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Decades at the wheel of innovation

December 12, 2018
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The MD of Netstar, Pierre Bruwer, might be new to the Altron Group, but with ten years’ experience in the telematics industry, he is no stranger to technology innovation. MARISKA MORRIS sits down with this captain of industry.

Netstar has recently embarked on rebranding its logo and image. It has stripped away many of the intricate details (including the iconic arch) for a more-streamlined design closely resembling that of its mother company – the 53-year-old Altron Group. The same can be said of the new MD and his plans for Netstar.

Having spent more than a decade in the industry, Pierre Bruwer remains humble about his knowledge, experience and influence as a leader in the telematics industry.

Referring to a definition of a captain of industry as “someone who has increased productivity, expanded markets and provided more jobs”, Bruwer says: “I don’t regard myself as a captain of industry – at least not yet. I do, however, regard Netstar as a captain of industry.”

Locally, Netstar has 14 branches across South Africa and enjoys a market share of over 20 percent with 1 400 employees. “A few years ago, we ventured into Australia where we now hold ten percent of the market share. We also have a presence in eight African countries,” says Bruwer.

The fleet-management and vehicle-tracking giant is not slowing down as it plans to launch in India early in 2019. It is also researching opportunities in Europe. “Expanding markets and providing more jobs is absolutely what Netstar is about,” adds Bruwer.

Bruwer’s career in telematics started at a competitor before he took a sabbatical and joined Netstar eight months ago. Bruwer says: “To understand the dilemmas and challenges faced by the transport industry is very important, as there is a delicate balance between running at a profit or a loss.”

Bruwer states: “My father has always said that if you want to make money, become a transport operator, and if you want to lose money, become a transport operator.” This deep understanding of the challenges faced by transporters and the need for relevant information is shared by Netstar. It is most prominent in its revised reporting systems and forms the basis of its offering to customers.

Netstar won multiple awards at the TT100 Innovation Awards, including the Greg Tosen Award for Excellence (management of technology), Da Vinci Award of Excellence (management of people), Innovation Concept winner and the grand award of Department of Science and Technology Minister Award for Overall Excellence.

“With the traditional fleet-management model, the service provider supplies on-site solutions and fleet managers are taught to read the reports. Every telematics company boasts that it has over 200 types of reports, although customers generally only use a few. Netstar is simplifying the user interface and experience so that we continually provide new insights that unlock new value for our customers,” Bruwer explains.

Netstar offers one reporting platform that is customised to its clients’ needs and is cloud-based for easy access. For Bruwer, telematics is all about the customer.

“Having the ability to listen is such a great asset. I really encourage everyone in the entire organisation to listen to our customers, because we have agile technology that we can develop according to customer requirements. We have bespoke customer-specific solutions, which is probably the reason for the success of the business,” he notes.

Bruwer adds: “I’m really focusing on building a customer-centric business and globalising the company. Netstar’s job is to connect our customers with information that matters and to enable them to make better decisions to manage their businesses. We help them to manage the risks and grow their businesses.”

To ensure that customers have the best information, Netstar needs to continuously improve its scope of service and product offering. The organisation’s ability to respond to challenges in the industry is greatly due to its investment in the best equipment and teams.

“We would not be in the position to provide innovative fleet-management and data-analytic solutions without a strong technology-development team behind us. We’ve invested heavily into that and it has really paid off,” Bruwer says.

Netstar has partnered with the University of KwaZulu-Natal to support Master’s degree students in data science and employs eight data scientists with a focus on big data – a fundamental for the business.

One of the most impressive additions to the company is the introduction of its 5G tower. “The 5G technology is expected on the African continent by 2025. Last week, the first 5G commercial tower in Africa was put up at Netstar’s head office in Midrand.

“To give an idea of the power it holds, a full high-definition movie can be downloaded in 1.6 seconds. This technology will allow our development team to create better software that collects more data, faster,” Bruwer explains.

“We are already working on a 5G platform so that when 5G eventually arrives, Netstar will have had five to ten years to develop and test the technology. We are investing heavily in making our products and services cheaper, faster and more relevant,” he adds.

There is no doubt that Netstar is a leader in technology innovation. At the Da Vinci TT100 Business Innovation Awards, held on November 14, Netstar won four of the six categories including the very prestigious Department of Science and Technology Minister Award for Overall Excellence.

More innovations can be expected from the company in 2019. The most exciting of these include new technology to monitor a driver’s health, which is unlike anything on the market, and Netstar’s partnerships with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

“We are working together with OEMs to see how we can embed technology at an OEM level. All I can say is that great progress has been made and an announcement can be expected in 2019,” Bruwer says.

He adds that Netstar has the most impressive range of technology for fleet management that he has seen. “Having been exposed to the telematics industry over the last decade, I can comfortably say that the technology stack offered by Netstar makes it a leading player in the internet communication space,” Bruwer notes.

He concludes: “Telematics is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it is now a ‘must have’. It is important for a business to partner with a company that understands the business and the industry – a company that has a great
stack of technology, great people and delivers on its promises.”

I’m a bookaholic born and bred with too many novels on my already over-flowing bookshelves. When I’m not reading Lauren Beukes or binge watching New Girl, I’m writing … about everything. My interests and passions change almost daily as I learn about new things and causes. If I find it interesting, I will write about it. I don’t understand why anyone would spend money on a sports car when they can buy books. I’m more a dog person than a cat person, although I would love to own a bunny one day. I can never seem to tame my very curly hair. I will never say no to a movie date and I prefer my moijto shaken not stirred.

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