My esteemed editor has really outdone himself in preparing the brief for this month’s cover story.

Never before in the history of this venerated channel publication has the “Old Codger” posed so many questions when it comes to trying to analyse and understand a particular topic and its impact on the IT channel in South Africa.

In attempting to define, measure and understand the rather hackneyed cliché of “value add” in the distribution sector of the IT industry, my editor asks the following questions:

  • Just what constitutes a VAD, or value-added distributor?
  • Is the traditional mantra of “right product at the right time at the right price” no longer valid?
  • Is the mere extension of credit facilities and free delivery enough, or does the term dictate that additional elements are required?
  • And just what do these extra value-add services include?
  • What makes any distributor a true VAD?

Setting aside the ravages of advancing years when it comes to the “Old Codger” trying to understand almost anything – let alone an extremely subjective issue such as value-add – there is really no dark or perverted secret to what constitutes true “value add”.

“Value-add” is very clearly defined by the experience or the perception that a user or customer has of a particular brand in the form of a product, solution or service in the course of buying, renting or otherwise benefitting from using the brand.

In an overwhelming number of instances, value-add is generally associated with an unsurpassed level of service excellence – the willingness of a particular supplier (or in this case distributor) to go the extra mile in order to guarantee that the customer (the reseller) forms an unshakeable opinion that rates the distributor above all others in the industry.

More often than not, service excellence in the IT distribution sector is translated into a number of  well-intentioned “value-add” promises such as a “commitment to after-sales service and technical support”, “free delivery”, “extended terms”, “stock availability” and the most over-used one of all – “best price”.

All too often these as well as other characteristics that distributors strive for as “value-add” differentiators in the market should be taken for granted as they represent little more than the basics of good business.

In fact, the IT industry is littered with jargon and acronyms that try to describe or justify why one organisation should be regarded as adding more value than another and therefore be able to command a higher level of customer loyalty than any of its competitors.

To understand the true meaning of “value-add” one needs look no further than one of the most berated and reviled industry sectors in South Africa – the minius transport industry.

At a glance the minibus industry is characterised by many if the same issues confronted by the IT channel in South Africa.

It is a highly competitive industry with only a few barriers to entry and it has to vie with a highly subsidised, albeit limited, public transport sector.

The industry is highly commoditised with very little to differentiate one minibus from another in terms of appearance or passenger comfort. Setting aside some restrictions that may apply to routes that can be freely plied for trade, there is nowhere in the country were a minibus taxi service can operate without facing up to intense competition.

So what makes it a viable industry that consistently sustains the livelihoods of literally hundreds of thousands of vehicle owners and drivers and that successfully services the needs of millions upon millions of satisfied commuters on a 24x7x365 basis year after year?

It’s really a very simple and straightforward answer – it’s nothing more than the “value-add” that all minibus taxi drivers bring to their passionate commitment to consistently deliver the very best service levels possible for all their customers.

To illustrate this point, consider just three of these “value-add” services that are unlikely to be found in any other commuter transport service anywhere in the world:

  • A willingness to stop and pick up a passenger at exactly the spot they happen to be standing when they decide they want a ride – regardless of the traffic flow or road conditions and without any consideration whatsoever for any other road user.
  • A willingness to stop and let a passenger off at exactly the spot they decide they want to end their journey – regardless of the traffic flow or road conditions and without any consideration whatsoever for any other road user.
  • A willingness to skip red traffic lights and bypass any traffic congestion by using the emergency lane in the best interests of ensuring that no passenger suffers the frustration of sitting in traffic or being late for work.

There are any number of other value-add examples that can be used to illustrate how minibus taxi drivers literally risk their lives for the sake of customer satisfaction.

Oh, if only all other South African road users could come to grips with understanding what minibus taxi drivers really are doing as they go about their daily trade.