. 

Based on my personal experience in the B-BBEE environment over the past 12 plus years, I believe that if organisations were not required to worry about black ownership, but rather focus their efforts on the upskilling, training and experiential learning of their employees, that it would lead to better-qualified workers and managers, with better salaries and more pride in their accomplishments. This which would directly lead to fewer faults, less waste, less down-time and less money lost.  As a direct result, I also believe that these organisations would see greater economic growth and achieve sustainability in the long run.

I want to leave you with a final thought that has been hinted at throughout this blog: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.

 


 

  1. Cambridge Dictionary – https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/transformation.
  2. Broad-Based Black Economic Empowered Act, 53 of 2003 (GG no. 25899), as amended.
  3. My own italics.
  4. Protection of Personal Information Act, 4 of 2013.
  5. Although highly contested and changed over time, it is believed that “Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie deserves credit for formulating a striking adage that used fishing as a paradigmatic task enabling self-sufficiency”.  Read more at https://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/08/28/fis

 


 

Author – Michael Craies , 06 July 2020

 

The Awkward Conversation…

It has been nearly three months since the Coronavirus started to flip our lives upside down. We are all in the midst of an outbreak of Covid-19 caused by the novel coronavirus and the impact on our normal daily lives has been profound.

A lot has been said about the Covid – 19 Pandemic and its impact on business.
While roughly 8-million South Africans recently returned to work under Lockdown Alert Level Three, it is still business unusual in the country.

 

 

The lockdown has dealt a body blow to an already weak economy, with estimates that it will contract more than 5% this year. Treasury’s worse-case scenario projects a 16.1% contraction, and seven million job losses.

Major establishments like Edcon have already lost almost R2-billion in sales.
The sales miss, and the decline in collections of the debtor’s book has meant that Edcon is unable to pay its suppliers for both the March and April month-ends.

The effects of the outbreak of the virus has also led to travel disruptions and restrictions across the world, leading to the grounding of aircraft, releasing employees, and cancelling of flights for many airlines.
SAA, with its long-time struggles with solvency, is not immune to these realities. Even Comair, which has had a long history of profitability, recently applied for business rescue. 

 


 

 

 

As a Demand Generator at Mpowered Business Solution, a B-BBEE software solutions company, my workflow has been deficiently affected by the outbreak and lockdown.

Being the first contact of the company in most instances, it has become a very difficult and awkward task to interact with new and existing clients regarding software and B-BBEE for that matter.

With companies still wanting to maintain or try achieving better ratings with their B-BBEE, it has become an awkward conversation to start. On one hand, we obviously cannot come across as inconsiderate of the current situation, with businesses taking financial strains.

On the other hand, businesses are expected to try stay afloat and to go on as per the norm.

Companies that were previously engaging us, considering our solution prior to the lockdown have also taken a conservative stance to try figure out their operations during this lockdown period.

Not knowing when it will all end has also created a huge amount of awkwardness when having conversations with new prospects.

But the reality is that, although businesses want to work together and benefit from each other’s services to reach their goals, there is always frication when first approaching the prospect you
want, Covid or not.

 


 

 

At the end of the day we all need to work together and given this tough situation we must be more open to looking at business as collaboration rather than money-making and sales.

I urge people to be more patient when approached by sales personnel from other businesses.
You may be surprised at how you might need the services on offer. We all find ourselves in awkward conversations with people calling us, trying to get us on a product or certain services, be it a simple cell phone contract or a hospital cover. With that said, you never know when your day will come.
So, let us try to take the collective view on things and help each other out.
Besides, taking extra measures at these uncertain times could turn out to be a prudent decision.

 


 

 

As Mpowered, all our teams are working together to try to collaborate with businesses in South Africa to help them reach their transformation goals. 

As a company, Mpowered is fortunate to be able to truly operate under these conditions; we are able to deliver on our promise to assist companies achieve their transformation goals. The nature of our business means that we are geared for remote onboarding and support: for more information visit our new website.

