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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.

IT has to be part of that transformation. To be a strategic and innovative CIO, you have to inject yourself (the IT organisation) into the product lifecycle. If a CIO finds a way to use IT in products, and share this with the sales cycle and customer cycle, the perception and the value will all change.

So you are using the IT organisation as a test lab?

We do development together [with business units]. There are product categories that we team up as product development at the early stage. We have a [large enough] footprint and insight that they can tap on and say, "What could be an ideal product?" There's the "innovation" again: can we develop mobile apps that can become usable products? So our value for the product organisation is pretty high, because we have the critical mass for testing [products] early, and we shorten the learning profile because the customer would have to go through that potentially [similar] improvement phases, but we have already done these improvements and documented them. Sometimes, some functionality was not planned, but we saw it as necessary. We have meantime teams that are really motivated to come up with recommendations and topics. Five percent now of my portfolio is innovation driven. As a CIO, I'm in charge to make those decisions, because we believe that IT should drive [and] test drive innovation.

Typically, within 6 to 8 weeks we see a proof of concept, evaluate it whether it's ready for master deployment, whether there is value for business to put this into the normal project portfolio. We're not talking about big money, nor huge teams -- we're talking about four or five people working together for six to eight weeks and trying to figure out if that's something that would generate value and growth in our environment, and so on. And then, you use this experience to feed back to the product organisation and to the business.

Is that part of what you would call "SAP running SAP"?

I learned that the moment I drive leadership on the innovation on the product side, IT is perceived as "state of the art" [organisation] helping the business and company. IT is not a pure order taker anymore; nor is it just a support function. It's part of a bigger organisation. The challenge is to find that spot. Because more and more IT services are injected into products, if you look at the Internet of things, connectivity of things over Internet, that's another possibility that the IT organisation can play different roles in the future — not only providing business systems, but also the products and services the company provides.


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