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/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/helping_hands1_138711.jpgIn March 2011, the northeast region of Japan suffered a devastating combination of an earthquake, a tsunami, and severe damage to four nuclear reactors. The entire nation felt the repercussions, and SAP’s Tokyo office was no exception. And yet, through determination, teamwork, and assistance from other SAP offices around the world, SAP Japan not only continued to function, but went on to complete critical projects – and to help customers in need. As a member of the Tokyo-based team, Ayumi Sato, Japan IT Manager, experienced the difficulties firsthand, and spoke with Bill Kozel about her team’s efforts to overcome adversity.

Bill Kozel: Ayumi, what challenges did your team face in keeping SAP Japan running?

Ayumi Sato: Our first challenge was external: In weeks following the disaster, the entire country was in the middle of a great deal of confusion, compounded by aftershocks and the instability of the Fukishima nuclear reactor station. Public transportation had not fully recovered, and logistics were very limited. There were frequent power outages throughout Japan, and each town around the center of Tokyo would have a two-hour blackout each day.

Our second challenge was internal: Immediately after the disaster, it took a few weeks before the authorities could confirm that our building in Tokyo was safe. So the 900 SAP people who work in that building had to work from home, with limited connections.

Bill: How did the team cope with that?

Ayumi: Working at home alone is not always easy on morale; there can be a feeling of lost solidarity. So we communicated frequently with each other via web conferences, instant messaging, and a microblog. Also, the IT team enabled us to bring our personal smartphones onto the network through SAP Afaria. Using these tools, we were able to communicate and see one another over our laptops and smartphones. That way, we didn’t lose our feeling of relationships with coworkers.

Bill: What kind of support did you get from other areas of the company?

Ayumi: We had great support from the Asia-Pacific regional team and the global team.

In Singapore, our infrastructure colleagues played a significant role in working with the Japan IT team. One example is disaster recovery planning. We have a comprehensive disaster recovery process in place, and we needed to consider whether to switch over our critical systems to a disaster recovery site. Fortunately we were able to avoid that, but the Singapore team supported us to ensure business continuity.

Also, the Information Technology Support Center team in Shanghai served as a single point of contact, handling various types of technical inquiries coming from SAP Japan employees for their remote work. Without their help, we could not have managed this situation.

Some colleagues left their laptops in the Tokyo office during evacuation and had no way to check company e-mail or the latest messages from management. Our global colleagues in business continuity planning and security supported us by providing alternate methods of communication. Their Afaria implementation for private mobile was a remarkable achievement.

Bill: Despite all the hardships, your team actually accomplished some key goals.

Ayumi: Yes. The earthquake struck near the end of our third quarter, and we still needed to ensure a successful closing. I am pleased to say that we did.

We were also in the middle of implementing Afaria (mobile device management and security) for our senior management in Japan, and that project was completed on schedule.

Bill: How are things today?

Ayumi: Although there are still some concerns like electric power shortages and occasional aftershocks, we are up and running, and back to normal operations. We are grateful for all the support we received from our colleagues, and very pleased that we were able to keep our business going during the crisis.

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