FAQ | SA Business Innovation Survey, 2019-2021

Business Innovation Survey 2019-2021

*You can also download these FAQ

What is the purpose of the Business Innovation Survey?

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.

Why has my company been selected to participate in this round of the Survey?

Statistics South Africa has drawn a random sample of 5,500 companies from the business register in line with its agreement on official national statistics with the Department of Science and Innovation—and your business was selected. 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, and
  • electricity, gas and water supply.

What will my business gain from participating in the Survey?

A source of business intelligence, the Survey’s results can be used to benchmark your company’s innovation activities against other enterprises in your 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. The results of previous South African innovation surveys are available online.

What does South Africa gain from my company’s participation in the Survey?

National business innovation surveys provide an essential source of data for evidence-informed policymaking. In addition, the 2019-2021 survey round is being undertaken so that results are internationally comparable.

Is there someone on the Survey’s team that can communicate in my mother tongue?

The fieldwork team, based at GeoScope in Durban, are ready to deal with the questions, comments or concerns of Survey respondents. Should you need to speak to one of the research assistants in your mother tongue, they will gladly assist you in South Africa’s official national languages.

How can I complete my company’s innovation survey questionnaire?

The Survey questionnaire can be self-completed online through the RedCap platform or via telephonic interview.

How will my company’s data be managed?

Captured data is stored on secure servers at the Human Sciences Research Council premises in Pretoria, South Africa. All HSRC and GeoScope 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.

The definition of innovation

What are the different types of innovation the Survey measures?

The South African Business Innovation Survey recognises two types of innovation in firms:

  1. Product innovation (including both goods and/or services)
  2. Process 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 process an “innovation”?

Most people picture an invention new to the world when they think of innovation. In fact, three criteria are important in defining an innovation:

Does the product or process represent significant change or improvement?

Is the product new to the firm?

Has the product or process been made available to users or potential users?

Identifying an innovation: Three key criteria

If the change meets 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, whether the product or process has significantly improved, and whether it has been made available for use.

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-relevant activities, including current expenditure (personnel, for example) and capital expenditure (for example, buildings or equipment). For the 2019-2021 round of the Survey, we request that you provide:

  1. turnover data for two years (2019, 2021), and
  2. expenditure data for one year.

If these data are not available to you when completing the questionnaire, please provide estimates. 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.

Product innovation

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

Services sector*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
Industrial sector*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 warrantees on new or used products
*Remote software maintenance
*New information technology applications for client servicing

What is NOT considered a product innovation?

  • Design changes that do not alter the function or technical characteristics of a good or service.
  • Routine upgrades, or minor changes or improvements.
  • Customisation for a single client that does not include significantly different attributes compared to products made for other clients.

Process innovation

What is a process innovation?

A process innovation relates to improvements in production methods, delivery methods, distribution methods, marketing methods, information systems, or organisational processes. 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 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

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

Results | SA Business Innovation Survey, 2014-2016

8 July 2020 – South African Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, today released the results of the 2014-2016 Business Innovation Survey.

Quick links:

Produced by the HSRC’s Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (CeSTII) for the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), the Survey delivers national data on the formal business sector’s innovation performance in the three-year reference period.

“In our current COVID-19 context, these results help us to reflect on the distinctive nature of innovation in South Africa, and point toward spaces for policy intervention so that we can encourage more firms in all economic sectors to innovate,” says Executive Head of CeSTII, Dr Glenda Kruss.

“To respond to the current economic, ecological and health challenges, we need to understand what kinds of innovation firms are able to implement, and whether the kinds of benefits that result from these forms of innovation can contribute to firms’ business strategies and to inclusive and sustainable growth.”

Alongside the annual R&D Survey, the HSRC has performed national innovation surveys since CeSTII was established in the early 2000s. 

“South African innovation surveys follow the widely adopted OECD Oslo Manual methodology to enable international comparisons, and are conducted using a random sample of businesses stratified by size-class and across across the industrial and services sectors,” according to Dr Moses Sithole, CeSTII Research Director and the Survey’s technical lead.

“Data is then weighted to reflect innovation performance across the national population of businesses in those sectors, allowing for a unique snapshot of innovation performance in the formal economy.”

Adds Kruss: “The survey provides critical data on the kinds of barriers that prevent more firms from innovating, whether relating to cost, market, knowledge or institutional factors.”

“We tend to promote ‘islands of excellence’, the small number of firms that innovate at the technology frontier in ways that are new to the world. Most firms however, utilize incremental innovations that marginally modify their existing products and processes, or that are new to the firm and local market. So, it is essential to design policy support mechanisms that can mitigate the constraints on these incremental forms of innovation more widely across the business sector.”

Watch media briefing

South African Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, addresses media on  on 8 July 2020 on measures implemented by the National System of Innovation and Higher Education in response to the COVID-19 epidemic. 

Analysis | Nigeria and SA’s innovation performance compared

Nigeria and South Africa are Africa’s largest economies, with a combined GDP that rivals those of all other African nations together. However, GDP growth rates in both countries have stalled in recent years, and major societal ills persist. As middle-income economies that have made a transition from primary industry to services-based growth, Nigeria and South Africa’s innovation performance should concern policy-makers.


