Sigma Software and the war in Ukraine

A careful plan, meticulous preparation and exceptional drive

In the dawn hours of 24 February 2022, the unimaginable happens. Russia invades its neighbouring country Ukraine, the homeland of Sigma Software and the majority of its 1,900 employees. This is the start of a period of terrible suffering and triggers the largest wave of refugees in Europe since World War II. What follows is a tragedy and a sadness for the civilised world.

What follows is a tragedy and a sadness for the civilised world. The outside world wasted no time in condemning Russia’s invasion and war of aggression. It is a war that violates all international law. But even if the rest of the world had believed such an invasion to be unthinkable, the Ukrainians had long sensed and suspected that it could happen. After all, the conflict had already been going on for a while and grew when Russia occupied the Crimean peninsula in 2014. Yet in February, it erupted into all-out war.

“It was perhaps not entirely unexpected that the ongoing conflict would escalate, but almost no one expected the scale to be so massive. Most analyses and people around here assumed that it would escalate in the eastern regions (Donbass). It was hard to believe that a full-scale war was coming,” says Oleksiy Syrotyuk of Sigma Software in Kyiv of the Russian invasion.

The Ukrainians and employees at Sigma Software were surprised by the scale of the attack, but not by the response that followed. They were well-prepared to act. Sigma first started working on a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) all the way back in 2011. Their plan covered everything from signing contracts with transport companies for evacuation, procuring medical supplies, and equipping offices with generators to ensure electricity supply. This BCP has since been refined, and in 2014 it entered a more “real-life scenario” mode. The internal support for the plan was huge. It was impossible to predict enough details to be able to make a step-by-step guide, but the level of detail was sufficient to be able to act, learn, improve and make the plan work.

When the invasion became a reality, Sigma Software had a meticulous, detailed and well-established plan. A plan they had been practising for years. The implementation went exceptionally well.

“The success of the plan is a success for everyone who has worked so assiduously on its development. A lot of preemptive effort went into educating and preparing, learning, improving and repeating,” says Evgeniy Yakovlev, head of Sigma Software’s Odessa office and one of the people who worked intensively to develop the continuity plan.

Oleksiy Syrotyuk, Sigma Software in Kyiv.
Oleksiy Syrotyuk, Sigma Software in Kyiv.

The employees had a lot on their shoulders, and during the initial period of the full-scale war, Oleksiy was responsible for coordinating the logistics of finding shelter for employees and their families who were forced to flee their homes. Tracing and keeping track of everyone’s whereabouts. Arranging workplaces for the employees. And at the same time communicating delivery statuses and overall situation updates to all their customers. Many people took on this immense extra workload, but everyone did so without protest. They all wanted to help and contribute.

The plan was divided into different parts, such as “Replace and Move”. While some colleagues were on the road during the evacuation, team members who weren’t in the midst of moving went in and helped, covering for and replacing their colleagues. This was one of the reasons why Sigma Software was able to stick to its schedules and maintain deliveries for the first two weeks. Those weeks were by far the most chaotic.

Another part of the plan was “Prioritise and Execute”. In the first month, there were endless questions to answer. During that period, the BCP team consisted of up to 30 people. These employees worked around the clock to make sure the right actions were prioritised. They used prepared and coordinated action lists, but in this emergency, those lists were supplemented with simple messages that were clear, succinct, and reached everyone.

“No one in the BCP team panicked, and everyone worked to help. If someone was in the middle of a move and couldn’t be involved in coordinating immediately, someone else jumped in and helped,” says Evgeniy of the execution and application of the plan.

The determination and drive of our Ukrainian colleagues is admirable. In many cases, their desire to solve and help with problems has taken precedence over their own well-being. This has been more the rule than the exception.

Almost no one expected the scale to be so massive.

– Oleksiy Syrotyuk

“I remember during the first few weeks when I was helping to arrange the evacuation from places all over Ukraine. And a member of the BCP team stayed behind and worked from Kharkiv. During the meetings, we could hear the sounds of the heavy bombing. But she just kept working, even though the world was literally collapsing all around her,” recounts Evgeniy, remembering the intense focus with which everyone worked to resolve the situation.

In the early days, 1,400 employees and their family members were evacuated on busses that had been reserved several years earlier. They went mainly to western Ukraine, where they were able to instal themselves at Sigmas Software’s office in Lviv. At the same time, about 300 employees, mainly women, were evacuated out of the country and continued their work in offices in Poland, Hungary, Portugal and Sweden.

Most of Sigma Software’s customers have been extremely supportive. They were impressed by how well the contingency plan worked. No projects were suspended or postponed. The company’s customers and partners constantly showed great concern for the safety of its employees and helped those who moved abroad find housing. Many were also involved in donating money to support the Ukrainian people and army.

“We have received tremendous support from our customers, and since we have managed to maintain our schedules and deliveries throughout this period, they continue to express their admiration that we are able to focus on our work no matter what,” says Oleksiy, describing the relationship with customers since the outbreak of the war.

96% of Sigma Software’s 1,900 Ukrainian employees are now back to working full-time. Incredibly, they have managed to increase their assignments and now need to recruit more people to their organisation. The Ukrainian will and drive is unbeatable. Their refusal to waver or give up, even in the face of an invasion by a seemingly overpowering enemy, is nothing short of impressive.

Evgeniy Yakovlev, Sigma Software in Odessa.
Evgeniy Yakovlev, Sigma Software in Odessa.

“We are now continuing to work to ensure the safety of our employees, provide stable deliveries to our customers, foster the continued growth of our company’s business, and thus contribute to Ukraine’s economy. And as always, we will continue to give the Ukrainian armed forces our constant support,” concludes Oleksiy of the plans for next year.

Evgeniy echoes his colleague’s resolve and has set a goal for next year: Win the war. Build up the country. And increase Sigma Software’s business by 25%. The determination and drive of these software heroes is truly unique.

There are also other forces within Danir that have jumped into action and supported Ukraine and its people. Appeal Ukraine (Upprop Ukraina) is an initiative conducted in collaboration with the Ukrainian Embassy which has, so far, raised more than SEK 19 million together with the Swedish business community. The Swedes for Ukraine platform is a web solution that got up and running in record time. It connects Swedish families who are willing to share their homes with Ukrainian refugees in need of accommodation. Sigma Software’s developers built the platform while maintaining their other customer commitments. All to support and help their compatriots who have been forced to flee their homes.

“When you’re faced with an existential war of this nature and magnitude in the 2000s, you have to somehow adapt. Despite tremendous stress, countless dashed fates and innocent victims, there is a satisfying sense of unity among everyone in the country. People are showing such openness and willingness to help each other, to fight for freedom, dignity and independence. It’s also great to have the palpable support of the majority of the world’s countries. It’s hugely heartening and it makes us feel that we are not alone in this fight and that we are doing something important for the whole world,” says Oleksiy, when asked to share his personal reflections on the situation.

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that the war in Ukraine will reach a peaceful solution in the near future. And our colleagues in Ukraine will continue to need their drive and willpower to cope with life in a time of war. And while we all want a quick solution, we can learn from their example of how vital it is to have a careful plan, meticulous preparation and exceptional drive.