The X factor

The global journey of software designer and solution driver Adapt IT has just begun, says CEO Sbu Shabalala

The X factor

You don’t have to be in IT to know it’s a tough business – highly competitive, somewhat fickle and very edgy. On the other hand, if you can make it in SA – where little to no growth has been experienced over the past year – then you can make it anywhere (thank you, Frank Sinatra). And that is exactly what founder and CEO of Adapt IT Sbu Shabalala intends to do.

‘We’re focused on going global,’ he says. ‘It’s time for South Africa to start exporting its intellectual property instead of importing it. Adapt IT intends to reverse that trend within the next five to 10 years. I’m very confident of our ability to do this, especially given our high growth rate in very tough market conditions.’

Evidence of this is derived from the software provider’s latest results, showing 25% growth by reaching its goal of R1 billion turnover this year – achieved despite what Shabalala refers to as a ‘low-confidence’ market, given current political instability and economic woes. ‘Such conditions affect customers’ buying decisions and, consequently, buying patterns. However, such a lack of confidence will not sustain, so it’s a matter of being geared to meet requirements when that swing happens, and remaining lean in the meantime.’

Adapt IT operates in a market that is going through a consolidation stage. When Shabalala started the business in 2004, the industry was fragmented, he says, with innumerable technology providers and start-ups. ‘Over the years, customers have become more particular about their suppliers. They are looking at larger and well-established organisations since they are vastly concerned with the stability and longevity of the services they require rather than a quick or novel fix, which makes it difficult for start-ups to succeed.’

The company’s differentiator is in the provision of software solutions that are specific to the education, manufacturing, energy, financial and hospitality sectors. Shabalala long realised that to command a large market share, Adapt IT customers needed to view the organisation as having the right expertise. For this reason, the business employs individuals that have strong industry-specific knowledge and experience.

‘Our customers want creative and innovative solutions. We are therefore building software tailored to their needs. Take hospitality for example, another highly competitive environment with critical needs around logistics management or analytics. Being automated and systemised is a game changer in this sector.’

That is not to say Adapt IT does not employ outside of industry-specific qualified personnel. As part of its CSR programme, the company takes on post-graduates who are usually employed after completing a graduate training programme. These individuals may already have been exposed to Adapt IT’s more comprehensive support of ICT in schools where it has built technology labs – spending more than R3 million over the past few years.

According to Shabalala: ‘We are very keen on exposing students to ICT at an early age. Not only does it promote career development but it is also good for the industry in general. We currently employ over 1 000 IT engineers in line with our need for qualified individuals who understand how their success is linked to our own.’

Success for Adapt IT is also continental. It recently opened an office in Botswana, and its presence in Mauritius ensures the servicing of other African markets. ‘We see Adapt IT as a pan-African business first and foremost. However, as we expand into broader markets, we are seeking to acquire or merge with similar-minded businesses where there are mutual benefits to be had from sharing local IT markets,’ he says. ‘Part of our strategy is to go into the Australasian market, and we also have eyes on the UK.’

It must be highly satisfying for Shabalala that after just 13 years, starting with a B.Com and some programming experience, his start-up is now a JSE-listed company foraying into global markets. ‘It’s very pleasing,’ he says. ‘Setting a vision is one thing but you have to remain true to what you do and others must see you personally deliver on your goals. I have to be at the forefront of growth but that does not mean I am autocratic. I prefer to ensure that all strategies are clear; that everyone understands what has to be implemented. And then I monitor, but not in a pedantic way.

‘Its easy to fall into this trap when you’ve been involved in a small business from the start and had to do everything yourself. But now I’m confident that all the necessary checks and balances are in place, and we can run with processes that ensure our continued success.’

By Kerry Dimmer