In conversation with
Mr. Tyrone Carroll
CEO | Three6five
FDI Spotlight: What is the DNA and history of three6five?
Tyrone Carroll: The name itself comes from the idea that an IP solutions company should operate 365 days a year. The initial bread and butter of the company were servicing businesses, telecommunications companies and from there we branched out and diversified our expertise and offering.
We take pride in our devotion to excellent execution. Many companies fail to deliver, but, it is one of our many advantages. We are analytical, process and delivery driven, and have a low customer turnover rate.
We are a technology company run by technologists. We are also very passionate about up-skilling our employees and believe in investing in their careers. The three6five team is very involved and invested in the company’s strategy and vision. The leaders of this company go to great lengths to keep the team upbeat and motivated.
Mark Baptiste: The start of the company was based on providing technical skills and exceptional customer services. This has morphed into transforming technical skills into a professional service solution offering. Our customers’ requirements have evolved due to industry advancements surpassing mere professional services which provided three6five with the opportunity to partner with the best-of-breed vendors to fulfil their ICT equipment needs.
In South Africa, there is a significant lack of skills in many technology fields. 80% of our company resources developed in-house so the focus is on growing and up-skilling our team in terms of that.
Why do you think there is a lack of the correct skills within the industry? How does this influence three6five’s recruitment process?
Mark Baptiste: The educational exposure children are receiving around subjects taught at school and in university does not allow them to make an informed decision on the career path they would like to follow. Students do not understand what career options are available or have access to work experience due to the barrier between education and the business sector. I have been with three6five for a year now, and I am very impressed with the company’s willingness to grow and mentor their employees, particularly those with no earlier experience.
Tyrone Carroll: We have always hired people based on their attitude and passion, not only their skill set or tertiary background. You can teach someone a skill, but a passion for what you do, the company you represent and excellent service cannot be taught. We appeal to and hire people who have a strong work ethos and those willing to go the extra mile which is another example of a quality that cannot be taught.
We hire individuals with a passion for life and the ICT sector. This allows us to equip our team with the skills they need. Having a team of employees with the right attitude and mindset allows us to find the training which is best suited for their career development.
We are a high-performance company which invests in our team. Not everyone can handle this as we can be strict on trainees, but we believe it creates the best environment for three6five to grow. We are left with hard working, passionate people with a strong work philosophy that creates its very own natural attrition. This method retains employees, creates loyalty and allows individuals the ability to fall back on a strong team.
Do you believe the internet is key in solving Africa’s communication challenges?
Tyrone Carroll: Our mantra is ‘Empowering African Communication’. The internet is listed as a basic human right and as a company that provides services to carriers and large enterprises, we need to find the role we as three6five can play in Africa, creating solutions for its people.
We are not an internet service provider (ISP) but we can help ISP’s improve their equipment and increase their network coverage, so more users connected in different African countries. Information is a vital key for our next stage of development and will be essential in Africa’s future. If we can play our part in increasing access to digital platforms, this will aid many individuals in framing their understandings of the world, educate and give them the tools needed in an approaching interconnected, globalised world.
Africa is underdeveloped in many aspects. I believe through the internet a legacy passed down to the next generation, which can change the continent and is changing the world. We have over 500 customers in 31 countries. The services we have offered people have been game changers.
Mark Baptiste: The opportunities in Africa are endless considering the rising youth, and the fast growing middle class which is the vast majority of Africa’s demographics. If youthful people in Africa are exposed to affordable and fast internet, astonishing things can happen. The internet provides a podium for self-driven education. The information one gets is mostly free and levels the playing field across income and social class.
Given what three6five offers, do you believe people are sufficiently educated in matters of security and how does this translate into the importance of cyber security?
Tyrone Carroll: Absolutely not, that is where three6five saw a gap in the market. There is a severe lack of knowledge on cyber security. The cyber environment in South Africa is also transforming with the Cyber Crime Bill and the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), which presents a good opportunity to educate people about the importance of security.
Companies implement security devices such as firewalls and antivirus software for protection, but if the company does not understand what they are protecting, the implementation thereof will not be successful.
We have started an academy which focuses on driving the awareness around cyber security. As cloud and mobility evolve, we see an increase in digital citizens and have identified a need to increase awareness around data privacy and digital and cyber security. Educating people around these issues through the academy is an opportunity and massive growth driver for us. The idea is to create awareness for people on how to protect themselves and protect their company data assets.
The director of the Academy is an IT law specialist by trade. She negotiates multiple African and multinational network and service agreements and specialises in contracts, data protection, cyber security, audits, and certifications. She brings a wealth of real-life experience to the table and imparts years of knowledge to candidates taking her courses. She can also relate to the various aspects of South Africa’s ICT sector, and she is an incredible asset to both three6five and the Academy.
In terms of the private and public sectors in South Africa, how engaged are they in cyber security?
Mark Baptiste: Many people know of cyber security and awareness of the legislation coming through. The problem lies in ensuring that the correct security measures are not always understood and implemented. The South African government has taken a few years to sign off on critical legislation like the Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPIA) and the Cyber Crime Bill, which has delayed the enactment.