 

 


Author – Thando Bembe aka The Mr Miyagi of Lead Generation , 19 June 2020

 

Keep our air clean, and do your job better than ever at the same time

No B-BBBE consultants should be driving around in cars to meet with clients – consultants, it is time to tech-enable your clients in a new, low-touch economy.

 

 

It has been rewarding to see pictures of cities in China and Africa with clean air and relatively empty roads thanks to the lockdowns taking place all over the globe. In the aftermath of the Covid-19 induced slow-down, we now have an opportunity to make a difference to our environment. Why spend 20% – 40% of your hourly billed time in a car when you can support your clients remotely? No one benefits from this, so please stop! 

Whilst the lockdown has forced us to stay home and work remotely, it is becoming increasingly obvious that we are entering into a new era of low-touch economies. To be honest, I don’t think we will have much of an opportunity to be engaging with our clients face to face for a while to come.

Now, like never before, is the time for our industry to start embracing cloud technologies to deliver remote services. We have now proven within our own teams and with our clients that we can deliver the same, if not better service levels when working remotely. Using this approach, our client interaction is more frequent, more deliberate and more engaging than ever before.

Mpowered has introduced various options for remote consulting service delivery, relevant for everyone from independent individual consultants to large consulting teams.   

Consultants employed within consulting companies can now generate their own annuity income streams with the Mpowered consulting referral model. Referring software just became a business continuity imperative, shifting away from a business threat. We are here to help transition your companies towards a tech-first consulting delivery business model. 

Find out more at https://mpowered.co.za/product-consultant/

 


Every B-BBEE consultant now has an opportunity to generate monthly recurring income:

Wow, this has been a roller coaster ride for all of us. I hope things are stabilising at least a little as we return to this new low-touch economy. It seems that Covid-19 has had some adverse impact on revenue for all of us, whether it be reduced income, clients requesting payment holidays or limited to no new sales. 

Mpowered has a mix of annual and monthly recurring income streams, and what saved us from making changes to our workforce is the recurring nature of our revenue. We have also managed to achieve our retention targets during the lockdown as our team of B-BBEE experts have continued to provide the same, if not improved services levels to our hundreds of clients. Incorporating software-enabled service delivery, where clients also enjoy the benefits of software, provides an ideal opportunity for consultants to derive monthly recurring income. 

We have noticed how the lockdown has become a catalyst for consultants rethinking the adoption of cloud technology, moving from a nice-to-have for internal process efficiency to an enabling platform for business continuity and delivering an enhanced customer value proposition. 

Mpowered has seen growth in our client base of B-BBEE consultants over the last couple of years. Our consulting team and our software team work hand in hand, providing a new model for the industry where there is a popular misconception that  software threatens to displace consultants from their clients. 

By embracing the B-BBEE tech solutions on offer, consultants can make the much-needed shift from tech-enabled to tech-delivered services, where clients also benefit from cloud software. Clients should have the opportunity to digitally transmit evidence and automate data transfer from source systems into their consultant’s B-BBEE calculation solution. They should have full visibility throughout the year into scorecards, gaps, progress towards achieving gaps and their company’s readiness for scorecard verification.  

We are also seeing an increasing number of clients enquiring about a completely digital verification preparation and scorecard audit process. The South African National Accreditation System (SANAS) has adapted to remote work, and we are confident remote assessments and verification will remain even after lockdown is completely lifted. Digitising verification is much more than uploading data and evidence onto a cloud file transfer platform. It is about having data, scorecards and evidence transitioning seamlessly throughout the verification process right through to the point of issuing a scorecard certificate.

Mpowered has launched a Digital Audit Partner program to facilitate the digitisation of verification preparation and scorecards audits, and neither our clients nor their verification agency need incur additional costs. Find out more at https://mpowered.co.za/digital-audit-partner-program/

 


 

It’s finally time to reframe the B-BBEE Consulting Model 

It recently dawned on me just how archaic business consulting models really are, and in the B-BBEE consulting industry, I think our own company, Mpowered, is partly to blame. So firstly, my apologies for inhibiting the digitalisation of the consulting services business model.

