Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Next Killer Ap for South African Telco’s – simplexity.

I have been consulting to a number of industries, including to various companies in the South African Telecommunications industry; telco, reseller, and service providers on business optimization.

Being a bit of a gadget freak; I was an early adopter and got my first cell phone in the early nineties; using a Nokia 2110 brick. Not being totally technical disabled (a PhD in engineering helps), I have been frustrated with the complexity of the telecommunication business over the years from a consumer, and business owner perspective. In simple terms this means for Telco companies that I, as a buyer of your technology services, don’t really understand what you are telling me to buy and use. In my own words - I want a telco provider to enable me to be connected to my world, at a good price, and without hassle.

Obviously I am hooked on my iPhone – on my trip to the Netherlands I had to find a way to stay online with it. Irrespective of one’s net asset value, paying R300 per megabyte on roaming data rates is not acceptable. So, with a “bundle” of questions; I approached the T Mobile shop on Kalwerstreet to buy a prepaid data connection.

What a shock ! 5 Minutes later I walked out with an activated prepaid simcard on my iPhone, loaded with an inclusive voice and data value pack (“beltegoed”). Within a time span of three hours I made local and international voice calls, downloaded my emails, uploaded a few facebook pictures, check my LinkedIn messages, used Googlemaps for guidance, searched for shop locations and prices for toys, gifts and electronic gadgets.

If you didn’t get this, in South Africa you have to buy the simcard, you have to buy airtime, and then you have to convert the airtime to data bundles through USSD, etc., etc. Oh, and if you happen to have an iPhone, you have to find the internet APN address (this is not on the website, and can’t be found through IVR). And then you will most certainly end-up with the wrong billing at the end of the day if you are a postpaid customer. Get the drift ? And by the way, the T Mobile salesperson became very confused when I hammered him with these questions (from my South African experience) to make sure that I WILL get connected.

The South African mobile industry has enjoyed huge growth and fat margins over the past few years; now the market is saturated; and the question is: what now ?

Think about this; my parents are all above 65; they all have cellphones. Their ARPU declined in the past year or so, due the economic recession. Don’t they also talk, share, travel and buy – for that matter; don’t we all ? They are not gadget freaks, they will not persist trying to make something work that is inherently difficult to do – tried a modem set-up lately?

In all honesty all the price plans, options and stuff can be very boring as we normal people don’t work in the telco industry.

Why don’t you focus on making your complex businesses simple to understand, simple to use, simple to operate, and simple to manage . Making your business complexity simple – call it business simplexity.

Now that should be a real cost-cutting driver and S-Curve profit spinner going forward – we will love it.


Development of a BPM academic strategy requires good insight into the potential impact of BPM on the world. As digitisation becomes more common in business, a company’s BPM capabilities will become more critical. This is a golden opportunity for academics to embrace a new, exciting, cross-functional discipline, and to create the curricula that provide appropriate training platforms for building these competencies.


The lessons learned show that BPM poses several challenges. A number of additional challenges make training in BPM competencies in South Africa even more difficult.

Politically, South Africa is still obsessed with the legacy of the “apartheid” (segregation) system. In the late 2000s, the social action of various stakeholders such as unions and political parties has become more prominent. Unfortunately, this creates a negative environment for the pillars of economic growth: innovation, trade-free (and fair) regulations, accessible capital, and technology.

Economically, South Africa lags behind in the ‘digital revolution’. At the time of writing, ten new undersea data cables were laid or planned, to link South Africa/Africa faster and more cheaply with the rest of the world. South Africa has one of the highest telecommunication cost structures in the world (mobile phone companies consistently rank in the 75th percentile of the most profitable telecommunication companies in the world), so telecommunication connectivity is expensive and difficult.

Socially, political factors focus on uplifting previously disadvantaged individuals. Ten million people (out of forty million) live on state social grants. As a result, scarce skills and innovation platforms have been neglected since 1994, with evidence of acute skills shortages in the market place. Many companies have put projects on hold owing to the lack of skills.

To implement technology strategies such as BPM, BPMS, and Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) successfully, we need fundamentally different management skills, strategies, and capabilities. In our work with large South African corporates, we see the extreme lack of BPM-required capabilities and of people to assist organisations in BPM, using the best of breed BPMS.


The lessons learned from a BPM perspective across the Industrial Engineering curriculum show that a few key themes emerge: complexity, the multi-disciplinary approach, skill levels, and South African socio-economic issues.

BPM is a complex science: it requires the balance of man, machine, and money through an ‘invisible’ mechanism – the business process. So when BPM is carried out, all these various disciplines need to be exercised in a way that creates value.

Multi-disciplinary approach
This immediately raises the matter of a multi-disciplinary approach. Besides considering the socio-economic competencies needed to facilitate the appropriate change management and financial management in BPM, the engineering of the system must also play a role. Questions arise: “How do we engineer change into the business system?”; “What does the blueprint design look like for the business?”; and “How do I best allocate and use scare resources in my business processes?”.

Skills levels
BPM deals with the complexity of business, and thus requires a multi-disciplinary approach. So we need the appropriate level of skills to meet these requirements. Companies In South Africa struggle with the BPMS solutions, and even more so with the skills required for BPM.

Industrial Engineering Suitability
Industrial Engineers are well qualified to play important roles in BPM. However, university Departments of Industrial Engineering need to recognise this fact, and align their curricula more strategically with BPM requirements.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


The curriculum overview is based on information from the Engineering Council of South Africa’s accreditation visit to the department in 2007 (Van Rensburg, 2007). In summary, the three main objectives of the Industrial Engineering programme are:
a) Providing a graduate with a qualification in the field of engineering.
b) Providing specific knowledge and applied competence in Industrial Engineering.
c) Providing programme contents that satisfy ECSA’s requirements for registration as a professional engineer.

Tables 1 and 2 give the programme contact time and programme content respectively for the Bachelor’s degree.

Credits per semester module are based on the computation of the “contact periods” and “contact hours”. In general, four contact lectures per week (each fifty minutes long) will be an eight credit module. Five or more contact lectures per week can constitute a sixteen credit module per semester.

As defined in the previous paragraphs, one can group BPM competencies in three main areas. In the following table (Table 3), course modules have been allocated to each of these competencies across all four years of study. It shows that the first year focuses on optimisation (basic sciences and mathematical sciences) to provide a proper engineering foundation. In the final year the focus shifts more to business engineering than to optimisation or business architecture.
Table 3: BPM Competency Structure for Curriculum

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