ITWeb’s Lockdown Diary: Tjaart Malan, SAP Africa

As governments across the globe enter extended lockdown phases, enterprise resource planning giant SAP says it has played an important role of “leaping into action” to support essential services operations.

Tjaart Malan, head of digital business services at SAP Africa, told ITWeb that with many of its customers being in financial services, manufacturing and other essential services, the company had to put in place processes and procedures to be able to respond to the level of service required by customers during the lockdown.

Key initiatives such as SAP Ariba Discovery, which enables buyers and sellers to connect quickly and resolve procurement-related issues, and the Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse, which allows organisations to understand problems faced by employees while working remotely, have helped SAP continue to stay relevant for businesses and governments alike in a shrinking but competitive market.

ITWeb: How have you organised operations during the national lockdown?

Malan: For us, it’s been largely ‘business as usual’ during the lockdown period as we haven’t faced a massive challenge in our way of working. While we have a team that’s used to remote working as well as a lot of travel, during normal circumstances, the only thing that’s changed for us is that we’ve introduced more regular checkpoints and updates in our workflows.

There’s been more of a day-to-day impact on our support staff, like our finance and commercial departments, who are used to coming into the office every day.

On a tactical and strategic level, our executive leadership team meets virtually twice a week for what we call the War Room – this is where we discuss and troubleshoot everything from the impact of the pandemic on our customers, to operational issues, HR, risk and security concerns, and try to pro-actively plan ahead for the things we can see coming at us down the road.

ITWeb: What technical considerations did you have to get right?

Malan: We have a very mobile workforce, and one of the great things about working for SAP is the flexibility the company offers its employees. This played to our advantage when the lockdown began, as we already had remote working technologies and protocols in place, and didn’t have to scramble to get network access, security or other measures set up.

The only challenges we encountered were around physical equipment; for example, problems with hardware, or around setting up new hires with all the tools they needed at short notice. Employees are generally given access to all the tools they need to work for us, from laptops, to screens, tablets, mobile phones, etc. One adjustment we did make to enable employees who don’t have fibre on tap at home, was to make an across-the-board increase of the company-sponsored data allowance to all employees.

ITWeb: What HR issues did you have to consider? How many of your staff are now working from home? Have any staff been put on leave?

Malan: All our employees, without exception, are working normal days from home. We haven’t implemented any forced leave, although employees may use their annual leave as normal, for example, over the recent Easter break and school holidays.

Our HR team was really sensitive to the concerns of employees around medical cover, emotional and mental health issues and so on, and have placed a lot of resources and support around employees. We have access to a lot of offerings like online medical advice, counselling services, etc.

ITWeb: Which platform are you using for virtual meetings?

Malan: Our main platform for collaboration is Microsoft Teams, which we use for pretty much everything, internal and external. We also have Skype for Business capability and we use Sharepoint extensively – a Web-based collaborative platform that integrates with Microsoft Office.

SAP’s own collaboration app, Ruum, is also popular and we’ve made it available at no charge to users.

ITWeb: What other tools are you using to keep track of projects / teams / monitor employees’ work?

Malan: The SAP project methodology (Activate) fully supports remote delivery. It helps us and our customers to apply the rigor that is required to deliver successful projects.

ITWeb: How have your clients adapted to the new normal?

Malan: We’ve had really positive feedback and interaction with customers. In the services area, there has not been one project that’s been cancelled or completely stopped. At most, some have been paused or extended.

Customers are committed to their business and technology journeys. We’ve also found they like and take comfort from the increased frequency of contact and communication, which is great. We’ve done a lot of work coming up with the tools and methods to help our customers work.

In reality, I think one aspect of the new normal we’ve all had to adapt to and accept, is the fact that things may take a little longer. For example, in the analysis phase of a project, we can’t do full-day workshops anymore because people just can’t sit at a computer for the whole day.

ITWeb: What have you learned since the lockdown began?

Malan: In a recent call, our global head of services made the comment that the good thing about lockdown is that you get to spend a lot of time with your family. The bad thing about lockdown is … that you get to spend a lot of time with your family! I think we shouldn’t under-estimate the pressures people have been put under – suddenly and without much time or notice to prepare.

They have pressure from work, pressure from their children who are now at home, pressure from partners and spouses, and there’s no separation between these different pressures anymore.

The business pressures are very real – we need to keep selling and delivering.

This article first appeared on ITWeb.