Oliver Bussmann is the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of SAP and well known for his “SAP runs SAP” campaign and for his deployment of over 1,000 iPads to SAP employees soon after the iPad initial launch. I interviewed him about how the innovative things that SAP is doing are making it easier for people to learn, and conversely, how learning helps bring about new ideas.
John : How does SAP Global IT help SAP employees learn in a fast-changing technology environment?
Oliver : It’s all about making sure that people can work together no matter where they are in the world. We’ve spent heavily in the last two years on virtual collaboration tools – blogs, community rooms, micro blogging tools that we use internally, video platforms (a kind of YouTube internally “SAP Tube”) and more; also a few weeks ago we helped establish a video-on-demand infrastructure globally, that is being used by the sales organization to publish videos for training purposes known as the virtual university platform. So IT itself is heavily used to bring people together, share experiences and allow people to share knowledge across job categories and functions.
John : SAP is innovating very rapidly at the moment with the move to On Demand and On Device. How do you get everyone up to date?
Oliver : It’s key to have these collaboration platforms to share information and news. There is structured information, but we’re moving to virtualizing networks within the company more. We also have a learning platform that allows us to bring information, experiences, knowledge and training material closer to the different target groups.
We’re moving heavily towards video and audio, supplementing blogs and communities. Having a robust video infrastructure on demand is becoming critical to mobilize people. We’ve also established in conjunction with SAP HR a people agenda, part of which is really to invest in our people and their training.
John : There is debate about the benefits of informal learning with social media versus formal training. How do you see this?
Oliver : Informal learning goes hand in hand with formal training. Social media helps direct you to sources of information or sources of informal learning, but you need formal training as well.
The major trend I see is towards role-based and video-based training utilized globally.
John : I know you introduced lots of iPads into SAP. Do they get used for learning?
Oliver : We’re working with the video team to roll out the videos on the iPads, this is scheduled for later this year. There are also great things like SAP in 180 seconds clips, which give you a teaser of a variety of topics, and is fully compatible to view on the iPad.
John : There has been a lot of publicity about using iPads in SAP. How much difference do you think they make to SAP’s effectiveness?
Oliver : It is important to realize that SAP operates on a device agnostic strategy. We want to ensure our software can be used on any mobile device not just the iPad.
You have to look at this from different angles. A large user group for the iPads is our development organization, and their real need is to develop mobile apps on those devices. The second objective is to generate or define a mobile mind-set. Because only if you have a chance to play and use those devices, can you get a sense of what is possible, and how you can use them.
Thirdly the devices are super to get access to information to make faster and better decisions. So our mobile workforce in sales and marketing can use tablets to get access to sales information and opportunities in a consistent way globally. For example, if you are going to a meeting on sales numbers, everyone has access to the same information at the same time and can analyze this in a consistent way. That’s a big change.
Let me simplify this message: today you look at your iPhone or your BlackBerry and check your email every 5-10 minutes. In the future, and we can see this today with the combination of in-memory technology and tablets – we put our entire CRM database into the HANA device, and you can analyze your sales pipeline in real-time, updated out of the CRM system, now you can look at this without any limitation from different angles. I see already sales executives looking at this sales information as a book of business, say every 10-15 minutes. They want to understand if there is any move, any shift that impacts their quarterly results. “Can I analyze that, can I see those shifts, should I do something to call certain teams or regions?”
My prediction is that you will see the behavior that you see today in the email environment in the future that you check your numbers, your trends on a regular basis often during the day, instead of once a month or once a week.
John : Would this also apply to department managers? Can you extend that to say running the IT department of SAP?
Oliver : Yes! I have a dashboard with all the information relating to service level agreements, availability, everything about IT employees, everything around the green IT/ carbon impact measurement and mobile devices. I have this dashboard on the iPad too, and can also slice and dice the information according to my needs.
John : How can other companies learn from the SAP experience to get their employees to learn faster and be better connected?
Oliver : The key message is to get people connected. Just like we talk about social networks for the consumer, it’s also the case within the company. To understand how social networks work within the enterprise, it’s important to foster IT plans for collaboration, blogs, chat, videos. Video is becoming big as a channel to share information and interact.
Plus I think it’s important to understand there is external social media and internal social media, but to keep this separate will be very difficult going forwards. How you protect certain information internally vs externally – I think that will be a challenge.
The other trend is that the consumer has expectations about social media tools and mobile devices and these won’t stop when they are in the enterprise. Consumers and enterprise users want to go through almost the same user experience. And people have the expectation that those devices and social media are available within a company. The CIO has two choices, one is to wait and see what is happening from a social media and mobile devices perspective; the other is to be the frontrunner and drive those topics within the organization. My recommendation is to spend time on this and to drive this kind of discussion and to be the frontrunner for those topics.
John : What technology is available to SAP partners and the SAP ecosystem for learning about the new SAP products?
Oliver : We’re heavily using the Netweaver portal in the SDN environment with over 2.5 million users, so it’s really scalable. Second we’re using StreamWork heavily for collaboration, we have the enterprise version with Single Sign-On with the corporate environment to foster workflow based activities both within teams and with external team members. It’s pretty state of the art technology. There is also a partner solution, the Jive platform that we use for communities, blogs etc. And a portion of the external SDN network will be based on that going forward.
John : Do you see assessments and certifications as being important?
Oliver : Definitely. For instance on the project management side, we just had a group of over 15 IT employees obtain the PMI certification. We encourage and support these kinds of certifications. They mature people and give access to great information and experiences. Certification is an important topic at SAP.
John : How do you yourself learn and stay up to date?
Oliver : Learning is something that is a priority for me. Mobile devices like tablets help me scan different business and IT sources in a very efficient and professional way. I scan every night 50-60 RSS feeds and there are mobile apps that help me understand what are the major trends and hot topics.
I moved away from reading one or two newspapers to reading multiple blogs, newspapers and magazines and I drill down on topics that have an impact for me or that I like to learn. Learning is a day to day responsibility that I put time aside for every day.
I then use social media tools to share this information, over Twitter, over Xing and by email, to share the information and views and to comment myself. (If you want to follow Oliver Bussmann on Twitter, you can do so at @sapcio.)
John : How important is learning to sustain innovation at SAP?
Oliver : Learning is absolutely critical for innovation and paramount for a growth mindset!
Structured learning gives you methods on how you do things better or easier. And unstructured learning tells you the interesting topics out there and the trends. If you connect the dots, at the end this will drive innovation. If you don’t learn, you can’t grow.
For SAP as a high-tech company, innovation is part of our DNA. It’s important for the IT department to use innovation to make the business “whirr” and be more profitable, and give clear support to mission and strategy. We are always thinking what additional strategic value the IT organization can provide to make SAP more successful in other words, use IT as a business innovation engine.