“Simply be great at what you do and make an authentic difference.” This commitment is a passion of Greg Reis’, CEO of African consulting and technology company, BSG, which is currently celebrating its 20th year in business.
For two decades BSG has been using its uncommon common-sense approach to wow its clients and their customers by simply getting the job done.
No company survives without learning some important lessons. Greg Reis tells us how his home-grown company achieved its 20-year milestone and discover how these lessons can give your business the edge.
How does BSG bridge the gap between business and its IT function?
We’ve broken down silos, focused on customer experience and pioneered the understanding that the facts resident in data should drive business operating models.
When silos are prevalent, this always has negative consequences for businesses. Given the acceleration of technological innovation, growth in customer touch-points and their increasingly demanding needs, a company with business and IT lines operating in isolation won’t result in success any longer.
BSG has spent 20 years making inroads into cracking the silo in our client’s businesses. We use a combination of inclusive design thinking and centralised, strategic journey management, whilst allowing controlled experimentation for the good of the whole, to amplify overall effectiveness.
Customer experience is central to the success of our client’s businesses. BSG delivered a customer-centric approach in the South African consulting and technology industry from the get-go. By proving the business benefit of data management projects, we create a shared goal, the success of which will add value for both parties. Understanding this allows the work we do to impart tangible value to business and IT, motivating closer cooperation.
Most business operating models have historically been process-led. Four years ago, we began introducing the idea that new operating models should be driven by the science present in our client’s data. Given the rapid acceleration of digital channels and their impact on the customer interface, data becomes central to formulating working operating models that both support business and integrate the value its IT function offers.
Looking back on 20 years, what is BSG’s greatest success?
Our greatest success is that we are an African business that has survived for twenty years. Through hard work and determination, we have become a real alternative to the global consulting companies. Additionally, we are product agnostic, meaning we did not rely on supporting a specific product brand over another to bolster our success.
Nurturing a South African startup on a 20-year journey to maturity is no small feat considering the South African small business failure rate. Trade and Industry Minister, Rob Davies, said in May 2013, that about 70% of small businesses fail within their first year.
In December 2016 Prof Christian Friedrich from the University of Applied Sciences, Giessen, Germany and Extraordinary Professor at the University of the Western Cape presented research that only about 1% of businesses who start with less than five employees ever grow to employ ten people or more. A testament to our success, over our 20-year journey, we have employed just under 200 people.
BSG has operated for the last 20 years, gaining invaluable experience. We are home-grown and have a uniquely South African culture. Through our experience we have learnt that it is by combining leading global knowledge and local experience to create uniquely African solutions that success is achieved. We are proud of our Afrocentric roots and recognise that this has played a big role in the sustainable success of our business.
BSG is built on relationships. We have clients and BSGers who have been with us since our first day in business. Our clients grew to trust us, because we are likeable people who work in a team alongside their employees. That’s how most learning takes place. We are proud to say that we have empowered hundreds of clients through collaborative learning.
Power comes from having highly skilled people who work well with others; effectively collaborating with clients and openly sharing knowledge to ensure success. This empowers our clients to make informed decisions without overreliance on us, as a service provider. Don’t be scared to empower your clients, the more they learn, the better their results and the higher your chance of return business.
In what way does BSG add value; what differentiates BSG from its competitors?
We challenge the common perception of what a consultant is and what the consultation process looks like. BSG adds value by upskilling our clients, executing exceptionally well by using common-sense and essentially collaborating. Through applying the 70:20:10 learning principle we empower our clients to learn on the ground while working with our consultants.
BSG is known for its collaborative style, putting clients in the driver’s seat by creating an authentic consulting experience. We empower our clients by helping to show them how to get the job done. This then gives them the confidence and ability to make informed decisions.
70:20:10 learning is a skills development model that explains that only 10% of learning actually takes place in a classroom environment. 20% of learning takes place though coaching and exposure to concepts and a whopping 70% of learning actually takes place through observing and directly participating in the process you are trying to learn about. We use the power of experiential learning to impart knowledge in our client spaces.
For two decades BSG has been using its uncommon common-sense approach to wow its clients and their customers by simply getting the job done. BSG’s people are often referred to as common-sense brokers, not afraid to ask why people do what they do. Applying common-sense can reveal simpler or better ways of getting the job done.
We are not scared to get under the iceberg and challenge the status quo. When we share our perspective, we strive to ensure it is fact-based. We never promote a technology product, we’ve been agnostic from the start, sitting on our client’s side of the negotiating table.
What are the most important lessons you have learned over the past 20 years?
You need to remove frozen behavior to move forward. Doing things the way they have always been done no longer produces the same results in a dynamic environment. However, it can be difficult for us to see our own frozen behaviour, which can lead to businesses thinking in silos or making decisions based on legacy assumptions. Challenging accepted thinking opens the door for innovation and progress.
Look for simplicity amongst overwhelming complexity. In business, we all face the high stakes challenge of making ever-increasingly difficult decisions. Facts are found in the detail, using them reduces risk and allows difficult decisions to be made wisely. As Walt Disney said, “There is no magic in magic, the magic is in the detail.”
Simply be great at what you do and make an authentic difference. It seems like a no-brainer, but being competent never goes out of style. Approach a problem with the right competencies and your chances of success are instantly higher.
Build relationships. There are no shortcuts to building a good reputation. Trust is earned by doing what you say you will, when you say you will. And lastly, experience matters, each step along your business journey in an important one. Learn from them, build on them and turn experience into insight.
What is the most important piece of advice you would give other South African business owners looking to build their own businesses?
Hire great people that are far more capable that you are and create the structure to give them freedom to apply their talent. Create a vision that is inspiring and purposefully led. Don’t be scared to take risks, be courageous and be happy to be most unpopular person in the room in pursuit of your purpose.
Reflecting on BSG’s learnings from the last 20 years, it’s clear that South Africa offers big opportunities for savvy entrepreneurs and small businesses alike, but opportunity alone does not guarantee success.
Success comes from equipping your people with the skills for empowered leadership. Hire people that are better than you are and equip them with the clarity and capability to do their best work.
Start with a purpose. Ask what the fundamental principle or belief of your business is. BSG grew out of a passion to be a proactive force for positive change, by making a difference in everything we do. When I started BSG I believed that a professional services business could make a difference in South Africa investing in education and skills development in the community. This is exactly what we now do though our support of LEAP Science and Maths Schools and our Graduate Development Programme. Start with the right foundation. It makes it easier to face life’s challenges. When times get tough that is what could make all the difference.
What does the future hold for BSG – what’s next?
We are pioneering the use of data as a mechanism to get the answers for how our clients should be creating the experiences their customers need.
Facts resident in a company’s data, collected from every customer touch-point, is the single and most significant lens to change that business’s operating model.
Savvy businesses will capitalise on the rise of digital channels by innovating the way their operating model works through generating understanding and insight from the facts that are present in their data. In the future, BSG will be a launch pad for our clients who want to work more effectively to pragmatically innovate their processes.