tt100 Awards Interview: Aizatron

Ansu Sooful, CEO at Aizatron.

Aizatron is an emerging technology fusion company embracing open standards for the fusion of electronic technologies (IOT) with Information technologies to provide digital solutions for a future Southern Africa. The company won two awards at the recent tt100 2019 awards – here’s why:

Ansu Sooful, CEO at Aizatron.

What is the core focus of your business?

We are a startup technology innovation company that has embraced the digital culture of sharing, co-creation and co-operation using open standards. We are a company of doers. Many companies talk about digital transformation and the 4th industrial revolution as something coming or something abstract. At Aizatron, we are already living in the 4th industrial era, supported by our ultra-modern business models and open innovation processes.

We help our customers practically embrace technologies and processes to enable them to transform their businesses in both a financially and socially responsible way. We have specialist consultants who have decades of practical experience working for large enterprises in massive transformation projects. Our consultants use their extensive real-world experience to understand how to implement transformational changes in large organisations and ensure success.

We are a company that works with our customers and their staff in the trenches driving massive transformational strategies through a process of implementation of automation and data-driven technologies. Our primary focus areas of the business are in:

  • High end professional consulting,
  • Information technology development and services, Design and development of smart electronic devices and;
  • Field services to support IT infrastructure and intelligent IoT devices.

We have industry veteran consultants with 20+ years of experience, coupled with very young innovative engineers in our Labs. This combination enables us to build enterprise-ready smart technology in a rapid yet scalable way. We develop systems end-to-end that integrates from microprocessor level up to our big data systems and machine learning platforms in the cloud. We have expertise in building some of the largest databases in Africa.

Our core technical skills are in data analytics, machine learning, computer vision, microchip programming, and building secure cloud-based services. We have built large operational and revenue assurance systems, using modern data injection, transformation, analysis, and display techniques.

We help large organisations with historically siloed data by using less expensive modern technologies to bring the data into a common operational monitoring environment enabling early detection of problems in their environment. Early detection of problems in operations, coupled with RPA technology, has helped us to automatically fix common problems without human intervention, thereby reducing the workload in SOCs. This automation enables the SOC to be much more productive by focusing on complex problem solving while the bot deals with common issues.

Our innovation lab enables us to rapidly prototype any smart device that is required. We have built a flexible ecosystem that enables us to manufacture any customer-specific smart/IoT devices at the price point of standard off the shelf devices. Our systems have open APIs, which makes it easy to integrate into existing infrastructure. We have focused on ensuring that our devices and ecosystem is very secure by introducing multiple layers of security. We believe that safety on IoT devices is critical. Yet, it is currently not a consideration when people deploy them in their businesses or houses.

What have been the company’s biggest highlights for 2019?

Our most significant achievement was we kicked off the Aizatron Accelerant program this year. It was a concept that we built based on the direction and trends of how business and society is evolving.

The Aizatron Accelerant program is a 4th industry-focused business platform to help accelerate business growth for our business partners, subject matter experts (SMEs), independent consultants & Innovators. We understand that the world is changing where people and companies are collaborating and sharing to build bigger and better solutions.

The companies that embrace collaboration and knowledge sharing can move faster and build better, and more robust solutions at a fraction of the cost of single large companies. Many large companies are obsessed with IP and owning everything that they are missing out on the sharing economy that is currently exploding around them.

As a result of technology, the cost of global collaboration has dropped to almost zero. Small specialist/expert companies are emerging and collaborating to build complex systems that are driving the new digital economy at an ever-increasing pace. Through this business platform, we have enabled these SMEs to create flexible structures to delivery to any business requirement without the overheads of large companies.

Aizatron Accelerant is a Value Network business as opposed to a Value Chain business where our technology and our strategy is enabling a value network (or ecosystem) to emerge threatening existing value chain (traditional) businesses. The interaction and relationships between Aizatron accelerant entities are based on trust, collaboration, co-creation and open relations which generate economic value through net positive interactions. Our business has been rapidly growing over the last two years because of our adoption of unlocking value through this sharing culture.

Aizatron Open Labs – when we started, there were no facilities available to people wanting to innovate in the cyber-physical space. This problem was especially real for young engineering students with good ideas who wanted to develop their tech into prototypes. We came up with the idea to create an open lab environment that we equipped to enable external people with great ideas to come and work with us to further develop those ideas.

The open lab has been incredibly successful. In a single year of operations, we have had a total of 31 young beneficiaries of our Labs. We also have a list of more than 100 students wanting to come and work on various innovation projects in our labs. It also enables Aizatron to remain current with technology and technology trends as well as experience working with the next generation of engineers.

The lab has also produced several commercially viable products, and the process of beta testing and commercialisation has begun. Most of our beneficiaries of the lab are existing undergrad students or students who have just graduated from tertiary institutions. They do not have access to any other facilities to do prototypes and to build and develop their ideas into commercially viable products.

