Cloud Computing

Upwardly Mobile

South Africa’s Cell C dials up enterprise cloud technology to reinvent human resources and unlock employee potential.

by Tara Swords

November 2016

In the telecom markets of developing nations, cell phones typically outnumber landlines—and South Africa is no exception. Large portions of South Africa went straight from no phone service to widespread mobile adoption, and today about 70 percent of residents have cell phones. More than 96 percent of the population is covered by 3G mobile networks.


Cell C

Headquarters: Johannesburg, South Africa

Industry: Telecom

Maria Pienaar


Length of tenure: Four years

Education: BS in electrical engineering, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Personal quote/mantra: “The more you own your power to make choices, the more powerful your choices become.”


In a crowded market that includes multinational corporations such as Vodacom and Virgin Mobile, South African company Cell C stands out as an innovator. Founded in 1999, Cell C provides more than 22 million customers with services that include mobile voice, messaging, and data. To compete, Cell C’s leaders have worked hard to offer services that differentiate the company in the market. For example, Cell C was the first company in South Africa to support Wi-Fi calling, which saves users money by letting them talk over an established data network rather than pay for pricey voice minutes—which is important in a country where many users are pay-as-you-go customers. It’s also the first mobile company in South Africa to offer basic internet and Facebook access, as well as a service that provides unlimited access to WhatsApp for a low monthly fee.

Cell C

Launch the Slideshow

To keep this edge, Cell C has a large employee base, including thousands of call center agents and sales consultants spread across South Africa. In its retail operations, which are staffed by franchisees, high turnover is a constant problem. Keeping employees and franchisees trained on the company’s offerings is key to making them more productive and successful.

“We’re training anywhere between 3,500 and 5,000 people a month,” says Ricky Hinde, senior manager of training at Cell C. “We’ve always believed in in-person training, but because South Africa is so vast, trying to get trainers to conduct training in person is a pretty big challenge.”

In any business, training is an upfront cost—especially in-person training, which requires you to fly people to remote locations, secure venues, pay for things like food and beverage, and foot the bill to print training manuals and other materials. But the idea is to keep people around long enough that they start to provide a return on that investment. However, because of the high turnover—and the reliance on expensive in-person training—that ROI just wasn’t coming for Cell C. This pointed to several challenges in the HR department, not just training.

“We needed to move away from transactional HR that involved thinking just about ‘recruit, train, pay, retire’ and toward a business partnership mindset,” says Maria Pienaar, CIO at Cell C. “We needed to think about sourcing and nurturing the best talent to unlock the business’s potential, achieve business objectives, and seize opportunities as they arose.”

That meant Cell C’s HR functions needed some serious upgrading. So the company’s leaders turned to Oracle and Oracle Human Capital Management Cloud (Oracle HCM Cloud) to create an infrastructure that supported the way leaders had begun to think about HR.

A New Approach

While Cell C was already considered innovative in the South African market, change comes at a rapid pace in the telecom industry—and the company’s competitors are large and well funded. The problem with Cell C’s transactional approach to HR was that the company wasn’t able to capitalize on market opportunities as effectively as it needed to.

“We have serious competition here,” says Melody Lekota, chief HR officer at Cell C. “There’s tight margin squeeze. And locally, the fight for share of purse is insane. We have to be agile and move quickly to stay ahead.”

Cell C Stats
Number of Cell C customers
22 million+
Number of Cell C users on Oracle Taleo Learn Cloud Service
Number of months in which Cell C anticipates return on training investment

For Lekota, that meant choosing an HR solution that checked off several boxes. First, it had to automate a lot of processes—she wanted tight integration and little opportunity for human error. Second, it needed to be intuitive for business users to adapt to their own needs at a moment’s notice. “I need to be able to consider and implement ideas quickly, without extra costs,” Lekota says. “I wanted a system that doesn’t put a huge burden on me to keep going to a vendor and saying, ‘Please configure this, because it’s not yet a feature in the system.’”

Finally—and perhaps most important—an HR system had to take advantage of the benefits of the cloud.

“We needed to work with a vendor that’s always aware of what’s happening in the marketplace and can continuously address issues by releasing new features in new updates,” says Carol Wright-Rogers, executive head of enterprise support systems at Cell C. “We knew we wanted to move to the cloud with Oracle HCM Cloud, which has an improved interface, offers more functions and features at a manageable cost structure, and provides a low-risk model for moving towards the cloud.”

Cell C already had implemented Oracle E-Business Suite and had recently upgraded to Release 12.1, so the two companies had a solid relationship. The Oracle HCM Cloud solution would integrate seamlessly with the company’s other Oracle solutions, so Pienaar and her team moved forward with Oracle HCM Cloud and began implementation with the most pressing need: training.

Training for Success

The rollout of Oracle Taleo Learn Cloud Service went live in early 2016. Right away, the solution began solving some of the foundational problems of the company’s training operation. Hinde and his team continue to provide in-person classroom training around certain skills, but Oracle supplements the learning with courses and on-demand content. It also helps Cell C’s leaders better track who is learning what—and the results.

We now have a complete HCM system that offers very slick, smart, efficient dashboards that not only HR people understand, but the business understands.”–Maria Pienaar, CIO, Cell C

“Oracle allows us to track who has read what content and who hasn’t,” Hinde says. “We’ve been monitoring which stores have been utilizing the Oracle solution and the performance of those stores, and we’ve seen that the stores that have been utilizing the solution are a lot more successful.”

The shift to elearning doesn’t just help the company increase revenue through better sales and save money through less expensive training—it also does a better job of addressing the way Cell C’s new generation of employees prefers to learn.

“We understand that one of our main audiences is millennials, and they like to learn online at their own pace,” Hinde says. “If they decide that they want to take an hour or two hours to complete a certain module, they can do that. But if they just want a quick refresher, they can do that, too.”

Another goal of the project was to reduce turnover. By training employees better, they’re set up for success. And by giving them tools to track their performance and map out their career progression—something else they find in Oracle HCM Cloud—Cell C’s managers can inspire employees to grow their own talent and envision a long-term future at the company.

“With Oracle Taleo Learn Cloud Service, learning is really flexible, training is mobile-accessible, and learners can share best practices and collaborate online,” Pienaar says. “Our staff has become more knowledgeable, productive, and loyal—saving us recruiting costs and generating more revenue.”

Now that employees have access to on-demand training, they can use it to take their careers further. In Oracle HCM Cloud, employees can discover exactly what skills they need to move to the next level and begin learning those skills—or see where their current competencies need work.

“They can plot the areas where they’re not performing as well, and then map out what they need to do to improve those areas,” Lekota says. “It’s not a matter of waiting for someone to come and tell them what to do. This system is very empowering.”

Light on Their Feet

Because it’s younger, smaller, and less saddled with legacy infrastructure, Cell C has always been more nimble than its large competitors. Whereas larger, older companies tend to have complex, entrenched processes around new product development, Cell C knows the value of moving quickly. And with Oracle Taleo Learn Cloud Service, Cell C’s leaders can quickly roll out new training to employees all over the country and get them up to speed on new products.

“We can launch products at the drop of a hat now because our salespeople are able to understand the product a lot faster than they could before,” Hinde says.

Yes, the main competitors have been around for a while—but when you need to be light on your feet, legacy can be a liability.

“We now have a complete HCM system that offers very slick, smart, efficient dashboards that not only HR people understand, but the business understands,” Pienaar says. “People can make quick decisions, which is important in an environment like ours where you have to be agile. We can be more innovative and disrupt very quickly now.”

Action Items
  • The New Role of IT
  • DEMO: See Oracle Talent Management Cloud in Action
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