Announcement | Ignition on SA Business Innovation Survey, 2014-2016

It’s been an intense but rewarding week for ‘Team BIS’ at the HSRC. We announced the rollout of our 2014-2016 survey fieldwork effort, attended the SA Innovation Summit, and talked and listened to loads of clever and committed people. Who knew doing large-scale quantitative research could be this, well, fun.

Dr Moses Sithole, BIS technical lead, interviewed by Activate radio on 6 September 2017 at the Cape Town Stadium. [Image credit: HSRC/CeSTII]

Ramping up

We’ll remember 5 September 2017 as the day we ramped up Business Innovation Survey 2014-2016, even though behind-the-scenes prep has been ongoing for much, much longer.

Director of the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators , Dr Glenda Kruss, appeared on eNCA and SABC’s Morning Live, before briefing media at a bespoke event arranged at the HSRC.

We were also very lucky to have one of Africa and the world’s leading science journalists in the room, Linda Nordling, editor of *Research Africa, whose feature “Services industries in the crosshairs as SA launches innovation survey” (7 September 2017) delves into the history of innovation surveys in South Africa, and how the 2014-2016 round will differ from previous rounds.

See also article published in Engineering News and Business Report

Adding to the national conversation

When we designed the advocacy strategy for the South African Business Innovation Survey 2014-2016, we saw September 2017 as a month full of important opportunities to add our voice to a national conversation on innovation.

The SA Innovation Summit event, which ends tomorrow, and the SA Innovation Bridge event, which starts next Friday, are now both annual calendar events for South Africa.

They bring together a whole range of actors from the national system of innovation, and beyond, and both events are about making interaction possible within the system, and with other systems, too; to catalyse more innovation, faster.

In attending these events, we wanted to tell our story, but also listen to as many others’ as we can.

To these ends, the Summit which was held at the Cape Town Stadium’s conference venue certainly delivered great value for us.

Dr Moses Sithole spoke about innovation measurement and firm competitiveness on 7 September and we also listened to the innovation stories of companies, like Skeg, who develop product prototypes for all industries, and of entrepreneurs, like the climate-savvy Vicky Shabangu, who is trying to develop a waste management business in Mpumalanga, from scratch.

A few buzz words characterised the discourse on display at the Summit, like ‘disruption’, ‘crytocurrencies’, ‘big data’, ‘systems thinking’, ‘innovation districts’, ‘knowledge regions’, ‘co-creation’, ‘edtech’, ‘fintech’, and so on.

Powerful messages

The Summit was full of powerful messages for innovators big, small or just starting up. The value of networking, exchange, spaces and places, and information were talked up. So was the extremely powerful role of data, digital and disruption in shaping how the economies (and societies) of the future will operate.

For the South African Business Innovation Survey 2014-2016, the take-home messages were equally strong: we need a strong evidence base, rooted in the realities of firms across different industrial, services and informal sectors of the economy, to help with the shaping of responsive policy.

Visual artist James Durno worked with Kgomotso Matlapeng (Department of Science and Technology) and Gerard Ralphs (Team BIS) on 7 September to co-create this image of the relationship between BIS data and policy. [Image credit: HSRC/CeSTII]

FAQ | SA Business Innovation Survey, 2014-2016

*Fieldwork for SA Business Innovation Survey 2014 – 2016 ended on 30 November 2018. 


*You can also download these FAQ

What is the purpose of the Business Innovation Survey?

Commissioned by the Department of Science and Technology, and performed by the Human Sciences Research Council, the Business Innovation Survey aims to deliver an internationally comparable report on innovation activities in key sectors of the South African economy. Survey results will play a vital role in policymaking for technology, innovation, and economic development.

Which companies have been selected to participate in this round of the Survey?

Statistics South Africa has drawn a random sample of 5,000 firms from the business register in line with its agreement on official national statistics with the Department of Science and Technology. The sample consists of a variety of businesses, ranging from very small to very large firms that operate in key industrial and services sectors. Sub-sectors covered by the survey include: financial intermediation; research and development; wholesale and retail trade; manufacturing; architectural and engineering activities; technical testing and analysis; computer and related activities; mining and quarrying; electricity, gas and water supply.

What will businesses gain from participating in the Survey?

A source of business intelligence, the Survey’s results can be used to benchmark a company’s innovation activities against other enterprises in its sector, both nationally and internationally. An added benefit of participation is the opportunity it presents for an internal review of potential business development areas that might not otherwise be explored.

What does South Africa gain from businesses participating in the Survey?

National business innovation surveys provide an essential source of data for evidence-informed policymaking. In addition, the 2014-2016 survey round is being undertaken so that results are internationally comparable.

How will Survey respondent company data be managed?

Questionnaires are stored in secure rooms and captured data is stored on secure servers at the Human Sciences Research Council premises in Cape Town, South Africa. All staff who work on the survey have signed strict agreements on the confidentiality of the data. Your company’s details and firm-level data will not be shared with any third party.

What are the different types of innovation the Survey measures?

