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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.

What about the role of the Asian CIOs? Are theirs similar to yours?

The role of the CIO, especially the reporting line, has changed in the last few years. From being part of the executive board, reporting to board members, [they have now been relegated] to the third or fourth corporate level. For a lot of my peers, the challenge is to get the right business support, the right chance to communicate and to have good relationship; they need to be perceived as a value generator, and in turn earn the respective funding. What are the possibilities to move out of that position into a significant function? You have different ways to do that -- you can work on the governance structure -- how you engage the business.

In our case, we now have business information offices -- they are part of my management team -- based out of the different business functions. We're extremely transparent in what we do, as they are part of the management team, we engage with them. So that's the way how you make yourself accessible. Second of what I recommend is a mid-term view on the business with enterprise architecture, you try to map the business direction and activity with the IT activities. The third one is, how do you communicate inside the company. How you share what IT is doing. In our case, we communicate a lot through blogs, email, or if I go to a location today, I do coffee-corner sessions. I don't just invite IT but also other functions. I do hypothetical sessions not only with IT but with other functions. If you make yourself accessible, not just for the IT folks but also for the rest, that helps also to improve the relationship and in turn, how to improve IT. If you don't talk, people would start thinking about "What are you doing?" in a negative way.

How do you find time to manage?

You need to have a good team, firstly. You need to spend time with the team (to learn) what your direction is. Have a mid-term view on what you want to improve and stick to that bold agenda. In our case, the improvements that we've defined in 2009 were nearly fully executed. Now we're working on the second version of that strategy. Second is to have a clear direction — know what's important. Have those objectives cascading down your team. You cannot micromanage. Everybody should have a clear vision where they want to go, mid-term and short term. Plus, you [have to] prioritise your time. I'm spending 30 percent of my time with external customers. I'm spending at least 20 percent with employees in face-to-face meetings. You have to block time to make yourself available [to others]. You have to spend at least 20 to 30 percent on business engagement. The rest is may be more technical. All this needs discipline. See what's important for you and then you allocate time to that. If you don't do that, the system will drive you.


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