“The colleagues. The freedom. The clear-cut strategy. That’s what appeals to me. Everything about HEMA indicates we’re ready to make digital a core business component. And every step we take is aimed at accomplishing that. Our entire management stands firmly behind this strategy and demonstrates genuine commitment – including the budgets – to realize our digital ambitions. Insourcing. Hiring the right people. Developing talent. HEMA is doing it. And HEMA offers a pleasant work environment because all the attributes you associate with the brand – enthusiasm, openness, friendliness, and levelheadedness with a sense of humor – are represented in abundance,” according to Product Owner SAP Digital Execution, Jeffrey Blaas.

Sounds great, but doesn’t that describe most organizations?

“I wish! I used to work for a company where some people called out a number when they arrived in the morning. Those numbers turned out to be how many days they had to go before retirement. These guys were literally counting down the days. I worked on a few interesting projects there, but the work environment wasn’t exactly dynamic. At HEMA, I’m surrounded by fresh faces. People aren’t ‘doing time’ here. The work environment contributes to the agreeable atmosphere. For example, you can take a nice walk with colleagues. Or grab a coffee or drinks at the NDSM dock. It might sound ‘trivial,’ but at my age – family man, just had a second child – good contacts with colleagues are becoming increasingly important. I have an amazing group of friends, but they’re also all preoccupied with their kids. Catching up on weekdays is almost impossible, and we usually have other things lined up for the weekends. So taking some time out with colleagues is something I’ve really come to appreciate.”

Were the dynamics the reason you switched to HEMA?

“They were part of the reason, but it also had to do with the job itself. I have a business background, and HEMA gave me the opportunity to transition to IT. ‘The dark side.’ But I still take a process- and logic-based approach to my work. I can envision the possibilities, but when gets too technical, I rely on our developers’ expertise to fill in the gaps. Hopefully less and less because I intend to improve our SAP and other system documentation. We’ve accomplished a lot and developed a lot, but we haven’t always documented our choices and use cases. I want to clearly explicate our processes and their impact. So we can better identify what needs to be done next. And motivate why.”

Speaking of SAP: HEMA supposedly doesn’t have a lot of legacy software, but your SAP version reaches end-of-life in 2027. How do you reconcile that?

“Ha ha. Good point. We haven’t migrated to S/4HANA yet, but we are working on it. If you want to discuss cutting-edge tooling, you need to talk with our BI or e-commerce teams. Keep in mind that SAP fulfills a specific role. In my opinion, its purpose is to streamline our primary process, and the more plain vanilla we can keep the software, the better. The business process also dictates the pace of our migration to S/4HP. What does the business say it needs? And what does it really require? In other words: how can we keep things as simple as possible? When people say SAP isn’t sexy or exciting, I always reply that it’s not supposed to be. Deploy SAP to manage the basics and keep it as out-of-the-box as possible. Minimize maintenance. But make sure you cover the basics well. Then handle the exciting stuff with specialized tools. SAP is a workhorse, not a show horse.”

Noted: Jeffrey’s job is boring.

“Not at all. Preparing everything for SAP HANA is exciting enough. We’ve added quite a bit on top of the current platform. The more we can decouple that now, the easier our job will be later. This is both a fun project and an important one for HEMA. Not because we’re looking forward to a shiny new system but because the transition presents a great opportunity to evaluate and improve our business processes. How can we simplify things for the business? In the past, a lot of businesses added systems and features because they could. The business wanted ten extra options? They got them. Now we ask if options four through ten are ever used. If the added value is there, great, but often it’s not – or not anymore. And in those cases, we can reduce the complexity.”

Is it really that easy, as in: what about ‘red tape’?

“Working at HEMA is like being an entrepreneur within your domain. We have a clear overarching strategy and make our decisions within that framework. You get that autonomy. Coming from the corporate world, it might seem very open. And despite the company’s size, everyone is very close to upper management. You can discuss topics with everyone in the business. And vice versa, everyone can approach you. Colleagues are eager to show you what they’re working on and explain what they’re trying to accomplish. They’ll show you the data. Discuss their vision. Share their strategy. Even with new employees.”

Have any sports metaphors?

“A Product Owner shouldn’t try to be the coach, but the quarterback calling the plays.”