CIO Interview: IT should drive company innovation, says SAP's Oliver Bussmann

Driving innovation has become one of the key roles of the chief information officer, says Oliver Bussmann, CIO at business software maker SAP.

Driving innovation has become one of the key roles of the chief information officer (CIO), says Oliver Bussmann, CIO at business software maker SAP.

“CIOs should be at the top table to drive business transformation,” he told Computer Weekly. “SAP has set a goal of being a €20bn company by 2015, and IT is one of the most important levers in achieving that business growth,” he says.

Businesses may not always recognise the value of technology innovation, he says, and that is where IT has a role in demonstrating the business value of new technologies, which is why CIOs need to adopt an increasingly strategic and innovative role.

To do this, CIOs need to identify their niche for the company and industry they support - where they can have direct impact on the product, revenue and external customer engagement.

“If business can see the positive impact of IT on the business, it changes the perception of IT and raises its status,” says Bussmann.

This has been his experience, particularly in the past two years since the launch of the SAP Runs SAP programme, which has enabled SAP’s IT department to be directly involved in product development by providing feedback to the software developers.

“Sometimes developers look only at the product they are working on, but by using SAP products internally, the IT department can feedback the end-to-end user experience,” says Bussmann.

The programme has also enabled SAP’s IT team to demonstrate the business value internally of new technologies, such as in-memory computing, one of SAP’s key areas of innovation alongside mobility and cloud.

In recent months, Bussmann has overseen the migration of SAP’s 3Tb customer relationship management (CRM) database to SAP’s High-Performance Analytic Appliance (Hana), which underpins SAP’s in-memory computing capabilities.

“This has enabled SAP’s account managers to browse 700 million records at a speed which would not be possible using a typical business warehouse,” says Bussmann, demonstrating how to look up the value of all the Hana business leads in under a minute.

“In another second you can see what are the biggest leads, which helps prioritise the efforts of your sales force based on information that is continually being updated,” he says.

The next dimension is predictive analytics that enable businesses to compare historical data with current future forecasts and external factors that influence the business to show if the forecast is stable enough to reach revenue targets.

The ability to process and correlate this amount of data in real-time, says Bussmann, provides another data point to indicate if the business is on track

Bussmann says he has proved the positive impact of in-memory computing on SAP’s business model, and believes that competitors will follow.

In-memory computing, he says, will drive IT and application architecture to being real-time with centralised data, giving business people access to up-to-date information wherever they are.

“This is one of the big changes we are already seeing,” says Bussmann.

SAP’s innovation in mobility, spurred by its acquisition of Sybase, is also helping the business internally. “Without the mobile management products, visibility of SAP’s 50,000 users of mobile devices and apps would be extremely difficult,” he says.

The software, in conjunction with services from Symantec and Microsoft, enables SAP to manage 11,000 tablet computers and 5,000 iPhones in an automated way to ensure all mobile devices and mobile content are fully under SAP control, and are encrypted and secure.

Bussmann says that by consolidating and standardising the IT landscape with one ERP system for all lines of business, it frees up time to accelerate innovation, which he sees as a key driver for CIOs and an area that CIOs are spending more time on.

Integration of mobility, in-memory computing and cloud with SAP’s core systems, says Bussmann, is also helping IT meet internal business demand for an understanding of where the business is moving right now and making new capabilities easy to deploy and access.

Bussmann predicts that the next enterprise killer app will combine real-time "big data" processing and provide this on a mobile device.

“The frequency of executives accessing real-time information will increase significantly; just 10 seconds to get to the information or approve something and move on, instead of the two or three minutes it takes on laptop,” he says.

CIOs are seeing a steady increase in consumption of information by the business, especially if it is real-time information that is easy to access on mobile devices; this is the big change that is starting to happen, and SAP is in a good position to support this change, says Bussmann.

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