SAP CEO Bill McDermott vaunts innovation agenda in Potsdam

Bill McDermott, SAP CEO, derides industry failure to recognize his company’s contribution as it opens an innovation center outside Berlin, Germany.

SAP CEO Bill McDermott (pictured) derided what he sees as a failure to give the company its “just due” at the official opening of its innovation centre in Potsdam, near Berlin.

“American IT companies have done a good job of making their leaders and founders celebrities, through the media,” he said. “Why does the list that includes Jobs and Gates not also include Hasso Plattner? How can you leave Hasso out? He’s done every bit as much for the world as Gates or Jobs. Think about 260 thousand businesses running on SAP software, globally.

“And that has been for 42 years, and it is being renewed by the innovation centre here and the Hasso Plattner Institute."

SAP’s global reach is “under-appreciated”, he said. “Although major markets like the United States or Europe are ones that companies have to do well in, countries like Brazil, Russia, India, China and countries in Africa represent the future. And we are already heavily adopted in those markets. 

"But SAP has probably not done enough to educate the media in what we have done for the world.”

McDermott stressed the rise of the “millennial generation” whose lives have been shaped by mobile phones. “They would rather lose their wallet or car than their mobile device, and by 2025 75% of employees world-wide will be from this generation,” he said.

At the same event, Vishal Sikka, member of the SAP executive board for products and innovation, said the Potsdam innovation would focus resources on “solving the great problems of our time”. 

He said software development is broken, with Material Resource Planning systems, as an example, running on code that has been left alone for 20 years or more. “The re-thinking of that would have a huge impact on the world,” he said.

The Potsdam innovation centre derived, he said, from the same "organic principle" that saw the genesis of the supplier's in-memory database Hana among students and academics at the nearby Hasso Plattner Institute three years ago. From twice yearly "open discussions at the HPI has come a movement", he said.

The centre will employ 150 developers, he said, with "50 to 60" already in post.

The crisis in contemporary software is preventing resolution of problems such the isolation of systems in financial services. “Most of the banks or insurance companies have core systems that are decades old, and not giving real-time visibility into different types of risk, connectedly. Another example is retail companies not getting precise information on their customers because of multiple systems. And a further example is oil and gas. Our ability to analyse geo-statistical data is very limited,” he said.

Plattner hailed the “simplicity of interface design” evident in the achievements of Google and Facebook. He said he was determined to make SAP perform a reality check in recent years. "Being successful for so long means you do lose agility. I am happy if we are convenient for our customers in solving problems," he said.

“Though we are not out of the box jumpers in Europe, we do need to break out to other areas, as Google does.” 

Silicon Valley remains the powerhouse destination for IT innovation he said, for the same reason as “if you want to be a movie star, you go to Los Angeles".

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