Hayel Saeed Anam group bolsters digital business processes with SAP
Our Chief Information Officer, Mohamed Khalifa in an interview with Manda Banda from the ICIO magazine explains how the power of data flows will enable HSA to ensure insight-driven decision-making across its operating companies by giving the company full visibility on its global operations and supported the Digital Transformation efforts.
Hayel Saeed Anam group bolsters digital business processes with SAP
Hayel Saeed Anam (HSA) and Company Yemen, one of the Middle East's largest family-owned conglomerates, recently partnered with global technology vendor SAP. In its first major project in Yemen since the outbreak of the conflict, SAP will enable HSA to harness the power of data flows to ensure insight-driven decision-making across its operating companies. Mohamed Khalifa, Chief Information Officer, HSA Yemen explains how the implementation has given the company full visibility on its global operations and supported the Digital Transformation efforts.
Talk us through Hayel Saeed Anam (HSA) and Company Yemen IT infrastructure and why it was important to partner with technology vendor SAP.
HSA Group was established in Yemen in 1938 and is now one of the largest multinational conglomerates based in the Middle East. With 35,000 employees HSA operates across more than 40 markets, providing goods and services to communities in the MENA region, Southeast Asia, and Africa.
To succeed as a business of this size, it is important that the management team are enabled to make effective and efficient decisions based on accurate data gathered from across the organisation. For a country like Yemen, where technology infrastructure is compromised to the extent that even supporting stable Internet connectivity is a challenge - this is no mean feat. It was for this reason that in 2015 HSA chose to partner with SAP, the world's largest provider of enterprise application software, to strengthen our existing infrastructure and operations in Yemen and more broadly across the globe.
We decided to partner with SAP because of the vendor's extensive expertise in industrial systems, a key area of HSA's operations. Working together with SAP, we sought to accelerate HSA's growth, overcome operating challenges, and enhance decision-making throughout the business. We were able to build a strong relationship with SAP which has proved essential to our Digital Transformation, ensuring that HSA is well-equipped to support the communities and people we serve in Yemen.
What were the main challenges that HSA Yemen faced prior to the project implementation with SAP Applications?
The first obstacle that we encountered was the absence of an SAP-certified partner in Yemen. Finding an on-the-ground partner was essential to implementing the new solutions, but there were no suitable organisations in Yemen - where the bulk of the process would take place. Ultimately, we decided to totally transform our digital architecture to enable us to conduct the implementation process remotely via SAP-certified experts in other countries in the region, such as Egypt. In order to reach the implementation stage, we needed to address a number of other challenges first.
For HSA's Internet connections in Yemen, we had initially used an Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), however, as traffic increased, the available bandwidth was not sufficient to reliably serve our operations. To address this growing shortfall, in 2019, HSA secured the first ever leased lines into Yemen which would provide stable Internet connectivity for HSA's businesses across the country.
To ensure that we could take advantage of the leased lines' capacity, we also upgraded our physical infrastructure in Yemen. This process involved replacing 40km of copper cables with fibre cables to enable a high-speed connection from telecoms centres. We have now established six leased lines in Yemen, which also provide essential connectivity to Yemeni communities, schools and other establishments, alongside our own businesses.
The leased lines have been instrumental not only to increasing the bandwidth available to HSA but also have greatly increased the resilience of operating companies across the country by providing an alternative source of connectivity when disruption has occurred.
Disaster recovery is also a high priority issue when operating in such a challenging environment. Some years ago, we planned to establish a new disaster recovery site in Aden, with a secondary site in Hodeidah, but we realised that this would merely spread the risk rather than eliminating it. Instead, we took a bold decision to migrate and back up all operations to the cloud, thus removing the need for physical data centres to restore function in the event of disruption or infrastructure damage.
The final challenge came during the implementation phase itself and involved shifting the company's approach to ERP from an internally developed, tailored model to a standardised ERP system. This process was extensive, involving the training of around 20 IT professionals in SAP ERP Modules to help our employees successfully transform HSA's business units. Although the project was ambitious, at HSA we recognise the responsibility of the private sector to improve digital skills and invest in the development of people and technology. That is why we also went beyond training our own employees and funded the SAP Young Professionals Programme (YPP) to upskill young. Yemeni talent to shape the country's future workforce. The scheme provided a unique opportunity for Yemeni graduates to develop their personal and business skills, equipping them with the tools they need to navigate the digital world. Delivered over a two-month period, all 20 graduates enrolled in the programme successfully completed the course. Based on this result, we intend to make this an annual initiative to build a community of SAP-certified professionals in Yemen.
Given the size of HSA Yemen's operations, how did you involve the business line leaders and IT leaders at C-level to ensure buy-in for the project?