Mpowered has several B-BBEE consulting companies that license our software as an enabling platform for internal process efficiency. Using our solutions, these teams, ranging from one to over 30 consultants, derive great benefit from process efficiency, scorecard consistency and accuracy, access to nearly all sector charter scorecards, Preferential Procurement scorecard calculation automation and much more. 

But, up to this point, none of this benefit was being passed onto their clients. One of the reasons clients never get to experience our software is that consultants have traditionally felt threated by software. They often fear it may displace them from a client, if the client becomes familiar with the software and then perceives they can self-manage B-BBEE compliance with out the consultant. This doesn’t impart much confidence the consultant has in themselves if they are threatened by software. Surely a consultant adds a lot more value than process automation? 

Whilst I openly admit that we do have aspirations to use Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence to deliver consulting services, we are a long way off from this goal. 

So, to all those B-BBEE consultants out there, have more faith in the value you deliver to your clients, and don’t fret, we won’t be using ML and AI to displace you any time soon.

At this point, I would like to apologise for unintentionally inhibiting the digitalisation of the consulting services model. I propose that now is the time to throw the B-BBEE consulting model on its head, to the advantage of our clients and their consultants. I propose a tech-first consulting business model whereby cloud software is an integral component of the consulting delivery model.   The consulting engagement starts with the implementation and training of a software platform that will be used to deliver a digitally-enabled B-BBEE consulting service. 

The focus then shifts to simplifying and smoothing the flow of data from source systems like payroll and finance, into the B-BBEE calculator used by the consultant. This ensures that all future scorecard calculations, whether they be monthly, quarterly or less regularly calculated, are easily managed.   Data transfer is most effectively automated with web-based software solutions.  As scorecards are regularly calculated, checked and updated, it is essential that this most tedious and frustrating process within the broader B-BBEE compliance process is simplified from the outset of any ongoing engagement between client and consultant.

Establishing a target scorecard that is practical and achievable within a company’s constraints, whether they be financial, capacity or capability related, is an iterative process requiring an ongoing dialogue to ensure a company can achieve their best-case B-BBEE compliance level with maximum impact for stakeholders, at least cost and disruption to the business.  

Continual engagement should be conducted throughout the year and can be done remotely, and updated as  decisions are made, giving internal stakeholders immediate visibility of the changes and impact.  Giving internal stakeholders immediate visibility as and when required, at any stage through the annual B-BBEE compliance process, must add immense value, surely?  

Companies should have to put minimal effort, time and cost into preparing for verification.  Data, scorecard and evidence should all be managed within a single software platform, not distributed across employee laptops, servers or cloud platforms. With everything in one place, at the time of scorecard verification, there should be a seamless handover to the verification agency (VA) with limited effort.   Ideally, company stakeholders should also have visibility of the VA’s progress throughout the verification process to pro-actively avoid the common, unwanted surprises during verification.

Security of confidential data is a completely separate issue, but in this day and age, we simply cannot take risks on such confidential information distributed across various platforms, no matter how digital they are.

Mpowered has developed cloud-based B-BBEE compliance software that delivers on our promise of “one solution for all” where our clients, their consultants and VAs all operate off a single platform; where data, scorecards and evidence flow seamlessly throughout our client’s B-BBEE compliance journey.

Find out more at www.mpowered.co.za

 


Author –  Bruce Rowe, 15 June 2020

 

To all B-BBEE Verification Agencies, please digitise before its too late.

I know it is becoming tedious referencing any change in the way we operate our businesses back to the lockdown, but hey, at the end of the day, we are certain to be stuck in this low-touch economy for some time to come, so why not! 

Whilst employees may be transitioning back to work, I really don’t think they are going to be in a rush to welcome service providers back into their environments, so we can only assume this will apply to B-BBEE consulting and scorecard verification as well.  And so it should.  Really, the days of driving to a client to collect files, conduct interviews and review evidence are so over. 

 

 

It is encouraging to see that some verification agencies are using 3rd party solutions to, at the very least, digitise the submission of data and evidence.

