Logan Moodley, CEO at Conlog speaks to us on how to innovate, create new design elements, and new technologies to transform the electricity industry.
How have you personally been doing in these COVID-19 times?
Logan Moodley: All things considered, fairly well. COVID has brought about a certain level of anxiety for everybody. I decided early on that the only way to protect myself and my family is ensuring that the groups are kept really small in terms of interactions and following all prescribed precautions such as social distancing, keeping all surfaces clean and sanitized, as well as our hands clean in the hope of ensuring that no one within my immediate personal or professional circles are infected in any way or form. We have managed to keep everyone safe so far, and I remain a little anxious as to how things will unfold until I can get vaccinated along with members of my family as well as the rest of the people in the business. It is tough; however, I try to remain in a position where one can comfort others who may be dealing with these circumstances because people will generally look to managers and leaders for support.
How does Conlog innovate within the industry?
Logan Moodley: During all of the customer encounters I enjoyed, I’ve learned that our customers always know what their challenges were and sometimes even far more understanding of what the solutions might be, and there was a massive evolution from the approach that we had considered prior in terms of products or systems design. The approach was typically led from innovation and design or research and development based on how we perceive the market would evolve. There’s a certain degree of innovation that sits within ourselves, but also very closely aligned with what our customers’ expectations are, how we would interpret that, and being more sort of inclusive in our innovation and design approach by inviting collaboration with our customers, addressing them. We collaborate with our loyal customers and enable them to contribute to a more evolved system or product that is readily accepted into the market.
There’s a separate context where you can look like a pioneer and an innovator of elements for the electricity industry. We have a role to play in terms of how we can innovate and create new design elements, new technologies that could improve somewhat the user experiences based on the systems side or the product side. So what we do that is quite unique in our business is we bring these two worlds together. We call it the product roadmap, which is technically an evolution of sort in market trends and market requirements. That product roadmap is aligned with what we call a technology roadmap, which is driven by innovation and design. Those technologies are sort of novel technologies that we’d like to introduce through a product design phase or a system software design phase that impact the market considerably, that are disruptors, that are game-changers, that aren’t just a means of complying with a specification as customers expect us to.
We’ve also created an environment where we invite sought-after subject matter experts to contribute to innovation activities, innovation projects, where we’ve tested and built a framework within the business. We have experienced really positive results from us having adopted this innovation framework and through partnerships with leading innovation and incubation hubs in Africa, which sets a model for how we’d probably pursue adopting this framework in other countries on the continent as well. The model also includes inviting tertiary institutions to participate alongside us, so we could co-create value and bring innovation into our industry from a number of different dimensions.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how is Conlog coping?
Logan Moodley: It’s a tough one, but an easy one to answer because we’ve lived and breathed the pandemic for over a year now. Coronavirus has affected a number of areas within our business; however, I think first and foremost for me, it is ensuring that the health and safety of our people is the highest priority within any activity in the business. As such, taking the approach of a mixed-mode of work during the pandemic was important. For instance, anyone that could work remotely was given the opportunity to work remotely, one, to protect them and their close family, but to also to protect the population within the plant. There was a focus on core activities and ensuring some form of protection to them from a larger group of individuals in and out of the building within the plant population itself. We also took a number of steps to have to safeguard that specific cells were established within our working groups, where we kept operating practices running over different shifts, even though the facility doesn’t require us to work multiple shifts. We thought it prudent to have some type of separation between, again, work cells so that there’s continuity for the business, but also reasonable protection for everybody in the business in that we didn’t want too many people within the plant at any one point in time.
We’ve taken a number of steps in terms of sustainability for the business, given all of the uncertainty that surrounded the pandemic and the impact it would have on business, on industry sectors, and economies at large, to be very prudent in terms of managing activities that contributed to cost.