Due to the success of this initiative, we have currently reached our capacity at the labs. We will need new premises and better equipment for expansion.

Winning the TT100 awards – We almost did not enter the competition because we are very busy with growing the business, building our products and driving our strategy forward. Everyone in Aizatron is working very hard to achieve our goals. Working in the innovation space, you are continually trying to get things to work, and you always fail – until you succeed. It is the nature of innovation, and if it were easy, then it would not be innovation.

This process can be depressing and is not as glamorous as people make it out to be. Our labs look more like a garage with wires, electronics and soldering irons, spread across engineers desks. Winning the TT100 awards gives us an internal assurance that we on the right track and others have acknowledged what we are doing. It is like winning the world cup for us. It has brought new life into the company as we all now see ourselves as winners.

Could you tell us about your future plans and upcoming programs?

Next year is a critical year for us. We will be entering our third year of operations. Based on our business planning; this is the year we begin to unlock some of the investments we have been making into the business over the last two years.

Consulting Division
We will continue to provide niche subject matter expert consulting to our enterprise customers. This business is growing, and we see more opportunities emerging in this space. Due to the levels of skills that we have as well as our ability to expand our capabilities rapidly through our Accelerant program, we are able to compete on an equal footing with well-established traditional consulting companies.

Solutions Division
There is a massive demand for skilled DevOps resources in the local industry. This division is rapidly expanding through our investment in skilling up our resources as well as our investments in RPA, data analytics, Machine learning, computer vision, big data systems and full-stack development and support capabilities. We anticipate the demand for these skills to increase drastically next year. We are well-positioned to respond as we have been investing in building this local competency over the last two years.

Electronics Division
We plan to enter the market for our smart device business through distributors and resellers as we are a B2B business and not a B2C business. We will work through resellers, ISPs, Telecommunication companies and security companies who want to expand their business into the smart technology space. We will work with them to customise and brand the devices as their own as well as integrate it into their existing customer-facing systems. We will continue to focus on technology innovation, development and production.

Field Services Division
We are working with existing training centres to begin training and certifying young people on installing, configuring, repairing and maintaining smart infrastructure like cameras, sensors, access control systems, robotic equipment, etc.

We looking to start our first micro-manufacturing plant for custom-developed electronics as well as expand micro repair centres across the country for manufacture and support of electronic devices. We think that this is where most jobs will be create in the digital economy over the next five to ten years.

Why are programs like the tt100 beneficial to enterprises?

As I mentioned before, it does wonders for the internal morale of our staff. For a young company like Aizatron to win the Small business overall Excellence award espouses what we’re about – a small dynamic, fast, agile, creative business with an excellent delivery capability.

It puts us on the map. Getting out there and promoting Aizatron as a startup in South Africa is very tough. We do not have the brand awareness or marketing budgets of the large technology companies. This award helps us convince large corporates that perhaps they need specialist companies like ours who live in the digital age to come and assist them with digital transformation.

The TT100 awards program was very beneficial to us as they have the TIPS framework that they have developed. As a technology innovation business, frameworks like this help us evaluate our business and identify areas of strengths and weakness. When we entered the competition, we identified specific areas that we would need to improve on. The Adjudicators also freely shared their knowledge and asked probing questions which helped us rethink some of our business drivers. By entering this competition, we will become a better organisation next year.

How has winning the award impacted your business?

So far, it has mainly been great from a marketing perspective. We have received many good wishes from business associates, partners and customers. Internally, our very hard-working staff feel vindicated for all those long hours they spend on working on building up Aizatron. The company is looking now to the future as we truly believe that anything is possible with enough persistence, effort, time and money.

What advice would you give to future leaders who are starting out within the same industry?

It is not the most intelligent or smartest person in the room that will be the leader. It is the person who can get everyone working together to a common goal that leads. Leaders need to understand what makes people tick and support people’s needs for their people to deliver what is required. A leader has to embrace their human self.

Leaders need to command respect by ensuring that they are knowledgeable about their staff’s work. They must be able to engage with their team and provide them with direction when they get stuck. They must not be the expert, but rather the guide – even if they are the expert. Technical people struggle to be effective leaders until they let go of trying to be the SME in the room.

Leaders need a vision that can be communicated easily to the company and understood by everyone. This vision must be followed up by action plans with milestones and deadlines for delivery. Leaders need to provide updates on the execution. In this way, the vision is kept alive, and the entire organisation is forced to pull in one direction.

I feel that leaders have to get out of the boardrooms and start spending time in the trenches to understand how their business is being impacted by new entrants and technologies. I have found in the past that lots of information is lost or misrepresented through the layers in an organisation. Many times, leaders can make small, inexpensive changes that can significantly benefit to the organisation if they only had the right information available to them.

Staff writer