15 June 2021

By John Annadale -  Absa Group Financial Controller, and Ebrahim Samodien, Chief Information Officer in the Absa Group technology office

Absa has taken the next step in its digital transformation journey, ensuring that technology becomes an enabler of effective change and unprecedented possibilities. Through our Owari Programme, we combined two different and complex software platforms and consolidated financial data and reporting on the cloud - a feat many organisations are still only attempting.

What we did

Starting in Kenya, Absa migrated from legacy infrastructure to SAP’s latest Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software (known as SAP S/4HANA), allowing for comprehensive, centralised financial data integration. This was set-up in conjunction with Coupa, a spend management solution that effectively streamlines procurement processes. All of this was then taken to the cloud through Amazon Web Services (AWS), allowing for rapid and flexible scalability. The successful implementation in Kenya opens the way for us to roll out the solution to our operations across Africa.

A number of businesses have faced challenges in implementing SAP/4HANA and have been curious to know how we approached the project, from design through to production.

How we pulled it off

Being decisive and finding ‘the silver lining’ in crises

While the previous ERP system was adequate and ready to be rolled-out across operations, we knew that the next version was on the horizon, stable and fully functional. A strategic decision was made to ditch the old infrastructure and implement a state-of-the-art solution that would enable big data, thorough analytics, efficient third-party management, and world class financial reporting. COVID-19 extended the project timelines, but also provided us with an opportunity to meticulously assess our unique needs, scrutinise the options available and map out appropriate next steps.

Embracing the new normal

We, as an Absa team, did not let new protocols and ways of working deter our progress. Normally, a number of specialists and technicians would be required on the ground, in-market, to facilitate and monitor implementation. Due to social distancing, this simply wasn’t an option. Instead of giving up, cross-border teams came up with creative ways to perform required tasks - remotely. We established virtual rooms with MS Teams where support staff were online to troubleshoot potential issues and address new user queries.

Ensuring for clean, accurate data from the onset

The quality of your master data determines validity going forward. Here, a combination of extensive employee training and leveraging of software capabilities, was essential. Once information is inputted into the system, it maps itself to predefined fields and prompts you to discard irrelevant information. Not only does this provide a higher level of certainty, additional assurances and enhanced processes and controls, it also enables users to access subsets or sub-categories of data. Any errors during this phase would be detrimental to data quality going forward.

Why we did it

The benefits are far reaching. Now, all financial ledgers used across all Absa entities are housed on a single platform with a single, consistent data set, establishing ‘one source of truth’, eliminating the need for constant cross-referencing and reconciliation. In addition, the new platform provides a detailed portal for systematic vendor engagement from onboarding, to invoicing and payments. What’s more, the new infrastructure lends itself to a significant amount of automation and standardisation, enhancing the group's financial reporting and governance as well as its supply chain management, through safe, secure, and efficient cloud solutions and software.

It’s not over yet. We look forward to using the best practice methodology we have developed to deploy the solution across the rest of our markets of operation, starting with South Africa.

Owari Programme benefits

  • One source of truth for financial management and reporting
  • Data harmonisation, quality and consistency
  • Standardisation and alignment of back office business processes to best practice
  •  Automation of manual processes and a shift towards value analysis
  • More cost-effective management of  third-party spend