Overall, if I were to underline what has allowed us to navigate that really difficult period as a business and remain somewhat sustainable, and to some degree even successful, was our focus and emphasis on planning, numerous sessions at an operational level to ensure that our priorities were met. And the priority was simply sustainability. Could we have planned any better? I don’t know. Could we have ventured into some of these challenges without the degree of planning that we put together? Most certainly not. And this is true even after recognizing that we could have a plan that one puts together for an operation or one activity in our number one of the day and our number four, you have to revisit or change the plan completely because something else has changed. So these are all things that we have to live through and be conscious of. However, I think all of the planning did amount to us achieving what we managed to achieve and supporting the priorities we set for ourselves.
Did you have to make difficult decisions, and what are the lessons learned?
Logan Moodley: Most certainly. Every decision I had to take was difficult. I think the most difficult decision was stopping the plant and recognizing that a huge number of people who clearly depend on activities within the plant would be off work for a period of time. We didn’t realize how long that would be, just given all the uncertainty at a country level in terms of planning a response for that. So it was a difficult decision to have to take, but also have to ensure that every decision after that was prioritized around ‘How do we bring people back into the business safely? How do we re-engage the business safely? How do we, you know, continue operations in what many had regarded as the new normal or a new way of work?”
Overall, when we have to reflect on all the actions, the period where I was most anxious was when we had to bring all of the individuals back into the business and had to engage even during a period where infections were relatively high. We were fortunate as a business because we were never placed in the position of having to take the more difficult decisions in terms of having to let people go. We took reasonable steps early on as we saw evidence of what could happen, as early as November 2019 when we started our scenario planning for an impact covered in South Africa.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Logan Moodley: I wish there was some magic software that we could use to predict what would happen. And unfortunately, there aren’t any. The one “tool” that I used as often as I could was the COVID committee that was established. The committee was driven independently outside of business requirements with a set mandate – protect the business and its people and all stakeholders in particular in response to the ever-evolving circumstances around the pandemic. For me, it proved to be absolutely vital in all of the decision-making that we had to undertake as business-based commercial opportunities, be it operational opportunities, be it responds to ever-evolving regulations both in South Africa as well as in Nigeria. The team went off, deliberated on the merits, challenges, issues with these sort of changing environments, and came back with responses that we had to debate even further at an executive level and this sort of continuous re-evaluation of our circumstances based on the specific mandates. Every day, although driven by separate mandates, both the committee and the business want alignment. And I think that alignment was vital for me as an instrument or a tool that I could use in ensuring that all of the decision-making was well informed.
How can other similar companies or tech companies navigate these challenges that Conlog overcome?
Logan Moodley: So I think for me if I have to reflect on all of the effort and the hard work that went into planning last year, there was a big differentiator between us and some of the other guys that struggled and other colleagues of mine running similar-sized businesses or businesses within the sector. You almost have to plan for every single scenario and plan even for the inevitable or something that you don’t anticipate happening. You still got to plan for it so that you have comfort in knowing that, when you are actually called on to execute, you have all of your wits about you, and you thought through the risks or the merits of whatever action you’re going to take.
Looking at where we are within our industry and what value we create, to the extent of the environment we participate in, particularly energy distribution- focused on revenue collection, it became critical to have to support some of our customers by extending to them the benefits of what we do. Municipalities are largely dependent on their sustainability on revenue or their ability to collect revenue. This is true for municipalities or public or private utilities and what happened in the early months of the crisis was that people movement was limited, the access to present themselves at the utility offices for paying their bills for purchasing energy or other services from the utility was restricted or constricted. Therefore the revenue collection ability of these utilities was impacted. What we started early on was to advise our partners and our customers that there’s a migration towards prepaid that’s less valuable because you limit your exposure in terms of your inability to collect revenue where people movement is restricted and why that may not be a massive concern. Looking at that problem at a macro level allowed us to very quickly pivot and provide services and be it in a technology or managed service, an offer that we took to our customers to ensure that their businesses remained sustainable, even through extended lockdown periods. I thought that was a valuable opportunity that we created between ourselves and our supplier,