Customer Story

Africa GreenTec: Electrifying off-grid Africa with cross-continental teamwork on Google Workspace

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Africa GreenTec bridges the gap between offices in Germany and across Africa with Google Workspace, enabling cross-continental collaboration to empower African communities with electricity.

Google Cloud Results

Including 50% more employees in business processes

• Fostering real-time collaboration across teams in Germany and Mali, boosting productivity with Google Workspace
• Involving employees of all backgrounds with intuitive, inclusive, and multilingual Google Workspace tools, leveraging expertise of all workers
• Reducing IT admin to at most one hour per week with Google Workspace, enabling teams to focus on value-generating tasks
• Increasing the efficacy of energy solutions on the ground by extracting data insights with Google BigQuery

Back in 2011, Nassou Oumar had made it all the way from Djoliba in Mali to Morocco, ready to start a new life in Europe. Today, the restaurant owner, farmer, and shopkeeper is back in his home village, giving back to his community through his successful business. “If someone offered me a move to Paris today, I would refuse,” he says. “I have everything here!”

For Nassou and many other entrepreneurs and small business owners throughout Africa, “everything” starts with electricity. More than 600 million people, or 2 in 3 people in Sub-Saharan Africa, have no access to electricity. Without it, even the greatest ideas remain unrealized, lacking the resources to thrive. Electrification brings empowerment, and that’s what Africa GreenTec has helped Nassou and many others like him achieve.

Founded by Malian-German couple Aida and Torsten Schreiber in 2016, Africa GreenTec brings green electricity and sustainable system solutions to off-grid locations in Africa. Products like the company’s Solartainer, a mobile, affordable energy system dubbed the “growth hub for self-determination”, leverages solar energy to electrify rural areas. At its so-called ImpactSites, the company has supplied around 25,000 people with electricity, supporting more than 400 small businesses and saving more than 2,000 tons of CO2.

Mastering cross-continental collaboration with Google Workspace

“With limited broadband internet connectivity and our team scattered across two continents, even simple tasks were difficult, inhibiting our productivity. That’s why we decided to introduce Google Workspace company-wide.” -- Jesse Pielke, Operations Manager, Africa GreenTec

With offices near Frankfurt and national subsidiaries in Mali, Niger, Senegal, Madagascar and Chad, the multinational team prides itself on cross-continental collaboration and friendship. But the company’s international setup posed challenges, too.

In the early days, Africa GreenTec employees used their own email accounts to share documents between teams in Germany and Mali, which slowed down collaboration. With business-critical data stored in personal email accounts, for example, Africa GreenTec also ran a real risk of losing valuable information when employees would leave the business.

“With limited broadband internet connectivity and our team scattered across two continents, even simple tasks were difficult, inhibiting our productivity,” remembers Jesse Pielke, Operations Manager at Africa GreenTec. “That’s why we decided to introduce Google Workspace company-wide.”

By switching personal accounts for a corporate Google Workspace setup, Jesse and his team professionalized cross-continental business operations, making Africa GreenTec more productive and secure. To adopt the change company-wide, they enlisted support from official Google Cloud partner Seibert Media, a German software development and consultancy firm, in February 2019.

“Seibert Media helped us pick and manage our Google Workspace licenses, set up mail servers, and manage our domains, while providing training for our employees on the way,” says Jesse. “They also helped us migrate all our data from personal to professional Google Workspace accounts.” To achieve that, Jesse and his team created shared drives, transferred file ownership from personal accounts to these drives, and then migrated them to the new business account.

“The migration was much easier than expected because Google Workspace does so much of the work for you,” says Jesse. “All you need to do is find the right settings, and for that, we could count on support from Seibert Media.”

Energizing the team with smart productivity tools

Today, Africa GreenTec uses all the core tools of Google Workspace. Besides communicating via Gmail, teams stay in touch with Google Chat and break the geographic barrier with virtual meetings on Google Meet. “Google Chat and Google Meet have transformed the way we communicate between international teams, even in areas with limited connectivity,” explains Jesse. “By getting information out to everyone quickly, we’re more collaborative and faster than ever before.”

Google Drive is instrumental for that collaboration process, enabling employees to easily share and access files. They use Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides to work jointly on documents as a team, in real time across two continents.