Companies embracing digital B-BBEE compliance management want more.  They want their data, scorecards and evidence all in one place, safe and secure.  They want their data, scorecards and evidence to be seamlessly transferred to their VA, and they want consistency in the interpretation of B-BBEE calculations.   They want to alleviate the tedious process of re-submitting data or evidence throughout the verification process.

Some verification agencies are now giving their clients free access to a B-BBEE compliance management system to prepare for their scorecard verification.  This way, the verification agency receives data, scorecards and evidence via a single, secure app, and the VA gets to deliver a really compelling value proposition for their clients, that will no doubt return each year for a similar experience.  

 

 

The problem is, most solutions used by, or developed by verification agencies don’t allow for a true digital experience, but if this is the way the world is moving, why wait to be disrupted when you can be the one disrupting?

Mpowered acknowledges some VAs are content using spreadsheet solutions, so we have introduced the Mpowered Digital Audit Partner program. The program limits the anxiety and disruption of a VA switching to a digital, cloud-based back office solution. And, it offers a gentle start towards a journey of digitisation for delivering a better customer value proposition. Because after all, it’s all about the client, isn’t it?

 

 


Author –  Bruce Rowe, 15 June 2020

 

A White Girl in a BEE World: What do I really think about BEE

Hi there. My name is Sonnika.

I am a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl.

Oh, and did I mention that I am Afrikaans as well? And that I work in BEE?

Not your typical pairing! I have had many clients be surprised when “the BEE lady” shows up and it is me. I have been asked how I ended up working in BEE, sometimes with an admiring glance and sometimes, sadly, with a pitying glance.

One thing that people, black and white, like to ask a white girl working in BEE, is: “So, what do you really think about BEE?”

 

 

 

 

 

So where is all this BEE taking us?

The unemployment rate is defined as those people who are willing and able to work, looking for work, but cannot find work. In the third quarter of 2019 unemployment in South Africa hit an 11-year high – this means that 6.7 million people, or stated differently, 29% of the South African population, was looking for work, but could not find work. In terms of youth unemployment, we were looking at 58%. 58% of people between 15 and 34 cannot find jobs.

Take a moment to really think about that.

What are the effects of this on our country?

Just think of those high taxes you are paying. Wouldn’t it help if an additional 6.7 million people were helping to cover the costs here?

And what about your salary? Would you like an increase? People who do not work do not spend money – less money coming into our economy means a lower GDP – this has a knock-on effect into all industries, effectively leaving us with even fewer jobs, and lower salaries.

Oh, and then there is crime. Statistically, poorer areas where people do not work have a much higher crime rate. Wouldn’t we all love to decrease crime and feel safer in our own homes?

How about government debt? Unemployed people need to receive grants, which government needs to pay. With a decreased GDP. Where do they get the money? They borrow it of course! Taking much needed money away from areas that really need it and stifling economic growth once again.

This is just the tip of the iceberg people.

How do we create jobs, boost our economy and change our country?

We upskill people. We inject money and resources into growing businesses. We support our local enterprises. We diversify our shareholding and we give opportunities to people who deserve it. In short, we help each other. It won’t always be easy, or comfortable, but we will be better off for it. These people grow our economy – not only for themselves, for all of us. All of us benefit from a bigger and better economy.

 

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet” Aristotle

 

 

Over and above all of this, I can tell you that those companies that implement BEE with the above attitude of positive change for everyone, are the companies that excel in BEE. And not only do they score well on a verification certificate, but they are healthy companies with happy employees. Isn’t it amazing what a positive attitude can do?

So next time you’re in a meeting and that irritating guy, “BEE”, shows up, maybe just give him a chance. Maybe give him a warm smile and delve a bit deeper into who he really is. He might seem intimidating, he might seem strict, he might seem to work against the plan you had in mind for your business.

But actually, he’s just a nice guy, with good intentions, wanting to make our country a better place for everyone.

And maybe, if we all work with him, we can achieve his true goal.


