Au­to­matic for the peo­ple

Xoliswa Kakana’s mum lent her R40K to turn her tech start-up into a Pan-African busi­ness that wins lu­cra­tive con­tracts to au­to­mate sys­tems and im­prove lives

CityPress - - News - ZINHLE MA­PUMULO zinhle.ma­pumulo@city­press.co.za

It all started with a dream to de­velop and run a com­pany in which ev­ery­one, re­gard­less of their gen­der and race, would be al­lowed to be the best they could be. So when Xoliswa Kakana fell preg­nant with her last-born child in 1999, she de­cided that in­stead of go­ing on ma­ter­nity leave, she would turn her dream into a re­al­ity.

She quit her job as a com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion man­ager at re­search group the CSIR. With just a lap­top, an idea of what she wanted to do and R40 000 of her mother’s pen­sion pay­out as start-up cap­i­tal, she founded ICT-Works, a com­pany that pro­vides in­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tions.

To­day, ICT-Works is headed by three black women – Kakana, Sindile Ncala and Mar­garet Sibiya. The com­pany em­ploys 120 peo­ple at its of­fices in Joburg and Cape Town.

It also com­petes with lead­ing in­ter­na­tional IT com­pa­nies for busi­ness in the rest of Africa and has bagged lu­cra­tive con­tracts in Nige­ria and Kenya.

ICT-Works re­cently won a ten­der in Nige­ria for an ad­vanced pub­lic trans­port man­age­ment sys­tem, which au­to­mates plan­ning, sched­ul­ing and fleet man­age­ment for the La­gos Metropoli­tan Area Trans­port Author­ity.

This is the com­pany’s sec­ond-largest con­tract out­side South Africa af­ter its suc­cess­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion of a pro­cure­ment man­age­ment so­lu­tion for Kenya’s Na­tional Trea­sury.

In South Africa, ICT-Works has scored sev­eral lu­cra­tive con­tracts over the years, in­clud­ing one for MyCiti, the City of Cape Town’s in­te­grated rapid bus trans­port sys­tem, in 2012. The ten­der to de­velop, im­ple­ment, main­tain and op­er­ate a cash­less sys­tem ran into hun­dreds of mil­lions of rands.

It sounds like an in­spir­ing jour­ney, but it was not all smooth sail­ing, Kakana told City Press this week.

“There were times when I wished I had not ven­tured into busi­ness be­cause of the myr­iad chal­lenges we faced in the be­gin­ning – in par­tic­u­lar, cash flow. I had not an­tic­i­pated that there would be cash flow prob­lems caused by de­layed pay­ments or de­lays in the com­ple­tion of the project,” she says.

“Know­ing what I know now, I would per­haps have waited and made sure I had enough work­ing cap­i­tal to keep go­ing.

“If it were not for my mother, who came to my res­cue with a chunk of her pen­sion, we would be telling a dif­fer­ent story to­day.”

Through the ups and downs, Kakana, an elec­tron­ics en­gi­neer, per­se­vered and en­sured that ev­ery con­tract the com­pany signed was de­liv­ered. She dou­bled up as a fi­nan­cial man­ager, bid writer and even a floor sweeper.

She soon re­alised she needed help from peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enced in the ICT sec­tor and part­nered with Ncala, who is the com­pany’s man­ag­ing ex­ec­u­tive for the pub­lic sec­tor, and Sibiya, now ICT-Works’ chief op­er­a­tions of­fi­cer.

Ncala brought with her a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence from the ICT sec­tor, hav­ing pre­vi­ously worked at lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies such as the Ed­con Group, Ac­cen­ture and Stan­dard Bank. Sibiya had ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in the IT in­dus­try, hav­ing spe­cialised in busi­ness op­er­a­tions and strat­egy de­vel­op­ment.

One would have thought that would have been the end of their woes, but they soon re­alised it was not to be. Kakana says that even when the three women were hold­ing things to­gether, they made mis­takes.

“We un­der­es­ti­mated the amount of sell­ing we’d have to do be­cause we as­sumed that, be­ing a BEE com­pany, 100% black-fe­male-owned and man­aged, that would give us an ad­van­tage in the in­dus­try.

“But af­ter some time, we re­alised we had to work 10 times harder and stand above the rest,” she says.

Their de­ter­mi­na­tion paid off in 2008 when the com­pany landed a con­tract worth more than R700 mil­lion to im­ple­ment pro­cure­ment as part of Trea­sury’s in­te­grated fi­nan­cial man­age­ment sys­tem. This was the largest and most com­plex con­tract the com­pany had won, says Kakana.

“Due to the mag­ni­tude and com­plex­ity of this project, we had to ramp up ca­pac­ity. This meant we needed a lot of cap­i­tal be­fore the project even be­gan.

“At that time, we were still build­ing the com­pany and didn’t have such re­serves. We ap­proached the In­dus­trial Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (IDC) for fi­nance in 2008 and the loan was ap­proved in 2011. This is how our re­la­tion­ship with them be­gan.”

Kakana can­not pro­vide the ex­act fig­ure of the first loan ICT-Works re­ceived from the cor­po­ra­tion. But she does say that the IDC has been sup­port­ive of her com­pany over the past seven years.

Bol­stered by the track record of sev­eral suc­cesses such as MyCity and Trea­sury’s projects, Kakana says: “We are not afraid to go af­ter large, com­plex projects, both in the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors.”

In the past seven years, ICT-Works has de­liv­ered three con­tracts worth more than R700 mil­lion.

“It’s un­for­tu­nate that we are one of a few black, fe­male-led, lead­ing ICT com­pa­nies in South Africa. Of course, we as­pire to be a suc­cess­ful Pan-African or­gan­i­sa­tion. It’s about time we de­vel­oped many more black com­pa­nies to play in the big league,” says Kakana.

This se­ries is re­ported by City Press and spon­sored by the IDC

PHOTO: EDREA DU TOIT

EASY DOES IT

Pritchard Ven­ganai, su­per­vi­sor of the au­to­mated fare col­lec­tion team at ICT-Works. He works on the MyCiTi project

Xoliswa Kakana

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