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IT And Automation Propels Growth For Stressed Local Businesses

  • 5 min read

As industry eyes recovery after 2020, a year in which South Africa saw the biggest economic contraction since 1946, businesses big and small are looking to drive growth with automation, cost-containment and innovation.

In March 2021, SA Statistician-General, Risenga Maluleke, revealed that the South African economy had contracted by 7% in 2020 on the back of stringent lockdowns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. With South Africans facing one of the worst downturns in living memory, technology and innovation will be critical to economic reconstruction say local technologists.

“The pandemic has stress-tested business locally,” says Stephen Howe, a founder of Times 3 Technologies (T3T), a national South African IT company that uses software to modernise accounting and people practices. “Research by World Wide Worx shows that accountants have been real life savers during the pandemic. The other unsung heroes of industry are the human resources practitioners who are creating new worlds of work, while containing cost, to bring growth to beleaguered sectors.”

In April 2021, research delivered by Arthur Goldstuck’s World Wide Worx revealed that accountants played a major role in containing job and business losses, with over half of the businesses surveyed saying they’d been saved by accountants.

”The financial and people management of businesses are the engine rooms of growth,” says Howe, whose technology firm is an award-winning Platinum Sage Business Partner in South Africa. “Transforming human capital is what will help business leapfrog growth with the right technology that focuses on removing complexity and automating mundane tasks, particularly where it matters most, in people management,” says Howe.

T3T is seeing automation drive growth and productivity in the retail sector where Sage 300 People, an integrated payroll, HR and self-service solution, has helped Spar transform their accounting and people-management IT, and save cash.

“Chief Information Officers and Human Resources Executives are under huge pressure to do more with less as remote work becomes the new normal, while businesses have been forced to accelerate digital-business-transformation plans. The big push is to enable technology that empowers productivity, manages growth, and allows human capital to work safely, wherever they log on from,” says Howe, adding that Spar is a shining light of what intelligent infrastructure can achieve in retail.

“With a workforce of 6,000 and with some 2,500 of our team working from home, the big crunch was teams not having immediate access to files. Getting people used to everything being electronic and having virtual meetings brought big technical challenges,” says Velvani Pillay who manages payroll and people processes at The Spar Group Ltd.

Pillay says modernising internal systems by bringing in an integrated payroll, and automating HR with self-service solutions for staff, increased productivity and drove growth. “This changed business for the better for Spar,” Pillay says, adding: “After the pandemic employees felt that their days were much longer given how much time was being spent in meetings and on admin,” Pillay says. “But automation, integration, and self-service mean that our people are now freed from rote admin, to do what they do best. Basically, staff have access to the information they need, when they need it. What’s more is that they’re set free from rote, routine and mundane tasks and can focus on what they do best, which is to care for our customers.”

Pillay advises that achieving digital transformation at speed is possible with a strong, representative team that includes project management, HR, Payroll, Finance, IT and management. “The best time to implement a project like this is at the start of a new tax year. At Spar we set up a parallel run to streamline the process, and were able to go live soon after.”

Sage 300 People is a Software as a Service offering that lives in the cloud or on-premise that enables even smaller companies with big ambitions to scale quickly and smoothly. The heart of the system is a database that delivers smart insights that make for better decision making. The system is a transformative technology automation that delivers an agile, innovative and cost-effective HR solution that effortlessly and powerfully processes people and payroll functions in a self-service offering.

“The huge value that Sage 300 People brings business is that it eliminates paperwork, enables people to transact with the system easily using a mobile device, and allows managers to print their own reports. Basically the system enables employees to more easily self manage personal information. Teams want the ability to self-serve and print their own payslips and tax certificates. This saves companies time and money, and increases engagement and productivity,” Howe explains.

“What we’re seeing in the retail and other industries, where we’re implementing Sage 300 People software, is that self-service becomes the new normal as businesses transform to smoother, accessible and easier digital services,” the director of T3T says.

“The convenience and control are huge benefits to any organisation, and what we’re seeing is that integration drives collaboration across functions that were previously siloed. But the biggest innovation breakthrough comes in the data that the system collects, providing business with the ability to get a deeper, more intelligent understanding of people,” he says.

“As a function Human Resources and the financial teams in businesses will drive cost optimisation by designing better structures, workflows and processes. The intelligence from data will help enable this. By using technology to better understand teams, and empower them to do their best work, business in South Africa can leapfrog growth at a time when they need it most.”

Already a hit at Spar, T3T has driven successful solutions at Hungry Lion and Cape Union Mart for example.