Author – Sonnika van Wyk, 02 June 2020

 

Tourism Industry feeling the pinch

The tourism Industry, which before the pandemic accounted for 1,2 million jobs in South Africa and contributed to more than 8% of GDP has now almost ground to a halt.  With no tourism happening currently because of the national lockdown, the tourism industry has taken a hard knock and the longer the lockdown continues the more dire the consequences will be, particularly for small operators in the hospitality sector. 

As the country moves to alert level 3 from the 1st of June, the tourism industry will however remain closed.  Tourism has been assessed as a level 1 or 2 activity within the government’s risk-adjusted framework for returning to work under Covid-19.  With the current trajectory, it is estimated that the corona virus will peak in July or August. That means the tourism industry or whatever is left of it could only start operating again at the end of year if they remain on level 2 and 1, and the question is how will the industry survive until then?

Earlier this month the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA) confirmed they are working on developing protocols to be used  when accommodation businesses start operating again and called on businesses to submit proposals to compile a plan to submit to government.  It will be interesting to see what physical distancing measures they come up with.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppW0rLhtRoE

With thousands and thousands of people losing their jobs in the tourism industry, it is reported that in the tourism industry alone about 600 000 employees have applied for UIF and TBCSA is in discussions with the Unemployment Insurance Fund to see if UIF can extend its payments on tourism claims until the end of the year when the industry is expected to start operating again.

President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed during this address on the 24th of May that government is considering proposals from the tourism industry on how the industry can operate safely at level 3 and also mentioned that they are discussing reopening accommodation and domestic travel in phases.

 

 

How does a business qualify for funding relief?

In terms of the qualifying criteria a business can get a maximum score of 100 points.  The BEE criteria accounts for only 20 of the 100 points.   The three main criterias which will be assessed are as follows:

 


 

Should broad-based black economic empowerment scores be used to determine who is eligible for the R200 million funding?

Trade union Solidarity and AfriForum challenged Minister of Tourism Kubayi Ngubane’s decision to use broad-based black economic empowerment scores as one of the qualifying criteria to determine which companies are eligible for the R200 million in emergency funding.  

According to Solidarity, it is tragic that South Africa is still divided based on race during a pandemic that does not only affect certain people and that the whole of South Africa is in this crisis.

“The tourism sector is severely affected, yet the department of tourism will, other than the virus, look at your race and discriminate against you based on the colour of your skin,” said Solidarity CEO Dirk Hermann.https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/national/2020-04-27-tourism-bee-covid-19-support-to-be-challenged-in-court/

The case was dismissed  by the North Gauteng High Court at the end of April. Solidarity approached the Constitional Court on the matter, was turned away, and is now in the process of approaching the Supreme Court of Appeal.

The Black Business Council expressed its support for Kubayi-Ngubane, maintaining that she was right to prioritise B-BBEE policy to assist businesses in the tourism sector impacted by the lockdown restrictions. 

“We will defend our policies because we believe they are fair and just and aimed at creating a more socially and economically just society. So, if it means going to the constitutional court to defend our stance, we won’t hesitate to do so,” said Minister Kubayi-Ngubane https://sundayworld.co.za/politics/kubayi-ngubane/

My view on this is that when the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) Act of 2003 was gazetted, its primary objectives were to promote and enable meaningful participation by black people in the South African economy, and that is still the case.  I therefore agree with the government’s decision to include B-BBEE as one of the criteria used to score companies that are eligible for funding. 

People need to move away from the incorrect notion that B-BBEE means 100% black owned or that it means an immediate exclusion of white businesses. With a R200-million budget allocation, government cannot provide funding to all SMMEs in the tourism industry and therefore needs a system it can use for scoring companies.  Businesses that have committed to aligning its strategies to comply with the government’s B-BEE policy can be rewarded for doing so during this economic turmoil.

 


 

Let’s pull together

Most of us are feeling the pinch right now.  Government officials find themselves with the grim task of ensuring the safety of all South Africans while trying to save this sluggish economy. Businesses at large have been severely affected by this pandemic and are currently scrambling to keep their cashflow healthy. Schools had to quickly move to online learning and students now must adapt to this new way of learning.  With most companies retrenching, parents find themselves struggling to pay the bills at the end of the month.