“Involving everyone across international teams used to be challenging, but Google Workspace enables us to cooperate with our employees on the ground in Mali in real time,” says Jasper Klemm, Director of Marketing at Africa GreenTec. “We can tap into the knowledge and expertise of our employees much better, no matter where they are.”

Engaging more employees with less work

Besides the geographic barrier, there are also language and technology barriers to overcome, which has become easier since Google Workspace levelled the playing field for all employees. Teams in Mali can set their Google accounts to French, and less IT-skilled employees can manage appointments easily with their mobile devices. Today, every employee can get a seat at the table where decisions are being made, which enables Africa GreenTec to leverage its talent to the max.

“Since introducing Google Workspace, we’ve been able to involve 50% more of our workforce in our business processes,” says Jesse. “With Google Meet, even less tech-savvy employees started attending every meeting, which is huge because two years ago, even reaching them by phone was sometimes difficult.”

In boosting the productivity of Africa GreenTec’s global workforce, Jesse and his team also lifted a lot of IT weight from their own shoulders. Because Google Workspace is browser-based, the IT department doesn’t need to install updates or tinker with the infrastructure. When new employees join the company, they can easily be set up with a Google Workspace account, giving them access to everything they need right away.

“I handle the IT administration for around 30 accounts in total and 16 accounts in Mali, and know of similar sized companies like ours that have entire teams of employees dedicated to that,” says Jesse. “With Google Workspace, I spend at most two hours per week administrating, allowing me to focus on other tasks.”

Streamlining electricity distribution with Google BigQuery

“The same way we empower people to achieve self-determination with electricity, Google Cloud empowers us to make this achievement visible in the data, helping us make smarter business decisions for even better outcomes.” -- Jesse Pielke, Operations Manager, Africa GreenTec

Improving data analysis is one of the tasks the team has been able to focus on lately. With a modern power grid and smart meters, Africa GreenTec can distribute and monitor the electricity it generates intelligently, based on data that’s produced by the company’s ImpactSites across 16 locations in Mali.

With Virtual Machines hosted on Google Cloud, Africa GreenTec collects this data and stores it on Google Cloud Storage. After it’s processed with Google Cloud Dataflow, the data is streamed to Google BigQuery and visualized with Google Data Studio.

“In the past, we had no idea what was happening on the ground,” remembers Jesse. “Now that we use Google BigQuery, we can identify a negative energy balance from afar and take the necessary steps to help our customers use our products more efficiently.”

Having better data insights helps Africa GreenTec during the customer selection process, too. Prospective customers fill out an extensive questionnaire, providing details on power grid locations or desired rates. From all this data, which is processed by Google Cloud, the team can build a map to visualize the grid and determine what’s needed on the ground.

“The same way we empower people to achieve self-determination with electricity, Google Cloud empowers us to make this achievement visible in the data, helping us make smarter business decisions for even better outcomes,” says Jesse.

Electrifying off-grid Africa, one ImpactSite at a time

“When people ask me ‘why Google?’, I always highlight how inclusive it is. Our employees live on different continents, speak different languages, and have different levels of tech-savviness. But with Google Workspace, no matter their background, we can bring them together. And that’s amazing.” -- Jesse Pielke, Operations Manager, Africa GreenTec

Next, the Africa GreenTec team wants to bring these outcomes to even more people across the continent. Besides growing its operations in Niger and Mali, Africa GreenTec is expanding to Madagascar, Senegal, and Chad. “The distances between our ImpactSites are huge, but Google Cloud and Google Workspace enable us to bring them all together under a single system,” says Jasper.

With a wealth of experience to look back on from the journey so far, the team always strives to optimize electrification processes even further. Now, they’re looking into the machine learning tools of Google Cloud to better forecast electricity usage across current and future ImpactSites.

Whatever the future holds, the success of Africa GreenTec depends on the cross-continental community the company has built, making their engagement a top priority. “When people ask me ‘why Google?’, I always highlight how inclusive it is,” says Jesse. “Our employees live on different continents, speak different languages, and have different levels of tech-savviness. But with Google Workspace, no matter their background, we can bring them together. And that’s amazing.”

*Google Workspace was formerly known as G Suite prior to Oct. 6, 2020.

Google Cloud Premier Partner

//SEIBERT/MEDIA

With 200 employees in Germany and the US, official Google Cloud partner Seibert Media helps businesses improve collaboration with dedicated software solutions.