Gerald NaidooGerald Naidoo

Gerald Naidoo talks about empowerment, sustainability, and what we can learn from India

In India, IT skills are cheap and plentiful, says , CEO of Logikal Consulting. “It’s not like going to a brain surgeon, it’s like getting a plumber.” Because of the skills scarcity in SA, Naidoo says local skills are hugely inflated in price.

He says that’s the niche Logikal hopes to fill. “We want to make IT services accessible in South Africa, at a competitive price, across banks, government, telecoms and retail. That’s what we do, simple as that.”

Naidoo started Logikal in 2008, and has since grown the company to a staff complement of around 300.

He says he conceptualised the business one Sunday afternoon, thinking about the IT market, and trying to discover the gap. “I went to India many years ago, and saw what was happening. I worked with the Tatas, the Wipros of the world. I saw the muscle they had in terms of people, and the muscle we didn’t have in SA.”

He says with the brain drain in South Africa, there’s a dearth of local IT skills, particularly in real systems integration. “Not customisation of off-the-shelf software, but the whole applications landscape, the whole integration – to build a system which has customised off-the-shelf, bespoke homegrown products as well as development. How many South African-owned companies can do that?”

He says because of this lack of skills, many companies that implement systems become value-added resellers. They offer that product, customise it and implement it. He says while that is a form of systems integration, “that’s not what we do. We are a full-service consulting company. We’re able to implement customised off-the-shelf products, but we’re also able to build and we’re able to shoulder most enterprise requirements.”

Skills scarcity

“It’s true of everywhere in Africa, this lack of skills,” he says. But in SA, he explains, training individuals proved very successful. “There is skill, and people who are trained are very successful. I think that’s where we missed the trick. In the 80s, India made a concerted effort for IT skills, so the Indian market is saturated.

“The difference between us and a pure Indian enterprise is we have a large complement of South African staff. We’re a South African business with a branch in India,” he says, adding that local companies prefer engaging with South African businesses.

“For technology resourcing, we have Indian skills and South African skills. There is good, seamless engagement with the client.”

The business is growing well, explains Naidoo. “We’ve recently secured, on an exclusive basis, access to Solix, and it’s a unique offering within the South African market.” He says Solix is the only application retirement product in the world, and has been hugely successful.

“It’s been OEMed by companies like Oracle, and it’s now available in SA. We’ve seen a huge response.”

BEE business

Logikal has three strategic goals, says Naidoo – telecoms, public sector, and BEE. “The company is now 60% black. We want to create a pool of specialised black, female, technical integration. All the black people you see in IT are in sales. They’re not in operations, finance, technical consulting. But it’s changing.

“I have my issues with ‘empowerment’ per se, where you just sell a stake to a black person. That’s not teaching people to fish. It’s not creating skills.” Naidoo says the company trained a group of black women for a project, and “they proved to be so successful the customer hired them. They’re such hard workers, so sharp. The potential in this country is there, it just needs to be harnessed.”
But Naidoo says complex systems integration skills cannot be created in a classroom, and must be learned from experience. “People need to have real trigger time, otherwise there’s no value or real experience. I want Logikal to become an alma mater.”

Green goals

Naidoo says Logikal also puts great emphasis on green and sustainability. “That’s another gap in the South African market. When you are building solutions and large productions, there is a lack of focus, from South African businesses, on environmental issues.”

He says businesses wouldn’t implement initiatives and change business practices purely for the environmental benefits. “Let’s be realistic,” he says. “Businesses do things for the bottom line.
“We look at the business value of sustainability. How can we optimise what we’re doing, but as a natural consequence do something good for the environment?

“For example, if you are rolling out a big system, across 15 countries, do organisations actually monitor the carbon footprints in terms of flights, car rentals, or do they seek a way to do it with videoconferencing? As a business consequence, it’s cheaper than flying, but it also benefits the environment.”

He says finding green alternatives is integrated into everything the company does. “Businesses love it because they can put it in their sustainability report, and realistically, they save costs.”