Interview With The CEO

Themba Ndhlovu

Who is SBD Business Systems?
SBD is one of the few truly black-owned South African printing and technology specialists, with 74% black ownership. The company has a national supply, service and support network comprising of black, in particular African, emerging entities. SBD’s main objective is to assist the public sector to improve its use of technology for end-to-end document management, cost management and service. Our goal is to assist government departments, state owned enterprises and municipalities to improve service delivery, effectiveness and efficiencies through the use of technology. Our vision is that of a transformed IT industry with an increased number of genuinely empowered technology-oriented and capable entities. This is reflected in our staff compliment and the network of partners we work with.

What makes SBD unique within the South African ICT and print space?
 In this industry, SBD competes with a few multinational white-owned monopolies. SBD is the only company that has a direct relationship with the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and through this relationship it is able to provide a quality service at reasonable pricing. Our company boasts an employee profile that is 81% black, 54% women, and an average age of 33. As a company, we deliberately aim to recruit and provide opportunities to young, black talent with entrepreneurial potential.

What are the limiting factors within the industry?
The industry in which SBD operates is the least transformed of all industries. The major reasons why emerging and small empowered entities are battling to emerge and grow in this sector are gate keeping tendencies as well as business challenges that relate, among others, to the lack of technical expertise and the concentration of technical expertise lying in big monopoly entities.

There is a deliberate effort by current industry players to muscle out existing black, in particular African, technical expertise. Through gate keeping tendencies, new entrants are kept out or bought out to keep the industry racial profile. Emerging empowered entities are frustrated and wiped out by competition. Often, they are labeled corrupt or politically connected and choked out of business through legal battles against bids awarded to them. Where emerging black enterprises survive the above, they go under through the denial of loan funding by commercial banks for the spurious reason of the unreliability of government contracts.

When the few that pull through approach Development Funding Institutions set up by government purportedly to advance transformation, doors are slammed in their face. There is no capacity for finance provision by commercial banks. DFIs have their own limitations, including non-alignment of funding windows and practices to the transformation agenda of government; a general lack of political will, arrogance, ignorance and aloofness of the bureaucracy; policy rigidity, inflexibility and bureaucratic red tape, resulting in unresponsive turnaround times.

How can government assist in transforming the industry?
The industry will require a lot more political will, strategic intent and consistent roll out of transformative programmes that unapologetically seek to advance the course of a black African, youthful entrepreneur.

In order for this to happen there has to be repositioning. Public sector procurement should increase set asides for empowered entities – the popular subcontracting model being used currently is inadequate. DFIs should revise their policies and funding models to align them to the needs and circumstances of empowered entities. Government contracts awarded to competent empowered entities should guarantee automatic funding by an FDI. Public Education Sector and Skills Development institutions should pay particular attention to recruitment and training of technicians and the development of curricula and programmes that will ensure the creation of a huge pool of black African technicians.

Alongside these initiatives, government should seek ways to transform the Distribution Company (DC) tier and force the industry to open this level up to ownership by majority black African-owned enterprises.

In the final analysis, OEMs should be compelled to demonstrate a willingness to progressively increase localisation through assembly plants, sourcing local materials and eventually manufacturing.

Where do you see SBD in five years’ time?
SBD is willing and has demonstrated in the few years of its existence, its commitment towards the transformation of the industry, the development of black African entrepreneurs, thereby disrupting the status quo and revolutionising the IT industry.

SBD sees itself in the next five years gaining a decent market share, a distribution license, as well as a network of empowered associate partners in the industry. And having a countrywide footprint!