Software AG – The Helix Transformation

Software AG’s history goes as far back as the software itself, but that doesn’t mean the company hasn’t kept up with the times.

The concept of the software is so fundamental now that even your grandparents can tell you what it is. But that hasn’t always been the case. When Software AG was founded by a team of young visionaries and engineers 51 years ago, there was no such thing as a “software product” in the way that you or I would understand it.

“Since then, Software AG has become a pioneer of software development and has helped enterprises around the world digitise their businesses. What began with the invention of a database to digitise data has today become a business helping enterprises use their available data in real-time to streamline their digital business and turn them into truly connected enterprises.

Vice President and Country Managing Director of Software AG South Africa, Kholiwe Makhohliso explains, “We’re in the Forrester and Gartner leaders’ quadrants in integration, API management and IoT. We also have strong solutions in business transformation and our heritage solution, Adabas and Natural.”

In 2018, Sanjay Brahmawar joined as Group CEO and drove what he called the Helix transformation strategy, a multi-year pathway to sustainable, profitable growth.

Makhohliso says Sanjay’s arrival signified that it was time to bring in new blood to consolidate Software AG’s products. Products were consolidated to include IoT & Analytics, Integration & API, Business Transformation & Adabas & Natural, which now form the company’s four key product areas.

“He’s brought in new insights into the organisation, driving transformation and with a strong focus on the workforce, customers and our partners,” says Makhohliso.

“Software AG has been a data pioneer from the beginning,” says Makhohliso. “We’re committed to making a world of living connections. By providing the fluid flow of data, we give business, industries and humanity the power to instantly see, decide and act”

She adds that from the South African perspective, as the country managing director, she came into the organisation in 2019 at the right time, when it was going through a transformation. “My mandates include building a strong base for the company, implementing the Helix strategy and better serving our customers.”

The Helix Transformation

The Helix transformation strategy, built around the values of “Focus, Team and Execution”, has set solid, material goals for the company, including targeted, sustainable and profitable growth, approximately €50 million in investment, and a commitment to medium-term milestones, metrics and pathways.

The strategy breaks down into each of those values:

  • “Focus” means finding the right products, the right markets and the right resources and capabilities.
  • “Execution” means offering simpler, sharper, disciplined GTM, providing an improved operating model, accountability, and driving the necessary shift to subscription models.
  • The “Team” part of the strategy focuses on harnessing Software AG’s talent and investing, expanding and empowering our partner ecosystem.

Human capital is key to the strategy. “The Helix strategy’s main focus is transformation, and people are the top priority there,” Makhohliso tells us. “People are critical. There’s ongoing investment in retaining our best employees and attracting talent in the market. We ensure that we provide development programmes that will be key to our employees’ career development and not only focus on technical capabilities.”

The company has invested heavily in skills, which is beneficial in many ways. “Investing in our workforce is critical in terms of better connection and interaction with customers. Lastly, a new head of HR and transformation was appointed and for the first time, HR sits on the board. This is a strong testimony that people and transformation are a priority in our strategy. I am also proud that a strong woman executive is representing us at that level.”

Makhohliso says the support from Software AG’s president in the region, Phillipe La Fornara, in the transformation process for South Africa has been important. This strategy is built to exploit the already powerful leverage that Software AG has developed over the last half a century.

“We can meet our competitors head-on. Our unique selling point is the ability to perform complex tasks in a simple and scalable way,” Kholiwe says. “We have strong solutions and a track record of successful implementation.”

“We’re not too broad or too complex, we are a niche organisation, agile enough to serve our customers with excellence and have strong solutions that can compete with bigger organisations,” Makhohliso points out. “We can bring those solutions closer to the business of our customers in terms of how our teams are structured, our ability to orchestrate and create a blueprint, and put a solution together that meets our customers’ needs.”

It’s an approach that has seen Software AG achieve a dramatic amount of growth, allowing it the opportunity to move into new sectors, but that also invites new challenges and offers vast opportunities.

