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Interview: Staying ahead through innovation

T.C. Seow | Sept. 27, 2012
One-on-one with the global CIO of software giant, SAP AG.

We have a thorough cascading [of objectives] from goal setting to how we measure, and we provide that transparency on how well we do it. It's been a big change in my organisation since 2009, from a "black box", no value (on scale of 1 to 10, we were ranked 4 from the business) organisation to today where we're generating value (we're at 7.3), and have high employee morale. In fact, we've been voted the best IT workplace in Europe and North America not too long ago.

Would you say you've got the management right -- that the entire global SAP organisation right?

Absolutely. SAP has a strategy that is built on innovation and on regional expansion. We're heavily investing in Asia and in acquisitions. In the last three years, we have over €10 billion invested in acquisitions. We're also investing in our partners, getting partners into our ecosystem. The IT organisation at the end is also enabling the business to be successful. Let me explain. SAP is so successful because we're not only one ERP provider; we're in the mobile space, cloud space, etc. to drive initiatives as a customer first.

In 2009, my own IT organisation started new projects -- now we have about 50 projects -- where we're the first customer [to test] and in certain areas [exclusive access to] new products 12 to 18 months before general availability. "Innovation" is a new function that we drive value to the product organisation. Through working with the IT organisation, we've contributed thousands product changes. We've documented this experience, provided feedback to the product organisation and also shared this with other CIOs and customers. One third of the improvements were IT-related. That was a big learning curve for me as a CIO.

What big lessons can you share in wearing this global CIO hat?

In the end, you perform three roles: Number one -- that's minimum -- you have to be a functional CIO driving operational excellence. You get measured, benchmarked, are you efficient, are you delivering, are you executing, how you drive the IT function. The second function is, sometimes overly trying for certain CIOs, to be part of the leadership team driving the business transformation. Third, it's about innovation. The strategy of SAP is innovation. It took me a while to figure that out and that's my advice to other CIOs: you have to find your niche, that you drive direct impact on the product side. What I'm saying is, you play three roles: functional CIO, transformational CIO, and innovation CIO is the huge one. You have to do the first two roles, that's the minimum. If you fail there, forget the innovation.


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