As forward thinking as we are in some sectors, we all know that South African businesses and government have to become more dynamic if we’re going to compete at the global level. More important than that, however, investing in innovation is critical if we are to fix many of the ills that blight our society.
As a country, we are a net consumer of technology solutions by a staggeringly large amount. According to StatsSA, ICTs account for more of our gross national product than agriculture, but we import close to a R100bn more in value than we export.
So while it was a pleasure to hear our new President announce plans for public-private sector partnerships to boost our capacity for innovation in Industry 4.0-type solutions, it’s incumbent upon us in the corporate world to make sure that we use these partnerships to improve our capacity to create and build new technologies here, and not just increase our consumption of somebody else’s IoT. That is a route to wealth creation, job creation and social stability.
We cannot do that through crude mechanisms such as protectionism, however. We have to become vastly more innovative to keep pace with our international peers.
Innovation of this type is easy to say, hard to achieve. Whether you are innovating at the national level or within a single organisation, two things are essential. You have to have ideas, and you have to have the infrastructure to support those ideas all the way to commercialisation.
This is the culture we are building at Ansys Group. Our vision is of a company where everyone can freely share ideas, and get the support they need to make the best ideas work. It’s a journey, and we’re right at the start of it, but we know where we are heading.
Ansys aims to be a company that values and facilitates conversations. Open conversations about how we can improve our products and processes in which everyone can participate. That’s because better conversations lead to better ideas, which help us as managers to identify which of those ideas people are genuinely passionate about. I would personally rather pay someone to work on something they genuinely believe in than have them feel like they are stuck in a cubicle without a purpose or contribution.
We’re working to create a culture where innovating is part of everyone’s job. As managers, we’re learning how to be supportive, to share in my belief that the primary purpose of a business is not profit maximisation. Yes, that’s important, but the primary purpose of a business is to deliver value to all of its stakeholders, and that includes its employees.
This is a particularly challenging issue for some: innovation inevitably brings change and the loss of certain job roles. Once upon a time we employed banks of typists and telephone operators to jobs that require one or two people today. But part of building the culture of innovation is understanding the value of investing in people . I would rather have five people in training, learning new skills that will drive more innovation than retrench them because new technology made their old job roles redundant.
There is a strong element of self-interest in this. Of course it’s good to build a workplace environment where everyone feels supported and able to experiment without fear of failure, but there’s also the bottom line. Just as a country is better off being a producer rather than a consumer of new solutions, it’s far less costly to innovate internally than via acquisition.
Get that right, and profitability will follow.
Source: Statistics South Africa