We need to unite against this virus to beat it. So, let us do our bit in the fight against the corona virus. Let us be kind to each other, more tolerant and this too shall pass.

  1. https://www.cnbcafrica.com/news/2020/04/07/south-african-covid-19-tourism-relief-fund-open-for-applications/
  2. https://www.businesslive.co.za/fm/money-and-investing/2020-05-07-inside-the-battle-over-tourisms-covid-relief-funding/


Author – Silindile Ngidi, 27 May 2020

 

Measuring Success

Introduction

Over the past twenty years, I’ve had the privilege of working with many great developers. A good developer can write testable and maintainable code that allows the team to provide new features to customers. I believe a good developer should also be a good engineer and one simple way we can begin to do this is by measuring the things we do! Bearing this in mind, I decided to look for some ways of measuring parts of our system to see if it could help us improve the way we build and maintain our Web applications here at Mpowered.

While one of the core functions of developers is to add new functionality to applications, it is also critical that we ensure that the system remains secure, performant, stable, and highly available for its users as we do this. These qualities are not trivial to ensure, and even experienced developers can occasionally slip up. Conversely, it is possible to over-engineer solutions that slow the pace of new features while providing no measurable improvement in quality. Ultimately, our measurements are helping us discover how better to hit that sweet spot – improving functionality without slowing or bogging down the system unnecessarily.


 

Low-hanging fruit

Our first phase involved measuring the easy stuff, namely system performance and resource usage on the servers our applications run on. Seeing CPU, RAM, and disk utilisation across multiple servers on a single graph highlighted interactions between systems. Comparing average and peak usage helped us size key services such as our database and job queue workers. Looking ahead, we plan to leverage this data to help us know when and how to upgrade our infrastructure. The idea is to dynamically scale up our system during busy times by looking at long term trends as well as live performance data.

 

 

The second set of metrics we added was at the application level. This included tracking the number of active web connections, the type and duration of web requests, and similar information about our background jobs. We identified several web pages and offline tasks that were taking longer than we wanted. Code once adequate now needed to be improved, due to the increasing size and complexity of the data our customers work with today.

A detailed list of users and accounts with slow queries guided us when generating sample data for testing. Measurements before and after we adjusted our code helped us to confirm the changes were performing as expected. Profiling a running application this way has been invaluable in helping our team prioritise work so that we can focus on tackling the most pressing issues first.

 

Web request times by type

 

Something I did not initially anticipate when picking TimescaleDB is that I can create partial measurements and then update them from different places throughout a distributed system. Our job system, for example, creates a job entry when first adding it to a queue, and our workers later update the start and completion times.

We can tell a job is waiting in a queue when it has been enqueued but does not yet have a start time, and similarly, we can tell when it is running or has been completed. This information allows us to track how long jobs sit in the various queues and how long they take to run. Tracking these durations helps inform us where adding more workers in parallel is beneficial, or if we should investigate making particular sections of code more performant.

 


 

Measure all the things!

TimescaleDB also allows me to capture as much information as I think might be relevant later, and worry about how to present it when discovering which tables and graphs are ultimately useful. Leveraging existing SQL tooling makes it easy to transform data later on. For example, we also captured each job’s identifier, the queue it was added to, and which worker ran it. These additional fields allowed us to identify the slowest performing job of each type and investigate the worst offenders.

 

Slow jobs by type

 

Where possible, developers are also encouraged to add metrics before investigating bugs and performance-related issues. It’s useful to demonstrate where the current code is not running as intended and decide on a reasonable target for which we consider a fix as “done”. Once the measurements are in place, Grafana allows us to place alerts to track these values going forward and alert us if it’s something we need to revisit in the future. As such, we continue to add application metrics as our applications grow and mature.