The South African Business Innovation Survey recognises four types of innovation in firms: 1. Product innovation (including both goods and/or services); 2. Process innovation; 3. Organisational innovation; 4. Marketing innovation. This section of the FAQ provides detailed explanations and examples of each, as well as examples of what would not be considered an innovation in each category.

What makes a product or business activity an “innovation”?

Most people picture an invention new to the world when they think of innovation. In fact, two criteria are important in defining an innovation: 1. Does the product or activity represent significant change or improvement? AND/OR 2. Is the activity or product new to the firm? If the change meets either or both of these criteria, it can be considered an innovation. While a given change could be an innovation for one firm, the same change may not be an innovation for another firm. In answering the Business Innovation Survey, each firm has to decide for itself whether a particular change is new to the firm and/or whether the product, process or service has significantly improved.

When does an innovation belong to an enterprise?

1. If an enterprise has internally developed and implemented its own significant changes.

2. If the enterprise has significantly improved or modified its existing products, processes, services, methods or delivery processes, either by internal development or by introducing a new idea from external sources.

3. If an enterprise has implemented a new or significantly improved change, which may have originated elsewhere, such as the head office or a subsidiary company, another company, sector or country.

What is a firm’s “innovation expenditure”?

Innovation expenditure is the amount of expenditure committed to innovation, including current expenditure (personnel, for example) and capital expenditure (for example, buildings or equipment). For the 2014-2016 round of the Survey, we request that respondents provide: 1. turnover data for two years, and 2. expenditure data for one year. If these data are not available to respondents when completing the questionnaire, we ask that estimates are provided. We also remind you that all firm-level data provided in this section of the questionnaire are kept strictly confidential and are not made public in any way.

What is a product innovation?

Product innovation relates to both goods and services. When a good or service is introduced to the firm and is new to that firm OR shows significant improvement with respect to the capabilities or planned uses, then the change represents a product innovation. A product innovation may include significant changes in technical specifications, components and materials, incorporated software, user experience, or other functional characteristics of the good or service.

Examples of product innovations that relate to goods and services in the industrial and services sectors


  • Ticket automation for cash or pay card (e.g. parking systems)
  • New point of sale systems (e.g. scanner cash box)
  • Customised business software (e.g. anti-fraud software that profiles and tracks individual transactions)
  • New multimedia applications (e.g. tablet)
  • New smartphone apps
  • New logistics services
  • Dial in services (e.g. goods delivery)
  • New or significantly improved insurance services (e.g. gap cover)
  • Remote software maintenance
  • Direct clearance with hospitals


  • Inclusion of eco-friendly products in product ranges
  • Introduction of client or loyalty cards
  • Changes to materials e.g. breathable textiles
  • New types of paper for specific printers
  • Improved purity of final mining product
  • Automated tunnel borers
  • Autonomous mine site infrastructure
  • Online sales or direct sales to end-users
  • New kinds of product certification services
  • Combining solutions, such as technical and consulting services
  • Introduction of extended warranties on new or used products
  • Remote software maintenance
  • New information technology applications for client servicing

What is a process innovation?

A process innovation relates to improvements in production methods, delivery methods or distribution methods. For these process improvements to be considered innovations, they must be new to the firm OR significantly improved. These significant changes include those that relate to specific techniques, equipment and/or software, changes that are intended to improve the quality, efficiency or flexibility of a production or supply activity or logistics, or changes that reduce environmental or safety hazards.

Examples of process innovations by sector


  • New online banking modules
  • Improved premium clearing systems
  • Electronic Data Interchange
  • CASE tools for customer-specific hardware
  • Introduction of software to identify optimal delivery routes
  • New or improved software or routines for purchasing, accounting or maintenance systems


  • Robotics
  • Digital printing processes
  • Automated packaging
  • Computerised equipment for quality control of production
  • Mapping by drone
  • Smart boreholes
  • Smart volts and vents
  • Installation of automated trucks and drill rigs

What is NOT considered a process innovation?

An increase in production or service capabilities through the addition of manufacturing or logistical systems that are similar to those already in use.

What is an organisational innovation?

An organisational innovation is intended to significantly improve the firm’s innovative capacity or performance characteristics. This can encompass significant changes in workplace organisation, business practices or external relations implemented in the firm.

Examples of organisational innovations

  • A reduction in the number of management levels to create greater flexibility in decision-making.
  • Integrated monitoring system for firm activities (e.g. production, finance, strategy or marketing).
  • The introduction of an organisational division to support new product development in a specific area

What is NOT considered an organisational innovation?

Changes in management strategy not linked to significant organisational change.
Introduction of new technology that has limited benefits or is restricted to a small division of the firm.

What is a marketing innovation?

The implementation of a significant change in sales and marketing methods would qualify as marketing innovation. “Significant” would include improved product appearance and packaging that is intended to increase product appeal and/or consumer awareness.

Examples of marketing innovation

  • Bundling existing goods or services in new ways to appeal to market segments.
  • Design of new consumer products (e.g. custom appliances).

What is NOT considered a marketing innovation?

  • Routine or seasonal changes.
  • Minor updates in the appearance of packaging.
  • Advertising, unless based on the use of new media or a new advertising technique.

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