As the manufacturing sector comparison illustrates, while firms in both countries use technology acquisition as the key innovation strategy to improve the quantity and quality of their value propositions, Nigerian and South African firms face critical financial and other barriers to innovation.


The services sector comparison illustrates that while services firms in both countries use training and technology acquisition as key innovation strategies to improve the quantity and quality of their value propositions, Nigerian and South African firms face critical financial and other barriers to innovation.

Behind the numbers

These fact sheets represent a joint product of the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (CeSTII) at South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council and Nigeria’s National Centre for Technology Management (NACETEM).

They were produced during a research visit to South Africa by NACETEM’s Dr Abiodun Egbetokun in May 2019, which was sponsored by the InterAcademy Partnership.

Both CeSTII and NACETEM are responsible for the production of science, technology and innovation indicators. Data is drawn from the South African Business Innovation Survey (2008) and from the Nigerian Business Innovation Survey (2010).

Both surveys were conducted using the OECD’s Oslo Manual, allowing for international comparability of data. GDP data was sourced from Statistics South Africa and Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics.


CeSTII is a policy research institute of the Human Sciences Research Council, which performs national studies on R&D and innovation on behalf of the Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology. Learn more

Contact Dr Glenda Kruss | gkruss[at]hsrc.ac.za

NACETEM is an agency of Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Science and Technology that provides critical knowledge support in the area of STI management for sustainable development. Learn more

Contact Prof. Okechukwu Ukwuoma | dg.ceo[at]nacetem.gov.ng

Event | Coming up: Industry Associations Innovation Day 2018 – 25 May

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A collaboration of the Department of Science and Technology, and the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators of the Human Sciences Research Council and Business Unity South Africa, the Industry Associations Innovation Day 2018 will take place at The Canvas Riversands, Fourways, on 25 May 2018.

The Industry Associations Innovation Day 2018 is envisaged to facilitate a dialogue between industry association leaders across the range of sectors, thought leaders, researchers, and government, as well as encounter case studies, on how some industry associations are tackling the innovation question with and for their membership.

Register now

The Canvas Riversands

Download one-page invitation you can share around*

On the agenda*

*Note: The agenda has been updated to include speakers from the National Business Initiative, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and Information Technology Association of South Africa

REGISTRATION (08h30-09h00)

WELCOME: Joanne Yawitch, CEO: National Business Initiative

KEYNOTE: Innovation, government and Industry 4.0: South Africa’s policy visionImraan Patel, Deputy-Director General, Department of Science and Technology

THOUGHT LEADERSHIP PANEL: The trends we can’t afford to ignore anymore, and what businesses can do about them… Themba Maseko, Business Leadership South Africa (Moderator), Etienne Vlok, Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers UnionNonkululeko Shinga, Department of Trade and IndustryMike Colley, Institute for Futures Research

EVIDENCE PRESENTATION: How much R&D and innovation goes on in South Africa, and how we know this, Dr Glenda Kruss, Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators, Human Sciences Research Council

BREAK (10h45-11h00)

PRACTICE LEADERSHIP PANEL: What industry associations can do to support an innovation agendaHenra Mayer, Innocentrix (Moderator), Dr John Purchase, Agricultural Business ChamberBrenda Martin, South African Wind Energy AssociationPhilippa Rodseth, Manufacturing Circle, Sunil Geness, Information Technology Association of South Africa



Learn more?

Write to Gerard Ralphs gralphs[at]hsrc.ac.za, or call 021 466 8000.

Event | Survey leaders to brief media on 5 September 2017

Members of the media and other interested parties are invited to join the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators and the Department of Science and Technology for an announcement of the launch of fieldwork for the South African Business Innovation Survey 2014-2016.

The briefing will take place on 5 September 2017 (10h30-12h00), and participants can attend in Cape Town, Durban or Pretoria, in the videoconference facilities of the Human Sciences Research Council.

RSVP is required

Download Business Innovation Survey 2014-2016 brochure

The event will include short statements by the Survey’s technical team concerning the aims and expected outcomes of the research, as well as a statement from the Department of Science and Technology about the significance of the research for national policy.

Participants at the Cape Town venue will also have an opportunity to visit the ‘Innovation Survey Hub’, a dedicated research centre at the HSRC where all fieldwork will take place.

For more information, please contact Gerard Ralphs (gralphs[at]hsrc.ac.za) or 0214668000.

Announcement | All the SA innovation survey info you need, right here

This blog has been designed as a resource for interested parties to learn more about the South African business innovation surveys and their data. It’s also a practical resource to support and encourage firms responding to surveys.

Content pillars

We’re blogging in four key areas, which you’ll see across our posts. These are:

  1. The meaning of innovation

2. Innovation indicators

3. Impact of innovation

4. Innovation at large

Our blog writers are based at the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (CeSTII) at the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC).

Goals you can achieve on this blog

Got questions?

Write to innovation@hsrc.ac.za

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