In the eyes of SAP Africa and its Managing Director Cathy Smith, the sky is the limit when it comes to social upliftment, technological innovation and enterprise transformation on the continent
Writer: Jonathan Dyble | Project Manager: Vivek Valmiki
Why am I so optimistic about technology in Africa? The answer is simple – look at how far we have come and look at how fast we are moving forward.
“By 2050, it is estimated that Africa will boast a $29 trillion economy. It will have the largest youth labour market in the world that, if empowered with the right education and skills development initiatives, could become the engine that propels the future global economy.
“The continent is also modernising at an unmatched rate. Its tremendous mobile device adoption and immense innovation capabilities prove this fact.
“While other countries wonder about delivering packages with quadcopters, we are already pioneering intelligent drone systems sophisticated enough to track poachers. Meanwhile, an African student just developed a new rocket fuel – in his mother’s rural kitchen!”
For Cathy Smith, technology has always had a firm grip on the key to unlocking Africa’s true potential.
Having immersed herself in the industry for over 30 years, including a 23-year stint at IBM, she has led an enviable career, moving to Cisco in 2015 to head up the company’s go-to-market sales and digital transformation strategies for Sub-Saharan Africa. When the opportunity arose to join SAP Africa last year, however, she grasped it with both hands.
“Working for a global organisation committed to empowering women in leadership and dedicated to furthering Africa’s employment equity and transformation agenda through the realisation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is truly a pleasure,” Smith states, now standing as the Africa division’s first female managing director.
“I think what sets SAP apart is its deep sense of purpose. Our vision is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. For me, Africa is the perfect place to make an impact.”
This culture and mission of driving positive change readily dictates the firm’s behaviour, the company able to excel in both helping its customers to digitally transform while ensuring that nobody is left behind.
Such is reflected by SAP’s emphasis on supporting progressive education and training amongst Africa’s ever-expanding youth.
“For years SAP has been engaged in Africa’s workforce readiness, youth employment and entrepreneurship,” Smith affirms. “Our endeavours in aiding young people to gain basic coding skills show youngsters that they have self-efficacy and are not shaped by technology, but rather can use technology to shape their future.”
The company’s launch of Africa Code week, together with 130 key public, private and non-profit partners, provides the best evidence of this. Having only been up and running for four years, the initiative has already introduced digital skills to 4.1 million young Africans across 37 countries.
This is not all, however, SAP also operating its Skills for Africa programme – an umbrella which encapsulates the Young Professional Program, Duel Study Program and Go Digital Program, each of these enabling talent, providing job placements and creating SMEs to support graduates looking to establish their own companies.
“Likewise, SAP Skills for Africa forms part of our global commitment to education and entrepreneurship,” Smith explains, pointing to a recent agreement signed with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
“Here we announced plans to create 450 jobs for highly qualified personnel in the IT sector across Algeria, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia.
“These countries have great potential for job growth in the digital sector, but they lack trained specialists who can support companies and institutions as they introduce and operate software products. We’re hopeful that these plans will seek to address the bottleneck.”
SAP Africa’s corporate social responsibility efforts are not just limited to education and upskilling, however, the firm taking a similarly proactive stance in helping to solve other real-world issues.
“We strive to run a successful and profitable business, but we place enormous importance on people and purpose,” Smith states, eluding to SAP’s Social Sabbaticals as one such example.
A portfolio of pro-bono volunteering programmes, these entail the enterprise’s brightest and best employees from around the world coming together, creating highly diverse teams which are then connected with resource-constrained social enterprises and non-profits.
“By taking these steps, we’re able to provide skills and expertise in solving concrete business problems,” Smith continues. “It also gives our people exposure to cross-cultural exchanges and a diversity of thought, offering the opportunity to bring back vital cross-company knowledge and experience that can again be applied in the service of our higher purpose.”
Each of these different social avenues combined tie into the firm’s overriding One Billion Lives initiative – a social entrepreneurship programme with the audacious goal of supporting a billion people around the world.
Yet CSR is not the be all and end all of SAP Africa’s social impact. It’s thriving operations are equally bringing new life to industries and communities alike across the continent, driven by a growth plan centred around accelerating sector expansion and supporting enterprise development alongside its grassroots efforts.