The industry’s best-kept secret

Makhohliso explains, “We’ve gained market share and we’re developing new solutions. Our entry to the market in Africa has gained significant ground. Our IoT platform was enriched by the acquisition of a company called Cumulocity, which allowed Software AG to gain ground at a global level, for which we expect excellent results.”

The company took an approach of ‘land and expand’, focusing on its existing business to help customers turn data into value, thus turning customers into truly connected enterprises.

Makhohliso believes Software AG has a great deal of potential.

“I moved here from another software organisation and I’ve found so much potential,” she says. “Analysts say we are the industry’s best-kept secret. We need to engage more with our customers to share our value proposition. We have a strong workforce, partner ecosystem and the impact and difference our solutions can make to our customers, both in South Africa and the rest of Africa, is enormous.”

As part of the Helix strategy, we unveiled a new purpose statement: “We connect people and technology for a smarter tomorrow.”

Transformation at the heart of Software AG

In addition to investing in the future of Software AG itself, Makhohliso is also excited about the transformation initiatives the company is driving. “I am passionate about transformation in South Africa and we are investing heavily in aspects of socio-economic development, skills development and supplier and enterprise development. For example, last year alone we taught more than 1000 primary school learners in KZN and Gauteng, introducing them to coding and robotics. In the next two years, the program will extend to other provinces, such as Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Western Cape.“

Further to this, Software AG is also building a training centre with Innovate Durban in Cato Manor. Innovate Durban has established a Living Lab at the Umkhumbane Entrepreneurial Support Centre in Cato Manor, where the community will be able to access a lab that will offer training on various programs and internally house the latest technology to equip people with skills for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, including 3D printers, laser-cutting machines, drones, robotics, artificial intelligence tools, and virtual reality. Focused programmes will be run to ensure citizens are not only exposed to the latest technology and thinking but are also trained to use the technology.

Skills development that focuses on learnerships and internships for the unemployed is crucial to Makhohliso, who says, “We are running a one-year internship programme and have on-boarded 10 interns with the objective to focus on quality instead of quantity, and the quality of our young interns is amazing.”

The programme focuses on modernisation and digital transformation as a theme for the year with the aim to close the skills gap in South Africa. The program includes mentoring, coaching and training on Software AG solutions.

“Our plan is for the interns to be absorbed by the market through our customers and partners, even our competing organisations, at the end of the programme,” says Makhohliso.

The company also collaborates with Sparrow FET College, a school that has remained committed to its mission to provide quality, holistic education to South African learners with cognitive disabilities and to youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. “What is fascinating about the partnership with Sparrows is that they adopt a theory, practice and real-world application approach to skills development that will help our learners carry these skills to their industry placement.

“We can’t stop there. We also run an enterprise development programme and in 2019 had four partners on-boarded to facilitate enterprise growth and stabilisation for our upcoming partners and help them become multimillion-rand companies.”

It’s important to Makhohliso that Software AG promotes women leaders, a subject that’s near and dear to her heart.

Makhohliso has been part of women leadership since her days at Accenture and later at Oracle. “We’re talking about how we can build women leaders and that’s key. As a woman, I am excited to note that there are several women MDs within the technology industry. A few years back we could count a few, but not anymore.

“I acknowledge there is still a lot to do and we want to encourage women in IT to take those leadership positions,” she says. “The future is women. We have a duty as women leaders in the sector to shatter the glass ceiling and the glass cliff with more representation in the boardroom. So it’s a space I’m really driving passionately with some government ministries and in the private sector space.”

Reimagine integration, spark business transformation and enable fast innovation on the Internet of Things so you can pioneer differentiating business models. With Software AG solutions, you can connect and integrate any technology—from app to edge. We help you free data from silos so it’s shareable, usable and powerful—enabling you to make the best decisions and unlock entirely new possibilities for growth.


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