Robert Heneke

Robert Heneke

Head of Cloud, SAP Technology and Development at Pick n Pay

Pick n Pay
After overseeing the the largest cloud migration in African history, Pick n Pay’s Robert Heneke outlines the importance of plugging the digital skills gap

Having started out in the field of industrial engineering, Robert Heneke found himself being “bitten” by ‘the computer’ and information systems bug as a whole in the mid-90s. 

And it was while undertaking evening studies – with a view to obtaining his bachelor of  Commerce in Information Systems – that he received a phone call out of the blue asking whether he wanted a job as an SAP Consultant Trainee. 

“I didn’t know SAP, other than how to spell it,” admits Heneke. “But it seemed like that was sufficient in the 90s.”

After starting out as a SAP Basis Administrator, he moved into contracting and found his services being enlisted by world-leading diamond company De Beers

Then came a period at Chevron, a “fantastic opportunity” that allowed him to travel across the world. With a new wife at home and two young children to look after, however, Heneke needed stability – and it was thanks to yet another phone call that his career moved in a new direction with Pick n Pay

“The SAP world is fairly small; everybody knows each other,” he says. “So when a friend told me about this new opportunity, I grabbed it.”

Over the years, Heneke has progressed admirably through the retailer’s IT ranks, from SAP Basis Administrator to Team Leader and then Senior Manager. He also continued his education journey with a master’s in Business and Administration.

These days, he is Pick n Pay’s Head of Cloud, SAP Technology and Development, making him instrumental in the company’s recent cloud migration using AWS, which saw a strong partnership formed with Lemongrass

Evidently, there are a great many challenges – both technical and practical  – for Heneke to overcome in his current role. 

Chief among them is the digital skills gap, about which senior executives across the world of business have been increasingly vocal in recent months. 

“The cloud gives you all of these tools and services – a myriad of them – and every week it feels like new ones are coming out as well,” explains Heneke. “It's like we have this box of tools and we need to create something, but we don't have the people to create it.

“Getting skilled people in this industry is not easy. We, at the southernmost tip of Africa, are far from the developed world and, therefore, most skills gravitate towards Europe.”

While hopeful that a breakthrough is near, Heneke is also desperate for the retail industry to recognise the importance of having developers with skills in the cloud and similar technology: “I think we are on the cusp of breaching that as an industry, but we aren’t there just yet.”

In the face of these obstacles, Heneke remembers a piece of advice his mother once gave him, which he views as important from both a professional and personal perspective.

“She said, ‘They can take away everything, but they cannot take away your education’,” recalls Heneke, who himself has all manner of qualifications. “And that is definitely something I'm trying to instill in my kids. 

“People don't realise education is the thing that will take us further in life and is the way to get out of problems. 

“The world is always in turmoil and new technology can help us out. How do we get that? Through education. So that, to me, is a very important pillar in my life.”


Read the full story HERE.

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