Judy Cole: The High's & Low's of 2020

Posted on December 2020 By Speller International
202 High And Low

As the 2020 calendar year is nearing the end and the much-anticipated 2021 year is looming, it is time to take a minute and reflect over the past year. And what an extraordinary year it was.

This time last year at Speller International, I was preparing to go on maternity leave, handing over the reins to Jack Bland and feeling pretty proud that we had finally implemented a new Cloud-based CRM system and Microsoft 365. We had gone live and I was bedding it down prior to finishing up.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined or predicted that 2020 was going to be the most transformative year in my lifetime so far.

The beginning of 2020…

Entering the year, the IT/SAP market was average for us. We were not extremely busy but things were “ticking along” nicely. If you read our Quarterly Crunch you may remember that we were behind target in both Q2 (Oct, Nov, Dec 19) and Q3 (Jan, Feb, March 20) and after speaking to a few of our Speller contacts in various Consulting houses – they were feeling the same.

Other than slightly quiet and the talk of a potential downturn in the economy coming, the market was ‘business as usual.’ The ‘usual’ part being that technology needs and products were changing faster than ever before and Cloud technologies were on the uptake. The same people were having the same conversations as the previous year - technology, team structures, cloud v’s on premise and the move to S/4Hana.

And then there was COVID…

In Feb/March (with my 6-week-old baby in tow) I remember trying to walk this line of not wanting to appear irrational and overreact while still wanting to safeguard my loved ones, my business, our employees and my lifestyle.

There was a state of confusion while the whole world worked out whether we were overreacting to the flu or if we were all going to die! And as we watched the case numbers rise, death tolls rise and one by one whole countries locking down, the realisation sunk in that our life was about to change.

The Impact…

What felt like overnight, we had SAP projects put on hold, roles that were close to being offered and closed were pulled and the number of Speller SAP Consultants out working in the market went from circa 150 to 100 and dropping fast.

For the first time ever, I was doing ‘serious’ crunching of numbers, looking at debtors, looking at cash flow, making ‘worst case scenario’ calculations and having discussions about how long we can and are prepared to go losing money in order to ensure we could keep our entire team employed – which for Speller was the most important thing.

It was heart breaking for everyone but the determination and positive spirit of people really shone through and drove things forward. The team stayed in contact with clients and our consultants, and they all say that they had some of the best conversations they had ever had with people. People were caring, people were understanding. It was about catching up for a chat and a ‘check in’, not for the hope of gaining something from the conversation. There was a feeling of togetherness that we had never experienced.

We were incredibly lucky – once the initial lockdown was over, SAP started to pick up.

Companies realised that they couldn’t put their SAP/ERP projects on hold forever and nobody knew how long this was going to last, but it was clear it was going to last longer than we first thought.

In July, Companies became confident with working from home, running project teams from home and onboarding people from home. Suddenly some companies started to excel during COVID – our retails (food) clients, our utilities clients, Australian manufacturing, home improvement, government … toilet paper manufacturers!!

For companies who had not invested in Cloud Technologies it became a priority to do so.

Our clients were happy to engage interstate consultants given that nobody could be onsite anyway – this opened up the talent pool for the harder SAP skillsets. We were able to deliver full project teams remotely to much success.

We had our best Q1 (July, Aug, Sept 20) for new business that we had had in previous 12 months and we are having a fantastic Q2 (Oct, Nov, Dec 20). I truly believe that COVID will make the Australian SAP market stronger in the long run than it would have been if COVID never happened. I personally think that prior to COVID we were on the verge of a potential downturn.

Unfortunately, the government were not prepared to admit it, thus did not offer up an obvious stimulus package to try and prevent it. COVID forced the downturn which gave the government the opportunity to deliver a great economic support package, and although we will be feeling the pain of this recession for many years to come, the overall positivity in mindset in the market is better than had we slowly gone into a natural recession.

My learnings

People are amazing and just ‘get on with things.’ Our internal team were fantastic as were our SAP consultants. They transitioned to working from home, working through teething issues, juggled the challenges of having young children, home schooling or the challenges of living alone.

We really can work from home or from anywhere! Luckily, as I mentioned, we had just implemented Microsoft 365 and a Cloud CRM… Phew! The remote working enabled us to bed down process and systems in a fraction of the time it would have taken us from the office. We have ended up which improved and automated ways of doing things and ultimately a more flexible work environment.

It shone a light on Mental Health in the workplace. Our team is and was our priority, and we implemented “Are you ok?” In the past, people perhaps did not want to talk about their mental health and some people did not want to ask. The lock down brought it into the open, pushed us through the awkwardness and has landed us as a team in a more open and mindful state.

We not only ‘stepped’ into each other’s shoes but we were in each other’s homes via Teams everyday – it gave us real insight into the challenges that we all faced regardless of personal situation.

Family and Friends. I have never really felt home sick for the UK until I was told that I could not go. Lockdown had many benefits for us as we had just had our first baby and we were able to spend a lot of quality time together but it highlighted that I take many relationships for granted. I assumed that I will always be able to see my friends and family or chat to them so perhaps hadn’t as much as I should have. COVID has reminded me what is important in life.

Technology was the reason that Speller were able to continue working from home – we had no downtime – one day we were in the office and the next the whole company was at home. It was not easy and it gave some of our team (the wonderful back office team) some very stressful days organising everything but we did it.

THANK GOODNESS we work in SAP/IT, for the most part we have been shielded from the worst the downturn has to throw at us because COVID truly highlighted the need to invest in Technologies.

Thank you to all who have shown loyalty to Speller throughout the downturn, we would not be in business if it was not for the SAP community and we really appreciate the support of all.