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"The pandemic has served to put us to the test"

By João Moreira

Interview with João Moreira, CEO of Abaco Consulting, for PME Magazine [PT Only]: https://pmemagazine.sapo.pt/pandemia-serviu-para-nos-por-a-prova-joao-moreira/

A year after the arrival of the pandemic in Portugal, the country faces a new general confinement, which has added several difficulties to the economic reality of companies. Over the last year, a greater effort to adapt and resilience has been required from organizations and employees, who need to define strategic plans to face the pandemic crisis.

In an interview to PME Magazine, João Moreira, CEO of Abaco Consulting, discusses the current situation and the new work models in the company, talking about issues such as change management, adaptation, current challenges and transition to a new labor paradigm where the communication and digital tools are increasingly important.

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PME Magazine – How has Abaco evolved over the past few years?

João Moreira – Tin been quite positive. Abaco Consulting was founded in 2004 and has its headquarters in Porto, as well as offices in Lisbon, São Paulo, London and Geneva. We are considered a national reference in SAP management software consulting and we have a team of around 200 consultants. Abaco’s business is focused on three key areas: implementation and maintenance of SAP information systems (world leader in management software), training in SAP through our Academy unit and development of proprietary solutions. With regard to the latter, last year and in the midst of the pandemic, we created a unit that developed, from scratch, a product in the area of ​​Safety and Health at Work, through the creation of a new company, Safemed Solutions. Abaco has always been investing in the development of skills that allow the implementation of projects around the world, and we have already developed more than 500 projects, in addition to Portugal, Brazil and the United Kingdom, where we have offices, in countries such as Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Angola, Cape Verde, South Africa, Canada, United States of America, Colombia, Argentina, Turkey and Singapore. International growth, supported mainly through its operation in Brazil, has allowed it to consolidate its strategy of focusing on the market “Manufacturing & Operations”, which is embodied in the vertical addressing of strategic sectors such as apparel, footwear and textiles, engineering and construction, automobile and food. On the other hand, Abaco has, in Portugal and Brazil, the highest level of SAP partnership: Gold Partner as Value Added Reseller. For customers, this recognition means that Abaco is a top SAP partner in the areas of development, implementation, services and support. In addition, the company has also invested in research areas, in order to implement innovative projects and create new products, namely in the development of vertical solutions by business area.

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PME Mag. – What are the main changes that the pandemic caused in the company?

J. M. –We have always lived with change and flexibility, which is why Abaco is a company that adapts quickly. By virtue of the services it provides, it already had teams working in the office remotely connected to some of its clients, as well as some employees already working from home, in support activities in a nearshore model. Therefore, we already had some software tools, systems and communication infrastructure to support remote work, which allowed us to face this situation in a faster and more proactive way, immediately placing our employees in the home office. However, by applying this model to the entire organization, quickly and without preparation, despite being used to living with change processes, it was necessary to overcome some difficulties created by this emergency situation. This pandemic served to put us to the test. We felt that the team mobilized (and continues to mobilize) around the customers.

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PME Mag. – How do you see SMEs adapting to a new work model over the last year?

J. M. – 2020 was, in fact, a completely unexpected year. We never thought of experiencing a reality like this and without a doubt that many companies, especially SMEs, were not yet prepared to withstand and overcome all the challenges that were placed on us. This new year, which is just beginning, is already starting to show us that, for now, nothing will be different from what we’ve lived so far and it will undoubtedly be more digital, both in the way we do business and in organizational processes, being that technology will play an even more predominant role in the lives of organizations. Despite the technological evolution that has taken place in recent years, it was possible to prove that there are still many obstacles that limit our action and that, in fact, they have always been part of our daily lives, but we never stopped to think about them. It’s only now, with the limitations we’ve all had because of the pandemic, that we’ve really realized how important digital is. This is to say that it is urgent to eliminate everything that is not agile, in order to allow us to have a business model that is quick to react.

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PME Mag. – How can this shift in the work paradigm in SMEs be managed?

J. M. – For many SMEs, or almost all, in fact, this pandemic has had a huge impact and this new year will be quite different from what they knew. It is a fact that Covid-19 has boosted and even accelerated the digital transformation of many companies and, in this sense, it has become essential that they have the capacity to reinvent their processes and invest even more in the digital transformation of their businesses , as that is the only way they will be able to overcome this crisis that we are facing. All SMEs are currently facing very difficult choices in responding to this new “normal”. Knowing how to foresee new changes and problems, being flexible, transparent and being prepared for possible unforeseen events is fundamental for us to be able to face the year. We cannot forget that, more than reinventing ourselves, we have to rediscover ourselves and find new ways to create value for our customers, partners and employees. At this time, it is important to continue to give priority to internal communication and to send messages that encourage tranquility and respect for the rules imposed. However, the goal now must be to continue the operation’s growth, and it is crucial to attract new talent. This will be one of the great challenges, not only because there is more demand for qualified professionals in the market than the available supply, but also because of the current context that has significantly changed the processes of recruitment, selection, integration and training of new staff. The challenge is to be able to define and implement measures in order to adapt to this new reality, making their business models evolve and building solutions that not only survive, but also thrive in the new business scenario that will come.

