Racial injustice has been one of those topics which can affect many of us deeply. Seeing continuous examples of it on the news, the protests aftermath, and the ultimate question of “what can I do as a contributing member of this society?” has been bugging me for the longest time.
SAP’s Pro Bono for Economic Equity Program for small, Black-owned businesses is a volunteering initiative created by SAP Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team to address this question. This 6-week program has been designed as a part of SAP’s response to the social justice movement and it leverages the talent of SAP employees to help Black-owned businesses and social enterprises.
I was one of the lucky people to be selected by United States – Phase 2 program and in this blog post, I will share my experiences with you.
The entire application process and eligibility criteria have been laid out clearly on Pro Bono Economic Equity page so I will skip that part for the most interested reader.
Once you are selected and the program starts, you are being introduced to your respective business with your teammates. In my example, we were a team of three SAP employees helping a small consulting company which provides educational tools for their clientele. CSR did a great job forming the SAP teams based on their background, knowledge base as well as the business problem of the company we were matched.
It was an interesting experience to match with people you did not know before and having to come up with a business solution in 6-week period, but my teammates were so willing to collaborate, and everyone was ready to put their hands under the rock. Hence, starting from week one, we set up 2-3 internal and external meetings weekly, to lay out the milestone, solution ideas as well as division of labor.
Our company was looking for recommendations for pricing their services, some general overview about their financial situation as well as providing a framework for financial forecasting in the future. They had necessary data sets such as financial statements for a few quarters and current contracts with their partners but lacking some ideas about how to utilize this data to obtain meaningful results out of it.
The first step was to make sure both parties understand the scope of work and the expected deliverables at the end of this engagement. All these small businesses have similar problems with many big companies SAP employees are used to work with. For instance, they want to understand where their business is going, the want to price their services correctly or they want to have a platform to look at their KPIs to have a general sense of their business… However, they lack resources, data, or knowledge base to implement solutions one might suggest to a big company. Moreover, the pro bono program only takes 6 weeks from the start to end, so it is essential to make a feasible and satisfactory plan and set out the expectations accordingly.
The second thing was to provide a solution which is simple and perfectible with experience. In our example, we really focused on providing a basis per pricing their services. They had an annual budget plan which they had hard times covering their fixed costs. Moreover, they did not have project-by-project visibility for each of their partners. This was causing a difficulty to understand how each of their project is going at any point in time. As a solution, we first made sure they could distinguish each partner and each project with some identification numbers so that they could see the profitability of each project. We also combined their contracts with budgeting data so that they will have a unique data set to see their ongoing projects with each partner, their cost and revenue information.
This data also let us run some pricing analysis. Our company was planning to increase the prices of their services but was not sure how much to increase so that they will not lose their customers. We looked at how their profitability change if they increase their prices or alter some of their administration costs as depicted on the graph above. These what-if scenarios helped them evaluate their current business and develop strategic action plans.
The last part of our solution was to provide a financial assessment. This part was mostly educational in terms of providing them some financial tools, definitions, and visualizations to show them how they can derive meaningful insights from their financial statements. While doing so, we used SAP Analytics Cloud as it is a powerful tool to showcase different visualization methods with useful predictive analysis. We realized these simple guidelines helped them a lot and I am confident that it will guide them to effectively utilize their financial statements to assess their business in the future.
When I look at this overall experience, I can categorize my learnings in two broad groups. On one hand, it was a total enlightenment for me to see that business problems do not vary much between small and big companies but the biggest challenge for small companies is the resources. Resource of tools, money and knowledge… So, as a data scientist, I had to really think strategically to plan out a solution which is feasible now but enhance-able in the future. We cannot expect these small companies to invest on fancy data analysis tools now. Needless to say, this is not the aim of Pro Bono program anyhow! However, as experts in this field, we can guide them in the direction so that when they get bigger, they will scale out these proposed solutions based on their business needs.
Second learning was sometimes the problem is structural. In our example, our company had all the necessary data sets, did everything right but they were just unable to use it effectively. Coming up with a data set which includes all of the ongoing projects, identifiable customer ids together with price and cost information was one big step toward having an all-in-one platform in the future. I could impress them a lot by being able to answer all of their pricing questions via using this data. They might not have knowledge base or tools to run sophisticated analysis now but I believe that they will continue adding on this data and it will be part of their successful business in the future. In that sense, I am happy.
To conclude, SAP’s Pro Bono for Economic Equity Program for small, Black-owned businesses was truly an amazing experience for me. It truly gave me a perspective about the problems small businesses face and how can we leverage our knowledge to help them. It also inspired me a lot in terms of educating myself more about black owned businesses and raise awareness among my environment and I hope this blog post be first of those attempts.