Measuring innovation capacity in local firms

Business Innovation Survey

To support businesses, we need to understand their circumstances. A core CeSTII research priority is to improve the quality and extend the focus of business innovation measurement in South Africa. The South African Business Innovation Survey (BIS) is a flagship survey performed by CeSTII for the DSI.

Rolled out in three-year cycles, it covers firms in formal manufacturing, mining and services  and measures the extent of innovation activity in these sectors. The surveys are based on the OECD/Eurostat Oslo Manual guidelines and this international methodology allows the results to be compared with other countries.

Latest results: 2019-2021

Results of the South African Business Innovation Survey, 2019 – 2021, were released on 7 March 2024.

Previous results


Report: Innovation performance in South African businesses, 2014-2016: Activities, Outcomes, Enablers, Constraints

Data set: Appendix Tables (Innovation performance in South African businesses, 2014-2016: Activities, Outcomes, Enablers, Constraints) 

Brochure: South African Business Innovation Survey 2014-2016

ISIFINYEZO ESIPHEZULU: Ukusebenzisa izindlela ezintsha emabhizinisini aseNingizimu Afrika, 2014-2016


Innovation in the South African Manufacturing Sector, 2010-2012

Innovation in Selected South African Services Sectors, 2010-2012

South African Business Innovation Survey 2010-12 FAQs: Mining Manufacturing Services


Innovation Survey Report 2008

Innovation Survey Highlights 2008


Highlights of the Business Innovation Survey, 2005-2007

Full report of the Business Innovation Survey, 2005-2007


Main results of the South African Innovation Survey 2002-2004

Go to all Business Innovation Survey data sets

The South African Business Innovation Survey (BIS) is a flagship survey performed by CeSTII for the DSI. Since 2005, CeSTII has conducted four rounds of the BIS, covering the periods 2002-2004, 2005-2007, 2010-2012, and 2014-2016 (to include farming, forestry and fisheries (2016-2018). In February 2022, CeSTII announced the start of fieldwork for the 2019 – 2021 round. BIS surveys performed by CeSTII follow the methodology set out in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Oslo Manual.

Listen to CeSTII Executive Director, Dr. Glenda Kruss, on the state of innovation in South Africa:

FAQs: Business Innovation Survey

  1. 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.

  2. Why was my company selected to participate in the survey?
    Statistics South Africa draws a random sample of 5 000 firms from the business register as part of its agreement on official national statistics with the Department of Science and Innovation—and your firm was selected. The sample consists of a variety of businesses, ranging from very small to very large firms 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.

  3. 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 is the opportunity it presents for an internal review of potential business development areas that might not otherwise be explored

  4. 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 survey methodology ensures that the results are internationally comparable.

  5. Can someone on the survey’s team communicate in my home language?
    Our research assistants can communicate in all South Africa’s official national languages.

  6. Can I complete the questionnaire electronically?
    The survey questionnaire is available as a PDF. To complete the questionnaire in this way, contact the research assistant assigned to your company or email

  7. How will my company’s data be managed?
    Questionnaires are stored in secure rooms and captured data is stored on secure servers at the Human Sciences Research Council premises. All staff who work on the survey sign strict agreements on the confidentiality of the data. Your company’s details and firm-level data will not be shared with any third party.

  8. What types of innovation does the survey measure?
    The South African Business Innovation Survey recognises four types of innovation in firms:
    • Product innovation (including goods and services)
    • Process innovation
    • Organisational innovation
    • Marketing innovation.

  9. What makes a product or business activity an “innovation”?
    Most people picture an invention that is new to the world when they think of innovation. In fact, two criteria are important in defining an innovation:
    • Does the product or activity represent significant change or improvement?
    • Is the activity or product new to the firm?
    If the change meets one or both 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 survey, each firm must decide for itself whether a particular change is new to the firm and whether a product, process or service has significantly improved.

  10. When does an innovation belong to an enterprise?
    • If an enterprise has internally developed and implemented its own significant changes.
    • 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.
    • 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.

  11. What is a firm’s “innovation expenditure”?
    Innovation expenditure is expenditure committed to innovation, including current expenditure (e.g., personnel) and capital expenditure (e.g., buildings or equipment). Please provide: 1. turnover data for two years, and 2. expenditure data for one year. If these data are not available to you when completing the questionnaire, please provide estimates. Remember, all firm-level data provided are kept strictly confidential and are not made public in any way.

  12. 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. It 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 in the industrial and services sectors Services
    • 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 to profile and track individual transactions)
    • New multimedia applications (e.g., tablet)
    • New smartphone apps
    • New logistics services
    • Online goods delivery
    • New or significantly improved insurance services (e.g., gap cover)
    • Remote software maintenance
    • Direct clearance with hospitals
    Industrial sector
    • Low-carbon products in product ranges
    • 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 product certification services
    • Combining solutions, such as technical and consulting services
    • Extended warranties on new or used products
    • Remote software maintenance
    • New information technology applications for client servicing

  13. What is a process innovation?
    A process innovation relates to improvements in production, delivery or distribution methods. For these to be considered innovations, they must be new to the firm or significantly improved. Significant changes include those that relate to specific techniques, equipment 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: Services sector
    • New online banking modules
    • Improved premium clearing systems
    • Electronic Data Interchange
    • CASE tools for customer-specific hardware
    • Wayfinding software to identify optimal delivery routes
    • New or improved software or routines for purchasing, accounting or maintenance systems
    Industrial sector
    • Robotics
    • Digital printing
    • 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. What is not considered an organisational innovation?
    • Changes in management strategy not linked to significant organisational change
    • Introduction of new technology with limited benefits or restricted to a small division of the firm.

  17. What is a marketing innovation?
    The implementation of a significant change in sales and marketing methods is a marketing innovation. “Significant” includes improved product appearance and packaging intended to increase product appeal and 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)

  18. What is not considered a marketing innovation?
    • Routine or seasonal change
    • Minor updates in the appearance of packaging.
    • Advertising, unless based on the use of new media or a new advertising technique.