CIO interview: Oliver Bussmann, SAP

Just over a year after joining SAP as global chief information officer (CIO), Oliver Bussmann's actions are already yielding results at the software giant, which posted its highest-ever fourth quarter software revenue today.

Just over a year after joining SAP as global chief information officer (CIO), Oliver Bussmann's actions are already yielding results at the software giant, which posted its highest-ever fourth quarter software revenue this week.

Bussmann started in the job in the autumn of 2009 after holding a string of senior IT jobs at financial services firms such as Deutsche Bank and Allianz, as well as an earlier seven-year spell at IBM.

Recalling his last interview with then-SAP chief executive Leo Apotheker, the CIO says the company's expectations for the future of the 1,500-strong IT team and leadership were laid out very clearly.

"The mission was very clear: we have to 'eat more of our own dog-food', be our first customer, get very involved in product development and engage with external customers more, play a vital role in the overall cycle of SAP's value chain," said Bussmann.

The CIO highlighted the need to support the supplier's own transformation and its commercial push around areas such as mobility, cloud computing and green IT.

The achievements so far

According to Bussmann, a major area of focus during his first year was to develop a scalable global delivery organisation, understand the future roadmaps for IT, as well as the levels of investment and skills needed.

As part of his 100-day plan, the CIO's team benchmarked all the business functions and concluded that, for example, the level of standardisation within SAP itself was quite high.

"All of our business-critical systems are centralised on a single instance, which then drives efforts from aspects such as security, risk management and Sarbanes-Oxley," said Bussmann.

"So, from an efficiency perspective, the outcome of the benchmarking exercise made it clear that the way we operate is very efficient."

The CIO also established a new governance structure, which means the relationship between IT and the business has improved significantly and increased transparency around joint decision-making.

"A huge accomplishment was establishing an enterprise architecture function, which is something we also recommend to customers - this is about really figuring out what is coming next from a business perspective and translate this into IT roadmaps," said Bussmann.

"This also helps from a funding standpoint, having a different discussion with the various stakeholders to get the right funding and support, whether [the project will happen in the] mid-term of next year," he said.

"The other [achievement] was around being able to increase, due to the transformation in our delivery model. We increased IT capacity by over 20%, because we were able to utilise our global partners and focus on our core functions."

Bringing IT and business together

Despite the fact that SAP's business is about IT, Bussmann still had some work to do towards aligning the technology function with the other areas of the business.

"It is my priority to ensure a strong relationship between business and IT. The question is, how you organise and structure those links," said the CIO.

"We have business information officers who are sitting on the business side as well as IT, who help steer the discussion with the business heads and intensify the relationship while driving a common-sense approach around what needs to be done."

According to the CIO other changes that have taken place recently to improve the relationship include an increased involvement of the IT department with product development cycles, particularly around areas such as mobility, in-memory, green IT and sustainability. "We are not only the first customers, but also use this experience around driving innovation to share best practices both internally and externally," said Bussmann.

Supporting the customer base

For the SAP CIO, the main theme for IT decision-makers should be to engage with their customers - particularly the external base - and be instrumental in driving their business goals.

Work around customer engagement takes up about 40% of Bussmann's time, while the remainder is split between daily IT management and business projects.

"It is a pretty full agenda for me - from a day-to-day perspective, project portfolio management and customer engagement, as well as internal and external communications, as you have a large IT community that you try to reach out to," he said.

"A lot of effort is being made around using social media to get closer to customers, analysts and influencers - it is a powerful combination of driving innovation, experiencing that evolution through different channels and being accessible and available to all these external stakeholders," he added.

"So running the business is a large part of my job, but changing the business alongside internal and external stakeholders is even larger."

The future of the IT department

Bussmann says the IT department at SAP is there to support the overall revenue growth and profitability of the business and that will continue to be the case in 2011.

Client relations will also remain as a key area for the IT team, which already gets involved in different project stages.

"We have different types of [customer] engagement. With ramp-up customers we share immediate feedback around how the implementation is progressing," said Bussmann.

"If they are in a product evolvement, we share our expectations, requirements and recommendations and they work hand-in-hand with us through the development lifecycle," he said.

"Sometimes you also have to manage expectations, around what is working and what is not."

This year, the overall focus for the IT function will be around new mobile applications, as well as green IT and more advanced offerings for business analytics, an area where the software giant is investing heavily, following on the introduction of SAP's High-performance Analytic Appliance (HANA).

The CIO as a thought leader

Bussmann uses his own career trajectory to illustrate the evolution of the CIO role. For him, the job has become a combination of driving transformation with IT as a key lever, as well as using the company's products and being able to provide opinion and leadership about them.

"I think there is huge value to explain at a detailed level what we did to implement new innovations, from a governance and best-practice standpoint," said Bussmann.

"There are folks who are now approaching me for guidance and recommendations - they really see the value of my experience in helping customers run better," he said.

The CIO says he does not suffer from the stigma of being an IT leader at a supplier and adds that his colleagues in the profession perceive him as a head of business systems, as opposed to a head of product development.

"So far my experiences have been really positive. I get a lot of invitations from other CIOs who approach me over Twitter and my blog, and the level of interaction has really increased over the past few months," said Bussmann.

Contributing with commercial skills

The IT chief believes that one of the key contributions he brings to SAP is his experience in leading global departments and transformation efforts, as well as his commercial nous, learned during his IBM years.

Bussmann says that having an experience on the supplier side has helped him significantly, in terms of understanding how to interact with external customers.

"What I also see is the CIO role moving towards driving revenue through being available and explaining the story about why their company is successful to external clients, helping them get more efficiency in their businesses," said Bussmann.

"If you can't do that, you are not at the decision table and end up being downgraded to a functional leader, focusing on project delivery and so on. Which is OK, but the fun part is to be in the driving seat," he said.

Having credibility in the IT community as a CIO at a supplier seems to be an advantage in Bussmann's case, but it is all a matter of positioning, according to the SAP IT boss.

"You have to be honest and share what the challenges are and don't be a salesperson. Being in sales is a different job. I am running the IT business here and I am more than happy to share my experiences with my peers."

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