“As a business, we are deeply committed to Africa and investing in the continent’s impressive double-digit growth rate momentum,” Smith explains.
“The importance of removing business complexity in enabling company presidents, CEOs and managing directors to access the information which guides immediate decision making and fuels customer growth really mustn’t be understated.”
SAP’s unrivalled business applications and analytics software have become crucial in achieving this progressive mandate.
Renowned as a market leader in digital ecommerce and the world’s largest enterprise cloud company with over 195 million cloud users, the firm helps businesses afflicted by business intelligence barriers such as fragmentation, latency and backwards looking cultures to change the way they both think and operate.
“We’re helping to facilitate what we call the intelligent enterprise,” Smith explains. “By combining existing concepts like ERP and CRM with newly feasible and viable technologies such as big data, machine learning and data intelligence in one coherent platform, businesses are able to access game-changing insights like never before.
“At SAP we believe that the intelligent enterprise represents the second wave of digitalisation. It has been a big success and has proven to be a fundamental part of our business strategy for 2019/2020 and beyond, locally here in Africa and internationally.”
Many of the projects featured at the most recent rendition of the SAP Quality Awards, an annual platform used to pay homage to some of the best and brightest digital transformation leaders, embody this strategy.
“There are many case studies I would like to highlight,” states Smith, “but one that springs to mind is our recent work with the Royal Swaziland Sugar Cooperation (RSSC) in the early stages of 2019.”
Founded in 1952, the organisation had been driven by an endless amount of traditional business processes, harvesting 3.6 million tonnes of cane per season across its 22,000 hectares. Yet by working with SAP, it is now leveraging a newly formed digital core to power its entire operations portfolio.
“They had a sweet tooth for IoT,” Smith jests, “recognising its potential to support their efficiency-boosting implementation efforts and integrate exponential technologies. For me, it’s been particularly rewarding knowing that RSSC will now be able to compete in more advanced markets globally thanks to our solutions.”
As our conversation continues, the Managing Director also points to SAP’s assistance in helping the City of Cape Town to provide access to clean water to more than four million residents. Using its Work Manager platform, the firm provides real-time information that is then analysed, improving proactive decision making in the region’s utilities networks.
Smith continues: “We announced this when Cape Town was suffering from water restrictions back in 2018 and it was extremely well received across South Africa. Seeing how our technology, along with many crises plans and support arms, helped to address what was a massive environmental challenge has been fantastic.”
SAP can’t and indeed doesn’t take all the credit for such touching stories, however, Smith quick to highlight the firm’s collaborative ecosystem as an integral asset.
Consisting of over 500 partners, including 240 channel partners that resell SAP’s solutions across the continent, it has proven itself critical to both the success of the firm and in turn its customers, forming the third part of the company’s three-pronged strategy.
“We’re committed to the three Cs – Culture, Customers and our Channel,” states Smith. “The latter is all about igniting our partners, ensuring they have the necessary skills to support our customers during their digital transformation journeys.”
This trio of pillars will remain pivotal moving forward, with SAP Africa set to continue upholding enviable standards in social upliftment, enterprise transformation and industry collaboration.
“There’s a lot going on at SAP right now,” Smith states emphatically. “The World Economic Forum Africa was hot on our agenda during the first week of September when we launched the Startup Guide to Cape Town and Johannesburg.
“Meanwhile, we recently joined the Global Goals House movement to help support STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) development, and have partnered with the Social Enterprise World Forum as its global technology partner in the last 12 months.”
And while the firm’s seemingly never-ending, escalating developments are cause for positivity, it is the continental backdrop against which they are taking place that incites real optimism from Smith.
She concludes, echoing her opening statements: “The sky is the limit for Africa. From the acceleration of smartphone penetration and growth of cloud computing to the increasing roles of IoT, AI and blockchain, Africa’s culture of innovation leapfrogging will continue to be its secret weapon, and one that is aptly supported by the rising tide of SMEs.
“I believe that Africa will emerge as a third centre of global power; a bridge that connects the East and the West. The world needs Africa. It needs its resources, its people, its skills and its insights.
“The continent is rising to meet – and even exceed – those expectations. Yes, it has not been a smooth ride, but the winds of change are blowing in the right direction. This will be Africa’s century!”