 


 

Looking ahead

The final set of metrics we’re adding right now are project-related ones. We track the number of bugs reported by Honeybadger to get a feel for long term trends and hope to use this information to guide our development sprints. It would be interesting, for example, to see if there is an increase in certain types of bugs on our staging environment after a big feature-focused push. By examining which class of errors we missed, we can guide our code reviews and decide how to catch them earlier during automated testing.

 


Conclusion

Measuring your system is a great way to locate which areas of your code require the most attention. Additionally, it is incredibly rewarding to see improvements to your production system shown graphically when completing tasks. Graphs and alerts can be placed on a dashboard and displayed in the office to give a real-time view of the environment that everyone can see. It was very encouraging to find non-technical people take an interest in this data, which in turn stimulated other conversations about the inner workings of our application.

After keeping our metrics open on a second monitor for a few weeks, I became so accustomed to the baseline values that I was able to tell almost sub-consciously when something out of the ordinary was happening! It has instilled greater confidence when working with our system, and I feel it has already paid for itself in terms of setup cost over the past few months. I can heartily recommend this approach to anyone who doesn’t already measure the things that are important to them.

 


Author – Shaun Sharlpes, 26 May 2020

 

Insights from our Webinar: Future Proofing a Covid Impacted B-BBEE Services Industry

The B-BBEE services industry is on the precipice of a once-off opportunity to change the way B-BBBEE is viewed and implemented across South Africa. We need to stand up, take charge and change the way we add value to our stakeholders.

This is the key outcome of a B-BBEE expert panel discussion hosted by Mpowered on Wednesday 5th May. The topic of conversation was the impact of the lockdown on the B-BBEE services industry and what we need to do to future-proof ourselves.  The panellists included owners and executives from some of the country’s leading B-BBEE consulting and verification companies. 


 

Slowdowns in verification activity highlight the need to digitalise

Verification agencies have found a slowdown in verification activity, particularly across larger businesses, whilst the small and medium business sector has continued towards certificate verification. A key inhibitor to progressing with scorecard verifications is the inability to access paper-based evidence from the office environment, something that would not have been cause for concern had the client embraced digitalisation. 

There is a clear message here: the industry has to digitalise, and SANAS has given us the much-needed push towards digitalisation. We are also confident the industry will continue to collaborate towards developing and implementing positive change in the way we operate and deliver value to our stakeholders. 

The panel agreed that now is the time to come together and collaborate with intent on figuring out how we react for the better of our industry, for our clients and hence for South Africa.  

We have to help companies reduce their total cost of B-BEE compliance, and with the forced adoption of digital solutions, turnaround times have decreased, processes are simpler and general process efficiency is improving. A reduction in the total cost of B-BBEE compliance for companies will be welcomed and become increasingly important as our clients face budgetary constraints.

 

But what about the socio-economic impact in trying economic times? A common theme emerging in discussions on the future of South Africa is how the lockdown has delivered a stark reality check; the scale of inequality and how pervasive it is, and that it is worsening as the economy sinks into new lows week after week. The government alone cannot resolve inequality. It was suggested that the overall theme for B-BBEE implementation during and post lock down will be to reduce the inequality gap.

Ideas were proposed on how to counter ED and SD “schemes” that really don’t benefit anyone, other than the company wanting to maximise their ESD scorecard with least effort and cost. Now is the time for the industry to be changing our narrative with clients, from scorecard optimisation to impact. It is everyone’s responsibility to help kick-start and establish a sustainable, growth economy and B-BBEE offers one of several mechanisms to deliver on these objectives. 

In summary, it was agreed that now is the most opportune time for the B-BBEE services industry to start collaborating and working together towards a common goal: reverse South Africa’s worsening inequality gap that we all know is untenable and unsustainable. 

The results of our online polls suggest an overwhelming need to continue these discussions as an industry. The majority of attendees agree that Beagle, the digital scorecard-sharing platform, can become an industry platform used to jump-start better collaboration, knowledge sharing and to deliver thought leadership and best practice within our industry. 

We at Mpowered are committed to continuing this video-panel discussion series and to enhance Beagle as a platform for industry collaboration.

 

 


Author – Bruce Rowe, 25 May 2020