At HSA, we believe that it is a business enabler. Establishing an awareness of the benefits of new technologies is critical to engage business leaders and ensure buy-in for new projects. To achieve this, IT leadership invited SAP to present the latest developments in their technology to our C-suite level team, making it easier for our business leaders to engage with emerging trends and correspondingly achieve greater buy-in for upcoming projects.
Who led the business case process for HSA to implement SAP virtualisation solutions?
The decision to implement SAP virtualisation solutions was agreed by the entire management team in 2015. For our new Yemen-specific project, the awareness sessions led by SAP each quarter helped to inspire our business leaders to constantly question their approach and venture into new technologies. The initiative helped to refine HSA's approach to IT.
How long did the project take to implement from the time approval was granted to scoping, design and implementation?
The implementation time has varied between industries. For example, the implementation of the SAP S4HANA ERP has ranged between six to nine months, depending on the number and size of the companies involved. SAP's Business ByDesign programme has already been implemented by many smaller businesses among HSA's operating companies and is usually a faster and more dynamic process.
Was the project implemented using in-house expertise or did you work with certified SAP solution provider partners?
The project was implemented using both in-house expertise and by partnering with SAP solution providers on a remote basis. Our internal team at HSA managed the project in Yemen, while we partnered with Egyptian providers Solex, Spirit and Phoenix to implement the software projects remotely.
The role of a CIO/ IT Director/IT Head etc is constantly evolving over the years with more C-level and business line executives getting involved in making IT and technology purchasing decisions. How hard is it for you to get the correct support and buy-in from your C-Suite peers at HSA Yemen?
The key to attaining support from C-suite peers is two-fold: create a culture which encourages leaders to make bold business decisions and clearly present the value of technology purchasing decisions for each company function.
Studying the roadmaps and plans of our technology senior team to gain an insight into new developments partners like SAP also helps to keep HSA ahead of the curve by revealing potential next steps and matching the needs of our organisation with their new offerings This process empowers our leaders through awareness employees following this SAP and knowledge to be more open to supporting new solutions in the technology space.
Where is HSA Yemen at in terms of its Digital Transformation journey and what is the digital roadmap for the group's operations going forward?
We are delighted with the progress that we have made thus far as part of our digital transformation journey and feel optimistic about the pace at which we will continue to onboard new and exciting technologies. Moving forward, we are adopting a phased process of implementation, utilisation and enhancement. Most of our companies/functions are at the utilisation stage with the new software, but others, such as our HR function using SuccessFactors, have already successfully deployed the relevant technology and we are now working with those teams to shift our focus to enhancement across multiple companies.
What has improved following the SAP technology deployment and how has that impacted the overall business at HSA Yemen?
Implementing SAP technology has improved our ability to make data-driven decisions and consolidate data. The adoption of new services, such as the analytics cloud, has enabled the collection of data broadly across the business - which is very important in a group of over 70 companies. By using the new technologies and associated knowledge-building exercises, HSA's leaders are now able to take a holistic view of all business activities, assess the impact of different scenarios and make informed decisions accordingly. The technology awareness sessions led by SAP have also provided an opportunity for our senior team to gain an insight into new developments and consider future avenues for growth.
Did you have to train employees following this SAP technology deployment?
We are constantly striving to improve levels of expertise within Yemen. Over the last three years, HSA IT professionals have participated in more than 200 external courses to develop their skills and keep up to date with the latest international developments.
We have also invested in training programmes for young Yemenis through SAP'S YPP programme –
which is funded by HSA in Yemen- and in the new academies that we are setting up with Cisco in five Yemeni universities to train young graduates. Through this partnership, we will educate the next generation of Yemeni IT professionals, many of whom will gain a Cisco certification as part of the initiative.
What is next following the implementation of SAP business applications solutions and what can your customers expect going forward now that HSA Yemen has deployed the latest technology?
Our next step is to finalise the implementation and rollout of the SAP business solutions to our companies in Yemen. By the end of 2023, we aim to have a further eight companies operating S4HANA and anticipate that 14 companies will have adopted SAP Business ByDesign in Yemen. In addition, our goal is to have established group reporting, and SAC and Ariba programs to support our finance and procurement teams respectively, by the beginning of 2023.
We will also be implementing our final two SuccessFactor modules: recruiting and onboarding, which will complete this landmark project that has revolutionised HR processes for over 18,000 of our employees, helping them to own their careers at HSA. The impact of this implementation has been immediately clear, with HSA recognised by the Top Employers' Institute as a Top Employer for 2022 for the Group's Digital and HR successes.
It has been rewarding to see that our partnership with SAP has proven to be so effective at not only transforming our business operations for the better, but also providing another means by which HSA can continue to support its employees and contribute to their development and progress. Moving forward, maintaining our keen interest in technological developments and seeking partners who share our belief in doing well by doing good remain high on our agenda.