Leveraging Technology to Overcome Adversity

2 min read
01 Jan 2024

uring a large-scale medical emergency or other crisis, a country’s government, private sector and communities are put under pressure and vulnerabilities are exposed. These groups must work to fill immediate gaps as quickly as possible, creating solutions and initiatives in a short amount of time, but they can struggle to work together.

”You have communities, societies and government entities that have disconnected initiatives, rarely collaborate well or share information and don’t have a collective objective,” says Hardeep Sound, regional leader for East Africa at SAP. Hardeep started his career at Deloitte and worked for Microsoft and Oracle in various consulting and sales positions in his decades-long career. He joined SAP in October 2019 to explore leadership challenges outside of sales. In 2020, he witnessed countries in the region he covers react to the COVID-19 outbreak and saw how technology can be a great enabler and bring solutions to citizens. He reports seeing local innovators harness technology to solve immediate problems and bridge gaps. 

Hardeep points to Health-E-Net, a Kenyan startup that provides patients with a telemedicine platform to access a global network of volunteer medical professionals, and MyDawa, a Nairobi-based app that allows individuals to purchase medical supplies. MomCare is another example. The SMS solution was created by the PharmAccess Foundation, which has offices in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Tanzania. It provides medical services and resources, such as emergency transport to hospitals, to pregnant women in an effort to reduce maternal mortality. 

— Photo by Alvin Engler

COVID-19 disrupted supply chains and operations around the world, but Hardeep highlights how technology can reduce the impact of such large-scale disturbance and provide solutions. “SAP has Ariba Network, which minimizes disruptions in production supply chains,” he says. “It allows any buyer to post immediate sourcing needs and any of the four million suppliers can respond to communicate their ability to deliver needed goods and services.” 

Hardeep notes that it’s important for companies to seek feedback from customers and use this first-hand information from the people on the ground to continually adapt and improve. “That enables a lot of trust between citizens and medical providers or governments who are providing these services,” he says. Technology can enable the quick collection of feedback and help organizations make more informed decisions.

Businesses must not invest in technology for technology’s sake. Use it because it’s going to provide the impact you need for your business to grow and become scalable.

Hardeep recommends that startups create an end-to-end process to understand what citizens really need. This involves gathering insights on the market, building an action plan and understanding the impact once the product or service is live. Then, he suggests creating case studies and references to sustain the momentum. To achieve this, Hardeep advises startups to use technology that’s already on the market rather than creating a solution from scratch. Using proven technology can be more efficient and bring faster results. There are a number of technology providers, including SAP, that have software solutions to help startups grow on a pay-as-you-go model, and that only require configuration to get started. 

Founders should think about how they can leverage technology as a strategic enabler to help them achieve their required impact, Hardeep says. “Businesses must not invest in technology for technology’s sake, because it’s a trend. Use it because it’s going to provide the impact you need for your business to grow and become scalable.” He suggests that companies develop a customer-centric culture where product and service improvement are the priorities, and that they use technology as a tool to achieve this. 

Most important tips for startups:

  • Leverage existing technology. Creating your own software solution takes a lot of time, effort and funding. Use proven technology as a tool, such as software as a service or infrastructure as a service solutions, to have a more immediate impact.
  • Work on an OPEX model. Optimize for your day to day operating expenses by using pay-as-you-go software as much as possible to manage your cash flow. This works better than a CAPEX model when starting up.
  • Invest in your employees. Enable them to achieve their fullest capacity using continuous development, and consider opening up equity for employees right from the beginning.
  • Align your business with the UN’s sustainable development goals. Depending on your business, it can be important to present and have a social element.

Main photo by Peter Irungu