BarnOwl Info Sharing session: 29 October 2020
Presented by Miles Crisp, CEO, Tarsus Technologies
Thank you very much Miles for presenting at our info-sharing event held online on the 29th October 2020. I would also like to thank Ronald Laxton who kindly did the write-up of Miles’s presentation below. Finally thank you to all those who attended our info sharing session.
This session was a most informative, interesting & thought-provoking session. One of the reasons why this discussion is so valuable is that Miles has thought specifically to address changes to the business that go beyond the obvious changes that resulted from the enforced change to working from home. He provides candid insights into the scale and complexity of the business & operational challenges with which Tarsus had to deal rapidly in order both to survive, and to find a new modus vivendi.
The effects of Lockdown
Miles describes the combined effects of the lockdown, which included:-
- A significant loss of revenue
- The implications of dealing with incoming goods based on a 6-week average procurement lead-time
- A significant shift in customer demand that meant that existing stock & incoming goods were no longer a good match for demand
- And a reduction of access to credit facilities.
The nature of business fragility
The more I reflect on Miles’ description of dealing with the combination of these challenges, the more I find myself thinking about the nature of business fragility. Fragility is usually concealed beneath many layers of assumptions – e.g. that the pattern of customer demand is fairly stable, that supply chains will continue to work pretty much as they have in the past, and that access to credit will continue on a basis with which we are familiar. These are so often “baked in” to our view of reality that we do not question what could disrupt them radically. In a short space of time, the prior focus at Tarsus on managing margins became irrelevant, whilst the need to manage liquidity became paramount. It is interesting to hear how this overarching requirement drove changes in procurement and sales management that have left Tarsus with the ability to manage their liquidity on an ongoing basis with a degree of accuracy that would not have been possible without the experience gained from this crisis, and the development of new processes and systems as a result of it.
Adapting to and accelerating change
It is insightful to hear how many changes during the period of the lockdown were changes that accelerated the implementation of thinking and preparation that had already been started long before the pandemic. In some cases there were years of thought and preparation that preceded these. Earlier during the lockdown I watched an interview with Arvind Krishna, CEO of IBM since April 2020. In IBM’s assessment, the lockdown has accelerated existing trends by about 5 years. One of these trends, according to Miles, has been the readiness to place digital orders, and to interact digitally with customers and suppliers.
This increased willingness to transact digitally had important implications for the operations of the company. In pushing information to support decision making to the ‘edges’ of the business, and as close to customers as possible, required the development of new systems, such as an automated pricing mechanism which included daily currency fluctuations.
Closure of offices, and the move to working remotely ultimately lead to a complete revision of how the sales team should be structured, based not on geography but on customer segments.
Resourcing and moving beyond a geographically defined workforce
The ability to move beyond the assumptions of a geographically defined workforce has provided access to a pool of skills that is so much larger. In many roles, it is not even necessary for someone to be living & working in the same time zone, and indeed there may be times where it is a benefit to have members of a team working in different time zones. This leads Miles into talking about the significant focus in the group on working on the culture at Tarsus. For years the focus has been on moving decision making as close to the customer as possible, and this requires the correct systems, policies and access to information. It also requires an environment in which there are high levels of trust. Miles shares generously about their experience of recruiting the correct people for such an environment. During the Q&A time, he talks at some length about a new focus on recruiting people with specific capabilities (as opposed to skills) – such as collaboration, being a fast learner, adaptability and flexibility. What is a person’s risk taking capability? The ability to analyse data and to provide insight. He also speaks about some of the challenges that have resulted from the change to ‘working from home’ – in particular, the difficulties inherent in onboarding & induction of new recruits.
The need for effective risk management
To add to Ronald’s excellent summary above, what struck me is that risk management when taken seriously and done effectively, embeds a culture whereby an organisation is continually scanning and evaluating an ever changing landscape to make sure that new or existing opportunities are exploited and that risks are identified, prioritised and managed on an ongoing basis. Risk management is forward looking. Many organisations place huge reliance on their numbers (management accounts) to determine what is happening or to predict what is going to happen, however the numbers by their very nature are past-tense and are inwardly focused. Whilst no one can predict the future, risk management is a great enabler by being focused on the big picture and being forward looking.