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PME Mag. – In general, in terms of Human Resources, how do you analyze the management of SMEs over the last year? How should the eminent transition to “normality” be made as far as this area is concerned?

J. M. – With close, confident and transparent leadership, with some routines and involving people (in decisions, solutions, actions). Trusting our people has always been an integral part of our way of being. Transparency in communication is now a greater challenge. It is necessary to pass on more information, give more context, be more clear. The strategic management of Human Resources has gone to another level, it is the organization’s circulatory and lymphatic system. Efficiency, productivity, management of technical skills are fundamental, but they are part of the most basic level of Management and Leadership. Allow to survive. But if we want a healthier, faster, stronger body, better able to adapt quickly to changes in its environment, we need this strong culture and the right people who, in addition to being committed, see in the organization an extension of themselves and of your life. And the hard part is that each person is unique, has different experiences and expectations, and can contribute in different ways. You need to know people well to be able to lead them. A good leader articulates his people, opening the way for what they do best and complementing the various talents in a team, focusing them on a purpose. If we combine this with a general mindset of focus on talent, Humanity in the organization, processes designed to improve the experience of people (whether together or distributed, but always connected) and involvement for contribution, talents will effectively be the centerpieces in the process of constant adaptation that a company is required to do today. It is not possible to assess the performance of an organization in the “vacuum”, it is always inserted in a context and, nowadays, this context changes quickly and, at times, unpredictably. It is companies with a strong culture, which trust their talents the most and give them autonomy to (also) improvise, which adapt more easily. For this, it is essential to connect and bring employees together around relevant discussions and share critical information about the organization.

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PME Mag. – What good practices and/or tools can you highlight as useful in supporting SMEs towards a return to normality?

J. M. – It is essential that SMEs seek to monitor and assist, even more closely, each of the teams, holding status meetings daily or whenever justified, for example. It is also crucial that the routines that they already had are maintained. For example, at Abaco we have always given importance to team routines, creating those habits, keeping goals and agendas clear, and this has remained unbroken. These routines are revealed at the level of each project, each competence team, each work group and in the leadership and management team and are essential for us to be aligned. On the other hand, we have some tools that have helped us in this task: in addition to the work we do on social media, we have an internal, weekly newspaper. We have the Microsoft tools, with internal sites for sharing information, sharing knowledge and even on topics such as telecommuting or about Covid-19. We have video calls that also play an important role in communication, making it possible to create more empathy than a simple voice call, more reading and non-verbal language processing, making the connection between people greater and, consequently, increasing the productivity of a team . However, in this matter, there is no technology to replace the physical proximity and magic of a team together. We are certain that the crisis will pass and we will come out stronger, but this tranquility needs to be passed on to the team. If we maintain a cautious behavior and do everything in our power to minimize risks, if we have the creativity to know how to read the opportunities, and if we know how to continue following our course, our strategy, with the necessary corrections that come from this situation , and if we know how to take advantage of the human capital that we have, we will surely all be more motivated, after overcoming this crisis. Finally, it is equally important that, between customer and supplier, partner and competitor, bonds of solidarity are established instead of each one looking for individual survival strategies. Success in overcoming this crisis can only be collective, never individual. More than ever, let us take care of each other and be on the lookout for the weakest.

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PME Mag. – Is this new working model here to stay? What are the next challenges?

J. M. – I think we’ve all figured out that we’re just as efficient remotely, so I think telecommuting will increase considerably and we’ll see a decrease in usable working space in offices. By this I do not mean that physical offices will cease to exist, not least because they will continue to be needed. We are all human beings and, therefore, we need to socialize, exchange ideas between teams and it is often important to do it in person and the same applies to customers. However, I believe that it no longer makes sense to have that obligation “from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm in the office”, because the main priority is not to go back “to what it used to be”, but rather to adapt to a new reality, with new demands, the most important thing is that we continue to deliver our work to our customers with the same level of quality. However, the biggest challenge is the question of motivation and how we manage to keep a team motivated even though we are away physically. Although motivation does not depend so much on the form of face-to-face or remote work, it depends on the team’s unity (not so much on physical presence). It depends on close, confident, transparent leadership.

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PME Mag. – What is Abaco’s role in this complex management of the new SME paradigm?

J. M. – The role of Abaco Consulting is essentially in supporting the digital transformation of SMEs, taking advantage of its technical skills, experience and knowledge of business processes in the industries in which it specializes. The beauty of our activity is the opportunity to get to know different organizations, different ways of working, decision-making processes, different cultures, being permanently in a learning process, on the one hand, and having the opportunity to share this knowledge with our customers on the other. creating unique Customer Experiences. This is how we believe we can make a decisive contribution, combining our knowledge and experience with the focus on our customers’ activities.