T-Systems promotes role of ICT in nation building
Gert Schoonbee, Managing Director, at T-Systems believes ICT has the potential to be far more than just a business enabler but can also be in instrumental in building South Africa’s future.
He recently spoke at The Human Capital Engine’s recent Nation Building in SA Conference in Johannesburg.
The event connected C-level executives from various local companies, and explored the evolving role of private enterprise in developing our country, 20 years after the birth of a democratic South Africa.
“You cannot talk about nation-building in the third person and remain authentic,” said Schoonbee, explaining the details of T-Systems’ ‘nation-building’ programme within its 2,000-employee South African division.
“We wanted to move past the fallacy that nation-building is something we as individuals cannot accomplish, that it can only be done only by heroic figures and icons. We wanted to illustrate that it affects us all, that it is not ‘something that needs to be done for someone else’.”
“T-Systems’ programmes have emphasised the nation-building efforts that can be done on an individual level, on a day-to-day basis. The vision is that T-Systems becomes a microcosm of the country we want to become”, he explained.
“Through its key accounts, the ICT company plays a critical role in areas such as ensuring well-functioning trade ports across South Africa’s coastline, providing high levels of electricity availability despite a tough operational climate, ensuring SA can transact with the world via sophisticated financial trading desks, and keeping production lines up and running for us to export goods.”
“All of these are, in essence, nation-building activities”, he said.
“Our cultural programme looks at these achievements and emphasises that staff are making a meaningful contribution to themselves, colleagues, customers, and then outside of the organisation: their families, communities, and the broader society at large,” said Schoonbee.
However, change does not come easily. At T-Systems it began with breaking down some of the barriers between people. “We spend so much time at work, knowing each other, but at the same time, not knowing each other,” he said.
“Our values, beliefs and identity are a result of our entire lives: where we have come from and everything we’ve experienced. In order to truly trust someone and work together as one, we need to truly understand that person.”
In October this year, when the new Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Codes come into effect, the spotlight will once again be directed at issues of transformation. But Schoonbee believes that if we define transformation as simply ‘adhering to these codes’, we are not grasping the issue fully.
Transformation is about being instrumental in building a nation for those around us, transforming people’s lives through our actions, he continued.
With this in mind, the new culture of T-Systems actively seeks ways to do this. From its learnership programme that’s trained more than 1,500 people in recent years (many of which went on to formal internships and ultimately permanent positions within the organisation), to its Digital Learning Centre in the small rural town of Hazyview in Mpumalanga, nation-building remains at the heart of activities.
“This is a continual journey,” Schoonbee concluded, “We need to keep working on it, and find strength and energy from each other – but so far, the change has been incredible.”
T-Systems is a finalist in the the 13th Annual Oliver Empowerment Awards in the category Skills Development for organisations with a turnover of over R1 billion as well as Enterprise & Supplier Development category.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.