There were many changes that were forced on Tarsus by circumstances beyond its control. In other cases, changes that were already in the pipeline were accelerated. As a result, Tarsus now enjoys a more resilient business model & operational systems that have addressed risks (such as risks to liquidity) in ways that leaves them more resilient.
There are many industries and companies that are still struggling to come to terms with the effects of the pandemic on their businesses, and that have not had the fortune to address these as quickly as Tarsus has. The experiences shared by Miles can be used to provide insights, spark creativity, and create the will to embrace change at many companies. Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Miles.
Presentation and Video links:
Please see attached video link here
Useful and associated links:
Once again thank you Miles for your time and for your informative presentation and thank you to Ronald who summarised Miles’s presentation here. Thank you too, to all those who attended our info sharing session. We look forward to seeing you at our next info sharing session. Please keep a look out for our upcoming events at: http://www.barnowl.co.za/events/
Director – BarnOwl GRC and Audit software
About Miles Crisp, CEO, Tarsus Technologies
B Com CTA C.A. (S.A.)
Miles is currently Group CEO of Tarsus Technologies Group, a private IT Distribution business serving the Southern African region (6.5 years). The Tarsus Group employs some 1000 people. Prior to that Miles was CEO of SecureData Ltd, an Information Security company listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange before being acquired by Tarsus Technology Group in March 2014 (2 years).
Before that, he was Group CEO of O’Keeffe & Swartz Consulting (Pty) Ltd (OKS), a group of enterprises employing some 800 people in the business of direct sales of simple insurance products to the public and related administrative services, (3 years).
Prior to this Miles was with Deloitte & Touche (14 years). Miles was a member of the 6-person Deloitte Southern Africa Exco from 2002 until 2007. In South Africa Miles was the Partner in Charge of the Financial Services Service Line, which included Enterprise Risk Management, Internal Audit, Computer Audit, IT Security, Forensics, Corporate Finance and Tip-Offs Anonymous. In addition, Miles led a similar combination of divisions in the EMEA region from 2000 until 2006 and was one of five partners on the global exco for these services. Miles was also the country partner-in-charge of Computer Audit, Internal Audit and IT security for Germany, reporting directly to the German head of Audit. Miles commuted between Johannesburg and his main base in Frankfurt for these 6 years, and travelled around the region and the world extensively.
Miles cut his teeth before then with a nine-year stint at Anderson Rochussen Crisp, a professional audit, tax and business consulting practice that he co-founded in April 1985.
Miles completed his accounting articles in Johannesburg with Coopers & Lybrand between 1982 and 1985 after completing his B.Com. and CTA at Rhodes University.
Miles grew up in Harare, Zimbabwe and served in the South African Infantry for two years in the mid-seventies.
For the past 10 years Miles has been the volunteer Treasurer and a Council member of Vuleka School, a private school serving 1100 under-privileged and vulnerable children and employing 130 staff.
Miles is also currently a member of the Fund-Raising committee of Children in the Wilderness, a Foundation dedicated to conservation education for vulnerable children in remote wilderness areas of Southern Africa.
Miles is 62 years old and a keen mountain biker with the scars to prove it. He has been married to Liz for nearly 38 years and has two gorgeous adult daughters and a son-in-law. He has recently become a very proud grandfather.
AFFILIATIONS (SOCIETIES / ASSOCIATIONS):
- South African Institute of Chartered Accountants
- Treasurer of Vuleka Schools
- Trustee of Tour de Wilderness
About Ronald Laxton
Ronald is currently an independent consultant following a career as an executive in the software industry. He is the founder of Computer Initiatives (Pty) Ltd, a software company which he managed for 28 years before exiting through a sale of the company. Computer Initiatives specialised in ERP and business process improvement solutions. He has also worked in senior management with a global BI and data company. His experience includes providing solutions to clients both in the public and private sectors, both in South Africa and internationally.
Ronald is intellectually curious and loves the stimulation of continuously being exposed to new learnings, insights and challenges. He has particular interests in working in the areas of decision analysis, the development of go-to market strategies, managing change, and working with companies to improve success with recruitment.
BarnOwl is a fully integrated governance, risk management, compliance and audit software solution used by over 200 organisations in Africa, Australasia and the UK. BarnOwl is a locally developed software solution and is the preferred risk management solution for the South African public sector supporting the National Treasury risk framework.
Please see www.barnowl.co.za for more information.