Tyrone Carroll: I think the public and private sectors in South Africa know the risk, regulations and requirements for cyber security. I also think they do not always understand what they are protecting, what is required to do it successfully, and the risks associated with not complying. The three6five Academy will strive to be an education driver providing training for people on cyber security and the implementation thereof.
How important is access and connectivity in South Africa? How does this address the current skills and knowledge divide in Africa?
Mark Baptiste: South Africa is seen as the leader in digital transformation on the African continent. Expensive satellite connections were limiting South Africa’s international connections.
I believe the South Africa ISPs have taken advantage of this in terms of the prices their customers are charged. Even though the undersea cable infrastructure has been implemented, the cost in charges has not improved. If you look at countries that have been lagging in terms of digital transformation, they have been able to leapfrog from where they were successful. If we managed the pricing more equitably I believe we will see an even greater transformation.
Many African countries do not have the telecommunications and network infrastructure which we have. We are now seeing the successful migrating into a new way of being able to use and implement the systems needed for internet connectivity. Implementing the undersea cables and localised cable/optical infrastructure is assisting in the reduction of data costs.
Kenya is a superb example of this. They pay less than what we pay in South Africa, which is the biggest obstacle holding us back. South Africa can be the leader on the African continent. The mobile connection will always be present and be popular, but physical Broadband connections are on the rise in Africa and I believe South Africa can lead the change if we play our cards right. We can give people instant access, which is clear from the massive rollouts of fibre currently happening, but we need someone to drive this.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) is crucial and will be the catalyst in achieving this goal. We are lagging because we are held back by the cost of implementing the technical and physical infrastructure needed. In my opinion, the question that should be asked is why there is not a significant reduction in cost when fibre is being rolled out into all of these areas.
Tyrone Carroll: As mentioned, FDI is crucial to driving this, as well transferring the knowledge and skills for this to be done. Large multinational organisations appear to be reluctant when considering investing in the African continent. The announcement of Azure, a division of Microsoft, investing in sub-Saharan Africa is a positive sign that multinational companies are more eager to invest in African and South Africa.
South Africa is well known for its first-world-third-world dichotomy. How difficult is it for an international company to establish itself here and how valuable can it be to partner with a local company?
Mark Baptiste: I believe it is challenging and a large part of this challenge is that international companies are impatient and seek immediate gratification. They do not have the patience to wait for the investment to yield results. They want short term gains and benefits and are looking for instant returns. They want to invest, but, they do not see the equal importance of empowering and educating the people through the investments made.
Their reasoning changes because some of these companies have shareholders to report back to, they have to look at it as a two to four-year investment instead of a three to six-month venture.
Tyrone Carroll: That is where local companies can assist. As three6five, we can help international vendors grow their footprint, generate a stronger brand awareness and sell and deploy their products and technologies on their behalf.
Foreign nationals are not always willing to work in African countries. Local companies and employees understand the conditions, traditions and cultures and they do not have a misconstrued view of Africa.
What is three6five’s strategy for future expansion in South Africa and the African continent?
Tyrone Carroll: The deployment of physical infrastructures such as the 3G, 4G, fibre and Wi-Fi are aiding in the development and growth of Africa’s communications and technology. We are confident that this will enable three6five to do more business locally and in Africa. We build infrastructure to help connectivity and I think there is a desperate need in Africa for adequate infrastructure.
We are looking at future trends and how we can drive focus towards this. Cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data and virtualisation are becoming significant. We often ask ourselves what the growth engine will be in moving us forward and what we as a company can offer is unique and tailored to our customers’ specific needs.
Three6five’s focus is on providing Professional Network Services, Systems Integrations Solutions, Cloudnet Services and the previously mentioned Academy. Three6five has the advanced technical skills to build, support and improve on any network. Our four service divisions are ready to assist our customers with any network and communication requirements.
Mark Baptiste: Over the years we have had a lot of success in Africa. We have and had several successful opportunities and engagements, with our customers in East and sub-Saharan Africa. The success has sped up our growth and made us realise that we need more feet on the ground. We take our African expansion very serious as we want to build a business with longevity to change the lives of the people we hire and of the customers we serve.
The key to this is our three offices in South Africa and we are opening our first office outside of the country.
It is important to control and oversee your brand wherever possible. There have been cases where we have walked away from partnerships due to inducements and unethical activities as this is something we refuse to do. In the current climate, especially in South Africa, we prefer to work with the private sector due to its excellent transparency and corporate governance.
What actions do you think the private sector can take to resolve some of the country’s problems in order for it to open as an enabling foreign direct investment destination?
Tyrone Carroll: As part of the private sector we play an integral role in developing the economy. South Africa, as an emerging economy, faces challenges such as the lack of education, proper transport and infrastructure. We believe the private sector should drive innovation to make sure these challenges are addressed. We should establish South Africa as an innovation hub so we can attract foreign direct investment. Investors can use lessons learned out of the South African innovations in other emerging economies.
Mark Baptiste: Wage rates, tax rates, political stability, commodities and the exchange rate are some of the factors which affect foreign direct investment. The private sector does not have control over those factors but it can change relation to labour skills and transport and infrastructure. Some industries need higher skilled labour and we believe the private sector has enough power to make a positive difference through implementing training programs, internships, and training academy’s and so forth.